Hayao Miyzaki Howl's Moving Castle

1. MIYAZAKI’S FILMS FEATURE A TECHNIQUE CALLED ‘PILLOW SHOTS’

A “pillow shot” is a cutaway, for no obvious narrative reason, to a visual element, often a landscape or an empty room, that is held for a significant time (five or six seconds). It can be at the start of a scene or during a scene.

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It comes from the famous director Yasujiro Ozu and is common in Japanese cinema. Why are they called pillow shots? It’s the cinematic equivalent of ‘pillow words’ used in Japanese poetry. A pillow word represents a sort of musical beat between what went before and what comes after. It functions as a kind of punctuation, signalling the end of something and a transition to something else.

Similarly, silence plays an important part in Japanese films, and Hayao Miyazaki doesn’t subscribe to the Dreamworks school of thought, in which kids need action from the get-go.

Although it looks as if nothing is happening in some of Miyzaki’s pillow shots, Japanese animators are more likely to use dynamic backgrounds and Western animators to use static ones. For instance, something in the Japanese background will be in motion and change. Even when there’s action going on in the foreground, Miyazaki will quite likely have something going on in the background.

2. THE ENGLISH DUBS AREN’T ALL THAT GREAT

The English translations of Miyazaki movies are often quite different. For example, the agency of Sophie is taken away somewhat in the English dub of Howl’s Moving Castle. Regional dialects are lost when they are dubbed into standard American English. Voices are quite different, also. Miyazaki’s children’s voices tend to be authentic child voice actors whereas sometimes Hollywood uses an adult to mimic a child.

Also, the English dubs tend to put words in where there were none, under the assumption that a young Western audience needs them. In Kiki’s Delivery Service, several additional words and sounds occur at moments of silence in the original.

3. MIYAZAKI’S FILMS TEND TO STAR GIRLS BUT THEY ARE ONLY ‘FEMINIST’ IN THEIR OWN, OLD-FASHIONED KINDA WAY

The Feminism Of Hayao Miyazaki from Bitch Media

4. BUT WHEN DISNEY’S MARKETING DEPARTMENT GETS A HOLD OF MIYAZAKI FILMS THEY MAKE THEM LESS FEMINIST THAN THEY WERE IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Miyazaki at the A.V. Club

Miyazaki at Bitch Flicks

6. HAYAO MIYAZAKI USES A WIDE RANGE OF CLASSIC LITERATURE AND BUILDS ON IT.

The name ‘Laputa’ (from ‘Castle In The Sky’) is derived from Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels, wherein Swift’s Laputa is also a flying island controlled by its citizens. Anthony Lioi feels that Miyazaki’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky is similar to Swift’s Laputa, where the technological superiority of the castle in the sky is used for political ends.

7. THERE’S THIS JAPANESE CONCEPT CALLED ‘MA’

ma hayao miyazaki concept

When Roger Ebert asked Miyazaki about the “gratuitous motion” in his films—the bits of realist texture, like sighs and gestures—Miyazaki told Ebert that he was invoking the Japanese concept of “ma.” Miyazaki clapped three times, and then said, “The time in between my clapping is ma.” This calls to mind the concept of temps morts, or dead time, in the European art cinema of the 1960s. Temps morts is a pause, a beat, a breath, a moment that doesn’t advance the plot. But far from being dead, Miyazaki’s moments of “ma” are full of life—there is a simple joy in watching his worlds move. In “animating”—breathing life into—a world that looks like our own, Miyazaki carries forward a spirit from the very beginning of film history.

Bright Wall Dark Room

8. THE FILMS ARE COMMONLY REFERRED TO AS ‘MAGICAL REALISM’

For more on magical realism see the blog posts by Michelle Witte.

However, there is a case to be made for reserving the word for specifically Latin American literature using magic to explore ideas of colonisation. To avoid this appropriation there is another word we can use: fabulism.

9. HAYAO MIYAZAKI IS A WORLDWIDE INFLUENCE ON OTHER STORYTELLERS

Take 2017 Netflix series Okja as an example.

Kong: Skull Island is another: “Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts took a page from Miyazaki’s playbook and decided to focus on the unique spirit of all living creatures.”

Lilo and Stitch, too, was apparently influenced by Hayao Miyazaki. “Kiki’s Coffee House” was inserted into the movie as a tribute.

[Miyazaki’s] stories are everything but cliché. There’s never a cliché I’ve ever detected in his stories; the storylines are completely original and the way the characters interact is very believable. I think that’s one of the things that inspired us to rewrite the book in the way our characters interact. You referenced that when we were talking about the scene with the sisters yelling at each other. It’s so natural and cathartic to see that going on. When characters interact believably, you believe in them and it makes it seem much more real to you. One of the big reasons we didn’t have this film as a musical in the traditional sense is that the minute a character begins to sing, it places that film in a certain realm, a musical realm, which is great but it’s not really happening the way we wanted this film to feel like it’s happening.

— Chris Sanders

Specifically, if you reference a film like Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro, that film shares a lot of similarities with ours. We were inspired by the way Miyazaki created realistic relationships between the human characters, the sister-sister relationship, and wove in a realm of fantasy and whimsy very subtly. It’s done in such a believable way… You’ve got these fantastic elements and yet you feel like you watched a story that really existed between a family.

— Dean DuBlois

Ubisoft’s Child Of Light was also influenced by Miyazaki, particularly the hand-drawn look of the art.

10. HAYAO MIYAZAKI LOVED BOTH JAPANESE AND IMPORTED CHILDREN’S BOOKS

Like a disproportionate number of adult story creators, Hayao Miyazaki was a ‘physically weak’ child and the time not spent on running about was spent reading. Open Culture published a list of Miyazaki’s favourite children’s books showing that (of course) he didn’t just enjoy stories for and about boys, but loved stories about girls equally. Miyazaki didn’t stop reading children’s books just because he stopped being a child, either.