Analysis Of The Filmography Of Hayao Miyazaki, The Walt Disney Of Japan

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Arguably the greatest living director of animation movies and even a legend of animation – Hayao Miyazaki can undoubtedly be referred to as the Walt Disney of Japan. Born in Tokyo, this legendary director is also known to be the ‘Master of Ma,’ and has garnered the admiration and appreciation of not just viewers who have become ardent fans of his films, but also the respect of his peers in the animation films space.

A major part of this extensive admiration is known to have resulted from the ace director’s unwavering and persistent dedication towards offering quality animation and storytelling with the prime focus of the same always almost being essentially upon emotional themes, which is considered as being a highly challenging task by many often, who generally tend to avoid – particularly with respect to animation films, unlike Miyazaki. So, what makes Miyazaki’s films different and unique? The rest of the essay focuses on understanding this.

Empathy is possibly the most important and a common theme that one can find in almost all the movies that Miyazaki has made in his career spanning four decades. It is this one theme that is known to be setting his movies apart from other films of this genre, considering the Western tradition of animation films has generally been of addressing young audience with a moral at the end of the story or depicting a film that presents the good vs. evil.

Miyazaki’s films revolve around the elements of celebrating feminine sensitivity, significance of the world of spirits, respect towards Mother Earth, and the pre-eminence of the divine practice of empathy and kindness towards fellow beings. While more than one among these aspects can be found in each every film that Miyazaki has made in his 40-year career, all of these put together are starkly evident in his 1988 children’s animation film titled ‘My neighbour Totoro (Miyazaki, My Neighbor Totoro, 1988).’ The film became so popular world over that the lead character of the movie Totoro turned out into becoming a cultural icon. This film narrates the story of two young sisters and the interactions they have with the friendly spirits in the forests of rural Japan (postwar).

As already mentioned, Miyazaki has been into making animation films for close to four decades now, and almost all of his films have seen him cast as Japan’s response to ace American directors like Steven Spielberg or Walt Disney. Studio Ghibli – the production house known for having created several animated movies since the 1980s, is known for its films that are visually appealing. The visual appeal of such movies was so great that a few of the films even went to becoming highest grossers globally with even garnering international acclaim and awards like Oscar for instance.

Undoubtedly, the movies made by this production house belong to a different world where there is definitely a unique and special magic that serves as a key ingredient in the making of these films and which no other genre of animation films can ever imagine creating something like that. So, what is this magic and uniqueness? The answer to this question is the master storyteller and chief scriptwriter of this production house and that is none other than Hayao Miyazaki. The production house has repeatedly admitted that Miyazaki is the magician who is the key behind making of such unique animation films that are filled with a unique sense of magic and one who has been the master in making Studio Ghibli a legendary production house that is on part with any other great productions houses of this world.

There are also a few films that the maverick director has made where we find anti-war themes and the director is a staunch believer in human emotions and authentic nature rather than technical advancement while making films. Miyazaki has also made films on a few topics that are very close to him personally, particularly to his personal experience and beliefs.

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Porco Rosso is one such movie that was made in the year 1992, which the director claims to be one of the most personal films he had ever made in his career. This movie is about a fighter pilot who has been transformed into a pig that is anthropomorphic in nature and the reason behind this transformation of the pilot is because of an unusual curse upon him (Miyazaki, Proco Rosso, 1992). While this movie is filled with a number of fantasy elements, there are also a few crucial socio-political and ethical issues that Miyazaki showcases (Napier (a), 2018).

Princess Mononoke is possibly the best-loved and widely popular among all the movies that Miyazaki has made through Studio Ghibli because despite two-decades having passes since the release of this movie, the influence of the same continues to be felt strongly by people across the world, especially for Miyazaki’s fans even today.

Princess Mononoke is believed to have initiated a fresh chapter in the world of Miyazaki’s films as it went on to become a breakthrough hit not only in Japan but also world over. This movie was made in the year 1997 and continues to be a fancy movie to watch even in this era of high precision computer graphics. This work of art and fiction has an immense environmentalist message that Miyazaki tries to present to his audience. The movie has been granted extremely popular cultural esteem and mainstream admiration. The movies of Miyazaki are not only environment-friendly in nature but are also feminist and carry strong anti-war messages. This further adds to the popularity of Miyazaki’s works and fuels the reputation which he has built over his four-decade long career as a filmmaker.

Almost every single movie that Miyazaki has made in his 40-year career, including Princess Mononoke, highlight newer nuances and humanity. His movies are so complex, yet simple, while they also carry complete meaning that ever-fresh perspectives and lessons can be drawn with newer analyses and discussions surrounding them (Napier, The Faces of Others: Boundary Crossing in Princess Monnoke, 2018).

Princess Mononoke is a fantasy epic which has been set in Japan’s feudal era. It was at the time when firearms were beginning to be used and the new metal base equipment began its clash with the natural eco-systems. The protagonist of the movie is Ashitaka – the prince of Emishi people which happens to be the oldest among Japanese indigenous communities. Prince Ashitaka is unfortunately cursed by a dying animal god who has been injured with an iron bullet. This is, as a direct consequence of violence between the growing metallic industry and the Gods that guard forests from being destructed.

Prince Ashitaka travels away from his village to understand the source of his curse and possibly even find a remedy for the same. Throughout this film, the prince is in a constant clash between the new metallic world and the holy domain of the Gods. Prince Ashitaka is seen as the one who holds no bias because he is not been involved in the clash earlier and hence, able to take a balanced view and reach the heart of the struggle between man and nature with him also being in pursuit of bringing this clash to an end. The resultant is that it is a movie without clichés that usually haunt the environmental fiction.

The great guardian beasts of the forests are portrayed to be intelligent, speech-capable, and immensely territorial who can even turn violent and this is realized by Prince Ashitaka (Miyazaki, Princess Mononoko, 1997). The Great Forest and Spirit is as much a God of life and even death. The forest turns green and springs with life when the prince steps on the forest’s floor and it also instantly turns brown and withers to death when he removes his foot. He realizes that he is the one who gives life and even death and that other gods are not immune to his touch.

Miyazaki is different in the way that he focuses on the most delicate complexities of human beings – the grey – neither the all good side nor the negative side. None of his movies possess either all good or all bad; because almost all of his lead characters can be seen having several moral inadequacies while surprisingly, the adversaries are seen having very significant virtues than the protagonists. This enables the viewers to relate themselves or others in their lives with each and every single character of Miyazaki’s films irrespective of which ‘side – good or evil’ they might wish to be on, and this is what is believed to foster an environment that helps nurture empathy that goes on to flourish.

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