(For Miyazaki’s first six films, check out The Castle of Cagliostro & Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Castle In the Sky & My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service & Porco Rosso)
Hayao Miyazaki is a Japanese film animator, producer, screenwriter, and director. He made his feature directorial debut in 1979 with The Castle of Cagliostro. After a few years, he was finally able to direct a second film, 1984′s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. With the success of that film, Miyazaki was able to help secure funding for a new animation studio called Studio Ghibli. Once established, Miyazaki started work on Castle In the Sky and My Neighbor Totoro, and continued with Kiki’s Delivery Service and Porco Rosso. For this installment of Animation Corner, I’ll be honoring the New York/Los Angeles one-week Oscar-qualifying theatrical run of Miyazaki’s final masterpiece The Wind Rises by looking back at his next two directorial efforts following Porco Rosso, Princess Mononoke and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away.
Directed by Miyazaki, 1997’s Princess Mononoke centers on a young warrior whose journey to cure himself of a curse placed on him by a demon spirit involves getting caught up in the struggle between the supernatural guardians of a forest and the humans of the Iron Town who consume its resources. Featuring the voices of Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Gillian Anderson, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton, Jada Pinkett-Smith, John DiMaggio, Debi Derryberry, and Keith David (in the English language dub produced by Miramax), this critically acclaimed film grossed $148 million in Japan on a budget of $23.5 million (it added $11 million outside of Japan for a worldwide total of $159 million). In the U.S., the film only grossed $2.3 million due to an extremely limited release by Miramax and little-to-no advertising for the film. Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein originally wanted to make cuts to the film (against Miyazaki’s wishes), and was subsequently sent a katana sword by Toshio Suzuki with the message, “No cuts!” The film is mostly hand-drawn, but incorporates some use of computer animation (totaling about five minutes combined), which blends in to support the traditional cel animation. The Iron Town, which is essentially a frontier-type town, was inspired by the films of John Ford. Like some of Miyazaki’s earlier films, this film also deals with the environment and the consequences of industrialization at the expense of the environment. The film also features a hauntingly beautiful score by long-time Miyazaki collaborator Joe Hisaishi (one of his best ever). Among the film’s accolades are one Saturn Award win, one Annie Award nod, three Mainichi Film Concours Award wins, one Golden Reel Award nod, one Golden Satellite Award nod, a Las Vegas Film Critics Society Award nod for Best Animated Film, and two Japanese Academy Award wins (including Best Film).
Directed by Miyazaki, 2001’s Spirited Away centers on a young girl who accidentally enters the spirit world and takes a job at a bathhouse run by a witch in order to free herself and her parents, who were turned into pigs by the witch. Featuring the voices of Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette, Lauren Holly, Michael Chiklis, and David Ogden Stiers (in the Disney-produced English language dub), this critically acclaimed film grossed $229 million on a $15 million budget (it made almost another $46 million outside of Japan for a worldwide total of nearly $275 million). The film was hardly promoted by Disney and only made $5 million on its initial U.S. release, but its Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination and (later) win led to a re-release that led to the film making another $5 million (totaling its U.S. gross at $10 million). Inspiration for the film came while Miyazaki was semi-retired and on vacation with some family and friends. After meeting the daughters of his friends, Miyazaki realized that he had never made a film for 10 year-old girls, and he decided to read shojo manga magazines to look for inspiration (he soon developed a coming-of-age story). The animation on the film was a combination of hand-drawn cel animation and computer animation (the staff was to make sure that the computer animation enhanced the story). Long-time Miyazaki collaborator Joe Hisaishi delivers another terrific score for a Miyazaki film. Among the film’s accolades are one BAFTA nod, three Saturn Award nods (including a Best Animated Feature win), four Annie Award wins, five Mainichi Film Concours wins, two Japanese Academy Award wins (including Best Film), and Best Animated Feature wins from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association, Florida Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, National Board of Review, NY Film Critics Circle, Phoenix Film Critics Society, and the Academy Awards (Trivia: Miyazaki never made the trip to Los Angeles for the Academy Awards because he was upset with the U.S. bombings of Iraq in 2003).
A special bonus: The new North American poster for Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises!