About two weeks ago, I started reading “Starting Point,” a collection of essays, speeches. interviews, and newspaper articles written by Hayao Miyazaki. For those of you who don’t know, Miyazaki is one of the biggest reasons artistic animation is taken seriously in the U.S. Miyazaki animated several blockbuster hits such as “Spirited Away,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” and “Princess Mononoke,” one of the highest-grossing films of all time in Japan. He also animated “My Neighbor Totoro,” the first movie I remember seeing. To put it simply, he did a lot for me as a kid, mainly opening up my brain a little every time I sat down to watch one of his films. His imagination, couple with his brilliant team at Ghibli, have produced fantastic worlds that draw you in with their sights, sounds, and gorgeous rich colors.
In short, my feelings toward the guy are nothing short of adoration. And to read “Starting Point” is to feel a little closer to the person who inspired my side work in comics and made my childhood really special. I’d really recommend the book to anyone who was interested in animation, or who likes picking the brain of a creative person. I’ve loved every page of the book, and it’s full of meaningful little quotes that really make his work and personality come alive, like this one:
“A moving perspective that incorporates a sense of space in the picture, that creates a sense of liberation, and that makes our souls want to greet the wind, the clouds, and the beautiful earth we see unfolding far below – these are the wonderful scenes and machines I dream of someday depicting.”
But when it was rumored that Ghibli Studios might be putting down its pens only a few months after Miyazaki had retired, I had some mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it seemed wise for them to know when to pack it in; they spent years making beautiful films and if they ended now, they could still be remembered that way, not as a company that desperately tried to cling to a reputation that had changed into something new over the years. But on the other hand, just because Miyazaki knew his time in the sun was over with, it didn’t mean the studio couldn’t go on and create more beautiful things. Plus, it’s a selfish reason, but I wanted Studio Ghibli to continue making movies because, well, why wouldn’t they? There was so much to want to cling to, there was such a large legacy there – and I know that if I was personally working there, I’d put up a fight to keep on animating.
Either way, it’s just a rumor, but there is something to think about here – how do we as creative people (and people in general) regard the things we create? I know that my own personal connection to things that I’ve written or drawn is a strong one, and I wouldn’t want to just give it up because in some small way, it proves I made something of my life, I did something worthwhile – no matter how small. And the more successful those creations get, the harder it is to come to terms with one day letting it go.
But Miyazaki had another lesson to teach me here as well. Below, you can see stills from the Studio Ghibli documentary “The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness,” which was originally released in Japan last year. These stills are from Tumblr site Nicholas Kole:
To me, a statement like that takes a lot of humility to say. I think that a lot of people, including myself, would practically throw themselves at Miyazaki’s feet and beg him not to let the company go, asking him to keep it around for reasons – some big and extravagant, like making beautiful movies, and some for practical reasons, like making money or keeping jobs in the animation arena open.
Because as creative people, things like recognition and fame still matter. We still vie for the attention of others and chase the elusive, all consuming aspect of fame. But I really think that Miyazaki challenges us to remain dedicated to what we love, not what can become of it – and in a way, he also challenges us to embrace how small we are as humans. Yes, he founded one of the biggest, most successful animation studios of all time, and yes, he’ll be remembered long after he passes away. But for him, it’s about knowing when to let go, because even if Ghibli isn’t closing up shop now, it will eventually. But it seems that he knows when to say, “I have done what I loved to do, and now it’s time to rest.” There’s a certain grace to it, and it makes the argument that fame isn’t what lasts, but rather the experiences and love you share with others during the journey.
But all in all, no matter how I view the possible closing of one of my favorite companies, I do recommend Miyzaki’s book to you. Even if you aren’t into animation, it’s about much, much more than lines on a page.