Inside the Mind of Miyazaki


Hayao Miyazaki is a Japanese animator, filmmaker, and manga artist, and co-founder of Studio Ghibli, which produces some of the most beautifully animated films of our time. Miyazaki himself is considered one of the most accomplished filmmakers in the history of animation.

Ahead of the December 8th release of the latest Ghibli film The Boy and the Heron, I thought a little dive into Miyazaki and Ghibli would be apt.

My first Miyazaki-Ghibli film (to distinguish from Ghibli films by other directors and/or screenwriters) was Spirited Away. My uncle brought it for me on DVD when I was somewhere between 10 and 13 years old, and said it was his favourite and that he thought I might like it. I remember being a little scared by all the monsters, horrified by Chihiro’s parents turning into pigs, and ultimately entranced by everything else. I was already hugely into fantasy, and there was nothing more designed to hook me at that age than a dragon-boy, a grumpy girl, and their relationship with each other.

Since then, I’ve been an avid Ghibli fan, though there are a few I haven’t watched, and one I refuse to watch simply because it’s too sad and will make me cry inconsolably.

Miyazaki’s films—and his philosophy towards them—seems to be about highlighting everyday moments, with every frame hand-drawn and computer-generated affects applied later to enhance what’s already there. This means that the movies are a feast for the eyes and a balm to the soul, with blades of grass waving in the breeze, mouth-watering food layering onto a plate, beads of dew clinging to leaves, and small smiles gracing the characters’ faces as much as big cartoony grins.

For all that it’s animated and often fantastical, the films are all so…grounded. There’s a level of realism to them that makes you forget that your watching moving drawings and not real people, real things. That realism stems from Miyazaki’s love and value of the environment, as well as family and pacifism, which permeates his films no matter what world they’re taking place in.

Also, he’s just a very good storyteller. If nothing else, that’s what hooks viewers, and that’s why Ghibli has so many fans of all ages in all parts of the world. But you don’t have to take my word for it! I’ve gathered some items from our catalogue to help you dive deeper into the wonderful world of Miyazaki and Ghibli below!


Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art

The story of filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s life and work, including his impact on Japan and the world.

A thirtieth‑century toxic jungle, a bathhouse for tired gods, a red‑haired fish girl, and a furry woodland spirit—what do these have in common? They all spring from the mind of Hayao Miyazaki, one of the greatest living animators, known worldwide for films such as My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and The Wind Rises.

Japanese culture and animation scholar Susan Napier explores the life and art of this extraordinary Japanese filmmaker to provide a definitive account of his oeuvre. Napier insightfully illuminates the multiple themes crisscrossing his work, from empowered women to environmental nightmares to utopian dreams, creating an unforgettable portrait of a man whose art challenged Hollywood dominance and ushered in a new chapter of global popular culture.

via IMDB

Never-Ending Man, Hayao Miyazaki

In 2013, Hayao Miyazaki suddenly announced his retirement, but still he couldn’t shake his burning desire to create.

After an encounter with young CGI animators, Miyazaki embarks on a new project using these techniques. But the artist, who has been adamant about hand-drawn animation, confronts many challenges that threaten to cancel the film. Can an old master who thinks he’s past his prime shine once again? Shot over two years, this documentary provides a unique, fascinating glimpse into the mind and creative process of one of animation’s most iconic storytellers. 

(To date, Miyazaki has announced his retirement four times.)


Starting Point, 1979-1996 and Turning Point: 1997-2008

The first of a pair of memoirs in collection form, featuring essays, interviews, and even a brief comic on the history of airline food, from the master animator.

In the first two decades of his career, filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki laid the groundwork for his legendary movies. Starting Point is a collection of essays, interviews, and memoirs that go back to the roots of Miyazaki’s childhood, the formulation of his theories of animation, and the founding of Studio Ghibli.

Before directing such acclaimed films as Spirited Away, Miyazaki was just another salaried animator, but with a vision of his own. Follow him as he takes his first steps on the road to success, experience his frustrations with the manga and animation industries that often suffocate creativity, and realize the importance of bringing the childhood dreams of the world to life. In Turning Point, it’s the mid-90s, and Miyazaki has moved from success to success as his work found an audience outside of Japan.

His animated films of the era, including Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Ponyo, were internationally lauded, and Miyazaki won an Academy Award® in 2003 for his popular and critical hit Spirited Away. Follow Miyazaki as his vision matures, as cinema-lovers worldwide embrace his creations, and as critics such as Roger Ebert take up the cause of animation and Miyazaki’s films.


Princess Mononoke: The First Story

An oversized, lavishly illustrated storybook featuring original watercolor art by legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki!

This is the original Princess Mononoke story, created by Hayao Miyazaki in 1980 while he was first conceptualizing the landmark animated film that would be released to universal acclaim seventeen years later. As an initial version of the tale, it offers a new and different perspective from the final version presented in the film. After a long, exhausting war, a samurai lost in a forest encounters a giant wildcat—a mononoke. The beast saves his life, but at the price of his daughter’s hand in marriage…


The Art of Howl’s Moving Castle

VIZ is proud to present The Art of Howl’s Moving Castle, a hardbound, prestige format book which acts as an essential companion to the film, with a generous collection of concept sketches, fully rendered character and background drawings, paintings and cell images.

Along with the stunning visuals, the book also presents interviews and comments with the production staff, including key points directly from the director.

(I own this book and it is gorgeous).


Shuna’s Journey

Shuna, the prince of a poor land, watches in despair as his people work themselves to death harvesting the little grain that grows there. And so, when a traveler presents him with a sample of seeds from a mysterious western land, he sets out to find the source of the golden grain, dreaming of a better life for his subjects.

It is not long before he meets a proud girl named Thea. After freeing her from captivity, he is pursued by her enemies, and while Thea escapes north, Shuna continues toward the west, finally reaching the Land of the God-Folk. Will Shuna ever see Thea again? And will he make it back home from his quest for the golden grain?

Miyazaki has released only a few comics in his career; this lush fantasy, available in English for the first time, is cause for celebration. First published in Japan in 1983, it takes inspiration from a Tibetan folktale, spun into an original story with Miyazaki’s humanistic, abundantly imaginative touch. Miyazaki is truly a master of worldbuilding, and this ecologically devastated fairy tale world feels more and more prescient of a post-apocalyptic future.

The format is a cross between manga and a picture book, with blocks of text describing the action in the delicate, earth-toned watercolor illustrations. The panels are packed with evocative cultural details: embroidered costumes, weathered buildings, rooms painted with murals and hung with tapestries, and towering statues from a forgotten past. Miyazaki’s art has a timeless beauty, and the theme of small human kindnesses redeeming a cruel and dehumanizing world feels more relevant than ever.

And in case you’d like to watch them, check out the following list of all the Miyazaki-Ghibli films that VPL has on hand!

I hope you enjoyed this post; I’d love to hear what your favourite Ghibli film is and/or which Ghibli film was (or will be) your first!

About Sumayyah

Sumayyah is an Information Assistant at the Vaughan Public Libraries. She's also a bookworm and author, constantly dreaming up a multitude of different stories and wrestling with finishing them.  |  Meet the team