Welcome to the 405 Hall of Fame!

Every few weeks we shall take it upon ourselves to offer up a mere mortal to the movie gods and take a little time to remember exactly why it is they are so revered and admired not only by us, the movie-going public, but also by their peers within the global film industry.

We shall take a look at back at some of the landmark and truly defining moments in cinema history, and try and dig a little deeper into how, where and why these shining lights began to influence the course of film history.

And it is not only the actors and directors who will find themselves hoisted upon high, we will also be looking at the other stars from the galaxy of elements which make up a great movie, such as special effects, photography, make-up etc...


The Greatest Living Animation Director

...And so, ladies and gentlemen, we begin with a very special inductee into the 405 Hall of Fame. This man is a giant within his industry and has been responsible for some of the most beautiful and poetic images committed to animation. He is, in our opinion, the greatest living animation director in the world and in the week following his announcement that he is retiring from directing at the age of 72, we feel it would be more than fitting for us look back at what inspired Hayao Miyazaki and how he came to be considered the Japanese Walt Disney (a title he understandably loathes).

This Oscar-winning director confessed recently said that he was never really glad or happy being a director, rather it was his passion for drawing and animating which fueled him to create works of art that anyone of any age, sex, colour or creed could enjoy. His belief is that the ability to perfectly capture something so completely, whether to be the wind or water, is all that anyone needs to make them happy - especially those who are animators at heart.


Early Years

Let us begin with his early origins. He was born on the 5th January 1941 in Tokyo, Japan, the second of four sons born to Katsuji Miyazaki. His father was the director of Miyazaki Airplane, which made rudders for A6M Zero fighter planes during World War II, and goes a long way to explain why the art of light plays such a striking role in nearly all of his work. During the war, when Miyazaki was only three years old, the family evacuated to Utsunomiya and later to Kanuma City where the Miyazaki factory was located.

It was during these early, turbulent years of moving from place to place under the shadow of a World War that Miyazaki started to develop his drawing. He originally wanted to be a mangaka (manga artist); however it was only a couple of years later when saw The Tale of the White Serpent that he realized that his life's true calling was animation.

As he continued his education at from high school to university, he joined numerous groups and clubs so that he could find and interact with other people who shared his love capturing images. When he graduated from Gakushuin in 1963 with degrees in political science and economics, he knew exactly what he was going to do with his life.


Toei Animation and Iaso Takahata

He started his career as an animator with Toei Animation and worked on a number of animes before gaining a name for himself whilst working on the production of Gulliver's Travels Beyond The Moon in 1965. Instead of staying quiet, he voiced his opinion regarding a rather unsatisfactory ending and it was his suggested alternative which was used in the final edit.

After a few years it was clear that Miyazaki's star was in the ascendency and in 1968 he played an important role as Chief Animator whilst working on Hols: Prince of the Sun; a landmark animation which was being directed by Isao Takahata. This would prove to be a huge turning point for Miyazaki and having recognized that Takahata shared the same ethos and approach to story-telling as he did, the pair went on to collaborate for the next three decades on some of the most ground-breaking of animations.

Miyazaki left Toei Animation, along with Isao Takahata, in 1971 having honed his craft on a number of projects, and after working on a number of TV animation series, he made his directorial debut with The Castle of Cagliostro in 1979. This classic tale of a flamboyant thief who rescues a princess from the clutches of an evil count, meanwhile learning the secret of a hidden treasure, showcased Miyazaki's passion for meticulous detail and distinctive story-telling. Another unique trait which can be seen in this early vision is how he allows very specific attention to individual movements. This helps with characterisation and can be seen in so many of Miyazaki's films. He gives his characters little moments where they perform an action which has no bearing on the narrative; rather it is a moment which allows us to invest in the character we are observing.

It would be another five years until Miyazaki released his next film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind in 1984. Based upon the manga comic of the same title he had started two years before, this would turn out to be another monumental turning point in Hayao Miyazaki's career. Drawing inspiration from a range of works including Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea, Brian Aldiss's Hothouse, Isaac Asimov's Nightfall, and J.R.R Tolkien's Lord of the Rings; we also encounter the prominent anti-war and environmental themes which are at the foundation of Miyazaki's visions. The success of Nausicaä led to the establishment of a new animation studio, Studio Ghibli (Sutajio Jiburi), at which Miyazaki has since directed, written, and produced many other films with Takahata and, more recently, Toshio Suzuki.

The other important aspect of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was that it made its way to the West in the shape of a 95 minute English-dubbed version of the film, titled Warriors of the Wind, and it was released theatrically in the United States in June 1985. The voice actors and actresses were not informed of the film's plotline and the film was heavily edited to market it to children. Dissatisfied with Warriors of the Wind, Miyazaki suggested that people should put it "out of their minds." Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki have asked fans to forget its existence and later adopted a strict "no-edits" clause for future foreign releases of its films.


Studio Ghibli

Over the past three decades Studio Ghibli has been responsible for some of the most breathtaking works of animation ever seen. From the magical early release of Laputa: Castle in the Sky (his first film in 1986), to the Oscar-winning movie Spirited Away (2001), the world has been privileged to experience tales of young protagonists (usually female) entering strange new lands, filled with exotic and magical creatures, and delivers a completely different take on morality to the normal children's stories we encounter in the West.

Speaking in an interview regarding this, Miyazaki stated that...

"...The concept of portraying evil and then destroying it - I know this is considered mainstream, but I think it is rotten. This idea that whenever something evil happens, someone particular can be blamed and punished for it, in life and in politics is hopeless."

In my opinion there are three Miyazaki films which stand out from the rest.


Princess Mononoke (1997)

This was the first experience I had with Studio Ghibli. This is a story which has the soul of a romantic epic, and its lavish tones, sweeping score and full-blooded characterisations give it the feel of one of cinema's most beautiful works which hold an environmental message at their core.

The plot concentrates on the involvement of the outsider Ashitaka, last prince of the reclusive Emishi tribe, in the struggle between the supernatural guardians of the forest and the humans of Iron Town who consume its resources.

We begin with Ashitaka's village being attacked by a demon, and before killing what is revealed to be a boar god who has had his body corrupted by an iron ball, Ashitaka has his right arm cursed by the corruption. In order to find a cure for the curse upon his arm, Ashitaka is forced to leave his village and travel to the west where he hopes to also find out more about what caused the boar god to turn into a rampaging and hate-filled demon.

This film, simply put, is breathtaking! The story has a real force behind it, but Miyazaki still manages to deliver moments of sublime delicacy and heartbreaking tenderness. Visually this is my favourite of Miyazaki's films - from the very opening frame, Miyazaki proves himself as nothing less than a total master of animation, and his team of animators can convey more imagination in 10 frames than George Lucas could do with three extra prequels in the Star Wars saga. This combination of intoxicating animation and a complex and powerful story work perfectly in balance.

Don't think however that this is just a soppy kid's story meant for toddlers - like all the work of Miyazaki there are action sequences which would put many a live feature to shame, with plenty of blood and some trademark limb-severing violence which we all expect, and enjoy, from anime.


Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away is possibly the first film of Studio Ghibli's which will have caught the eye of those unfamiliar with Miyazaki's previous work - mainly because it won Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards in 2001, and many notable critics stated that had it been up for Best Picture, it would have deserved to have won that as well.

The film opens with ten-year-old Chihiro riding along during a family outing as her father races through remote country roads. When they come upon a blocked tunnel, her parents decide to have a look around - even though Chihiro finds the place very creepy. When they pass through the tunnel, they discover an abandoned amusement park.

As Chihiro's bad vibes continue, her parents discover an empty eatery that smells of fresh food. After her mother and father help themselves to some tasty purloined morsels, they turn into giant pigs. Chihiro understandably freaks out and flees. She learns that this very weird place, where all sorts of bizarre gods and monsters reside, is a holiday resort for the supernatural after their exhausting tour of duty in the human world.

This dazzling and often enchanting tale is up there with the very best. When you finish watching a really good film, either at home or when coming out of the cinema, the best thing it can do is to change, if only for a short time, the way you perceive your surroundings. At the heart of Spirited Away is an experience which peaks your fascination, enflames your curiosity, and genuinely changes the way you look at the world.

Once again, as with all of Miyazaki's films, audiences of all ages are able to appreciate a rich and fascinating fairytale which is thrillingly ambiguous and contains some of the most gorgeous animation you ever likely to see. Many will see comparisons between it and Alice in Wonderland, the Wizard of Oz, and even the Harry Potter books to an extent, however this is deeply embedded in Miyazaki's own universe, and again it is that combination of unparalleled imagination and animation which has made this the most successful 'foreign' film of all time.


Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

Miyazaki knew that following the huge successes of his last two films, both domestically and now worldwide, would be a difficult task. He opted to adapt an existing novel of the same name by English writer Diana Wynne Jones; however the film is very different from Jones's original novel. The plot is similar, but it is flavoured with Miyazaki's familiar style and characters, as well as several missing or drastically altered key plot points from the book.

Sophie is an 18-year-old girl who toils in the hat shop opened years ago by her late father. Often harassed by local boys, one day Sophie is unexpectedly befriended by Howl, a strange but flamboyant wizard whose large home can travel under its own power. However, the Witch of the Waste is displeased with Sophie and Howl's budding friendship, and turns the pretty young woman into an ugly and aged hag.

Sophie takes shelter in Howl's castle, and attempts to find a way to reverse the witch's spell with the help of Calcifer, a subdued but powerful demon who exists in the form of fire, and Markl, who protects the four-way door which can instantly take visitors to other lands and dimensions.

Howl's Moving Castle is a perfect epitome of Miyazaki's work, in all its strengths and weaknesses. It's beautiful and filled with numerous heart-felt story elements and themes (about greed, cowardice, and the futility of war), but how these elements connect on a plot level is subjugated to how beautifully they are rendered on screen.

It may not be as impressive as Princess Mononoke, or as well-received as Spirited Away, but it captures the pastoral beauty and charm that we have come to expect from Miyazaki, and that alone is more than enough reason to see it.


In Conclusion

I have already waxed lyrical for long enough about why I believe Hayao Miyazaki deserves the title of the world's greatest living animation director, however I will finish with a quote from fellow enthusiast and Indie author Ben Hourigan:

"Hayao Miyazaki's work isn't just great anime: its great art.

"Ponyo evokes the spirit of water in as iconic a way as Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa. If you want to understand the spirit of animistic religions such as Shintoism, Totoro and Princess Mononoke will do it for you in a matter of hours. The art is alternately soothing and inspiring.

"Daring to skirt the fine distinction between sweet and saccharin in their sentimentality, they cause me to remember the innocent and inquisitive spirit of childhood and adolescence rather than merely being nostalgic for it, and restore my faith in life. His female heroines, at once determined, independent, tender, and struggling for authenticity and wisdom, remind me of what I should be looking for in a woman when my latest passion inclines me to forget it.

"There is really no appropriate comparison for Miyazaki. "


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