Princess Mononoke

How Hayao Miyazaki Made Me a Better Story Teller

Hayao_MiyazakiA funny thing happened on my way to setting my writing free in the wild. I realized after years of flawed long winded prose, complicated structure, and dull inspiration, that I needed to keep my writing short and sharp. Scene and chapter breaks needed potency and force the reader to keep going. Some of my short stories posted here in Asymmetric Creativity span about eight years. I am sure you can see a progression. Hopefully.

It wasn’t until roughly two years ago when I threw off the influences and distrations I picked up as an adult and returned to the entertainment I loved as a kid and teen. Not finding refuge in the wistful ‘good old days,’ instead I looked to those movies, comic books and stories that sparked something deep inside me. The anime, monster movies and science fiction of my youth has more pull on my mature creativity than just about anything new produced by comic book publishers or movie studies.

I returned to the media and genres of my youth last year and since that time I’ve experienced a writing and creativity boom. Now, the fine tuning of my writing is a never ending process and made a huge leap forward when I took a class in environmental writing (thanks Professor Taft!) But the content, the diversity, the strangeness of the ideas were reborn when I decided the things I loved as a child were not childish. This was the starting point of Asymmetric Thinking. Realizing the potency and clean inspiration of entertainment of my youth, the power of memory and rediscovery had a disproportionate influence on my creative output. There was the asymmetric influence, something small and forgotten caused a greater creative explosion.

But it was Hayao Miyazaki who made me a better story teller.

I remember seeing Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind on cable in the mid-1980s. Now I realize the anime had been heavily edited and changed to appeal to kids, back when animation was the sole domain of American children. Even through the bad dub and immature story, the images and daker tone of Nausicaa stuck with me. When I became a teen I was able to see a bootleg LaserDisc copy (courtesy of an unnamed university anime club) in 1988 of the original Nausicaa and it blew me away.

Able to see other anime of the period (all unfortunately pre-Internet VHS copies of LaserDiscs…yes I am that old) including Akira, Fist of the North Star and Metal Skin Panic- Madox, I saw there were new ways of telling adventurous or mature stories through animation. Each had its share of influence. Creators like Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira shaped the hard edge visuals and nuanced stories, while Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell showed detail, and fantastic action. Each influence me to this day.

But it wasn’t until my return to my youth  did I realize how much Miyazaki appealed to me as a mature story teller. I re-watched each of his works starting with Nausicaa through his last film The Wind Rises.

From his compassion, strong female leads, to the environmental and spiritual themes, and sweetness inherent to his characters, Miyazaki directs films unlike any other. Sure the themes may sound like typical science fiction or fantasy, but there is nothing typical about his work.

The following are my favorite and most influential Miyazaki films.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind– Post-Apocalytic fantasy, like none other. This movie is the gold standard for great story telling without relying on typical gendre tropes. In Nausicaa I learned that fantasy science-fiction is deep, from front to back, in detail and ambition. Mixing medieval concepts with World War II technology and a bleak environmental message could be done effortlessly, so long as you believe in the heroes you paint in the foreground.

Princess Mononoke– Like the ecological message in Nausicaa, Princess Mononoke showed a perfect balance of environmental spirituality with sharp, focused characterization and evocative action. In Mononoke I figured out the spiritual, faith and religion, can be intermeshed with unconventional stories of science-fiction, fantasy or even horror.

My Neighbor Totoro– A beautiful intimate story perfectly captures childhood and the strangeness of the grown-up world with all its dangers and heartbreaks. The fantasy elements provide not a brain pleasing escape, but rather teach you coping mechanisms by opening your eyes to the otherwise veiled to our reality. Never be afraid of telling a quiet, sad and fanciful story with  hope filled characters, that is what I learned.

The Wind Rises– Brilliant in its detail, silence and emotion, this film cemented by admiration and love for the director. Here the story of the young idealist aircraft designer who would go onto create the Mitsubishi Zero fighter, is told in its beauty and sincerity. This is not just the story of an engineer, but a man in love with a woman. Their love, the sweetness of their story, intertwined with the tale of flying machines and war, taught me that in the most foreboding worlds there is a place in story telling for sweetness and love.


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