I watched “Spirited Away” for the first time in high school with my friend Lauren. We sat in silence as this weird, beautiful film unfolded before us. Afterward we turned to each other and said “what did we just watch?” It was something we’d never seen before — strange, magical, amazing. We watched it again. We fell in love.
Now Hayao Miyazaki, the genius behind that film and countless others, has released his final film, “The Wind Rises.” At 73 years old this master of animation — a writer, producer, director and artist — is finally retiring.
I have seen almost all of Miyazaki’s works, from the haunting “Princess Mononoke” to the light-hearted “My Neighbor Totoro.” I even wrote about him for an assignment for my high school film studies class.
His movies always move me. His art always awes me. And his retirement makes my heart ache.
There’s something about Miyazaki’s movies that pulls me in every time. The hand-drawn scenes are perfect, down to every last little detail. It’s a precious rarity in today’s world, when most animation is not done by hand, but on computers. His stories almost all star young women — and they are some of the strongest, most independent women you will ever meet on film. There’s romance, but not every girl must have a boy to save her and not every ending is happy ever after. To watch his films is to leave this world behind and enter one of pure imagination, a place where soot comes alive and a furry “totoro” can bring hope to two young girls. Although Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki’s animation studio, teams up with Disney to release the films in America, these are not your princess meets prince fairy tales. He tackles many themes in his movies from the art of flying to the destruction humans wreak on our planet. Many of the movies have violence, most are dark and they all tackle tough situations. His films run the gauntlet for all age groups — from the very young to the old.
It’s almost hard to pick a favorite of his works, though “Spirited Away” probably takes the cake for the one I enjoy the most. It’s a gorgeous film about growing up and learning that change isn’t always as scary as it first may seem. When I was younger I saw some of myself in the main character, Chihiro, and today I still do.
This weekend I plan to go see “The Wind Rises.” I have heard rave reviews and know it will be just as gorgeous as his other films. But I know I will enter the theater with a heavy heart and leave it with tears in my eyes.
I will always have Miyazaki’s movies to watch and share and love, but to know he will not create again is a hard truth to bear.
“You must see with eyes unclouded by hate. See the good in that which is evil, and the evil in that which is good. Pledge yourself to neither side, but vow instead to preserve the balance that exists between the two.” – Hayao Miyazaki, “Princess Mononoke”