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On this day in 1941, one of the greatest animators not just of our time, but in general, was born. Today is the 76th birthday of Japanese film director, Hayao Miyazaki. The co-founder of the famed Studio Ghibli, he is the mastermind behind a number of beloved animated films; such as MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE, CASTLE IN THE SKY, PRINCESS MONONOKE, SPIRITED AWAY, HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, and more. His work has been praised for the detailed realism in his characters, as well as the fantastical elements that go above and beyond anything ever seen in animation; even compared to the number of 3D animated films made nowadays.

He has been an inspiration for storytellers – not just those in film – all over the world. Therefore, in honor of his birthday, I would like to go over four wise quotes of his on how he approaches storytelling in his films:

1. “Many of my movies have strong female leads – brave, self-sufficient girls that don’t think twice about fighting for what they believe in with all their heart. They’ll need a friend, or a supporter, but never a savior. Any woman is just as capable of being a hero as any man.”

From Kiki in KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE, to San in PRINCESS MONONOKE, it’s true that many of Miyazaki’s films are often headed by a strong female lead. Even in the case of Sheeta in CASTLE IN THE SKY, where she was in need of rescuing at times, she was still proactive in helping to find the floating city of Laputa. The fact that he creates characters as these, with the whole-hearted intent to show that girls and women are capable of so much and more, is an admirable trait about him as a filmmaker.

It’s funny when I think of how the U.S. film industry is pushing to make up for lost time, by creating much more fleshed out female protagonists in more recent films, when Miyazaki has been creating and depicting such characters for over THREE DECADES.

2. “I’ve become skeptical of the unwritten rule that just because a boy and girl appear in the same feature, a romance must ensue. Rather, I want to portray a slightly different relationship, one where the two mutually inspire each other to live – if I’m able to, then perhaps I’ll be closer to portraying a true expression of love.”

Another character dynamic that can be seen depicted throughout Miyazaki’s films is how the male and female leads don’t always necessarily wind up together in the end, let alone fall in love at all. This doesn’t, however, diminish the level of care and respect they feel for one another as fellow human beings. It’s the kind of relationship that I would like to see more of in films; though this dynamic is also starting to become more recurring in films made nowadays. Who’s to say that every story has to end with a happily ever after?

3. “The creation of a single world comes from a huge number of fragments and chaos.”

This quote can be applicable to any storyteller that conducts world building. It can be a daunting task, for you’re to rely on a reality that’s beyond the one that we live in. In the case of Miyazaki, his worlds are a mash of problems and flaws that feel very familiar to what we deal with in our world, but taken to new heights by means of fantastical elements and creatures who reside in ambiguity. The war and feuds that play out in PRINCESS MONONOKE and HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE definitely come to mind when I read this quote by him.

4. “You see, what drives animation is the will of the characters. You don’t depict fate, you depict will. Even if fate exists.”

This last quote is probably one of my favorites from Miyazaki. In storytelling, more often than not, there’s so much emphasis on the end goal, the fate, the destination. But what can easily be overlooked and underdeveloped is the virtue, the drive, and the will of the character who is doing everything and more to accomplish this goal. While this quote may be solely focused on the visuals of perseverance in the character’s journey when depicted in animation, this can be applied to really any method of storytelling. It’s all in the matter of showing why it’s vital for this character to get from Point A to Point B.

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