- According to Callavaro (2006), what does Miyazaki think about happy endings, and how do manga and anime more generally diverge from Western narrative conventions?
Callavaro (2006) believes that while Miyazaki’s films are incredibly effective due to their dedication to realizing the fantastic worlds and scenes depicted within them, but rather than function as pure escapism they also highlight the difficulties of life and treatment of the Other. Rather than evil forces that exist only to manufacture conflict and be defeated the antagonists of Miyazaki’s works tend to be people or forces that the protagonist must make peace with (such as the Ohmm or Kingdom of Tolmekia of Princess Nausicaa, or Princess Mononoke’s various factions). As such while the endings of his films are most often happy and achieve catharsis the characters’ developments are never entirely finished. “I gave on making a happy ending in the true sense a long time ago. I can go no further than the ending in which the lead character gets over one issue for the time being.” (Miyazaki, 1988 as cited by Callavaro, 2006, p. 6).
Callavaro also states that much of anime’s freeform and unusual structure is the result of adaptation from other media (these are most often manga or light novels but include countless examples). This focus on longform, serialized storytelling lends a different character to the work as they are not bound by the traditional three-act structure and anime itself has come in various formats. Bencivenni (as cited by Callavaro, 2006) notes that Japanese audiences do not necessarily go to see something new but to experience how the text has been transformed into another medium. I would add that a major contributing factor to this is the financial context of Japanese animation. Anime is costly to make, and animators have had to struggle with managing budgets, style and expectations since television anime first came to prominence with Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy, which was itself an adaptation of a popular manga but also had to utilize limited animation and stock visuals to maintain a weekly schedule, as well as being offered at a price below what world normally be asked for (Ban, 2016) – a controversial move which even Miyazaki (2012) has argued has damaged the state of modern anime. This incentivizes the industry to continue expanding on transmedia franchises with dedicated fanbases rather than take risks on new ideas (Schilling, 2017). As such many anime presuppose knowledge on the viewer’s part, particularly Original Video Animations (OVAs) which often heavily condense their source materiel to fit within budget constraints. Another example is the famous Pokemon anime, which was built around the assumption that its audience had already played the game.
However, Ghibli distinguishes itself from most anime by focusing on original feature films. One exception to this is Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind (while technically not a Ghibli film, Nausicaa was created by the same staff and with the same ethos), which was still being serialized at the time the film was released. The film ends roughly around the second volume of the manga and excises much of the complex political intrigue of the world in order to act as a standalone film, but unintentionally creates a plot hole by killing Nausicaa’s father is killer far earlier in the story in order to hasten her character development, despite their being no reason for the antagonists to kill him. After the film was made the manga would continue to be updated intermittently throughout the years to come.
Overall though, most of his films narrative oddities are a consequence of his production process, and the unique composition of the studio as a whole. In interviews and various documentary series (Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, NHK Documentary series) Miyazaki openly admits that he does not write scripts and skips straight to storyboarding, with only vague estimates on when the film will be finished, and production of the film undergoes while these storyboards are still in progress. Similarly, Ghibli’s other accomplished director Isao Takahata (another co-founder of Ghibli whose works are equally compelling although do not have the same international appeal as Miyazaki’s) is infamous for delaying his films and perfectionism (Loveridge, 2018). However, due to their talent and financial success Ghibli was able to sustain auteurs with a strong artistic voice in a way few animation studios can. Miyazaki focuses very strongly on individual moments, stating that because he has no clear ending in mind each one seems the most important to him. The ending of the film can almost be mistaken as an afterthought. This a running theme of in his works which often leave a hint of ambiguity, leaving the audience to wonder for themselves what became of the characters. They are constantly in a state of flux and development and are fully realized characters because they can exist the bounds of the film. In a 2002 Midnight Eye interview around the release of Spirited Away Miyazaki stated, “I believe the human brain knows and perceives more than we ourselves realise. The front of my brain doesn’t send me any signals that I should handle a scene in a certain way for the sake of the audience. For instance, what for me constitutes the end of the film, is the scene in which Chihiro takes the train all by herself. That’s where the film ends for me” before going on to describe how it relates back to the first time he took the train and how he had unconsciously come to draw the scene the way it was. The rest of the film is not simply in service to its ending – they are all important.
Ban, T. (2016). The Osamu Tezuka story: A life in manga and anime. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Osamu-Tezuka-Story-Manga-Anime/dp/1611720257
Cavallaro, D. (2006). The anime art of Hayao Miyazaki. London: McFarland & Company.
Hayao Miyazaki. (2002). Retrieved from http://www.midnighteye.com/interviews/hayao-miyazaki/
Loveridge, L. (2018). In new book, Ghibli’s Suzuki reveals Isao Takahata as notoriously difficult director. Retrieved from https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interest/2018-08-13/in-new-book-ghibli-suzuki-reveals-isao-takahata-as-notoriously-difficult-director/.135444
Schiller, M. (2016). Japanese animation turns 100 and remains vital force in film, television. Retrieved from https://variety.com/2016/tv/asia/japanese-animation-100-anniversary-osamu-tezuka-1201889290/