When I was set a big essay to do at the end of last term, I immediately asked if I could write about anime.  The nice man said yes.  He also gave me a very high 2.1 for this essay.  Which I was not expecting because, to be frank, I thought I was talking through my arse most of the time.  But hey, the man liked it.  So see what you think.  If you're bored enough.  ;)
                                 2,403 words


The auteur theory originated in France during the fifties and concerns itself with the director being considered the main artistic influence behind any film. The general theory states that any director who brings their own artistic style to a film while being consistent with the style, content and theme throughout their film career, can be considered an auteur. The director being discussed in this essay is Hayao Miyazaki, a well-respected and greatly talented Japanese director of animated films.
          Miyazaki is probably one of the most influential directors of Japanese animation - or anime - of all time, with his distinctive drawing style and strong story-telling prevailing in all of his works to date, even the ones where there may not necessarily have been much room for originality and individuality, such as Castle Of Cagliostro (Japan 1979; Hayao Miyazaki), merely one in a long line of animated features about Arsene Lupin III, creation of the artist Monkey Punch - a gentleman thief and probably the closest to an animated Japanese James Bond there is. Combined with an almost anal attention to detail and stunning looking animation, there is little doubt that Miyazaki is an auteur, despite directors of animation not usually being considered in this way.
          Films directed by Miyazaki often have an overall epic feel to them, usually ending on an optimistic note that all but states the story is not ending; rather, the next chapter is just beginning. Consistency of theme shows itself in plots such as those in Princess Mononoke (Japan 1997: Hayao Miyazaki), Kaze No Tani No Nausicaa (Japan 1984; Hayao Miyazaki) and, to a slightly lesser extent, Tenku No Shiro Laputa (Japan 1986; Hayao Miyazaki), which tend to feature two sides in opposition and a young protagonist or two attempting to bring peace to all. The opposing sides are usually nature in one form or another and so-called civilised society, attempting to tame something that can't be tamed.
          In Kaze No Tani Nausicaa, the natural force is insect life, the main threats to civilisation being giant sand-worms known as Ohmu and plants that give off poisonous spores that are hazardous to any human who dares venture from the safe areas without a protective mask. The natural force in Princess Mononoke is the inhabitants of the forest, mainly the wolves, led by the wolf goddess Moro and her adopted human daughter San, and the boars, led by Overlord, a boar god.
          The civilisation represented in these films is usually belligerent and aggressive. The warring nations of Tolmekia and Pejitei almost cause ultimate destruction in Kaze No Tani No Nausicaa through their fighting and arrogance whereas the modern, aggressive culture in Princess Mononoke, while being vaguely more peaceful, still prefer making money and manufacturing weapons, weapons which are frequently tested on animals.
          The plots of the films frequently come to a head when civilisation, in its arrogance, believes it is fully capable of taming the ultimate strength of nature, most memorably represented by Shishi the great forest god in Princess Mononoke. It is then up to the protagonist/protagonists to attempt to restore the balance between nature and civilisation so they can start restoring the damaged world around them. The films are never completely concluded, as there is always work to be done once the film has finished, mainly restoring the world to its former state and maintaining peace between nature and mankind, who has usually seen the error of its ways by the end credits.
          It is therefore unsurprising, with plots on such grand scale as these, that Miyazaki films are often, as previously stated, epic adventures of such an all-engulfing nature, that the audience cannot help but become involved and enthralled. With other films, it is easy for the audience to distract themselves, safe in the knowledge that if, for example, an aeroplane were to crash or a boat were to sink, they would most likely not be involved and be able to watch it from a safe distance. However, the looming destruction of life as we know it involves all people, from the youngest child to the oldest adult.
          Miyazaki's consistency of content is apparent in the characters that appear in his films. Without exception, there is always at least one young female lead and one young male lead. In Kaze No Tani No Nausicaa, these roles are taken by the young princess Nausicaa and the young prince Asbel. In Tenku No Shiro Laputa, the young female lead is Sheeta, an orphan girl who is the heiress to the throne of Laputa, and the young male lead is Pazu, an orphan boy of considerably lower birth. Not to be outdone, Princess Mononoke also features these stock characters in the form of San, adopted daughter of the wolf goddess Moro and the 'mononoke' princess of the title, and Prince Ashitaka, who is forced to denounce his previous existence in order to find a cure for the curse that is placed on him in the opening minutes of the film.
          Another standard character featured in Miyazaki films is a strong, older female character. Usually on the aggressive side of civilisation at the beginning of the film, their roles are not so straightforward as those of the younger female lead. Princess Kushana of the Tolmekian nation in Kaze No Tani No Nausicaa is the most villainous of these older female characters, a strong warrior who covets the Pejiteian secret weapon - the God Warrior - and feels no guilt about crushing people who stand in her way. However, two dimensional characters are almost non-existent in the Miyazaki universe and we later discover that her aggressive personality is driven by the fact she has previously lost limbs, notably her right arm and leg, to the Ohmu and she desires revenge more than anything. The older female character shown in Princess Mononoke is Lady Eboshi, a strong, aggressive character who also sees nothing in removing people who are in her way by whatever means possible. In spite of her commanding nature and in spite of her ultimate aim to decapitate Shishi the forest god for profit, she is a far from evil character who goes out of her way to make life not only easier, but far better and far more enjoyable for minority groups such as prostitutes and lepers by giving them steady jobs, accommodation, food and pay. Slightly contrasting Kushana and Eboshi, who may be older than the female lead yet are still fairly young and attractive, is Ma Dola of Tenku No Shiro Laputa, a very much older woman and a very much uglier woman. These factors do not deter her however and she is the much respected leader of a group of Sky Pirates, who begin the film as a negative force, searching for the mysterious floating city Laputa purely for financial gain, yet ultimately end up as the positive power behind Sheeta and Pazu's quest for Laputa, aiding them wherever possible, above and beyond the call of duty. These Sky Pirates mainly act on the orders of Ma Dola, who, despite her tough outward appearance, is a lot more maternal than anyone may perhaps give her credit for and can't help but become fond of Sheeta and Pazu, especially the girl, who also becomes an important aspect to the rest of the Sky Pirates.
          It is common knowledge among anime fans that Miyazaki is a rare male feminist in the world of anime (much of which usually has more 15-year old school-girls in short skirts than is strictly necessary!) and this is very much apparent in his three stock characters which appear in most of his films, with the young female lead who is often of high birth and the older female character who wields great power, either through being of high birth or through working hard to get to her current status. The young male lead is frequently almost a throwaway part, with Prince Asbel of Kaze No Tani No Nausicaa not appearing until halfway through the film and then seeming to offer little but a few observations and more situations for the preternaturally courageous Nausicaa to show her bravery more. Pazu may prove slightly more useful to Sheeta in Tenku No Shiro Laputa; however, the film could have progressed quite naturally without him on many occasions, especially once the Sky Pirates decided to work with Sheeta rather than against her.
          The general effect of having strong female characters makes these films, which can be quite gory and male-orientated in places, much more accessible to female viewers than they could usually expect. Also, even with the obvious bias toward female characters to the point of neglecting the development of the male characters somewhat, Miyazaki's stories are usually well-told enough and the characterisation is realistic enough to raise the viewing-level above the usual age that one could expect to find watching animation, even to the point where adult viewers will often enjoy the films more than children, who are likely to be easily bored by the serious nature and lack of overwhelming humour and musical numbers, which are often found in Western animated counterparts.
          Other recurring characteristics of Miyazaki films are more nature-orientated than the three stock human characters discussed above. There is an article1 listing several similarities in Miyazaki's works, including an "eternal symbol of nature" and "harmless nature spirits". In order, the eternal symbols of nature in the three films being discussed are the polluted forest (Kaze No Tani No Nausicaa), Laputa's great tree (Tenku No Shiro Laputa) and Shishi, great god of the forest (Princess Mononoke). Perhaps the God Warrior in Kaze No Tani No Nausicaa could also be considered among this list. While not being a natural beast, it still performs the same role as these three other symbols, this role being that of a great, strong entity who is ultimately extremely passive and very much threatened by the aggressive civilised culture of man. The harmless nature spirits listed in Anime Invasion (#1, Winter 2002) include the Ohmu in Kaze No Tani No Nausicaa and the small forest spirits known as the Kodama in Princess Mononoke. Interestingly enough, there do not seem to be any harmless nature spirits in Tenku No Shiro Laputa. There are, however, several sinister-looking robots who inhabit Laputa and look after the wildlife in residence there. While being far from natural, they are just as silent and passive as the Kodama are and the Ohmu would be without the civilised human side aggravating them and giving them cause to be aggressive.
          Once again, these features of these films help emphasise the nature side of the films. While Lady Eboshi has her whores and lepers and Ma Dola has her Sky Pirates, Shishi has his Kodama and the polluted forest has more than enough Ohmu to last for generations. The small nature spirits rarely have any purpose in the story yet are there anyway, most probably to show that the main battle of the film concerns more than just the kind-hearted protagonists, the aggressive humans and the natural force being fought against. Just as destroying Shishi or the great tree would ultimately affect the rest of mankind, it would also affect the rest of nature and these little creatures are representatives of the rest of nature, something that has done little more than exist yet may still be destroyed anyway. The eternal symbols of nature are usually the all-powerful yet passive beast that has become needlessly victimised by humankind due to greed and a need to feel powerful more than anything else. This produces a kind of moral to the stories - showing that mankind needs to respect nature or one day, the planet will become uninhabitable.
          As for consistency of style, Miyazaki's drawing style is perhaps one of the most instantly recognisable of all well-known Japanese artists and is one that translates well from the page to the screen thanks to its overall almost classical basic nature. Younger, more attractive characters are simply portrayed, with round eyes, barely defined, slightly upturned noses and often with short hair in a very uncomplicated style. Nausicaa and San, for example, have very similar hairstyles, reaching barely down to their shoulders. Sheeta's hair is somewhat longer but pulled back into two very basic pigtails. Very much older characters, such as Jiku from Princess Mononoke and Ma Dola are less simply drawn and much more grotesque in appearance. The eyes are more oval-shaped than gently round and every wrinkle is strongly drawn on the page or cel. The noses of older characters are usually vaguely bizarre, squashy shapes and often accompanied by a large wart.
          In complete contrast to the basic character designs, the landscapes created by Miyazaki are often sweeping, lush and beautiful, the ones in Princess Mononoke being a particularly well portrayed and breath-taking example. Despite the beating nature takes during the course of these films, even the harsh, barren landscapes frequently left by the end have a kind of odd beauty of their own, plus hints that they will be fertile and attractive once more.
          A little-known fact about Princess Mononoke is that Miyazaki himself drew, or at least edited in some way, eighty thousand of the one hundred and forty four thousand cels needed to bring the film to life. This suggests that perhaps Miyazaki is more of an auteur than, for example, Hitchcock, who may have appeared in all his own films but never seemed to be as anal about as many frames as Miyazaki.
          The basic simplicity of the characters against the unparalleled landscapes gives an overall no-nonsense, realistic effect. Keeping the character designs as basic as possible gives something of an impression that there are more things to consider within the film than mere pretty pictures while paying great attention to incredible background detail adds an air of authenticity, showing perhaps that these films are more serious and offer more to think about than other animated films, where the background at times may simply be little more than a pen line to represent a mountain or building. The incredibly beautiful artwork and impeccable animation also ensures that any Miyazaki film, be it My Neighbour Totoro (Japan 1988; Hayao Miyazaki) or Princess Mononoke, will stick in the audience's mind long after the end credits have rolled.

1 Anon Anime Invasion (vol #1, issue #1, Winter 2002; Wizard Entertainment Group, New York)

This essay © Janet Edwards, 2002.  DO NOT STEAL.  It may be the difference between me passing my module very well and me passing my module not very well.  Refer to it in the bibliography of your essays, link to it, print it out and burn it for all I care. Just don't steal it. I worked hard on it.

Btw, if you're sad enough to care what comment the very nice man gave me, you
can see it on my LiveJournal.