The Japanese genre of animation, known as anime, is not merely a film genre for a group of socially disenfrachised “Comic Book Guys.” It is an art form which deserves a bit more respect. Stemming from the early Walt Disney cartoon version of minimalism, the anime genre has developed into a portrayal of real life and fantasy which can only be captured through the use of a brush. The primitive Walt Disney cartoons depicted characters with much proportionately larger eyes. The employment of this technique serves the premise of anime: the emotions of characters are entirely in the eyes.
Keeping this in mind, it is easy to see why many traditional anime characters look the same. All distinct aspects of the face, which would suggest a human race/ethnicity for the character, are dissolved to yield a single-style character: the detail of the nose is diminished and the eyes are enlarged. This is anime’s universal appeal. From this baseline, characters are manipulated slightly to ensure uniqueness. Hayao Miyazaki is the master of such creation.
Miyazaki has directed numerous films, some of the more popular of which are mentioned below. All of these films have a distinct style which prevents them from being entirely real or entirely fantasy. Unlike true fantasy cartoons, Miyazaki pauses between shots to reveal a bit more of the characters — a bit more film-like. However, unlike true film, Miyazaki’s stories involve anything from talking animals (usually frogs, boars, and pigs) to floating castles.
Common themes in his films involve man’s relationship with nature, technology, and eventually man’s relationship with himself. Quite often his films involve oppurtunists who are drawn into conflict with a traditionally respected character. Perhaps this theme is constructed due to Japan’s great divide between the materialist society and the traditional society — such a divide is present throughout many Asian countries and is only growing. The acclaimed director starts filmmaking on drawing boards, rather than with a fully worked out script. An excellent interview with him can be found at Midnight Eye.
My favorite Miyazaki films are Porco Rosso and Princess Mononoke. Porco Rosso is about a character who has lost all hope in humanity due to his prior experiences in life. Princess Mononoke is about humanity and its conflict with the nature. I do not wish to say any more about the films, as speaking more might lead you to have expectations, which I believe should not exist prior to watching a film. An underlying anti-war stance is present in all his films produced by Studio Ghibli. The theme is especially appreciated by his colleague Isao Takahata in his film Hotaru no Haka(Grave of the Fireflies), based on a semi-autobiographical work by Akiyuki Nosaka about losing his sister to malnutrition during World War II in Kobe, Japan.
Nausicca.net is a comprehensive web site featuring all of Miyazaki’s works. His latest film Howl’s Moving Castle (just released in the US), based on Diana Wynee Jones’s book by the same title, was up for an Oscar at the 78th Academy Awards in the Animated Feature Film category. Miyazaki’s last animated feature, Spirited Away won an Oscar for Animated Feature Film in 2002.