Narrative In Art

A Cluster of Interesting Thinking

Hayao Miyazaki

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Hope Itoh

Professor Rufi Cole

Critical Reasoning

8 May 2011

Miyazaki and Narrative Mixed Together

 Famous Japanese director and animator Hayao Miyazaki has produced many animated movies in the past, all with wonderful animations, colors and not to mention, stories. It is his unique and wonderful stories that attract people to watch the films. Each and every story are new concepts made to move and tell their narrative through their thoughts, movements and the very world that the story lives in, ideas that Russian Novelist Vladimir Nabokov and British Literature scholar Lisa Zunshine broaden in their own writings. Miyazaki refines his films to a whole new level by using the aesthetic realness and fakeness, merges them together in harmony, making the narratives much more captivating.

Miyazaki enchants his audience with the fakeness and realness within the story by making the two work perfectly together. Most of Miyazaki’s films heavily depend on fake or unreal elements, but by using real elements as well, such as trees, humans, and other factors that can exist in our world, he can draw the audience into his storytelling and allow them to connect and relate in some way with the characters and the world within the film.

The films that Miyazaki has created are in a world that we can imagine with elements of fakeness. The film has many traits of reality, like an old village with people living a normal life or a girl in a car driving somewhere. These things are not unusual since we see them all the time or we know some of the elements exist in our world, until you see a giant white wolf, bigger than what is capable for a normal wolf, a man with a right arm that can has tentacles coming out of it when he shows anger or a girl who literally becomes transparent. These elements of realness and fakeness are what draw audience to the movies. The audiences are attracted to things that are unusual and nonexistent in our world, “for the particular and individual can be grasped only when it is made visible” (Schopenhauer 159), and the real traits help them get a better understanding of the story. As Nabovok puts it, “the truth is that great novels are great fairy tales—and the novels in this series are supreme fairy tales” (632). Of course the stories that I am talking about are not novels, but the same principle applies.

For example, Spirited Away is about a girl named Chihiro who starts off in the story being a sad and depressed girl, for she and her family are moving. Her sadness and depression are easily noticed in her expression, her tone of voice and posture. But that demeanor changes when her father takes the wrong turn on the streets ending up at a dead end. There, they find a tunnel leading somewhere, and the family decides to take a walk through. Reluctantly, Chihiro follows. On the other end of the tunnel, they find a seeming ghost town. Walking through the town, they stumble upon a restaurant with food, but no people. Chihiro’s parents sat down to eat, but Chihiro, feeling reluctant to do the same, leaves and explores some more. In front of a bathhouse, she meets a boy who tells her to leave immediately before “they” find them. She returns to her parents to find that they have become pigs. What happened was Chihiro and her family stepped into the Spirit world and her parents were under a curse for eating the food at the restaurant. To survive living in the foreign world where no humans exist, Chihiro must work in the bathhouse and find a way to lift the curse on her parents. This story is her survival and growth from a timid confused girl to a courageous and strong girl.

This film is an example of Nabokov’s idea that “the material of [the] world may be real enough (as far as reality goes) but does not exist at all as an accepted entirety: it is chaos” (632). By this Nabokov means that in any novel, art, animation, etc., there can be traits that are realistic, and even more believable to exist in our world, but in the end, it is not real. It is, in the end, created by the author/creator. Everything that goes on in the story, the characters, their personalities, the land they live on, even the grass on the ground underneath the protagonist’s feet are the creation of the author. The same goes with Spirited Away. Chihiro, her parents, the boy that told her to leave, the bathhouse, the Spirits that roam the land, even the country Japan, though it exists in our world, are the creations of Hayao Miyazaki. In a way, it may mean chaos, like Nabokov puts it. Who would agree when someone tells you that something that exists in our world and when that thing appears in a film or art, that it is the author/artist’s creation? One might argue that the very object is not the artist/author’s creation, because they did not create it in the reality world, our world. But Nabokov argues that it is indeed the artist/author’s creation. The world that their work of art breathes in is the author/artist’s work. That includes that everything inside that world is also the work of the creator. Even if something that exists in the outside world that they did not create in the outside world is in their art, that very thing is part of the creation. For example in Miyazaki’s film Spirited Away, everything within that film is Miyazaki’s creation. The stores, the wind, the water, the flowers, even the rock on the side of the road that you most likely did not see is part of his creation. But even with all these creations, real looking or not, in the end, all of them are an idea that one man placed on paper.

But even though everything in the films are creations of one man, and obviously fake, Miyazaki’s use of realness in the work of make-believe aids in the audience’s attempt to understand the narrative in better depth. Miyazaki’s films have some sort of fake element in the story, but Miyazaki is careful about how he executes that fakeness so that if it is put into a setting close to our reality, it does not feel awkward for the audience.

Miyazaki enhances realness in the fakeness of the film by allowing the audience to “read” the minds of the characters within the story. By allowing the audience to “read” the character’s mind, they have a better understanding of not only the narrative, but the characters as well. Zunshine’s idea of mind reading from her book, Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and Fiction illuminates how Miyazaki’s illusion is working. When Zunshine says mind reading, it is clear that it is not the mind reading that people see in science fiction movies where physic people read other people’s minds without them talking or anything. Instead, it is the kind of mind reading that, in fact, we do every day. It is the “ability to explain other people’s behavior in terms of their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and desires” (Zunshine 6). Zunshine states that one reads the minds of others when we think of a person’s state of mind, or feeling at the moment by looking at how they act. For example, there is a girl picking out a book and from this, we think she is picking a book because she wants to read. We do not think she wants the book so she can use is as a paperweight or as a fly swat. This kind of mind reading we do often, and Miyazaki relies on our ability, and especially the pleasure we take in exercising our ability to read minds. We can see actions that Miyazaki has placed in his films so that we as an audience have a better understanding of the character and have a feeling of psychological realness of the characters.

In the movie Princess Mononoke, the whole story starts to move forward when the main protagonist, Ashitaka, defends his village from being attacked by a large creature with its body covered with red-black tentacles, but in the process, gets cursed. To find the way to break the curse, Ashitaka leaves his village and goes on a journey to the lands where the creature or the cursed demon came from. There, he sees the battle between humans and technology and spirits and nature. Along the way, Ashitaka finds injured men and takes them to their village. But during the journey to the men’s village, Ashitaka meets a girl with large white wolves sucking blood from a gunshot wound the largest wolf had recieved. She leaves, telling Ashitaka to leave at once. Not listening to the girl’s warning, Ashitaka takes the men back to their village and is welcomed within the walls. Despite the hospitality given to him by the villagers and the leader, Lady Eboshi, Ashitaka decides to leave when the girl and the wolves attack them. Ashitaka leaves with the girl after stopping the battle, but is greatly injured. The girl, San, takes the young man to the king of spirits, where he is healed. There, Ashitaka learns of the battle between nature and technology. Taking no sides, but at the same time taking sides, Ashitaka leaves, only to be pulled back by more battles between nature, technology and men from rival villages. Lady Eboshi and her men succeed in shooting the king of spirits and taking its head, but as a result, the body goes out of control, destroying everything in its path. Ashitaka and San retrieve the head and return it to the king, but the king dies. Ashitaka decides to stay with the humans and San with the wolves, but promise to meet again soon. Zunshine’s examples or situation of mind reading appear throughout the film. The very first example is when the cursed demon appears and rushes to attack the village. Ashitaka with his companion deer/horse creature, another example of Nabokov’s idea of the creator creates everything in the film, run to the demon pleading and with respect, not to attack the village and retreat peacefully. The demon does not respond and keeps on its rampage, forcing Ashitaka to attack it.

This scene is an example of finding out a certain mindset of the character by observing his actions. Ashitaka was asking the demon to leave, yet it ignored his plea. Here, Ashitaka understood that the demon was either in great rage or that it completely lost its mind to the point that it cannot hear the young man. With this, the audience can connect with the demon and get a feeling of anger and fear from it, making the demon have a sense of realness, real anger, instead of a unreal character just gliding through the fields to a village.

Another scene that is an example of this situation is when Ashitaka first meets San, the girl raised by wolves. San sees her mother wolf wounded and starts sucking blood from the wound and spitting it out. From this action, the audience can see concern for her mother wolf, and that she is trying to help the wound heal better, making San seem more real even though she is a character in a film, a nonexistent figure in reality. Another example is right after this scene. While San sucks blood out of the wound, the mother wolf senses Ashitaka watching them and growls. The part when the mother growls, allows us, the audience, to read that she is in discomfort of Ashitaka’s presence, and cautious of him. We see this kind of reaction from real wolves, when they are also in discomfort. Because Miyazaki made the unrealistically large wolf take a reaction like a realistic wolf, he allows the audience to “read” the mind of the wolf and at the same time, connects real elements and fake ones together without problems.

Another idea of Zunshine was the description of nature. Zunshine states that though some novels and works over represent nature in their works, it is rare that they seem to have any meaning in the story. In Princess Mononoke, the whole movie is occupied with nature, both in its theme and its setting. So most people do not see the significance of it in the idea that it has to do anything with understanding the state of mind the characters are in. But it fact, it does. As Zunshine says, “when they [the author] do not explicitly ascribe human thoughts and feeling to nature events and objects, they are frequently focalized so as to provide an indirect insight into the feelings of the characters perceiving them” (26). In other words, Zunshine means that even if the nature described in the stories are not directly describing what the characters are feeling or thinking in their minds, they are indirectly making those thoughts of the character visible for the audience to see.

For instance, in Princess Mononoke, when Ashitaka was running through the forest to rescue San, the forest was dark and full of cool colors like green and blue. By doing this, Miyazaki brings out the emotion of seriousness and anxiousness. In another scene, when Ashitaka is laid to rest waiting for the king of spirits to heal him, the surrounding nature is calm, quiet and simple. No jungle or crazy colors. Just simple colors and a soft ray of light. This adds on to the feeling of calmness and tranquility. Nature scenes may not be directly saying that this character is thinking this, but it indirectly helps the audience understand and read the mind of the characters within the films.

Miyazaki’s films are one of the most famous films in Japan. What attracts them to the audience’s eyes are not only the use of color or the character designs or what kind of stories he can come up with, but Miyazaki’s use of fakeness and realness and how they coexist without any conflict. Miyazaki allows elements of realness like people and nature to give the audience a sense of the real and connection to the characters as well as the world that they live in. The actions that Miyazaki makes the characters take are realistic, even though the characters are fake, allowing the audience to “read” the minds of the people in the story, making them feel more real to us, the ones watching. Miyazaki has accomplished connecting the elements of fakeness and the realness together without having them clash against each other, giving us a better understanding of the narrative.

 Work Cited

Johnson, Michael S. “About Hayao MIYAZAKI.”  The Hayao MIYAZAKI Web. n.p. Website. 22 April 2011.


Nabokov, Vladimir. “Good Readers And Good Writers.” The Norton Reader: Anthology of Nonfiction. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 1980. Print.

Schopenhauer, Arthur. “On Aesthetics.” Essays and Aphorisms. Trans. R.J. Hollingdale.

New York: Penguin Books, 1970. 155-65. Print.

Zunshine, Lisa. Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel. Columbus: The

Ohio State University, 2006. Print.

Miyazaki was born Toyko, Japan on January 5th, 1941 (Which makes him 70 this year), and started his career as an animator at a studio called Toei Animation Studio in the 1960s. There, he took part in many classical animations like Gulliver’s Space Travels, The Adventure of Hols, Prince of the Sun (This is one whole title), and the Puss in the Boots. In the 1970s, he moved to different studios and in 1978, directed his first TV series called Conan, The Boy in Future. A year after that, he moved studios again and directed his first movie, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. In 1984, 6 years after Lupin, Miyazaki created Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind which was based on a manga that he had drawn himself while working on other works. This movie allowed him to start his own studio, the Studio Ghibli. Since then, he has directed, written and assembled many films, like Princess Mononoke, which won the Japan Academy Awards for Best Film and was the highest grossing film in Japan’s history (of about $150 million) until Spirited Away came into the picture.

In the film Spirited Away, a complex action takes place within Chihiro, the main character. Chihiro, who enters the spirit world without noticing that she had, is left with no choice but to work in a bath house for spirits to survive and save her parents, who turned into pigs. A complex action is an action that takes place when someone undergoes a change because of a discovery, or a realization. In this clip, Chihiro is placed to serve a stink spirit, and leads it to one of the baths. She refills the bath but falls over. The spirit pulls her out and leads her to a certain spot on its body, and Chihiro finds something stuck in it and realizes that the spirit needs help. With the other workers, they pull out piles of garbage and as Chihiro pulled out the last of it, she is surrounded by water and the true face of the spirit emerges, thanking her. When the spirit, who was a river god, left, she was left with a small green ball. Chihiro had saved the river god and that encounter, or discovery changed her mentally. It had shown her that she can do great things for others, and maybe gave her more strength. After the whole incident, she is seen looking outside with a smile on her face, full of confidence and promise. ()

Aristotle believes that tragety is the best of all and suffering is the one that is necessary for any tragity to occur. In Spirited Away, the suffering that is visible is the clip when Chihiro meets her parents for the first time since she was hired. There, she is told that they do not remember being human all together, and that if she can’t help them they are at risk of becoming food for the spirits. This emits more suffering because as Aristotle stated, sufferings between friends and family makes the viewers feel more pity compared to sufferings between two enemies. Chihiro is suffering due to the fact that she is the one that has to save her parents from becoming bacon and not only that, if she forgets her real name then she is doomed to lose her way back home. As she lets that truth sinks in, she starts to cry out of fear and sadness. ()

In Nabokov’s “Good Readers and Good Writers,” the author states that “The material of [the] world may be real enough (as far as reality goes) but does not exist at all as an accepted entirety: it is chaos.” (632) By this he means that a writer creates a world where the details within it are all fake, not real. My Neighbor Totoro is an example of this. In this film, two girls who moved to the country side meet strange spirits that they have never seen before. The time when they saw the susa-atari in the dark areas, when the younger sister met the Totoro, when the sisters danced with Totoro for the tree to grow. All  and more of these events are the details within the world that Miyazaki created, where some things are acceptable enough to exist in the real world, but in the end, is imaginary. It is a world that the master or the creator intertwines reality with imagination, or the view that the creator has of reality. Each and every detail are all born from the “chaos” (Nabokov 632) which Miyazaki allowed to “flicker and to fuse” (Nabokov 632) into a whole new different world.

In Aristotle’s “Poetics,” characters come second after story, but Aristotle has a couple rules on how the characters should be. Out of the few characteristics, one of them ties well with a character from the film Princess Mononoke. The main character, Ashitaka leaves his village because of a curse and travels to find a cure. This man is a natural born leader, calm and courageous. He is a man also, which Aristotle believes that the trait courageous goes with men and warriors, but not with women. Ashitaka fits in the idea of “a character be fitting” (Aristotle 41). Ashitaka is true to his type, where he stands up bravely against danger and chaos, and thinks carefully before he makes his choice. Throughout the story he shows his kindness of helping others, his courage in battle and his calmness when faced with a choice. All of these traits are fitting for him and as a viewer, I have not felt that any of the traits are not fitting for him. Till the end, he is the cool, courageous and calm.

Another idea of Aristotle’s how a character is seen in one of Miyazaki’s film. In Spirited Away, Chihiro the main character is, in Aristotle’s term, a character that is lifelike. Aristotle believed that the character should be lifelike or realistic, unlike a being, for instance a god, that we cannot relate to. Chihiro is a character that we can relate to. She is a girl that is bummed out because she has to move away, and is scared at the unfamiliar surroundings once she entered the spirit world. She is a good example of Aristotle’s idea of a character being realistic because she is a human and she shows reactions that are normal for us and that we can associate with. Especially her reaction when she entered the unknown world without any clue what will happen to her is understandable since most likely we all will react the same way. Because she is a realistic character, her actions and the movie are easier to comprehend because of the ability to understand and relate to the main character. She is also easy to relate to since she is based on an actual girl.


Written by narrativeinart

January 16, 2011 at 6:06 pm

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