In recent news, Japanese filmmaker and childhood animator Hayao Miyazaki announced a plan that is as enticing as Disneyland and chocolate cake mountains. Seventy-three-year old Miyazaki is spending about $2.5 million US dollars to build his own imaginative playground, replicating scenes and images from his movies that bring nature and childhood together in yet another way. This new “utopian” theme park will be built on a remote island with an intended completion date set for 2018.
Miyazaki is a name that contains a vast area of study amidst the academic community, from the imagination, to the steam punk influence, to childhood fears of parents and the unknown. With nothing but the most satisfying fantastical and steam-punk-esque stimulation of the senses, Miyazaki’s animation no doubt holds creativity and world building that prevails in the film community. These children’s films contain a variety of intriguing tales that are closely woven into representations of the adult world around us from a “childlike” perspective. The stories become even more powerful because they easily become embedded within the imaginations of all who watch them and also simultaneously provide a sort of social commentary. These not-so-subtle hints of “what our world has devastatingly come to,” one might say, are sure to be lessons for children to learn the responsibility of improving our planet from both an environmental and social standpoint. All Miyazaki’s films are told in a playful, carnivalesque tone that includes a contemporary and realistic view of the world, where soiled land and forgetful parents tend to be seen alongside the climatic hook of the movie. Ponyo, is one example. With underwater scenes of trash filling the beautiful ocean scenery, the movie furthers the call to action from the ocean king’s didactic voice of how the unconcerned human pollutes these waters and creates a major gap between man and nature.
One critic and researcher of Japanese mass media and popular culture, Alistair Swale, discusses Miyazaki’s work in context of nostalgia and learning form our past, followed by the influence or use of magic. “We might also describe it as a "culturalist" approach, given that it tends to prioritize the aspects of Miyazaki's work that engage in nostalgia as a means to reclaim a lost past—an attempt to retrieve something essential to Japanese culture” and might also be one we can all learn from. With the use of magic, what is found is the connection between the imagination and viewing the past, helping the continuation of nostalgia. This is quite apparent in Spirited Away, the title that Swale focuses on most carefully, with the transformation of the real world for Chihiro into a fantasy world where her parents get turned into pigs and she must learn to be brave all by herself—a similar sort of advice a child moving to a new city might hear, which is Chihiro’s story.
In this sense, the past that these movies convey is lessons children must learn when they are growing. Miyazaki’s movies manifest dream-like worlds and characters, becoming costumed real world experiences and current issues, to allow children to interact with larger and often scary ideas these movies encompass. It will be a hard wait until the completion of this very special theme park, which will work to bridge the gap between children and nature, moving them into a space closer to nature.
- Swale, Alistair. "Miyazaki Hayao and the Aesthetics of Imagination: Nostalgia and Memory in Spirited Away." Asian Studies Review, 39.3 (2015): 413-429.