A friend once introduced me to Japanese animation movies or more commonly called anime a couple of years ago.
She gave me a copy of the film, Spirited Away. I watched it and was blown away by the rich tapestry of color and warmth. I am no artist when it comes to printed art and media but this was a beauty. The storyline was even better: girl and parents get lost in a fantasy world of spirits. Parents turned into pigs, and it is up to the girl to save them from being slaughtered by restaurant-owning spirits. Somewhere along the way, the underlying message of not losing one’s identity popped up and it ended with a lingering feeling of having watched a really good movie.
Spirited Away was so popular in the western world that it garnered an Academy Award for Best Animation Feature, and locally overtaking the Titanic when it was released in 2001, in Japan.
I researched about the director and found Mr. Hayao Miyazaki, the movie’s director. This white-haired Japanese was not only a director, but also a manga artist, a producer, a screenwriter, animator and author. He founded a company called Ghibli studio which produced a number of classic anime movies such as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Graveyard of Fireflies, Lupin III, Nausicaa of the Valley and others.
His works were often compared with Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
After watching a minority of his works (yes, minority! He made so much that I could not watch more than 30% of the total), I am not surprised. His works often enter the realm of fairy tale fantasy but with darker undertones. His themes frequently explored man’s abuse of nature (Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa), the destructive pursuit of power and use of manipulation, as well as war (Graveyard of Fireflies) and greed. In between these serious themes are light-hearted movies like Lupin III (about the incredible exploits of one famous cat burglar), My Neighbor Totoro (a feel-good movie about childhood imaginary friends) and Kiki’s Delivery Service (a coming of age comedy of a novice witch who is training herself to ride the broom to, you guess it, deliver food). If that isn’t impressive enough, he also made over hundreds of manga (Japanese style comic books) and television anime shows.
Much of the nature of the works can be traced to Shintoism, a religion, which promoted love of nature. Much of his original characters are also from Japanese culture. Monsters and ghouls of Spirited Away were based from local folklore. Take for example, one character from Spirited Away, a boy, who saved the heroine, was actually a minor dragon god of a river. It was revealed somewhere in the movie that he first saved her from drowning. The girl was to return the favor without knowing this is tidbit. He also makes use of the childhood transition phase as a common theme.