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Hayao Miyazaki

…because he’s done more for animation than anyone not named Walt Disney. Although he views himself as an animator more than a filmmaker, Miyazaki is one of cinema’s greatest visual storytellers, blending magical fantasy with human realism. Something of a purist, Miyazaki prefers hand-crafted animation to computer graphics, and he personally drew the storyboards for every one of his features. Despite this old-fashioned approach, Miyazaki’s films have been a huge influence on Pixar, especially the work of his good friend John Lasseter.


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Miyazaki’s heroes often begin as simple images in his mind before he develops them into characters, demonstrating his visual approach. They are usually children or young adults – and even more often, girls – whose innocence and openness to the world is vital to the story. Similarly, his villains are not cartoonish bad guys, even if they are animated. The villains are as relatable as the heroes, with complex motivations for their actions. In fact, Miyazaki has an almost begrudging admiration for the villain’s role in his stories and the fictional world he creates around them. He cites an early Fleischer Brothers Superman cartoon as an inspiration for his well-developed villain characters, because the detail given to the bad guys’ factory made him consider the work they had put in to their evil ways – though perhaps as a budding animator, he really admired the visual flair the Fleischers had the villains add to the cut-and-dry Golden Age world of Superman.

In line with the appreciation for nature expressed in his films, Miyazaki believes that hand drawn animation leads to a more artistic visual style. He experimented with computer animation at Studio Ghibli primarily as a way to cut down on animators’ “busy work,” but ultimately decided that technology wasted more time than it saved; anyone who has ever fallen into a click-hole while doing “research” on Wikipedia can certainly relate to this. He also worried that animators would try to imitate the rigid perfection of the computers drawing style, rather than explore their own creative abilities. Miyazaki also practiced what he preached by drawing the storyboards for his eleven feature films. Of course, Miyazaki is not a complete techno-phobe: he appreciates how computers have helped with the actual filming of animation. And Miyazaki also considers John Lasseter, the pioneer in computer animation with Pixar, to be both a colleague and good friend.

Miyazaki is perhaps animation’s greatest storyteller. Walt Disney was a visionary, but nothing he put his name on ever came close to the personal expression found in Miyazaki’s films. Like Disney, Miyazaki primarily worked in the fantasy and fairy tale genres, though his stories are always rooted in a human reality. In keeping with this, he rejected some of the more exaggerated stylistic choices of other Japanese animation, such as the overly large eyes and, um, unrealistic female body types. Nature is the most prominent theme in Miyazaki’s work, though he rejected obvious environmentalist messages in favor of a more nuanced appreciation for the value of the natural world. He also had a fascination with flying, which often played a role in his films both through magical and mechanical means. Ultimately, few filmmakers in the genre of animation have had such a profound impact while exploring their artistic and thematic interests.

“I’m not sure you all know exactly what an animation director does. And even if you say ‘animation director’ everyone has their own way of working. I started as an animator, so I have to draw. If I don’t draw, I can’t express myself. So what happens is, I have to take my glasses off and draw like this. I would have to do that forever. No matter how physically fit and healthy you are, it’s a fact that year after year the amount of time you’re able to concentrate on that decreases. I have experienced this personally, so I know. So, for example I leave my desk 30 minutes earlier compared to during ‘Ponyo.’ Next I guess it’ll be one hour earlier than that. Those physical issues that occur with age, there’s nothing you can do about them, and hating them doesn’t make a difference. There’s the opinion that I should just do things a different way, but if I could do that I would have already been a long time ago, so I can’t. Therefore, all I can do is persist in doing things on my terms, and I made the call that feature films would be impossible. I thought it was written well in this public statement. It says I’m free. There’s also the freedom to not do anything at all. However, I think as long as I can drive my car, I’ll still go to the studio. I think I’ll do the things I end up wanting to do and the things I can do. At this point I still need to take a break, so I’ll probably figure out a bunch of things while I’m resting. If I make any promises here, I’ll probably end up breaking them all, so please understand why I’m leaving it at that. “ - Hayao Miyazaki

"Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind," the 1984 multi-award winning Miyazaki film based on a manga drawn by Miyazaki himself, represented the emergence of what has become known as the "Miyazaki style." The film features a strong female protagonist and themes of nature and ecology, which would factor heavily into his future works. The film would mark the animator as an emerging auteur in filmmaking.

Although much loved and respected among western anime fans, Miyazaki's work did not find widespread success in the west until the release of 1997's "Princess Mononoke." The film broke Japanese box-office records and received a North American theatrical release through Disney and introduced western audiences to past and future Studio Ghibli works, many of which were re-dubbed by well known American actors. "Princess Mononoke" was also the first Miyazaki film to feature computer animated elements, although most of the work was still hand drawn.

"Spirited Away" was highly anticipated and well received, becoming the largest grossing Japanese film at the time of release and having a widespread international release. The film won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2003. The animator would go on to win an honorary Oscar in 2015 for his contributions to the craft.


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