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The Student News Site of Santa Rosa Academy

The Lasso

Hayao Miyazaki and How Children’s Movies Can be About Nuclear Warfare

Hayao Miyazaki is an Academy Award-winning director and co-founder of Studio Ghibli. In Japan, his films are the equivalent of the Disney movies we’ve all watched as children. In contrast to Disney, however, these films tend to have metaphors for industrialization, genocide, and nuclear warfare.

Upcoming are spoilers for Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Princess Mononoke.

Hayao Miyazaki is 83. At the age of four, Miyazaki witnessed the bombing of Hiroshima. He, among thousands of other Japanese artists, would go on to incorporate this monumentally devastating event into their work. His influence over animated films in the last fifty years is unparalleled in fantastical world-building, breathtaking art direction, and heart-warming stories. Miyazaki grew up during a time of war. In his book Turning Point, Miyazaki says that he would play in the “ruins of amusement parks and city parks” as a child.

Studio Ghibli

Miyazaki’s first feature-length film, 1984’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, can be summarized as a post-apocalyptic fantasy in a world destroyed by ecocide. Most of the land is occupied by the Toxic Jungle– a poisonous forest home to giant, predatory insects– with very few civilizations remaining. The titular character, Nausicaä, avidly visits this forest, connecting with the wildlife. She eventually discovers that the forest is purifying the pollution-ridden world, contrary to popular belief. In our first instance of a parallel to the atom bomb, the Tomekian warriors are introduced; the catalysts of the post-apocalypse and the weapons used to conduct ecocide. The world leaders in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind aim to salvage these machines, looking towards destructive measures to combat the Toxic Jungle. And even when they can “control” these weapons of mass destruction, it’s inevitably beyond them. Nausicaä, in a much more transcendentalist approach, finds hope and a solution in the nature of the forest itself. Near the film’s end, Nausicaä declares “Suffering and tragedy and folly will not disappear in a purified world. They are part of humanity. That is why, even in a world of suffering, there can also be joy and shining light.”

Skipping forward twenty years to 2004, Miyazaki releases Howl’s Moving Castle, an adaptation of the British novel by Dianna Wynne Jones of the same name. However, Miyazaki made major changes to the sources of conflict in the story’s plot. One of Miyazaki’s greatest influences when screenwriting this film was his distaste for the violence in Iraq during 2003, saying he “had a great deal of rage about that” when prompted. This world is built on the foundations of magic and early 21st-century technology. Howl Pendragon-Jenkins is one of the main characters; a wizard who refuses to serve the king’s court in war. Other wizards who have devoted themselves and their powers to the war effort are no longer human. In reference to this, the character Calcifer states: “They’ll cry when they can’t figure out how to turn back.” to which Howl replies: “No, they will simply forget they ever knew how to cry”

The final film, Princess Mononoke was released in 1997 and is, arguably, Miyazaki’s magnum opus. In an attempt to touch upon darker and more solemn themes, Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli earned their first PG-13 rating with its release. On this topic, Geometry teacher Ms. Poullath commented “Miyazaki has a unique way of incorporating serious themes, such as environmentalism and anti-war themes, into his films in a whimsical yet somewhat disturbing way.”

Throughout the film’s 14th-century setting, Princess Mononoke aims to show its viewers how disharmony among the animals, people, and nature warrants detriment for everyone. The first act is ridden with the exploitation of the flora and fauna of Miyazaki’s world; followed by its source of conflict coming from natural forces “fighting back” against the human settlers. The quintessence of the forces of nature, the Forest Spirit, dies during the film’s apex. Before flooding the land, its death takes the form of a very familiar eruption; a dome of death from the sky, consuming and decaying all it touches. However, unlike the victims of the bombings the movie is referencing, the humans persevere and repent. In an act of unity, the main characters rebuild the town, vowing to live harmoniously with the forest and even aid its regrowth. Studio Ghibli fan Caris Lopez said “Studio Ghibli is unique when showing aspects of war in its movies. With Princess Mononoke, I couldn’t choose a side because both had their qualities of good and bad. Not one is fully virtuous or evil.” In reference to the Forest Spirit, one of our protagonists San (the Princess Mononoke) remarks “Even if all the trees grow back, it won’t be his forest anymore. The Forest Spirit is dead.” Only for her cohort Ashitaka to reply: “Never. He is life itself. He isn’t dead, San. He is here with us now, telling us, it’s time for both of us to live.”

Miyazaki isn’t the only Japanese artist to reflect Hiroshima and its cultural influence in his art and certainly won’t be the last. Godzilla, Akira, Fullmetal Alchemist, and even One Piece depict multiple parallels to the atom bomb. Miyazaki’s work acknowledges mankind’s contention to war and violence. But all he asks is that we don’t forget that Friday morning in 1945 when children were walking to school, wives were grocery shopping, and husbands, fathers, and sons were attending work. That Friday morning in 1945 when a second sun appeared over Hiroshima, Japan.

Works Cited

Miyazaki background and filmography – access date: 1/24 update: 1/24; access date: 1/24; update 1/24 access date: 1/24, update: 1/19 Daisuke Akimoto

Historical context – access date: 1/24, update: 1/24;

Hiroshima’s relevance today – access date: 1/24, update: 1/24

Miyazaki quotes and political stances – access date: 1/24, update: 1/24; access date: 1/24, update: 2/05; acess date: 1/24, update: 1/24; access date: 1/24, update: 8/23

Nausicaä of the Valley of the access date: 1/24, update: 1/24; access date: 1/24, 1/24; access date: 1/24, update: 10/20

Howl’s Moving access date: 1/24, update: 1/24 access date: 1/24, update: 1/24
Princess Mononoke – access date: 1/24, update: 1/24; access date: 1/24, update: 1/24

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About the Contributor
Corrin Santolucito
Corrin Santolucito, Staff Writer
Chloe Valentine “Corrin” Santolucito is a Junior at Santa Rosa Academy; born in 2007 in Newport Beach, California. Having grown up in Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee in addition to California, Corrin has seen multiple perspectives while growing up. They’re a musician of multiple instruments and an artist of multiple mediums. Their interests include art in the form of comic books, video games, literature, music, and visual arts. 
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  • B

    BlancaFeb 2, 2024 at 2:53 pm

    Beautifully written article , great job !

  • C

    CarisFeb 2, 2024 at 9:44 am

    Amazing job, Corrin! I love this article. Keep up the good work :DDD