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Fidel Castro 2018/10/11 20:49:46

Essay on Miyazaki and Marxism
(Dunno where to post this so it goes here.)

Swedish Socialist publication Flamman published this long essay on Hayao Miyazaki which shares some interesting tidbits about his past and influences and naturally interprets his films from a Socialist viewpoint, but given Miyazaki's background I'd say it holds up.

So, as both a Marxist myself and Studio Ghibli fan I decided to translate the essay into English. The translation is admittedly janky and may contain instances of Swenglish, but I hope it can be enjoyed nevertheless. Also, I suck at formatting but I'll try my best.

A hopeful pessimist.

The director Hayao Miyazaki is once again on peoples' minds when ten of his classic movies are shown at Swedish cinemas. Johan Persson tells of a gloomy revolutionary who never stopped making optimistic movies.

Hayao Miyazaki the Revolutionary

An environmental disaster became the springboard to his artistry. Despite a pessimistic view on humankind's ability to live in peace and in balance with nature, Hayao Miyazaki continued to make complex films that present hope and belief in the future.

In 1956 severe neurological ailments of several inhabitants in the town of Minamata on the Japanese island of Kyushu's west coast were brought up to the public. The unknown disease seemed to be able to transfer to fetuses in the womb. 35 percent of those who fell ill died. After three years it was found that the ailments were due to mercury poisoning. Since 1932 a factory of the chemical company Chisso had been releasing methyl quicksilver straight into the Minamata bay.

Despite this discovery the authorities and the company did very little. One of Chisso's few measures was to set up a subsidiary to extract quicksilver out of the seabed after it was found out that it contained two kilos of quicksilver per each ton of sediment. Not until 1968 the emissions ceased. The lawsuits of those affected against the state and Chisso still continue today. The Minamata scandal, along with many other cases of industrial contamination, created a new environmental and consumers movement in Japan. One of the Japanese cultural workers that were left with a strong imprint by this catastrophe was the young illustrator Hayao Miyazaki.

Hayao Miyazaki was born in Tokyo in 1941. His father, Katsuji Miyazaki, was a flight engineer who ran a factory that produced aircraft parts to the Japanese air force. In 1944 the family were evacuated to Utsunomiya, 100 kilometres north of Tokyo, an important centre for the Japanese war industry.

The 12th of July B29 bombers belonging to the 58th division of the American air force released bombs with a total mass of 728 tons over Utsunomiya. In the fire storm that followed large parts of the city were destroyed. The Miyazaki family once again had to flee.

Even though he only was four years old when Japan capitulated his experiences during the war, especially during the mass bombing of Utsunomiya, came to strongly characterise Hayao Miyazaki's life and artistry. The young Hayao often argued with his father who he thought refused to accept his responsibility for Japan's warfare. At the same time father and son shared a fascination for flying and aircrafts. Hayao got good at drawing warplanes, warships and tanks. Humans on the other hand he thought were harder to draw. During the third year in high school, when he was supposed to study for the university entry exams, Miyazaki snuck out to watch Panda and the Magic Serpent (Hakujaden), the first full-length anime movie in colour, in the cinema. An interest for animation was born. He got accepted into the elite university Gakushuin, where many members of the imperial family had studied, and studied economics and political science. At this time he had started considering himself a Marxist.

After getting his degree he got employed at Tôei, "The Disney of Asia", as an animations assistant. It was at Tôei that Miyazaki met the six years older director Isao Takahata. They would develop a friendship and an artistic cooperation that lasted until the death of Takahata during the summer of 2018.
Work as an animator was low-paying and soon Miyazaki got involved in the militant animator's union. In 1964 he got chosen as secretary for the union branch at Tôei while Takahata became vice chairman.

During the 70's Miyazaki animated, wrote and directed anime for TV broadcasting. It was during this time he visited Sweden with mission to secure the rights to a TV series of Pippi Longstocking. The author of Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren, flatly refused and Miyazaki returned empty-handed, but the impressions from the cities of Stockholm and Visby would influence him later in his career.

In 1979 he received the opportunity to direct his first own feature-length movie, Castle of Cagliostro, the most overlooked part of his filmography. It's the only one of his feature-length movies that is missing when Swedish SF Bio is showing Miyazaki x 10.
It's for certain the only Miyazaki movie that is included in an already established anime canon. It's about the popular character Lupin III, created by artist Monkey Punch, but many themes and visual features that he would return to were established here: strange airplanes, ruins reclaimed by nature and speedy chasing sequences.
The movie flopped. The fans reacted negatively to the change in tone and the characterisation of the protagonists.

After Castle of Cagliostro Miyazaki had troubles getting to make his next movie for several years. At the beginning of the 80's most animation studios were skeptical to orinigal ideas that weren't bases on already popular manga works.
During the launch of Castle of Cagliostro Miyazaki had gotten familiar with Toshio Suzuki, editor at the anime and entertainment magazine Animage. Suzuki convinced Miyazaki to realise his ideas in the form of a manga. In 1982 Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind started its serialisation in Animage. The story of a post-apocalyptic world being swallowed by a poisonous jungle was obviously inspired by the environmental disaster in Minamata.
The manga quickly became popular and Miyazaki was convinced to make a feature film based on it. In Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind from 1983 several themes typical of Miyazaki were first introduced: The young female protagonist, the madness of war and nature that strikes back when it's threatened. Another constant in Miyazaki's films has been the collaboration with the experimental composer Joe Hisaishi.

In 1985 Topcraft, the studio behind Nausicaä, went bankrupt and was bought up by Hayao Miyazaki together wth Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki. And so Studio Ghibli was born, named after what the Italians call the hot desert wind that blows from the Libyan highlands towards the Mediterranean Sea. Ghibli is also the nickname for the Italian plane Caproni Ca.309 used during WWII.

In 1986 Studio Ghibli's first film, Laputa: Castle in the Sky was released. To acquire inspiration for the films environments Miyazaki twice visited Rhondda, Wales, right during and after the great coal mine strike. In an interview with Helen McCarthy in 1999 he explained how the struggle of the workers affected the film:
"I was in Wales right after the miners' strike. I admired the way the miners' union fought until the bitter end, for their workers' and communities' sake, and I wanted that the film would mirror the power of those communities."

In 1988 Studio Ghibli released two films. While Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies is a heart wrenching story about two orphaned siblings during the final stage of the Second World War. Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro is a quiet and beautiful reflection on childhood and nature animated by spirits.

The story about eleven years old Satsuki and four years old Mei who move into an old house at the outskirst of a great forest to be close to their mother who is bedridden in a sanatorium has some autobiographical features. Miyazaki's own mother was bedridden, having tuberculosis, between 1947 and 1955.

The environments in the film are examples of what in Japanese is called satoyama, "in-between village and mountain", the common lands consisting of grassy fields, wetlands and forests that surrounded Japanese villages. During the 80's many satoyama were about to disappear as the traditional village life was replaced by large scale agricultural production. My Neighbour Totoro was a part of the campaign to preserve the unique environments, an undertaking that is led today by Totoro Hometown Foundation.
In Kiki's Delivery Service from 1989 Miyazaki finally found use of what he experienced during the failed Pippi mission; the film's Koriko is in large part based on the town of Visby and the Old Town of Stockholm.

Porco Rosso from 1992 is one of few Miyazaki films that take place in an identifiable place during an identifiable time. The fable about the flying ace Marco who is turned into an anthropomorphic pig takes place in the Kvarner Bay of the Adriatic Sea, with the fascist takeover as its setting. Despite the sunny and romantic flight adventure Porco Rosso is perhaps also Miyazaki's most pronounced political film. The main character, "The Red Pig", declares that he is rather a pig than a fascist.

In 1997 the epic fantasy film Princess Mononoke was released, depicting the conflict between the human's in the Irontown and the spirits of the woods. The film distinguishes itself with its moral complexity. Irontown's leader Lady Eboshi wants to extract the resources of the forest, but she isn't driven by greed or a thirst for violence like the opponents in Nausicaä or Castle in the Sky. Instead her goal is to make Irontown into a sanctuary for the outcasts of society.

Spirited Away from 2001 is about Chihiro who together with her parents happens to wander into the world of spirits. When Chihiro's parents are turned into pigs she is forced to take employment at the witch Yubaba's bathhouse. The huge bathhouse has been seen as a depiction of capitalism where Chihiro is alienated to the extent of losing her own name, which Yubaba exchanges with Sen, meaning “a thousand” in Japanese. A name which reduces Chihiro's identity to that of her monetary value.

The film became Studio Ghibli's real breakthrough in the West and won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. Miyazaki refused to travel to Hollywood to receive the prize as a protest against the United States' wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The resistance to the United States' warfare came to make up the background for his next film, Howl's Moving Castle, from 2004. The film is based on a fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones but Miyazaki added a strong anti-war message to the plot.
In 2008 Ponyo was released, a return to the childhood depiction in Totoro where the balance between the world of humankind and nature is central.

It would take until 2013 before Miyazaki's next film. The Wind Rises is a partly fictional biography of the flight engineer Jiro Horikoshi who dreams of designing beautiful aircrafts but instead has to construct warplanes. Miyazaki here returned to his lifelong fascination for flying as the both the ultimate freedom and a potentially destructive power when in the service of militarism.

After The Wind Rises Miyazaki explained that he intends to go into retirement. But in 2016 Studio Ghibli announced that he had started working on a new film, based on Genzaburo Yoshino's childhood novel Kimitachi Wa Dô Ikiru Ka (How Do You Live?).

Miyazaki has mainly been seen as a visual master, more interested in pictures and environments than stories. This makes the political aspect of his artistry an oft-forgotten one. Feminism, environmental issues and war resistance have been as recurring as watercolour backgrounds and detailed scenery.

Around the fall of the Soviet Union Miyazaki stopped considering himself a Marxist. According to himself it was because he had come to the conclusion that workers aren't always the good guys, an opinion that few Marxists certainly wouldn't have any problem agreeing with.

In an interview from 2008 in Studio Ghibli's own magazine Neppu Miyazaki still voices a more or less Marxist analysis of capitalism. What he seems to have lost belief in are the possibilities of socialism. His view on mankind is too pessimistic to allow for such a conviction. The democratic socialism he may possibly believe in is small-scale and local. As with William Morris his resistance against industrial civilisation lies in the tension between green conservatism and a Marxist trust in the possibilities of collective non-alienating labour.

The essayist Margaret Talbot has called Miyazaki a case-in-point example of Gramsci's adage of "pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will". Despite a deep distrust of humankind's ability to live in peace and balance with nature he continues to make films that present optimism and belief in the future.
In an interview in Neppu he speaks of his memories from his time as a young union activist:
"I consider us to have the right to revolt. To speak about my own experiences, I was very involved with the unions during the 1960's. I don't mean to say that our activism was right or wrong. But it was better to do something than not doing anything. Revolutions should be made everywhere."

Johan Persson
Flamman, October 11th 2018, issue 40

Better Ghost 2018/10/11 23:04:10

Posting to remind myself to read this after work. I’d recommend putting this in The Depths but will wait to move it until you provide further feedback on placement. If you’re fine having it visible to search engines it can go in the General Arts forum or whatever it’s called these days.

I need to watch more of Miyazaki’s films. The only ones I’ve seen are Porco Rosso and Spirited Away, and I’m 99% sure I was too young to appreciate the latter when I saw it. Looks like they’re showing a lot of them at cinemas near me over the next year or so, so I’ll have to try to keep up with that.

ETA: I’m home from work and I am figuratively dead now. Remind me to read this tomorrow in case I forget.

Fidel Castro 2018/10/12 13:26:26

Oh, having it in General Arts would be neat, that way I could link it to people.

Drav 2018/10/13 03:02:42

Never forget

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