Tuesday, September 29

Cosmology of Miyazaki movies part 1

Hayao Miyazaki, the anime maestro who is responsible for some of the most famous anime movies, incorporating all elements of nature as storytelling tool to give mood to his movies. In fact some remarked that his movies is not meant to be seen but to be felt. He uses fire, wind/air, water, wood, metal and earth as believed by East Asian mythos as 6 basic elements of nature to tell the story. Here 2 of his best known movies; Totoro (1988) and Princess Mononoke (1997) will be used to examine the use of these elements.

Trees played a major role in these 2 movies; Totoro and Mononoke Hime but in very opposing manner and symbolically incompatible with each other. The gentle sways of tree is beckoning and warm in Totoro, persuading Mei and Satsuki to explore their mystical world which appears to be benevolent and beckoning manner. The synthesis of wind and trees swaying in “happy” tone while accompanied by cheery soundtrack in Totoro made it look like have a dance fiesta, a party to welcome the guests into their midst. Unsurprisingly the sisters have their own version of good time in their own backyard with King Totoro as their bored and indifferent guide. This is Miyazaki's vision of nature as good force of mankind, nurturing and kind yet shy to be approached by easily corrupted humans.

It is noteworthy that Totoros can only be seen by certain people who did not have any expectations or common flaws that is associated with adult failings in modern world. Perhaps the forest itself carries the meaning of innocence and free from world failings, will open to anyone who has similar minds. The scene where Mei decided to go to hospital in search for their sick mother and subsequent rescue effort by Mei is accompanied by calming yet urgent breezy wind with the trees swaying at the same time to cheer them on. It is as if “they” are consoling the sister over their anxiety and urge them to go to see their mother instead of playing around with them.

Princess Mononoke however displayed more sinister aspect of the tree and wind elements, the former is dark and foreboding whereas the wind is there to as sign of troubled times, dark tidings ahead in the narrative. Ashitaka first encounter with demon form is fought in a stern, silent yet creepy terrain of big, tall trees. It is interesting to note when the scenes cuts into revelation of what is hiding the trees, Mononoke is a visceral and aggressive instead of friendly atmosphere as seen in Totoro. The swaying of branches in Mononoke maybe suggesting urgency and action instead of placid and relaxing aspect in Totoro, as if the trees are harbinger and silent witness of upcoming war between mankind and nature.

In one scene to illustrate this feel, the trees in concert with the gust of wind, sways around like an angry mob accusing all living things around it which accentuated by monkey spirits who were demanding the flesh of unconscious Ashitaka which San resisted their demand with her wolf god, Moro. If Totoro has a lot of life and vibrancy of the trees, in Mononoke, their actual death can be seen in form of chopped woods as the residents of Lady Eboshi's city use it indiscriminately. The indictment of mankind, gearing themselves for war in Mononoke, consuming resources is clearly shown in barren wasteland around the city while workers and lumberjacks patiently processing the trees to be transported into the city. There is also not much wind breeze in the city scenes, the viewers can see huge smog of industrial waste being pumped into the air from iron factories which an analogy of tools of deadly force (the weapons) bring the taint of death and anthropy to its surrounding (lack of wind and barren landscape). The air is dead and being “consumed” by the industrial smoke, sucking the life out of it which manifests in a lack of breeze.

Will be back soon with part 2.


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