Regardless of the medium, the most important element of a film is it’s plot. Characters, framing, colors; as beneficial as they are, they are nothing when telling a useless story.
However, how a plot is received is largely dependent on the method by which it is conveyed. This is something we have come to learn by looking at movie adaptations of books. Although opinions vary from person to person, most people would agree that movie adaptations of a written work rarely succeed in capturing what people had in mind.
Hayao Miyazaki has become known in the animation world for his impressive ability to tell a story through his art. The man has produced many hits, including the only anime to ever win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, Spirited Away.
His secret lies in the animation. The way he utilizes color and composition in his work allows for his plot to be fully expressed. Each and every scene is tailored to the emotion it is supposed to convey.
Miyazaki has found a way to manufacture a wide range of emotion using just a pen and paper. His impact can be attributed to the many tools he uses to get us to feel.
This is the easiest aspect to observe and one of the most important elements of good animation: Color. The importance of color is evident not only in 2D art, but in all aspects of cinema, from 3D animation to film. Color is where emotion can find it’s residence. Get the wrong color scheme, and a whole scene can be ruined. With certain styles of animation(shadeless animation for example), color is the only thing that keeps the shot together. Miyazaki is a master when it comes to this. He utilizes color in a way that invokes the perfect combination of emotions. With the help of a light soundtrack, it often leaves his audience in tears.
People these days are calling Makoto Shinkai, director of Your Name, a modern day Miyazaki(Miyazaki is still alive, guys). Although this title refers to his film’s success, I believe Shinkai’s work does share a lot of similarities aesthetically to that of the legend. The design and animation of Mitsuha and Taki seemed reminiscent of many of the characters I have come to know and love through Studio Ghibli. The range of expression on the character’s faces visible just from the trailer was something I had not seen in most anime to date.
Aside from just visuals, Miyazaki’s characters are highly relatable, and are often multifaceted in terms of personality. His protagonists are more than just a few stereotypical quirks that you often find in Japanese animation today. Even the antagonists have a good side. It is often said that a villain in a Miyazaki film isn’t a villain at all, but just a person who is misunderstood. I’ll be sure to talk about character development at a later time.
This is something that really stood out to me about Your Name. It has some great animation, both in camera and in character. The characters move in a way that makes one just feel good. Sometimes one can tell when shots have been ‘cheated’ using 2.5 D animation, but overall the film looked and sounded wonderful.
Miyazaki discovered how to create animations that are easily digestible, in that one doesn’t feel foreign to it. For certain animes, an animation can sometimes seem overdone, making the crying or whatever is happening during that scene feel fake. With Miyazaki, he makes it seem natural, so that you can cry without feeling silly for empathizing with a soulless piece of paper.
My mother watched the entirety of your Lie in April with me and didn’t shed a single tear. She didn’t for Spirited Away either, but she was very quiet afterwards…
Wrapping Things Up
The plot is the basis for all moving pictures, but it can only truly shine through it’s presentation. Color, animation, and characters are all integral tools to successfully conveying a point. Although he is not the first to do it, Hayao Miyazaki has dominated the Japanese animation industry for many years. Through the many successful films he has directed, the man has made a name for himself that will last for decades(or even centuries!) after he’s gone. He has figured out how manipulate human emotion using nothing more than simple cel sheets. This article is only breaks down the visual side of his success.
There is a reason why I called this article “Emotional Storytelling” instead of “Visual storytelling”. Any director worth his salt can tell you how to convey an idea. Miyazaki can do that and at the same time tell you how to feel about it.
We are all trying to figure out how to tell a story, and no opinion is wrong(except the racist ones :P). If you disagree with what I wrote here or would like to add something to the conversation, please let me know however you please. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You could also comment below if you prefer for others to see it.