Hayao Miyazaki – Part 2 of 3 – Children and the Ordinary Life

Chihiro from Spirited Away - miyazaki

Chihiro from Spirited Away

Last time, we looked at the idea behind how villains are portrayed as villains due to their misuse and abuse of natural resources, gods and the like. When making films, the characters will often be based on real people. Not a person in particular, but in general. This allows children who are of the same age as the protagonist relate and identify with them. In this blog post, we will look at Miyazaki’s relatable protagonists and how much they have in common with the viewer.

Hayao Miyazaki and relatable protagonists

Said Miyazaki in an interview:

“I haven’t chosen to just make the character of Chihiro likes this, it’s because there are many young girls in Japan right now who are like that… What made me decide to make this film was the realisation that there are no films made for that age group of ten-year old girls. It was through observing the daughter of a friend that I realised there were no films out there for her, no films that directly spoke to her…  For that it was necessary to have a heroine who was an ordinary girl, not someone who could fly or do something impossible.
Just a girl you can encounter anywhere in Japan.”

Miyazaki creates his character on the basis that people can relate to them. Which is why in his films, situations seem ordinary. Whisper of the Heart is a good example of everyday life. A child in school. Or Sosuke in Ponyo going to kindergarten, or having dinner with his mum. In Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro, both Main Characters are facing moving away. Characters are relatable in Miyazaki’s stories. Not all fly, not all have superpowers. And even the ones that do, have something ordinary, and relatable. What makes these extraordinary is the child’s ability to imagine, and bring the inexplicable to life.

The childish Protagonists

cat-busPart of the reason Miyazaki’s films are so successful, is because of their strong child protagonists, or, in the case of Howl’s Moving Castle, a childish protagonist. Miyazaki uses children protagonists to introduce unseen worlds, imaginary worlds, or to collide worlds together. For example, Chihiro finds an invisible bath house for gods. Ashitaka see the forest gods and the mechanical age collide, and nature in Ponyo clashes as she wants to stay with Sosuke on dry land. Laputa encounters flying castles, and children meet Totoro and a Catbus.

Dani Cavallaro in their critical study of Hayao Miyazaki, they quote and explain:

“Miyazaki’s first priority lies with his film’s ability to speak to the very young “In today’s world” declares Miyazaki “I think children are where we put our final hopes. So it’s enough if the 5-year-olds understand the movie, even if the 50-something won’t. Kids are able to grasp things on the basis of ‘pure intuition’, in a way which mostly goes beyond what adults are capable of.”

His films feature relatable children, for the next generation. To teach principles previously looked at like the importance of nature versus the greed of man. The importance of family, and the necessity for imagination and individuality. For this, he needs childlike protagonists. For this, he needs the ordinary.

Odell, C and LeBlanc, M. 2009. Studio Ghibli: The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Harpenden: Oldcastle Books.
Cavallaro, D. 2014, The Late Works of Hayao Miyazaki: A Critical Study 2004-2013. McFarland: USA

Fig 1. Screenshot from Spirited Away
Fig 2. Screenshot from My Neighbour Totoro


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *