Hayao Miyazaki gets retrospective at LA Academy museum – ARTnews.com
In Hayao Miyazaki’s beloved 1988 film My neighbor Totoro, two young sisters move into a new house. As the couple explore their new backyard, they encounter magical tree-dwelling creatures, the largest of which passes by Totoro. Totoro, a large round gray and white creature with tree-shaped ears, plays the flute, helps plants grow, and ultimately helps the girls cope with their anxiety over their mother’s failing health. The effect of the film is singular, capturing the charm of a young child’s imagination and awe of nature. Yet beneath the fantasy of the film, one feels that something deeper and more emotionally complex is at play – a statement about learning that you can’t control every aspect of your life. As with all Miyazaki films, the real magic comes from the ability of our young protagonists to overcome these challenges via worlds populated by spirits, wizards and cat-buses.
In Japan, where Miyazaki has long been based, films like My neighbor Totoro are considered iconic. Jessica Niebel, curator of the brand new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, said she came across a quote from Isao Takahata, co-founder of Studio Ghibli, who has produced many Miyazaki films: Japan see trees, they expect a Totoro to live there, and this is their greatest achievement. The same could probably be said for children in the United States, as evidenced by an exhibition curated by Niebel. The retrospective (on view until June 5, 2022) showcases Miyazaki’s prolific production over the course of his career. Its films have been praised for their immersion, world-building and incredible characters, especially the many young girls who often play the roles of its protagonists.
Only one Miyazaki film has ever won an Oscar: Abducted as if by magic (2002), which follows a young girl, Chihiro, who is forced to work in a public spirit bath after her parents are captured by an evil witch who runs the establishment. But, as this retrospective shows, the rest of Miyazaki’s filmography is equally impressive, achieving a level of consistency, mastery, and imagination that defines him as a talent unique in a generation.
Niebel made the first trip to speak with executives at Studio Ghibli in 2017, and then worked on the show for four years. From this partnership was born a loan of 300 works, including preparatory sketches, character files and finished animation cels. At the Academy Museum, these works are accompanied by immersive presentations, video installations, etc. “We knew we didn’t want to just explore his work chronologically,” Niebel said. “Rather, we wanted to explore its philosophical and thematic concerns separately while allowing visitors to gain insight into its process.”
In the first gallery, for example, visitors will encounter a light tunnel that replaces the portal-like structures or transitional spaces that appear in many Miyazaki films. In the following rooms there are meditations on nature and our place in it, as well as on Miyazaki’s own life and the consequences of the war. “The first half covers these beautiful natural surroundings that you find in all of his films,” Niebel said. “While the other half focus on their representations of industry and technology, as we see in Abducted as if by magic. “
Miyazaki is known for dealing with difficult themes with the kind of nuance that many critics consider unusual for films aimed at children. Susan Napier, a Japanese media scholar who wrote a biography of the filmmaker, says Miyazaki’s production differs from typical American animated films. “Disney tends to be kind of binary: good or bad, black or white, and everything ends well forever,” Napier said. “But in Ghibli’s films, there is more gray than black or white. There is a lot of ambiguity – good people suffer.
Napier believes that an event in Miyazaki’s childhood prompted him to constantly make films about children who must evolve to gain the strength to face injustice and difficult moral issues. Miyazaki was around four years old when her family had to flee Tokyo as American forces bombed the city during World War II. Escaping in a van through the burning streets, people demanded to get into the family’s car. Miyazaki once recalled that a young woman with a child pleaded for entry. His parents denied him, saying there was no more room. According to Napier, Miyazaki always regretted not saying something then. “My theory is that one of the ways he deals with this trauma is to write children’s stories that say, ‘No, we have to do things differently, we have to get adults to think better. “
From an early age, Miyazaki showed a talent for drawing, something he developed throughout his schooling and college years, even while studying political science. While his dedication was a necessary aspect of his success, Miyazaki’s exceptional visual memory also helped him achieve his rich images, according to Toshio Suzuki, the former president of Studio Ghibli. “Whether the object of his interest is buildings, landscapes or people, he never takes a camera to take a picture. He also doesn’t make pencil sketches on paper, ”Suzuki writes in the exhibition catalog. “It could be a year, at the earliest, or ten years later that he draws it.” Although Miyazaki’s near-photographic memory is one of his great talents, it is where his memory fails that Miyazaki begins to fill in the gaps with his own imagination, producing works “full of originality”, writes Suzuki. .
With the exhibition, Niebel hopes to be able to share some of the lessons she has learned from working so closely with Miyazaki’s films. “He’s a great teacher for many,” she said, “and I’m sure he would even want to be seen that way.”