Cinema and Media Studies Hayao Miyazaki
Raz Greenberg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0337


Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki (b. 1942) is arguably the most admired figure of Japan’s postwar animation industry (commonly known as anime). Deeply moved in his youth by his country’s first color feature-length animated film Hakujaden (Panda and the Magic Serpent, 1958, directed by Taiji Yabushita), Miyazaki decided to seek a career in animation after receiving his BA degree in politics and economy. Most of his output during the first sixteen years of his work as an animator consisted of working on other directors’ films and television shows. Miyazaki made his directorial debut, sharing credit and duties with his colleague Isao Takahata, on the television series Rupan Sansei (Lupin the Third, 1971–1972), an adaptation of a popular manga (comics) series about the exploits of a daring thief. The year 1979 saw the release of Miyazaki’s feature-length debut Rupan Sansei: Kariosuturo no Shiro (Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro), a spin-off of the television series, which gained attention for its spectacular action sequences. His second feature, Kaze no Tani no Naushika (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, 1984), a theatrical feature adaptation of his own long-running manga series about the quest of a pacifist princess to save a war-torn world destroyed in an environmental apocalypse, hailed for its beautiful animation, design, and environmental subtext. The success of Nausicäa of the Valley of the Wind led to the foundation of Studio Ghibli, under the creative management of Miyazaki and Takahata. A string of critically acclaimed works solidified his position as a leading director in Japan’s animation industry: the Victorian-flavored adventure Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta (Castle in the Sky, 1986), the nostalgic children’s fantasy Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro, 1988), the coming-of-age fantasy Majo no Takkyūbin (Kiki’s Delivery Service, 1989) and the historical comedy-adventure Kurenai no Buta (Porco Rosso, 1992). At the turn of the century, Miyazaki directed the acclaimed historical fantasy Mononoke Hime (Princess Mononoke, 1997) and the modern-day fantasy Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away, 2001), and each became the highest-grossing film in the history of Japanese cinema, an evidence of the important position that Miyazaki has achieved in Japan’s postwar culture. Spirited Away also won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2002. Miyazaki’s later films in the 21st century met with a more mixed reception. Hauru no Ugoku Shiro (Howl’s Moving Castle, 2004), Gake no Ue no Ponyo (Ponyo, 2008), and Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises, 2013) were praised for their visuals, but came under criticism for their narrative qualities. The ongoing debate as to who is going to be Miyazaki’s successor as Japan’s leading animator demonstrates the deep cultural influence that his work continues to have on other animators and filmmakers.

Career Overviews

Several books in English have explored Miyazaki’s biography and career, focusing mostly on his feature-length theatrical works. Although most of the historical information available in such books is also available from online sources, commentary and analysis provided in some of these books keeps them relevant, and makes them a very good starting point for the Miyazaki scholarship. McCarthy 1999 highlights the artistic and narrative qualities of each film by Miyazaki while Napier 2018 is more focused on the connection between Miyazaki’s personal biography and his ideology to his films. GhibliWiki is an online encyclopedic source, which remains the most comprehensive database in English for information about Miyazaki.

  • GhibliWiki

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    This online database, established in 1994 under the name "The Hayao Miyazaki Web" and switched to Wiki format in 2008, is the oldest and one of the most extensive online sources dedicated to Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli in English, containing information related to the studio personnel, films, and media materials. Although the website has lost its exclusiveness in the past ten years with the publication of both new books and new online sources, it remains a solid overview of Studio Ghibli’s work and its historical roots.

  • McCarthy, Helen. Hayao Miyazaki, Master of Japanese Animation: Films, Themes, Artistry. Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 1999.

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    The very first book written in English on Miyazaki’s work, at a time when most of this work was not available in translation in English-speaking territories, covering his feature-length work up to Princess Mononoke. Each film is discussed in the context of its design, plot, and themes, and McCarthy’s detailed analysis of each film, though criticized for its passionate tone made by an admitted fan of the director, remains thought provoking, emphasizing the humane subtext of Miyazaki’s filmography.

  • Napier, Susan. Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018.

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    Napier’s book analyzes Miyazaki’s feature-length filmography (examining all his films, up to and including The Wind Rises) offering a deep discussion of each film and how it reflects the director’s personal biography and his ideological views. Napier’s definition of the “Miyazakiworld”—the creation of an immersive animated world for each of Miyazaki’s films—as a staple for his work lays a solid basis for future study and discussions.

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