Reviews 2010

在動靜收放之間─宮崎駿動畫的「文法」 [Between Openness and Closeness: The “Grammar” of Hayao Miyazaki’s Animated Films]

在動靜收放之間─宮崎駿動畫的「文法」 [Between Openness and Closeness: The “Grammar” of Hayao Miyazaki’s Animated Films]. 游珮芸 [Pei-Yun Yu]. Taipei: Taiwan Interminds Publishing Inc, 2010. 215 pages. NTD 350 (paperback).

Since the Japanese animated film director Hayao Miyazaki became widely known to the rest of the world, many book-length studies and articles have been published on his film technique, themes and stories outside Japan. One of these studies is Between Openness and Closeness: The “Grammar” of Hayao Miyazaki’s Animated Films, which was written in Mandarin Chinese by the Taiwanese scholar, Pei-Yun Yu. In her study, Yu takes a fresh look at Miyazaki’s art. The term “grammar” in the book’s subtitle refers to the dynamic interrelations between elements of animated film arts, including stories, themes, characterisation, picture styles, and narrative structure. Yu’s analysis of the interplay between these elements leads her to interpret each of Miyazaki’s films as stages in a much larger creative project, so that she regards all Miyazaki’s films as “fluid and interconnected compositions rather than as static and separate entities” (p. 39: my translation). This theoretical standpoint is roughly defined in Chapter One, and then further framed and clarified in subsequent chapters, especially Chapters Four and Five.

Yu has a particular interest in the representations of child images in Miyazaki’s films and takes them as the expressions of Miyazaki’s idea of childhood. Before exploring the images in the composition of Miyazaki’s films, in Chapter Two she pays close attention to the reception of Miyazaki’s films in Taiwan, in order to argue that the images of children in his films can explain their popularity. She reports the result of her survey, which was conducted in the form of questionnaires and interviews among three age groups (elementary school students, junior high school students, and graduate adult students) for their opinions on Miyazaki’s films. The result shows that the two younger age groups prefer light-hearted films such as My Neighbour Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, while adults enjoy Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and Kiki’s Delivery Service in which they empathise with the principle characters. This chapter represents Yu’s attempt to highlight the attraction of Miyazaki’s child images to dual audiences. However, the chapter’s singular focus on Taiwanese film reviewers’ responses does not address the necessary relation between the child images in Miyazaki’s films and their cross-cultural popularity around the world. On the other hand, it is consistent with the book’s blurb, which states that Yu’s film analysis of Miyazaki’s child images is Taiwanese oriented. All these imply that Taiwanese have been under influences of Japanese manga culture, whose history is also charted in the chapter.

Yu is very aware of her Taiwanese readership, whose status as a non-Japanese audience can equally apply to readers of other nationalities outside Japan. Therefore, in Chapter Three, using scholarly sources written in Japanese as well as personal interviews with Miyazaki and the director’s autobiography, Yu provides detailed background information concerning Japanese folktale and pagan faith, whose essence has been reinvented and employed in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. In addition to explaining traditional Japanese beliefs in the Other World and the various images of gods in relation to the film, Yu elucidates why the female main character’s act of name-reclaiming is the only way home. Yu argues that the female main character’s original given name indicates not only her own identity but also her essence and potency. Her reclamation of her name emphasises Miyazaki’s notion of the child: enmeshed in complicated information fluxes of modern society, children are losing their potency and creativity, which have to be revived through their actions prompted by children’s own self agency in daily life. This argument paves a path for Yu’s film analysis in Chapters Four and Five, where she explores Miyazaki’s two later films, Spirited Away and Ponyo, and frequently refers to other films ─ Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, Princess Mononoke, and Howl’s Moving Castle ─ for comparison.

Yu’s overview of Miyazaki’s output in Chapters Four and Five enables her to detect changes in the kinds of challenges the protagonists face and their motivations for doing so. In his early films, such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, where the protagonist is destined to carry out a mission in life for collective benefits; in the later films, Spirited Away for instance, the main character fights against all odds for personal survival, and in Ponyo, the latest film, presents the playful atmosphere of childish fantasy. The transition in the nature of the protagonists’ struggles and their actions expresses Miyazaki’s belief in children’s dormant potency, which can spring into life when they face challenges (107-108). During the transition, Miyazaki returns to hand-drawn animation for a better portrayal of the child subjects’ lively spirit, which computer-generated images cannot achieve. The antonyms “openness” and “closeness” in book title is frequently used as the tropes to describe the interesting relationship between the story axis and technological axis along which Miyazaki’s film-making art evolves: he has been moving his focus closer to child protagonists, whose vivid character and mentality can only be grasped by hand-drawn animation and suggested by the open-ended plot structure. Yu astutely points out that the harmoniously interwoven state between story contents and their artistic forms merely conveys Miyazaki’s idealised version of the child. Yu’s analysis of Miyazaki’s action-paced films as visualisation of his childhood idea retrospectively corresponds to the director’s notion of the child she mentioned in the previous chapter. According to Yu’s contextualised study, the director has paradoxically warned young children against watching too many television programmes and animated films, which would jeopardize the potency he cherishes in children. Chapters Four and Five could have been perfectly concluded if Yu had explained or resolved the conundrum as to why Miyazaki devotes himself to film-making, the genre which he believes can endanger children’s potency, and why his films attract a great number of audiences, who are spiritually energised by their viewing experiences.

Chapter Six, the final chapter, offers a summary of the findings, which are contextualised against the backdrop of Miyazaki’s career development. The chapter also contains Yu’s reflections on future directions in which Miyazaki’s films can be studied, including motion-picture representations of characters’ perspectives, the role of music in expressing film themes, symbolism of landscape, the distinctness of Japanese culture in films and their transcultural appeal. From the perspective of film composition analysis, Yu’s book offers a fine study of artistic manifestation of child images and ideas in Miyazaki’s films, which makes it a good reading to anyone interested in Miyazaki’s art.

Chen-Wei Yu
Fo-Guang University, Taiwan