Ecological Narratives | Hayao Miyazaki's | Films | 10th December 2022 | Virtual Wire
Hayao Miyazaki’s films seem relatively simplistic on the surface, but they tend to be extremely thought-provoking and contain deeper meanings and values as presented through animated landscapes.
His films depict a portrait of the relationship between humans and the environment. Miyazaki makes his characters confront the damage they cause to the environment, which consequently forces us to think about our own practices. These films are all decades old and still provide a far more urgent understanding of the environmental problems that the world faces today. He also makes extensive use of fantasy in his stories.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Satsuki and Mei, two little girls, move to a new home in the countryside with their father as their mother is getting treated for an illness in a hospital nearby. They both soon discover and befriend a strange and unusual creature—the forest spirit, Totoro. The movie begins with images of greenery, rural lands and fields, and natural landscapes that look like paintings. Their new house is surrounded by dense forest. When Satsuki and Mei ride along with their father to visit their mother at the hospital, they pass by acres of green fields and forest. One afternoon, when Satsuki is away at school, Mei discovers two mystical little creatures while playing. She follows them into the bushes and, through a thick grove of trees and a leafy tunnel, falls into a place where she witnesses a humongous creature sleeping. Mei finally encounters the giant Totoro.
When she tells her father and sister about it and takes them to show them where Totoro is, she realizes that the trail is lost. Her father tells them that it must be the spirits guarding the forest, and then they all greet them and say a little prayer. This illustrates the message of showing civility and reverence to the nature that surrounds us. When Satsuki and Mei become curious about the big camphor tree near their house, their father tells them that the tree has been there for a long time when man and nature used to be friends and lived in harmony. This is a comment on the growing imbalance between man and his surroundings. This big camphor tree symbolizes the power of resistance that nature holds. Having faced all forms of oddities, be they natural or man-made, the tree still stands tall.
Spirited Away (2001)
A young girl, Chihiro, is moving to a new place with her parents. While on their way to their new home, they get lost in the woods and stop in front of a tunnel that leads them to an abandoned amusement park. Despite Chihiro’s resistance, her parents insist on exploring the place. The entire place is eerily quiet and strangely devoid of people. They come across a restaurant loaded with alluring food, and her parents start eating ceaselessly. And as the sun sets, they magically turn into pigs, and the world of spirits comes to life.
Chihiro is transported to the realm of magic and fantasy. She is trapped in the world of spirits. Haku, a young boy, helps her seek work from Yubaba, the witch who runs the bathhouse for spirits, in order to escape from this world. Yubaba steals her name, and Chihiro now known as Sen. Haku reminds Sen of her original identity and her parents, whom she was slowly forgetting. Sen is given the task of cleaning a stinking spirit who visits the bathhouse. The spirit happens to be the guardian of a great river, and the accumulation of the humongous amount of waste in it gives us a picture of the alarming rate at which we are polluting our rivers and water bodies, putting in danger the maritime ecosystem.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Princess Mononoke takes us back to ancient times, a time when the spirits of the gods, men, and beasts lived in harmony. But as time progressed, forests were destroyed by humans, and what remained was guarded by the beasts in allegiance with the forest spirits. Ashitaka, a young warrior belonging to the Amishi tribe, is cursed by a boar god who attacked his village in the form of a demon. He was accidentally touched by it while fighting. A piece of iron is discovered in the demon’s body. Ashitaka sets out to the east in search of the Great Forest Spirit, Shishigami, who holds the power to lift his curse. There he comes across Lady Eboshi, who runs the Irontown. And San, also known as Princess Mononoke, is the girl raised by the wolves. There he learns how Lady Eboshi shot the boar god, which turned him into a demon.
Lady Eboshi aims to clear out the forests and kill the Great Forest Spirit in order to mine iron ore, but San and the wolf tribe intend to protect the forest at any cost. The boar tribe seeks revenge for the loss of their mate, and a war breaks out between them and the humans. When Lady Eboshi beheads Shishigami, everything turns dark and the wind stops blowing. All the essential forms of nature—earth, air, water, and soil—are sucked out of life. The Irontown is destroyed by the Forest Spirit’s wound. Right after his head is restored by the efforts of San and Ashitaka, all things spring back to life. Lady Eboshi realizes her mistake and promises to build a better town in harmony with the forest dwellers. Princess Mononoke presents how the devastation humans cause in the natural environment in turn will bring their own misery.
Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind (1984)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is set in a post-apocalyptic world where thousands of years have already passed since the collapse of industrial civilization. The last of the human race who has survived life on the outskirts of a densely polluted forest is the Toxic Jungle. These forests are inhabited by giant insects, of which the Ohmu pose the greatest threat. The plant life and the spores from this jungle are fatal to humans. People need to wear masks, or else they would end up dying if they breathed in the air of the toxic jungle for more than five minutes. Nausicaa is the young princess of the Valley of the Wind. Nausicaa finds a way to revive the purity of nature by growing plants in the toxic jungle and tending them with clear water and soil, which ultimately makes them non-poisonous.
But she gets caught up in the political turmoil that emerges between the other human communities, the Tolmekis and the Pejits. She also discovers that the space beneath the toxic jungle has clean air to breathe, so the insects of the toxic jungle are actually guarding it. The Tolkienites conspire to get rid of the Ohms. Nausicaa’s intervention brings all the chaos to an end. And the ohms return back to their habitats without causing any harm to anybody. She becomes a medium for establishing harmony between insects and humans. Her empathy towards nature and its creatures gives us the message of how we should respect and preserve our natural environment, or else the consequence of our excessive activities will result in our own extinction.