It’s 8 o’clock on a Friday, and 6-year old me is anxiously awaiting my father’s return from work. Per tradition, every Friday, my father would come home with a bag full of my favorite chocolate and Reese’s cup ice cream from Cold Stone, and we would eat together while watching Hayao Miyazaki films. As I grew older, I came to see these movies as a sort of transportation, their magic taking me to faraway lands of my own creation.
One of my all-time favorite Miyazaki movies is The Cat Returns, which follows an ordinary girl who saves a cat from oncoming traffic and in tribute is given the privilege of entering the Cat World. She actually becomes a cat! She meets a ragtag group of characters, and when forced to marry the King of the Cats, embarks on an epic journey back to the human world.
In each of Miyazaki's films, I’ve always found there to be a covert life lesson, and this movie is no exception. In The Cat Returns, nothing is as it seems. While the cats at first appear to be your average street cats, in reality, they can talk and have a world all their own. Just like with the cats, you should never judge a person by their cover, for there is always more to them than what meets the eye.
Spirited Away has to be my favorite movie of all time. It portrays the story of a young girl named Chihiro on a road trip with her family to her new house. On the way, they stumble upon a beautiful shrine, and her father insists on them exploring. To their awe, they find a lush grassy field and a seemingly abandoned amusement park. As dusk starts to fall, strange creatures appear, and Chihiro’s parents eat food that later turns them into giant pigs. Panicked Chihiro runs into a young boy named Haku, who happens to be a spirit himself, and he helps her navigate the spirit world and get her parents back.
Chihiro comes to work in a bathhouse in the spirit world that is ruled by a spirit named Yubaba. Yubaba is a witch who steals the names of different beings to control them. Upon Chihiro’s arrival, Yubaba changes her name to Sen, symbolically erasing Chihiro’s past from the human world. Repeatedly, Haku reminds Sen to not forget her name, for without it she will not be able to get home. Spirited Away reminds us of the importance of always remembering who you are, for if you do, no one can ever overcome your power.
Next is Howl’s Moving Castle, a story about a young girl named Sophie who works at her family’s hat shop. She is cursed by the Witch of the Waste, who turns her into an old woman. Unable to live her life at home, she seeks out the notorious wizard Howl and comes to live in his constantly moving “castle” along with a motley cast of characters.
This movie teaches the lesson that home is not a concrete place but instead the people that make you feel loved and supported. Howl’s castle was always moving and even had doors within it that transported the characters to different worlds. But despite all this, Howl and Sophie and the inhabitants of the house always felt most at home when they spent time with one another.
All these movies hold important lessons, but the most glaring takeaway 6-year old me recognized in these films was the importance of magic. These stories all had fantastical worlds and mystical beings, but I have always felt that the most powerful magic came from inside the main characters themselves. Here is a clip from Howl's Moving Castle that I feel really illustrates this message.
Looking back, I feel that I can give credit to these amazing films for shaping the course of my childhood and making me the creative individual that I am today. Because of Hayao Miyazaki, I want to create art that makes others feel magic, the same way that Miyazaki's films did and still do when I sit down each Friday with my dad to watch them.
(This is a picture that I painted this year of the main characters in Spirited Away.)
If you decide to watch these films or any others by Hayao Miyazaki, please let me know what you think.