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Miyazaki world painting

Berkley Devotes an Entire Course to the Work of Hayao Miyazaki


One of the most critical filmmakers of our time, Hayao Miyazaki is the subject of a university course dedicated exclusively to the analysis of his films.

Anyone fond of animation and, more generally, of film that moves us (film which broadens our aesthetics and our understanding of the limits of reality), will agree on the importance of Hayao Miyazaki in the recent history of artistic expression. During a career that now spans more than 50 years, the Japanese director went beyond the borders of culture and was pushed by the force of his own creativity and the unique vision of the world expressed in his feature films. While certain aspects of Japanese tradition appear to be understandable only from within their own context, the films of Miyazaki found the common ground from which almost any viewer can take something, and feel that something was understood in a communion of subjectivity.

This doesn’t happen often. In the whole history of the arts, very few talents have achieved this level of widespread acceptance. And it’s not easy to pin-point reasons that explain Miyazaki’s genius, though perhaps it’s possible to venture an enumeration of some of the elements of that genius. For creativity alone, the work is impressive. But Miyazaki also displays a particularly intense dedication to his work, a peculiar mix of love and discipline. He’s also incorporated multiple cultural currents and even political positions to develop his own narrative style. Perhaps some other elements come together into Miyazaki’s unpredictable formula for artistic genius.

Miyazaki in front of mural of his work

To study, understand and learn from that genius, recently the University of California at Berkeley opened an entire course devoted just to the study of Hayao Miyazaki’s work. The class emerged from a student proposal and, though the two head students aren’t enrolled in art, animation or anything of the like, their extensive knowledge of the Japanese director’s work ensures that Evan Ho, a molecular biology student, and Miguel Morales, from applied mathematics, are well equipped for the task. Both are 20 years old.

In addition to a detailed examination of the animation techniques and the historical and cultural development of each of the films of Miyazaki, Ho and Morales explore parallel themes like feminism, multiculturalism, environmentalism, etc. This is largely because, as Ho says, “[Miyazaki’s] films take us out of our comfort zone, which is oftentimes the best place to learn more about the world, and ourselves.”

Perhaps beyond the wonder that these Japanese films can provoke, it’s indisputable that to be considered a true artist argument we need to call into question, just for a moment, our place in the world, and to turn around and discover that there are other ways of understanding, and living, reality.

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