5 things you might not know about hayao miyazaki

To celebrate the beloved Studio Ghibli founder’s 76th birthday, we explore the little-known facets of his illustrious life and career, from his unseen music videos to his homage on ‘The Simpsons.’

by Emily Manning
05 January 2017, 2:50pm

His passion for aviation began in childhood: Even Ghibli newbies can sense Miyazaki's fascination with flight. Some of his films — like Castle in the Sky, Porco Rosso, and his most recent film, WWII historical drama The Wind Rises — involve aviation technology. Others feature some sort of magical flying beast or airborne element: Kiki's Delivery Service, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro...it's actually more challenging to think of a Miyazaki film that doesn't involve flying. This has much to do with the fact that his father was the director of Miyazaki Airplane, which made rudders for fighter planes during World War II. "One of his first memories is an Allied bombing raid, when he was four-and-a-half years old, and waking in the night to see Utsunomiya in flame," the Telegraph's Robbie Collin wrote in a rare interview with Miyazaki, published in 2014. "He later recalled fleeing the city, running and holding onto his father's hand, but feeling unafraid because the light from the burning buildings meant the sky was as bright as morning."

He's super tight with Pixar: Disney's adoration for Studio Ghibli isn't exactly a secret (Roger Ebert called him "a god to the Disney animators" in his glowing Spirited Away review). Miyazaki's relationship with John Lasseter — the chief creative officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios — dates back to 1981, when a visiting team from Japanese animation studio TMS Entertainment showed then 24-year-old Lasseter a clip from The Castle of Cagliostro, Miyazaki's feature-length debut. Lasseter was so in awe of the film's car chase scene, he made his future wife watch it on their first date in 1985. According to IndieWire, a past Lasseter family Christmas card featured "the whole brood [the Lasseters have five children] perched on the enormous plush toy version of Catbus in the Ghibli museum." The Pixar boss has lifted inspiration from the Japanese master (he recently explained how one rescue scene in 1998's A Bug's Life was inspired by Ghibli's 1986 film Laputa: Castle in the Sky). Yet Lasseter has also been instrumental in expanding Ghibli's cultural influence in the west. He's served as an executive producer on the United States release of several Miyazaki films, and personally oversaw the Stateside distribution and English language dubbing of 2001 masterpiece Spirited Away. As an homage to his love and respect for Miyazaki, Lasseter hid a version of My Neighbor Totoro's forest spirit in Toy Story 3.

He got a lols Simpsons tribute: Disney isn't the only animation powerhouse enamoured with Miyazaki and his gentle Ghibli creations. In one 2014 episode of The Simpsons, Homer drinks "snake wine" and begins hallucinating. His vision transforms a Springfield into a Miyazaki montage, where various Simpsons characters parody the director's most memorable creations. Metallica-loving busdriver Otto shape shifts into My Neighbor Totoro's Catbus. Police Chief Wiggum takes the form of a pig — a reference to 1992's Porco Rosso as well as Spirited Away, when Chihiro's parents turn into pigs — while his son Ralph references Ponyo, the story of a young goldfish who wishes to become a human. Surly sisters Patty and Selma — often depicted as witches throughout the series — are natural fits for Kiki's Delivery Service. Krusty the Clown is Princess Mononoke monk Jigo, while nerdy classmates Martin and Wendell are the film's eerily adorable tree spirits. Speaking of spirits, Miyazaki's 2001 masterpiece is the most referenced in the rich short: Smithers, Unibrow Baby, Mayor Quimby, and a trio of bullies all nod to Spirited Away. There's still some love for more recent Ghibli creations like From Up on Poppy Hill (Skinner) and Howl's Moving Castle (Moe as Turnip Head, and Apu's walking Kwik-E-Mart). As one YouTube commenter pointed out, the connection between the two titans extends further: the late Phil Hartman — who portrayed actor Troy McClure and lawyer Lionel Hutz on The Simpsons — also voiced Jiji in Kiki's Delivery Service.

He's directed rock music videos: Today, theaters across the United States will screen Princess Mononoke in celebration of Miyazaki's birthday. This theatrical re-release will be accompanied by a music video Miyazaki directed in 1995, that has never been released in North America. This video — for Japanese pop-rock duo Chage & Asaka's "On Your Mark" — depicts a world that, according to a 1996 interview with the director, is partly inspired by Chernobyl. "There is so much radiation on the Earth's surface, humans can no longer live there. But, there is flora, just like there is one around Chernobyl. It became a sanctuary for nature, with the humans living in the underground city," Miyazaki told Animage magazine. Gkids released a short teaser of the violent video — which has also drawn comparisons to the futurism of Akira and Ghost in the Shell — but the full version is only viewable at the special Mononoke screenings.

He inspired Netflix's newest breakout The OA: Netflix wrapped a seriously solid year with the premiere of its newest supernatural smash, The OA, in early December. In the otherworldly series, creator and star Brit Marling plays a blind woman who returns to her small town after being missing for seven years with her vision restored. In a recent New York Times interview, Marling discussed five of her unlikely influences in crafting the addicting show: they range from Perfume Genius to adidas track pants, and, crucially, Princess Mononoke. "Hayao Miyazaki's female characters are always very developed and layered. San, the wolf princess, and Lady Eboshi, the ruler of Irontown, are vivid portraits of women," said Marling. "They have a ferocity and complexity to them that I often see in women in the real world but not as often onscreen."


Text Emily Manning

the simpsons
Hayao Miyazaki
Studio Ghibli