Hayao Miyazaki Biography

Animator, director, and screenwriter

Born January 5, 1941, in Tokyo, Japan; son of Katsuji Miyazaki (an aeronautical engineer); married Akemi Ota (an animator); children: two sons. Education: Gakushuin University, degree in political science and economics, 1963.

Addresses: Office —Studio Ghibli, 1-4-25 Kajino-cho, Koganei-shi 184, Japan.


In-betweener, Toei-Cine, 1963-71; animator, A-Pro studio, 1971-73; Zuiyo Pictures, 1973-84; co-founder, Studio Ghibli, 1984—. Director and animator of films, including: The Castle of Cagliostro, 1979; Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds, 1984; Sherlock Hound, the Detective, 1984; Castle in the Sky, 1986; My Neighbor Totoro, 1988; Kiki's Delivery Service, 1989; Crimson Pig, 1992; On Your Mark, 1995; Princess Mononoke, 1997; Spirited Away, 2001; Howl's Moving Castle, 2004. Writer of screenplays, including: Panda! Go Panda!, 1973; Panda and Child: Rainy Day Circus, 1973; Future Boy Conan (also director), 1978; The Castle of Cagliostro, 1979; Warriors of the Wind, 1984; Castle in the Sky, 1986; My Neighbor Totoro, 1988; Kiki's Delivery Service, 1989; Crimson Pig, 1992; On Your Mark, 1995; Whisper of the Heart, 1995; Princess Mononoke, 1997; Spirited Away, 2001; Howl's Moving Castle, 2004.

Awards: Mainichi Film Concours, Ofuji Noburo Award, 1980, for The Castle of Cagliostro ; Academy Award for best animated feature, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for Spirited Away,

2002; Mainichi Film Concours, best animated film, for Spirited Away, 2002; Blue Ribbon award for best film, for Spirited Away, 2002; best narrative feature, San Francisco International Film Festival, for Spirited Away, 2002; Annie Award for outstanding directing in an animated feature production, for Spirited Away, 2002; Annie Award for outstanding writing in an animated feature production, for Spirited Away, 2002; Silver Scream Award, Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival, for Spirited Away, 2003; Golden Berlin Bear, Berlin International Film Festival, 2002; Lifetime Achievement Award, Awards of the Japanese Academy, 2002; best feature film, Catalonian International Film Festival, Sitges, Spain, for Howl's Moving Castle, 2004; Career Golden Lion, Venice Film Festival, 2005.


Hayao Miyazaki has become one of the forerunners of Japanese animation. Fellow animator Stan Lee, writing for Time magazine, said of him, "In the field of theatrical animation, where talent abounds and everyone has his or her own style, the art and creativity of Hayao Miyazaki are unrivaled. For decades, he has arguably been Japan's leading cult figure to fans of manga (comic books) and anime (animated films)—in a nation where those art forms are held in the highest regard." Miyazaki first became famous in his own country, but his animated films are such works of art that they cross all international barriers, and he has become a sensation around the world. He is known primarily for his films Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and most recently Howl's Moving Castle. David Ansen of Newsweek said of the animator, "Hayao Miyazaki seems to be one of those artists (and there aren't many) who just can't fail to make magic."

Miyazaki was born on January 5, 1941, in Tokyo, Japan to Katsuji Miyazaki, an aeronautical engineer and his wife. His father's career became an interest of Miyazaki's when he was young and continued into his adulthood. In fact, his later animated films showed this love of aeronautics with his carefully designed and drawn aircrafts zipping through the wilderness. Miyazaki's father worked at the family business, the Miyazaki Airplane, and since young Miyazaki was born during World War II, the war had quite an effect on him, especially since his family's company built fighter airplanes. His family was evacuated from Tokyo in 1944 and were unable to return until 1947. It was shortly after that that Miyazaki's mother discovered she had spinal tuberculosis, something that kept her in bed for eight years. During those years she had a strong influence over Miyazaki, as did his school, which was a copy of American schools and hence lent a Western influence to his upbringing. By the time he reached high school, Miyazaki—who had shown an early aptitude for art—was determined to become an artist of some sort. He was especially interested in Manga, the Japanese comic book art, which was forming at the time. Anime, the Japanese animated film style, was arising at the same time.

Although he was interested in drawing, he was also practical, so when he entered Gakushuin University, Miyazaki studied political science and economics, with a plan to help Japan reestablish its economy and recover from the war. His interest in children's stories flourished in college too, as he became part of a children's literature research society that exposed him to fables and tales from around the world. He graduated in 1963, but instead of going into politics or academics, he joined an animation studio, Toei-Cine, taking on the role of in-betweener, a position that is responsible for adding in the drawings that go between the main ones to make the action scenes complete. He fell in love with the work and never once considered turning back to go into industry or politics.

Instead, in 1971, he moved to another studio, A-Pro studio, following fellow animator and friend Isao Takahata whom he had met at Toei-Cine. Two years later the pair moved to Zuiyo Pictures where Miyazaki's talents, cleaned up and perfected over the years, were soon widely recognized. The first film he worked on as both writer and animator was the short Panda! Go Panda!. He followed it the next year with Panda and Child: Rainy Day Circus. He directed his first series in 1978, Future Boy Conan. Miyazaki's big break came, however, in 1979 when Tokyo Movie Shinsha hired him to direct a movie adaptation of the popular comic book Lupin III, which became 1979's The Castle of Cagliostro.

This film left Miyazaki with a desire to do different movies, ones that would express not what animation had become, but rather what he could make it. So, in 1984 Miyazaki, longing for a greater freedom in animation, started his own business, Studio Ghibli, with his longtime friend Takahata. The studio was a place where the two enjoyed creating their own pieces, often controversial and pushing the boundaries of traditional animation. Their first movies, Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki's Delivery Service were all successes, as have all his films since. It was having his own company that gave Miyazaki the ability to do the animation that was outside the norm and that eventually led to his being recognized as a master of the art. Miyazaki is not just unusual for the content of his films, but also for the way he goes about making them. According to Time 's Lee, Miyazaki often begins "constructing a film without a full script," letting the drawings lead the story. Miyazaki usually has no idea who the main characters are when he starts or what they will eventually end up doing. He has said, according to Lee, that working in this way ensures that he keeps his interest in the project as it progresses and helps give the end product a feeling of spontaneity.

In 1984 Miyazaki released Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, his first major foray into changing the status quo of animation filmmaking. In the film he did away with the trendy metallic look that was prevalent in Japanese anime at the time for a more naturalistic approach, including forests dripping with fungus. The story is about a special teenage princess who lives in a small valley in a futuristically dark and empty post-apocalyptic Earth. A Poisonous forest threatens to kill off the remaining inhabitants of earth and she decides to participate in a war between neighboring kingdoms for the survival of her people. However, she soon finds that she is a pacifist and is much more interested in exploring the forest than in fighting, and from there the adventures really begin. Steve Raiteri in the Library Journal said of the film, "Highly recommended for teens and adults alike, this tremendous series belongs in every library."

It was Miyazaki's 1997 animated film Princess Mononoke that brought the director to the eyes of mainstream audiences across the globe. Before the release of this film Miyazaki was known outside his country only in niche markets of people who had a great interest in Japanese anime. Princess Mononoke was released in the United States by Disney, although it was done through their more artistic branch, Miramax. Princess Mononoke is about a medieval prince and his quest through a mythical forest. It is while he is on his quest that he meets the girl for which the film is named. People 's Tom Gliatto said of the film, "The convoluted, violent story, which begins when the prince slays the demon and incurs a curse that can be lifted (if at all) only by journeying to the monster's homeland, makes this unsuitable fare for kids. But the animation—from elaborate (the supernatural creatures) to simple (a rain shower)—is superb." Entertainment Weekly 's Ty Burr wrote, "A windswept pinnacle of its art, Princess Mononoke has the effect of making the average Disney film look like just another toy story." Leonard Klady in Variety magazine called it "a rich cartoon fable of bygone gods locking horns with man and with industry." It became the highest-grossing film in Japan ever.

Then Miyazaki made 2001's Spirited Away, which took over Princess Mononoke 's record as Japan's largest money-making film of all time. It is about a young girl, Chihiro, who when driving home with her parents one day is swept into a parallel world when her parents take a wrong turn. The new world is inhabited by a whole slew of gods, ghouls, and goblins, and Chihiro, a rather spoiled brat at the beginning of the story, is forced to deal with situations that most adults would not be able to handle. In fact Chihiro's parents are soon turned into pigs for turning their noses up at food offered them, and Chihiro alone is put to work serving the gods. The world is morally ambiguous and there is no straightforward battle between good and evil. In the end Chihiro manages to save her parents and escape, but the evil is not changed as much as she is. She changes from a spoiled brat into a brave, self-reliant girl who turns her back on a world of materialism and semi-evil. Steve Vineburg in the Christian Century said of the film, "The world Hayao Miyazaki conjures up in the Japanese animated feature Spirited Away is so exotic and in a state of such constant metamorphosis that you may have the impression, as you stagger out of the theater, that you've watched the entire movie with your mouth open. Spirited Away runs close to two hours, and there isn't a banal image in it."

In 2003, Castle in the Sky: Volumes 1-4, an adaptation of his 1986 film, was published. The storyline follows Princess Sheeta, who is in exile, and her friend, Pazu, an orphan who is an inventing genius. They go on an adventure to save a magic levitation stone and in the process are chased by a whole litany of soldiers and pirates. Publishers Weekly said of this book version of the film, which included stills directly from the movie, "Miyazaki's production design is gorgeous, and the full-color reproduction is nicely authentic—anime buffs will drool over the floating city, cleverly retro-looking airships, half-rusted giant robot soldiers, lush landscapes and sensitively handled lighting in every scene."

Then in 2004 Miyazaki made Howl's Moving Castle. Rather than his usual way of making films, Miyazaki based this one on the book by British author Diana Wynne Jones. He had read the book and was really taken with the storyline and underlining moral message and decided it would make a great film. It was not as popular as some of his others for the simple reason that some people did not understand the film. In an interview with Devin Gordon for Newsweek magazine, Miyazaki said, "A lot of people say they don't understand the film, and what that means is just that they have a set definition of how a story is supposed to be told. When the story betrays their anticipations, then they complain." The film is about a young girl, Sophie, who is rescued by the wizard Howl one day when she is being hit on by some soldiers. The evil Witch of the Waste hears of the event and jealous, turns Sophie into an old woman. Sophie runs from her village and manages to find a hiding place in Howl's famous moving castle—a castle that actually moves around on bird feet. Furious at the evil witch's spell, Sophie discovers a strength inside herself she would never have discovered otherwise and soon has taken control of things, including helping Howl go into battle for the King. Howl himself does not recognize Sophie, although she falls more and more in love with him as she gets to know the wizard. The whole story, Miyazaki felt, was an interesting look at age and how humans do or do not let it affect them. Richard Corliss of Time magazine said, "Howl's Moving Castle …is the perfect e-ticket for a flight of fancy into a world far more gorgeous than our own. The film doesn't halve itself to appeal to two generations. At its best, it turns all moviegoers into innocent kids, slack-jawed with wonder."

Miyazaki is married to Akemi Ota, a fellow animator. They have two sons. As of 2005 Miyazaki was busy at work animating his next film.



Authors and Artists for Young Adults, vol. 37, Gale Group, 2000.

Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, vol. 35, Gale Group, 2001.


American Prospect, October 21, 2002, p. 32.

Christian Century, October 9, 2002, p. 64; August 23, 2005, p. 36.

Economist, February 23, 2002. Entertainment Weekly, November 5, 1999, p. 50; September 27, 2002, p. 57; October 4, 2002, p. 128; April 18, 2003, p. 53; March 11, 2005, p. 110; June 24, 2005, p. 142.

Library Journal, July 2004, p. 62.

Newsweek, June 20, 2005, p. 62.

People, November 8, 1999, p. 41; June 27, 2005, p. 32; July 18, 2005, p. 29.

Publishers Weekly, May 12, 2003, p. 46; September 8, 2003, p. 58.

School Library Journal, December 2003, p. 89; May 2005, p. 163.

Time, September 30, 2002, p. 88; April 18, 2005, p. 123; June 13, 2005, p. 53.

U.S. News … World Report, October 25, 1999, p. 70.

Variety, August 4, 1997, p. 9; February 2, 1998, p. 28; November 1, 1999, p. 88; February 25, 2002, p. 72; April 15, 2002, p. 4; September 13, 2004, p. 46; December 20, 2004, p. 21; February 21, 2005, p. 2; March 7, 2005, p. 52; August 29, 2005, p. 21.

Catherine Victoria Donaldson

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