Monday, May 29, 2017

Hayao Miyazaki: Eco-philosopher of anime

Bill Benson of New Savanna blog has up a nice post covering the ecological anime film-maker Hayao Miyazaki.  During Environmental Philosophy last term I made some great use of some of Miyazaki's films which were a hit among students in the class - and Bill's post offers up some reflections which have prompted me to go back and think about these films yet again.

While I am torn as to whether Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) or Princess Mononoke (1997) are my favorites, Bill offers up an interesting point that actually makes me see these films in just a slightly different light and thus able to enjoy each even more. If I use these again while teaching I'd be sure to mention a tension that Bill identifies. For example he writes,
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is widely regarded as an ecological fable, and obviously so. And yet that doesn’t quite get it right. It seems clear that, in a general way, the world is looking bleak for humans, and I emphasis that, for humans, because of a firestorm wrought by humans 1000 years ago. There’s a poisonous jungle that’s growing larger and land suitable for human habitation is shrinking. The war between the Pegites and the Tolmekians is linked to their (mistaken) efforts to deal with this problem. Nausicaä and her people are caught between these two greater powers, whose war threatens them more than the jungle. 
Now, consider a passage from interview Miyazaki gave the day after the film opened in 1984 [Hayao Miyazaki. Starting Point: 1979-1996. San Francisco: Viz Media 2009, p. 335]:
— About the depiction of the Sea of Decay: in the early scenes, such as the village where Yupa ends up, it’s rather eerie. At the end, the Sea of Decay where Yupa and Asbel are traveling appears very bright. 
Miyazaki: We see birds that harm humans as harmful and those that are useful to humans as useful. It’s all arbitrary. The impression we have of a landscape changes depending on the emotions of the person view the landscape. Nature that is generous is, at the same time, nature that is ferocious. This is why humans feel humbled in the face of nature and why they are able to realize its true abundance. In The Dark Crystal, they talk about the earth’s surface being damaged for thousands of years. And at the end, what happens is that something like a golf course is shown. [laughs] Compared to that, the original jungle, with its multitude of inhabitants, was much livelier. I think that’s fine. So I think it’s a very strange story.
In such a world humans do not have a privileged place. How do you center a movie on humans – and this movie is surely centered on humans – in such a world? What makes their impending extinction a matter of central concern? 
Though herself human, Nausicaä would seem to be a protagonist designed for a world in which humans are not privileged. In the final sequence she is as much concerned about the baby ohmu being used as bait as she is about her people. 
Now, as I think about this, I suspect the conception I’ve outlined is a rather rickety one, that it is unstable, that there is no way it can be made fully coherent and consistent. After all, Miyazaki is a human being and his audience consists of human beings. That fact effectively assigns privilege to the humans represented in the movie. Thus, we might think we’ve found Miyazaki in a contradiction. 
And perhaps so. But surely Miyazaki-san knows that. Let me suggest that this contradiction, this instability, is a feature, not a bug. And it is that instability that Miyazaki-san’s been exploring ever since.
You can read the full post HERE.