Hayao Miyazaki’s Lost Magic of Parenthood
How the legendary Studio Ghibli filmmaker explores the intersections of childhood, parenthood, and magic in his most famous films.
One of life’s great joys is watching your children play. Through a kitchen window overlooking your backyard, at the beach, exploring a park. There’s great pleasure in observing the unobserved. You see their joy, watch them solve problems, navigate complex social situations, work together, fight, hug, laugh, run. Be free. You become lost in their imagination and for a fleeting moment recapture the wonder of a long-ago childhood. Watching your children play is an opportunity to see the world through excited eyes.
It’s this warm, emotive sense of simplicity and well-being — as though, somewhere deep within your heart, life’s purpose becomes something you can finally grasp. It’s fleeting — like a soot sprite captured between clapped hands, gone the moment you try to examine it, smudged palms the only trace of its existence.
As I struggle to articulate these feelings in a way that doesn’t feel contrived or artificial, the cinematic works of famed Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki call from the back of my mind. Particularly loud are his triumvirate examining these themes with ageless, crystalline clarity: My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away, and Ponyo.
The beating heart of these films are the children around whom the story warps, and the interactions they have with the magical and natural worlds around them. A small boy named Sosuke meets a magical goldfish; Chihiro explores a bathhouse home to myriad spirits; sisters Satsuki and Mei befriend a lovable troll called Totoro. Miyazaki is well loved for his evocative recreations of rural and urban Japan throughout the 20th century, but the magical additions are what make them classics.
Central to these films is the way their magical worlds are revealed to their young protagonists, leaving the parents — obsessed with the things that haunt all adults — unaware of the wonder under their very noses. Miyazaki loves to explore how we forget the magic in our world as we’re crushed by the weight of societal expectations and capitalistic progress.
The children and their…