Who Founded Studio Ghibli - Hayao Miyazaki’s early life & influences
The reach and influence of Studio Ghibli can’t be overstated. The beloved Japanese animation Studio has an intriguing and fascinating history, which is reflected in its unique approach to storytelling, as well as the spectacular visuals that’ve captivated millions of fans worldwide.
As well as critical acclaim, the studio has a global, loyal and passionate fan base, which is constantly expanding due to increased distribution via the likes of Netflix and other streaming platforms.
Works like “Spirited Away” and “My Neighbour Totoro” have become modern classics and their characters are depicted all over the world, with countless studio ghibli plushies, toys and gifts available.
To truly understand the significance and influences behind Studio Ghibli, we’re taking a brief look at its origin story, specifically the backstory of the founders. In this article, we’ll explore Hayao Miyazaki’s background, including his influences, early career and the role he played in establishing Studio Ghibli.
Hayao Miyazaki: The Creative Visionary
Hayao Miyazaki’s life began on January 5th 1941 in Tokyo shortly before Japan entered WWII.
The historic context of his childhood made an enormous impact on his later work, with his experiences of witnessing bombings and the various evacuations directly influencing both the themes and styling of the stories he would go on to create.
As well as growing up in uncertain economic and political times, Miyazaki suffered from chronic health issues. He was told that he wouldn’t live beyond 20 years old, a prognosis which meant he often felt like an outcast throughout his childhood. Thankfully the doctors were wrong, and Miyazaki is still with us at the ripe old age of 81.
But where did his passion for drawing and storytelling come from?
This too was a result of the wartime environment he was born into, and he spent countless hours as a child sketching tanks, planes and battleships.
Panda and the Magic Serpent (1958)
Subsequently, his first exposure to animation came in the film “Panda and the Magic Serpent,” which he skipped his Entrance Exams to go and see. Some years later he recalled the profound impact the film had on him, stating that he was "moved to the depths of [his] soul" and that the "pure, earnest world of the film" left him with an undying passion as he "yearned desperately to affirm the world rather than negate it".
His mother had an enormous impact
His family life was largely positive, frequenting movie-theatres with his father and his relationship with mother Yoshiko is one of the greatest early influences on Miyazaki.
Yokoshiko was described as a strict and intelligent woman who would often question social norms.
However, health issues also plagued his mothers life and during his formative years, she suffered from spinal tuberculosis. This meant she was often hospitalised or was nursed from home - fans of Ghibli’s most influential film My Neighbor Totoro will notice that this is reflected heavily in the plot.
So, did Hayao Miyazaki’s study art?
Rather than pursuing a formal education in art, he majored in Japanese Industrial Theory, something that fueled his deep interest in politics. To nurture his artistic interests he founded and was often the only member of the "Children's Literature Research Club" which was the closest thing to a comic book club at the time.
He would also visit his middle school art teacher, where they would spend countless hours discussing art, politics and countless other things - he cites his old teacher as having a large influence on him.
It was during his time at university that Miyazaki began drawing Manga. Although nothing was published from this period of his career, there are said to be thousands of pages of drawings where he would retell the stories of author’s which he reached out to in order to “borrow” their stories.
Hayao Miyazaki’s Sketches Showing How to Draw Characters Running (1980)
Hayao Miyasaki - Before Studio Ghibli
In 1963, Miyazaki’s first role within an animation company was as an in-between artist at Toei Animation. At the time, he rented a tiny Tokyo apartment which cost almost a third of his salary - a far cry from the enormous wealth he would enjoy when Studio Ghibli rose to fame.
His political side continued to rear its head whilst at Toei, where following a labor dispute he became the Chief Secretary of Toei’s labour union.
But it wasn’t all politics and disputes. Whilst with the company, he was mentored by Yasuo Otsuka, where he contributed towards various productions including “The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun" (1968). The film went on to win enormous critical acclaim and popular success and is regarded as a milestone, in not just Miyasaki’s career, but in the evolution of animation itself.
Aside from animation, Miyazaki persued his passion for manga, publishing “People of the Desert” under the pseudonym “Akitsu Saburo” in 1969. Over the next few years, he would go on to contribute to various Toei productions, including “The Wonderful World of Puss n Boots”, “Flying Phantom Ship” and various others.
He left Toei Animation in 1979 and joined A-Pro, where he made his directorial debut, with episodes of “Lupin the Third Part I” and “Future Boy Conan.”
Rise to fame
Throughout the early 80s, Miyazaki cemented his reputation as a formidable director, working on various hit TV shows and movies. Notably, the film adaption of “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” is seen as a key release and of the most important films of his career.
Nausicaä of the valley of the wind (1984)
On release it was met with great critical reception and was an enormous box office success. Political influence once again rears its head, with a number of critics noting anti-war and feminist themes, something that Miyasaki renounced, but aligns with his early influences.
Studio Ghibli is born
In June 1985, Miyasaki, alongside Takahata, Tokuma and Suzuki founded Studio Ghibli. With his unique animation style and beautifully subtle approach to storytelling, Studio Ghibli aimed to push the boundaries of animation.
Studio Ghibli’s first film
On the back of the success of “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” and developed by the same production team, Studio Ghibli’s first release was the 1986 film “Laputa: Castle in the Sky”.
Interestingly, you can find Welsh influences within the styling of the film. Miyasaki visited Wales prior to production beginning and witnessed the miners strikes of the time. He was deeply inspired by the miners dedication to both their work and their community, deciding to include it in the film.
Upon release, Laputa was the highest grossing film of the year in Japan, and received glowing reviews from critics, a spectacular debut from a brand new studio.
After Laputa, Studio Ghibli released “My Neighbor Totoro.”
Totoro elevated them to a global audience and is considered one of the most influential animated films of all time - a perfect symbol of the studio which has inspired so many millions of people.
With that, Miyasaki’s career as the creative head of Studio Ghibli began and his unique approach to storytelling and beautiful animation style has seen the release of a many wonderful films.
In our upcoming articles, we will delve into the enchanting world of Studio Ghibli's individual films, exploring their captivating stories, iconic characters, and breathtaking animation. Join us as we celebrate the timeless classics like "Spirited Away" and "My Neighbor Totoro" while uncovering the hidden gems within Studio Ghibli's filmography. Stay tuned for a journey through the magical realm of Ghibli's cinematic masterpieces.