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Japanese Icons – Hayao Miyazaki

Despite his natural reclusive inclinations, few names are as globally synonymous with Japanese popular culture as Hayao Miyazaki

In collaboration with Monsutā, Japanese Icons showcases the finest offerings from the land of the rising sun. Winning the coveted title of Japan’s Best International Lager in 2022, and recently launching an alcoholic lemon chūhai, Monsutā, along with its iconic Sumo, is an iconic brand that symbolises and celebrates the best of Japan. Join us on this journey as we present the Japanese counterparts who share the Monsutā legacy. 

Despite his natural reclusive inclinations, few names are as globally synonymous with Japanese popular culture as Hayao Miyazaki. The enigmatic director, producer, writer, animator, and co-founder of anime production company Studio Ghibli, has written and directed some of the most beloved anime features of the past 40 years. Decades before his time, his films often address progressive themes of anti-war pacifism, environmentalism and feminism in bringing to life dynamic, heartwarming characters and immersive universes. Now in his 80s, his passion for storytelling and his commitment to his ideals have kept him coming back to his craft even after announcing his retirement in 2013. With the release of his latest film The Boy in the Heron, his first in 10 years, slated for release in Australia later this year, join us as we dive into Miyazaki’s storied career. 

Miyazaki was born in Tokyo in 1941 in the midst of World War Two. Developing an interest in animation after watching 1958’s The Panda and the Serpent, he began sketching and creating manga as a hobby in his spare time while studying political science and economy at university in Tokyo. The rapid industrialisation of Tokyo during this time was a point of frustration that Miyazaki would continue to come back to in his later work, stating, “nature—the mountains and rivers—was being destroyed in the name of economic progress.”

After graduation, he began working as an animator at Toei Animation in 1963. While there, he met fellow animator Isao Takahata who would go on to become a lifelong friend and co-founder of Studio Ghibli. He also met Akemi Ota, his now wife of 58 years. He worked his way through the ranks at Toei before leaving in 1971, going on to work for a number of animation companies over the next eight years before joining Telecom Animation Film in 1979. He made his animated feature film directorial debut at Telecom with The Castle of Cagliostro, based on the manga series Lupin III. During his time at Telecom, Miyazaki began work on the manga series Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind which, after leaving Telecom in 1982, he developed into an animated feature in 1984. The film marked a turning point in his recognition as a writer and director and has since been praised for its subversion of traditional gender stereotypes and strong female protagonist.

The following year, Miyazaki and long-term collaborators Isao Takahata, Yasuyoshi Tokuma and Toshio Suzuki founded Studio Ghibli. The studio went from strength to strength over the next decade with popular releases such as Laputa: Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and 1992’s ”Porco Rosso. 1997 saw the release of Princess Mononoke, which despite, Miyazaki’s previous reservations, received an American theatrical release in 1999. With Miramax in charge of the film’s theatrical release in the States, then chairman Harvey Weinstein demanded to cut roughly 45 minutes of content. In response, one of Miyazaki’s producers sent Harvey Weinstein a katana with a note reading “no cuts.” In a 2005 interview, Miyazaki recalled, “I did go to New York to meet this man, this Harvey Weinstein, and I was bombarded with this aggressive attack, all these demands for cuts. I defeated him.”

The international release of Princess Mononoke marked the beginning of the global success of Miyazaki’s films with further releases such as the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, Oscar-nominated Howl’s Moving Castle, and Ponyo furthering his international acclaim. Released at a time when there was a sizeable shift towards the use of digital animation, Miyazaki refused to compromise on the hand-drawn aesthetics he’d become known for, even closing his company’s computer animation department for the production of Ponyo. Despite announcing his retirement from feature films after the release of 2013’s The Wind Rises, Miyazaki returned to work on The Boy and the Heron in 2016. The film was released in Japan in July 2023, smashing box office records and becoming one of the highest-grossing anime films ever in Japan, despite its near non-existent domestic promotional campaign.

Miyazaki’s commitment to his ideologies and passion for his craft have made him one of the most iconic and enduring Japanese artists in history, taking Japanese animation from a niche genre to global recognition. Sharing the same dedication to craftsmanship and iconic stories, Monsutā will be back with another Japanese Icon in a couple of weeks. Until then, enjoy the giant-sized taste of one Japanese icon and pop on a film from another – Hayao Miyazaki. 

Monsutā beverages are available at BWS, Dan Murphy’s and Jimmy Brings.

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