Of all Miyazaki’s films, The Wind Rises is the one that resonates with me the most. The main character’s inexorable quest for beauty is something that all slightly obsessive, creative types can relate to. There’s a scene in The Wind Rises where the protagonist, WWII aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi and his colleagues are having lunch. Jiro stops eating to admire the beautiful curves of a bone of mackerel, only to be dismissed as a daydreamer. It is an excellent scene that summarises Jiro’s character in just a few seconds. In a beautifully self-referential way, it also illustrates Miyazaki’s (and Studio Ghibli’s) fascination with the natural beauty of this world hidden in every little detail of our physical environment.
Miyazaki’s environmentalism is well documented. His obsession with all things natural is well known, and his criticism of modern life’s effects on the environment (as well as on the individual) is manifested in some way in all of his films. But nothing illustrates better his love of the natural world than the exquisite background art of his films. Celebrated in full glorious detail in sweeping tracking shots, wide-angle vistas and intricate close-ups, the splendour and vibrancy of the backgrounds is as much part of the storytelling as Miyazaki’s characters themselves. Art directors like Nizou Yamamoto, Yoji Takeshige and the great master Kazuo Oga lead a Studio Ghibli art department loaded with talent. Guided by Miyazaki, they have forged the Ghibli aesthetic through years of painstaking attention to detail. In the process, they have also (perhaps unknowingly) forged a new appreciation of the sacredness of nature, and the urgent need for its preservation among their audiences.
“I should paint my own places best”, English landscape painter John Constable famously wrote to his friend John Fisher in 1821, adding that “painting is but another word for feeling”. Just as Constable drew inspiration from his beloved Dedham Vale in Essex, Kazuo Oga and his colleagues draw inspiration from regions of their native Japan to create a heightened sensibility of landscape, and help us develop a deeper appreciation of the world around us.