Fancy yourself a fan of the singular genius of Hayao Miyazaki? Think you’ve seen all his best work? Because I’ve collected a large chunk of his filmography that many of his western fans have yet to see…
Hey all, it’s Henry, and I’m in a bit of a Miyazaki renaissance at the moment. Last month I saw The Wind Rises, the deeply personal feature that may end up being the final film in Hayao Miyazaki’s illustrious career–I want to believe that this is another of his false retirements, but the man is 73. After seeing Wind Rises, I spent several weekends at a local art house taking in a career retrospective of his Ghibli work. They’re showing directorial efforts like Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, Porco Rosso, and Spirited Away, along with films he produced, like the highly underrated Whisper of the Heart. I’d seen them all multiple times before (when I worked at a video store, Ghibli films were predominantly played in the background), but seeing those classics with a packed theater audience made them feel brand new. It was a great way to celebrate unarguably one of the best animators that ever lived.
Thinking about my days at the video store also reminded me of the fact that most people are only aware of Miyazaki’s famous work starting with his Ghibli films, not realizing that Nausicaa was a film made by an animation veteran with more that 20 years of experience in film, TV, and manga. I don’t fault fans for not knowing about his earlier works, because it takes a good deal of research and many are hard to find legally, some having never been made available in the US. If only there was a helpful list of Miyazaki’s lesser seen cartoons to expose people more of his massive body of work… Oh well, too bad. Thanks for clicking on this anyway.
Seriously though, here are a handful of examples of Miyazaki’s directorial work that don’t get as much exposure as they deserve. I’ll start with one that’s fairly personal to me…
1. Sherlock Hound / Meitantei Holmes
Sherlock Hound is (I believe) Miyazaki’s last TV series before directing Nausicaa, though thanks to issues with the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this furry version of Holmes’ life didn’t air until 1984, the same year as Nausicaa. Miyazaki only directed 6 episodes before production was halted and he moved on to his first Ghibli work, so who knows how his career would’ve gone if he’d directed the full series of this Japanese/Italian co-production. As it stands, you’ve got a half dozen shows that have all his artistic flourishes disguised as the type of kid-friendly mysteries Disney would later rip-off in The Great Mouse Detective.
It looks great even now, thanks to the high quality standards of both Miyazaki and animation studio TMS, the group behind all the best looking episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. TMS didn’t screw around with fluid, vibrant animation, and though they ostensibly told detective stories, Sherlock Hound is high adventure in the Miyazaki mold. You’ve got chase scenes, old airplanes, strong women, smoking, angelic orphan girls, bumbling police officers, comedic tone, and striking attention to detail. TMS has been nice enough to post all the episodes on its official YouTube page (you can stop watching after the sixth show, unless you really love Hound and company).
I start with this one because I saw it as a kid with no clue who Miyazaki even was. I just knew that this show was animated better than anything I was seeing on Nickelodeon at the time–yes, even better than David The Gnome. I have very vague memories of seeing an episode in a first or second grade class, along with the opening scene from Kiki’s Delivery Service. Clearly some otaku had taken over the classroom and was showing us their bootleg VHS copies of these cartoons, and for that I thank them.
2. Lupin The Third – The Second Series
Speaking of copyright troubles, here’s another early work of Miyazaki’s that isn’t all that known in the west either. The Lupin III series was around before Miyazaki worked on him, created in 1967 by manga artist Monkey Punch aka Kazuhiko Kato. Lupin is the world’s greatest thief and the grandson of French literary star Arsene Lupin, despite Monkey Punch having no legal permission to create what was basically fan fiction at the time. That didn’t stop Lupin from gaining enduring popularity in Japan, and Hayao Miyazaki is just one part of Lupin’s history–though he and several other future Ghibli employees played significant roles in Lupin’s continued success.
Miyazaki, with longtime collaborator Isao Takahata, worked on the first series of Lupin cartoons in the early 1970s, then during a hiatus, Miyazaki directed his first feature film, Lupin’s Castle of Cagliostro, an undeniable action classic that encapsulates so many of the man’s talents. Then, in a surprising move, Miyazaki returned to Lupin’s TV series to direct two separate 1979 episodes. The shows were very informed by his work on Cagliostro, while also paying homage to the Fleischer Bros’ classic Superman cartoons, along with giving hints at the larger worlds he’d produce at Ghibli.
In his truest depictions, Lupin is a crude, lecherous, entertaining criminal that has killed with little remorse, but Miyazaki softens him into a goofy gentleman thief, which some Lupin purists reject, but it makes the character work better in Miyazaki’s more earnest world. Wings of Death features Miyazaki standards like aircraft porn, bald guys with mustaches, and indulgently consumed meals, with some standard Lupin silliness thrown in, like narrowly outsmarting Zenigata and Fujiko spending much of the episode partially nude. Aloha, Lupin is the finale for the second series, with Lupin stopping a would-be nuclear bomber, and battling robots that are virtually identical to the marquee automatons of Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Shockingly, Miyazaki apparently doesn’t look back on his Lupin work with much fondness, characterizing it as a retread and proof of an uncreative period. While I wholeheartedly disagree, it isn’t surprising he focused on his own creations after this.
3. Future Boy Conan (aka Conan, Boy of the Future)
This one was pretty unknown to me until very recently, but it quickly became a new favorite while researching this article. After Miyazaki and Takahata left Toei’s animation group, they pitched a series of their own, the 26-episode Future Boy Conan. Set in a post-apocalyptic world not too different from Nausicaa’s, the story follows Conan and Lana, a young boy and girl that survive 2008’s destruction of Earth and begin searching for what’s left of humanity. Ghibli fans will also find the relationship between Conan and Lana reminiscent of Castle in the Sky’s Pazu and Sheeta. This was Miyazaki’s first series as director (with Takahata supporting him) and while it’s a little rough, it’s very much his work, taking viewers on an unforgettable adventure.
The series apparently didn’t do very well when it originally aired in Japan, but has gone on to become an influential work to many animators, as well as having success outside Japan (though it’s still basically unknown in the US). Conan found particular popularity in the Arab world, which is why you’re just as likely to find this show subtitled in Arabi as you are in English. Anime buffs might also be interested to know that Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino worked on Conan as well.
4. Chage & Aska’s On Your Mark
Feature films and TV series take a lot of work, so there are times when Miyazaki to chooses express some of his smaller ideas via short films. Most of them can only be seen by visiting Tokyo’s Studio Ghibli Museum, and another that can be seen while flying on JAL airplanes, which is where I saw Imaginary Flying Machines. It’s impressive in this day and age how Ghibli has been able to keep viewing these works so limited, but before all that Miyazaki and his team worked on a short film meant to be seen by everyone in the early days of pop music videos.
During a period of writer’s block on Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki turned his attention to this six minute long adventure set to the rock song On Your Mark, telling the dialogue-free tale of two policemen freeing a very special young woman from imprisonment in a distopian future. It’s a gorgeous work that also was one of Miyazaki’s first works to incorporate CGI, which he’d go on to use in later films.
That’s all of Miyazaki’s directorial work I’ll explore today, though there’s always more room to find, like his key animator and storyboard background with anime versions of children’s novels like Puss in Boots and Anne of Greene Gables. However. this article gives you enough viewing homework as is. But if you have any suggestions for Miyazaki’s work that I missed, go right ahead and share them in the comments!
CAPE CRISIS RECOMMENDS: