Architecture in Animation: Exploring Hayao Miyazaki’s Fictional Worlds
Writers in film and animation, specifically pertaining to the genre of anime, endeavor to incorporate varied architectural backdrops to assist them in telling their stories, with influences ranging from medieval villages to futuristic metropolises. Architecture as a subject includes a wide array of elements to study, with each architectural era further inferring its context and history through its design alone. However, in film and anime, all of the contexts behind a building’s design can be condensed into a single frame, powerful enough to tell a thousand stories.
Hayao Miyazaki, one of Japan’s greatest animated filmmakers, authors, manga artists, and co-founder of Studio Ghibli has since been inspiring an entire generation, narrating the evolution of Japanese society within animation, focusing on two primary themes: urbanism and nature. The complexity of Miyazaki’s mind is reflected in his films of him, a medium he used to expose how insignificant and small we as humans are, compared to the encompassing magnitude of nature surrounding us.
Studio Ghibli was founded in Tokyo, Japan (1985) to produce films to act as a narrative to paint the themes of pacifism, ecology, and explore the ins and outs of Japanese mythology and urban legends. The architecture used by Miyazaki in his films recalls his vision of the modern world, increasingly affected by advanced technology and a continuous detachment from the natural environment.
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“Miyazaki places his narratives in natural and architectural contexts characterized by impressive graphic richness, the complexity of textures, and scrupulous attention to the smallest detail. The studio bases its ideas on real things and environments, but with fantastic skin. Beams and pillars unite fantasy and reality, making the structural details very precise and of great artistic and sentimental value.” – Daniel Cavallaro
Through watching his films, it is clear to see how Miyazaki considers nature and man to be united, as his architectural vision is strongly influenced by and reminiscent of his travels around the world, as well as his burning desire to explore the growing themes of technology and destruction. Miyazaki’s films excel in the mastery of technique, and the wealth of details present within every scene invites the viewer to become part of the reality of these worlds and feel as though they can locate themselves spatially within them.
In an age of ever-advancing technology, Miyazaki’s animated films are radical in their repudiation of it. From ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ (1988), with its vision of gentle friendship between two children and an enormous growling forest creature whom only they can see, to the dreamlike fable ‘Spirited Away’ (2001), in which a timid girl must acquire the courage to save her foolish parents by working at a bathhouse that caters to an inharmonious array of gods, to ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ (2004), in which a young woman cursed into an old woman’s body by a spiteful witch’s only chance of breaking the spell lies within seeking out a self-indulgent yet insecure young wizard and his companions in his legged, walking castle, Miyazaki renders the wildest reaches of imagination and the maddest swirls of motion.
Miyazaki intends to mirror the characters, themes, and places he constructs and creates in a cynical manner by portraying the realities of the impoverishment of the environment, the horrors of water, the loss of innocence, and the cultivation of the values of loyalty, gratitude , courage, sacrifice, and love. A handful of these themes are especially notable in ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ (2004), featuring animation that is a perfect blend of steampunk, whimsy, and misty aesthetic portrayal, with a plot revolving around love, loyalty, accompanied by an underlying anti- war subplot. Colmar, France acts as the primary setting for the film, depicting a hybrid of German and French architecture best recognized by cobblestone streets, storefronts, alleyways, and astonishing landscapes.
The architecture within Miyazaki’s works is not a matter secondary to the narrative, but an integral part of it, and as Studio Ghibli films increasingly acquire Western influences, its challenge is to preserve and reinterpret traditional Japanese conceptions in new trajectories. Miyazaki’s films have long since been deeply woven into the fabric of Japan’s national identity, deeply touching people’s hearts and capturing the imagination of cross-generational fans from all over the country, as well as the world.
This article is part of the ArchDaily Topics: The Future of Architectural Visualizations, proudly presented by Enscape, the most intuitive real-time rendering and virtual reality plugin for Revit, SketchUp, Rhino, Archicad, and Vectorworks. Enscape plugs directly into your modeling software, giving you an integrated visualization and design workflow.
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