5 Writing Lessons from Miyazaki’s Films

I have a NOT embarrassing confession: I am currently obsessed with Miyazaki’s films. As in, I just put a Miyazaki shower curtain in my bathroom, and my phone currently has a Spirited Away background. 

I remember when I first fell in love with Miyazaki’s work. My childhood friend told me that I had to see Howl’s Moving Castle. I climbed into the worn, brown chair that we always shared when we watched films together (we have known each other since we were three), and I fell in love. As soon as the movie was finished, I knew I needed more. So we embarked on an adventure of watching more films; we blew through classics like Spirited Away and Castle in the Sky. I was hooked.

As I stepped back and admired my new shower curtain last week, I thought about what makes me so obsessed with his work. After thinking about it, I came up with five reasons, which also make really excellent writing lessons. 

1. He has strong female protagonists.

Growing up, I yearned for really strong female protagonists. Outside of Sailor Moon and Alanna from The Song of the Lioness, there weren’t that many. What I love about Miyazaki is that his movies primarily have kickass female protagonists. Even in films that initially seem really masculine, such as Porco Rosso, there are really wonderful female characters. 

Your takeaway: Write more books with good female protagonists. Okay, you don’t have to, but I selfishly want to see more of them in the world.

2. He really cares about the details.

You can’t really help but be a bit awestruck whenever you watch a Miyazaki film. Why? His artwork is stunning. This is largely due to the fact that the man is meticulous with his use of detail. You can see the veins in the leaves and tiny ripples in the water. When it is clear that he put so much time and effort into his work, you cannot help but appreciate and value it more.

Your takeaway: Don’t forget to develop detail, especially when it comes to worldbuilding. The time and attention you spend on the small details will definitely pay off.

3. All the characters are complex.

There aren’t really villains in his films. There are just people who seem to want different things. In Porco Rosso, Curtis, his rival, isn’t a bad guy. Sure, he is goofy and a little annoying, but he isn’t outright malicious. He even gets a happy ending in the film. 

Your takeaway: Nobody is purely evil. Remember this when you are developing your antagonists. 

4. His movies have a lot of heart.

Speaking of antagonists, My Neighbor Totoro doesn’t even have one (hat tip to Roger Ebert for pointing this out). Everyone in the film is doing the best they can in the face of illness. That’s what I love about Miyazaki’s films: most people are good people who are doing their best. Those who aren’t usually get a shot at redemption. For example, Howl’s Moving Castle gives more than one person a second chance. Most of his films celebrate the good in human nature, and, most of the time, good triumphs.

Your takeaway: While your writing doesn’t have to be all sunshine and rainbows, an uplifting ending (or at least moment) in your book can brighten someone’s day. 

5. The man has a large imagination.

The mere existence of Totoro shows you the man has an excess of imagination. The most stunning display of it is the parade of spirits in Spirited Away. 

Your takeaway: Let your imagination run wild. Daydream. Allow yourself to have fun with your writing.

Are you hooked on any directors? Tell me which ones and why in the comments below!


Leave a Reply