Hayao Miyazaki’s Music & Message Behind His Movies

On our radio show, Weekend Family Music Hour on Freeform Portland, we played some soundtracks from our favorite Studio Ghibli films. Many Studio Ghibli films are scored and composed by Joe Hisaishi. There are also songs by Asian singers and songs sung in Japanese. He blends many music styles including Japanese classical and electronic synthesizer. Hearing Hisaishi’s music in Miyazaki’s films is exciting, especially in scenes where there is conflict and hope.

Hayao Miyazaki is an amazing filmmaker and producer who founded the Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki is the creator of animated films such as, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Howl’s Moving Castle and more. One common thing Miyazaki does in his films is he bases them off of real life scenarios, like mental health challenges and the destruction of the environment.

One of my favorite films is When Marnie Was There (2014). Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and animated by Studio Ghibli, the movie is about a foster child who is suffering from depression. She becomes friends with an uplifting ghost who is somehow related to her. When Marnie Was There focuses on foster children. Foster children are at risk for suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Each year 44,965 Americans die of suicide, averaging 123 suicides per day. Suicide is very common among teenagers (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention). Major depression is one of the most common mental illness in the U.S. Each week almost 60,000 children are reported for abuse, with nearly 900,000 confirmed victims of abuse in 2004.  About 520,000 are up in foster care each year. (ABC news).

Studio Ghibli also made a film called Pompoko (1994). Directed by Isao Takahata, the film is about shapeshifting racoons whose forest is being destroyed and replaced by buildings. There is a war between racoons and humans that shows how fragile humanity can be when humans decide to consume and abuse our natural world. The animals and earth will fight back. Pompoko makes me think humans are continuing to destroy forest to build new things, leaving animals without a home. Animals are being killed and human population is increasing rapidly, unlike animal populations, which are decreasing at high rates. Global warming is also affecting ecosystems because ecosystems have to adapt to climate change which kills animals and plants.

Another environmental film from Studio Ghibli is Ponyo (2008). Directed by Miyazaki, the film is about a fish who shapeshifts into a little girl after she tastes human blood. The ocean is being polluted by humans and Ponyo’s home is being destroyed. Thinking about Ponyo, I know most ocean pollution starts on land. Pollution is caused by factory chemicals making greenhouse gasses from cars, buses, trucks, tanks and more. Pollution such as human waste, wildfires, volcanoes and trash causes global warming and destroys ecosystems. Soon there will be more trash in the ocean than fish.

Written by Opal Lee Green (DJ Bubble Tea), Weekend Family Music Hour