Some artists are masters of their crafts; others can teach even these masters a thing or two. Hayao Miyazaki is one such example of the latter, inspiring the likes of animation legend and Pixar bigwig John Lasseter with his unique storytelling style. "In the animated community he's a hero, like he is to me," Lasseter once told Roger Ebert. Recently, the animation community, both established and emerging, has gushed out tribute after tribute, showcasing the lessons they've learned and one-of-a-kind characters they've adored as a result of Miyazaki's work. The result of this ongoing phenomenon? Among UC Berkeley's hotbed of democratic, student-taught classes in their DeCal program, there's now an entire class dedicated to studying Miyazaki.
The course is currently taught by two seemingly unlikely students of "The Walt Disney of Japan," both 20 years old: molecular environmental biology major Evan Ho and his roommate, applied math major, Miguel Morales. The class covers Miyazaki's entire filmography, from The Castle of Cagliostro to The Wind Rises (no word yet if Boro the Caterpillar will be added to the curriculum on its 2018 release), offering lessons on theme and animation technique, plus a contextualization of the fairy tale-like films with actual Japanese folklore. Then, they host signature DeCal-style discussions that deepen each student's knowledge of the subject in a way that straight lectures can't.
"A student pointed out last semester that there was much about feminism, cultural diversity, nature, and its relationship with mankind in his films," Ho recounts. "I wanted to pick a subject that was filled with content and would be interesting for students, and obviously Miyazaki's films came to mind."
So have they unraveled the mystery of Miyazaki's allure? Possibly. "Miyazaki's works are unique in many ways," Ho explains. "They don't tell a typical Disney-like story in which a man saves a princess and they have a happily-ever-after ending. Rather, many of his films tell us that women have power, nature is to be protected and cherished, age should not limit us from adventure, and more. Any audience should be able to watch a Miyazaki film and find a character to relate to. His films take us out of our comfort zone, which is oftentimes the best place to learn more about the world, and ourselves."
Why else do you think Miyazaki has become such a beloved figure to students at UC Berkeley, top Disney brass, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, and countless young animators like Japan's dono and France's Gwenn Germain? Check out their work below and give us your answer in the comments or on Twitter at @CreatorsProject.
Read more about UC Berkeley's DeCal program in our previous coverage.