Lupin The III: The Castle Of Cagliostro (1979)
Miyazaki’s cinematic debut stands apart from the bulk of his work, given it’s his only movie as, effectively, a director-for-hire. Not a sequel, rather a feature spin-off of TV show Lupin The 3rd (itself derived from Monkey Punch’s comic book, or manga), on which Miyazaki worked, the film follows the continuing misadventures of the titular rogue — grandson of Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène — as he embroils himself in the affairs of the nefarious Duke Of Cagliostro. While this enthusiastic, irreverent romp doesn’t feel like ‘pure’ Miyazaki, it does revel in its Riviera setting, displaying a love for European architecture and landscape that’s since defined much of his work (Laputa: Castle In The Sky, Porco Rosso, Howl’s Moving Castle).
Miyazaki on Miyazaki “Actually, I didn’t know European landscapes and architecture very well back then. So inside the castle I set myself a rule: always try to make the same space come up twice. If the character goes there once, then the character will go back to the same place again. It was like a game, and that was how I created the setting: ‘Here’s two lakes, a castle, there’s a Roman aqueduct...’ And then I thought, ‘Yes, now I can make a film on this!’ I just wish that I could have done it much, much better!”
Laputa: Castle In The Sky (1986)
Miyazaki’s third feature, and Ghibli’s first, is a high-flying adventure set in an alternative-reality steampunk 19th century England where the stratosphere is home to comical sky pirates, flying robots and — spot the Swift reference — mysterious floating castles. Its cult appeal runs deep yet it was not a big success, something Miyazaki feels is down to the fact he chose a young boy from a mining village (Pazu) to be its hero. Almost every Miyazaki protagonist since has been female.
Miyazaki on Miyazaki “I wanted to make an adventure story with the kind of boy hero who starts out fighting and has a lot of dreams. And I was able to confirm that people don’t come to see that kind of film! After time, a lot of people started saying, ‘I love Laputa,’ but at the theatrical release it didn’t attract much of an audience. A male is recognised as an adult when he has a job, an occupation. For a woman, her physical presence itself makes her a character, but a man needs to have this social occupation or some kind of status, or some kind of fate — something that you can’t see. So with a labourer child like Pazu, it was very hard to draw the audience to the cinema. I wish I could make another film with an eight or nine year-old boy hero. Boys, they sometimes end up with a tragic existence in this world. It’s a very hard, tough place for boys to live now.”
Nausicaä Of The Valley of The Wind (1984)
Based on Miyazaki’s own complex manga (which he didn’t finish until 1994!), Nausicaä is a remarkable work, set in a post-apocalyptic world swathed in poisonous gas, the bickering remnants of humanity sharing the Earth with giant insectoids. It’s eerily beautiful, with a powerful, young female lead character — now a Miyazaki mainstay — and is not the last of his films to resound with a clear environmental message (the mercury-pollution of Minamata Bay was his main inspiration). Sadly, its rough treatment by its American distributor, which slashed the running time and renamed it Warriors Of The Wind, meant it remained largely undiscovered abroad, making Miyazaki and his producer, Toshio Suzuki, deeply sceptical about foreign treatment of their works.
Miyazaki on Miyazaki “The original manga was written when I had no job in animation — I had a lot of time to myself, so I tried to make a comic that couldn’t be made into animation. And then later I had to make it into a film, so I was in deep trouble! There were a lot of things I just didn’t know how to do back then, how to make it work. But I still had to make it.
“Why did the lead character have to be female? Well, it doesn’t look truthful if the guy has power like that! Women are able to straddle both the real world and the other world — like mediums. In the oldest form of the Cinderella story, she was able to travel freely to the other world through the hearth: that’s what empowered her. It isn’t the swordplay that Nausicäa is good at, it’s that she understands both the human world and the insect world. No animals feel danger in approaching her; she’s able to totally erase her sense of presence, existence. Males, they are aggressive, only in the human sphere — very shallow! (Laughs) So it had to be a female character.”