Two readings of Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron are that it’s

  1. what the collapse of fascism feels like from the inside 1; or

  2. The Tempest; about rejecting art, laying down your staff, repudiating your life’s work 2.

Taking both of these seriously leads us to a rich and disturbing joint: author and authoritarian. Art (or anime) as deluded authoritarianism, and the artistic life (or his own life) as mistake. It is his least child-friendly film by far. 3

The Tower Fascism Anime
Mahito Japan Hayao Miyazaki
Great Uncle Saigō Takamori?
Sadao Araki?
Isao Takahata
The Heron Shigeru Yoshida?? Toshio Suzuki
Parakeet King Isoroku Yamamoto?? Kuniaki Koiso? Hayao Miyazaki
Parakeets The Japanese public Ghibli fans
Meteor Industrial technology Creativity
Dolmen ? ?
Himi ? ?
Natsuko ? ?
Pelicans ? ?

Notes on the Tower as Fascism

  • We again have Miyazaki giving a provocative (honest) portrayal of what he admires in Imperial Japan. The father makes ‘beautiful’ fighter planes for the fascists. He is chauvinistic, disconnected, stupid - but brave, strong, and protective. The intensely stratified society is harmonious and even jolly. Lesson: some virtues end up serving evil. Dreaming and creativity are not inherently good, they can be misused.

  • Fascism is a fantasy - in the sense of deluded and the sense of magical. Unsustainable, evil, but transportive. The Parakeet King is brutal and desperate but honourable. Great Uncle admits that the seaworld is a hellscape, but it could have been beautiful - it could still be, if Mahito just retreats into the tower like he did.

  • Mahito is edgy (thieving, armed, murderous towards the heron). At the start (when he is still in world 132) there are no signs that this is political, just grief and youth.

  • The Parakeet King actually makes Mahito’s decision for him, by fucking up and then attacking the block stack, beginning the disintegration of the tower. Gollum.

Notes on the Tower as Anime

  • Why reject art? Because it’s not as important as and takes away from other things.

  • Mahito notices that Great Uncle’s blocks - the films - are touched by “malice”. They are made out of tombstones.

  • I am against the gossipy Goro reading.

  • Suzuki: “In Miyazaki’s mind, the old wizard character is Isao Takahata, Miyazaki’s senior animator who actually discovered his talent.” 4 I would also accept Miyazaki as Mahito and Grand Uncle simultaneously.

  • Raptopoulos has an anodyne version of the reading: “about [Hayao] accepting that [Ghibli] will not be the same when he dies”. But this ignores the savagery and completeness of the disintegration of the Tower and the seaworld after Mahito rejects it.

  • Anime is produced by humans who can't stand looking at other humans.

  • Grand Uncle’s precarious stack, which he must tinker with every day to keep the tower world (Ghibli) from being destroyed, is made of 13 blocks (Miyazaki directed 13 feature films if like IMDb we count Conan).

  • If Hayao is both Mahito and Uncle, then the film is counterfactual - what Miyazaki feels he should have done: reject anime from the start, not make the films. (Yet another variation on this reading: Mahito as Hayao and Great Uncle as Tezuka.)

  • The ending is extremely abrupt - jarring, uncharacteristic. This is ok on the anime-as-mistake reading, since it is then a way of saying “I’m done. seriously, go home. Now.”

Other notes

  • One huge problem for any reading: the warawara. What happens to their migration after the fall of the tower? Do humans born after 1944 have no souls?

  • Many pairs or mirrors. Pelicans and parakeets; the dolmen and the meteor; Himi and Natsuko; the tower in 132 and the tower in seaworld;

  • There are seven dwarfish grannies. I didn’t check whether the personalities match.

  • I haven’t been careful to distinguish renunciation (giving up on) and denunciation (attacking). Shakespeare renounced theatre but didn’t denounce it. Currently The Boy and the Heron feels angry to me and so closer to denouncing.

See also

  1. A problem for reading (1) is that they 'flee' the Tower (fascism)... back to fascist Japan. But this is easy to resolve, since the bomb is coming and world 132 will soon go from fascist Empire to liberal State.
  2. The film's true title hits us over the head: How Does One Live?

    This is a personal film, showing how [Miyazaki] lived, how he should have lived and throwing out the question to the audience, 'So how [will] you live?'," Nishioka said.

    The funniest evidence for this reading would be this image, but it's fake.

  3. I'm ignoring three other readings: as straight autobiography (Hayao evacuating from Tokyo during the war, a mother in hospital, being a misfit); as psychodrama of young grief; and as religious allegory, misotheism.

    The meme "the film is about telling Goro to stop making movies" is also a psychodrama, and worse, gossip. This is one reason I prefer Mahito-as-counterfactual-Hayao.
  4. Suzuki also claims that Miyazaki identifies most with the Parakeet King, the clumsy, brutal, honourable leader. But herons lie.

    Maybe we should just give in and say that every character symbolises Miyazaki.


Post a comment:

Comments appear after moderation. use markdown.
Page just refreshes after successful submit.

Tags: art, becoming, meaning


[RSS] /
[podcast] /