The Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki has explored a variety of genres. A common theme in his films is his anti-war ideology. Miyazaki has a strict three-step formula for how he communicates this ideology across films of disparate genres. First, he creates protagonists with various levels of pacifism. Second, his antagonists are complex and three-dimensional characters. Finally, something of value is corrupted by warfare. The skills and gifts that the characters possess are misused for purposes of bloodshed and destruction. This paper analyzes Miyazaki’s anti-war ideology in four of his films: the action comedy Porco Rosso (1992), the epic Princess Mononoke (1997), the fantasy adventure Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), and the biopic The Wind Rises (2013).
Michael Willson is pursuing his Masters in Communication, Culture and Technology at Georgetown University. His research focuses on film and cultural studies. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Flying Pigs, Moving Castles, and a Plea for Peace: An Analysis of the Anti-War Ideology of the Films of Hayao Miyazaki
Hayao Miyazaki, director of eleven full length animated feature films and co-founder of Studio Ghibli, is one of the most influential animators of all time. Using genres such as action comedies (The Castle of Cagliostro, 1979), fantasy epics (Spirited Away, 2001), and even light-hearted children’s films (My Neighbor Totoro, 1988), Miyazaki has found a way to connect with audiences through compelling plots and relatable characters. As diverse as his films are in their execution, he has found ways to incorporate common themes across genres. One of his most commonly used themes is his anti-war ideology. His films animate the horrors of war and show the physical and emotional devastation it inflicts on people and communities.
Miyazaki is a vocal critic of countries that celebrate a militaristic culture, especially in his native Japan. In his essay, “A Nation That Merely Dithers Around,” Miyazaki writes about how, during the 1991 Gulf War, he perceived both George H.W. Bush and Saddam Hussain as using the war to display and prove their masculinity. As Miyazaki recalls, “I can only think [Bush] is possessed by the ghost of John Wayne, telling him that ‘this is the way a real man should act.’ Saddam Hussain’s sense of righteousness is the same” (2009, 147). In the same essay, he expresses his regret over Japan’s involvement in the Gulf War in order to, as he puts it, “do business with and be ‘good neighbors’ to [its] allies” (2009, 147). In 2013, around the time his film, The Wind Rises, was released, Miyazaki criticized Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s proposal to strengthen Japan’s military by amending Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution (Rizov 2013). Miyazaki executes his beliefs of war and peace through a strict three-step formula. First, his protagonists follow various levels of pacifism. Second, his antagonists are complex and three-dimensional. Finally, he shows how something of value can be corrupted by warfare. Through the use of this formula, Miyazaki is able to deliver this message across films of disparate genres. Four noteworthy films that follow this formula are the action comedy Porco Rosso (1992), the epic Princess Mononoke (1997), the fantasy adventure Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), and Miyazaki’s only biopic The Wind Rises (2013). The following analysis will examine how all four films follow Miyazaki’s formula in delivering his anti-war rhetoric.
Step One: A Pacifistic Protagonist
The first essential aspect of these films is the pacifism of the protagonists. These characters avoid violence when they can, and only use it in self-defense or in defense of another character. After a character uses violence, they often express regret and show remorse.
In Porco Rosso, Marco, an Italian World War I pilot who is cursed to turn into an anthropomorphic pig after coming home from the war, spends his days as a freelance bounty hunter. He never shoots to kill, only shooting at an airplane’s engine with the sole goal of forcing the enemy to make an emergency landing. In the film’s climax, he fights Curtis, an egotistical American bounty hunter, as part of a wager. If Marco wins, Curtis will pay for the repairs that were done on his plane. If Curtis wins, then he gets to claim Marco’s friend and mechanic, Fio, as his bride. The duel starts off as an exciting dogfight over the Adriatic Sea, but turns into a humorous boxing match along the shore, which Marco wins. Marco is only participating to defend Fio’s honor. While the boxing match is violent, it is meant to provide humor. Arts and humanities professor Pamela Gossin writes the following:
To illustrate the reductio ad absurdum limitations of human rivalry and jealousy, for instance, [Miyazaki] creates the knock-down, drag-out fist-fighting scene in Porco Rosso, piling on the blows, one exaggerated and exhausting image at a time, until the audience feels as ridiculous and defeated for watching the violence as the characters feel for engaging in it. (Gossin 2015, 218)
Neither Marco nor Curtis inflict serious harm on each other. Their blows result in exaggerated welts and bruises, resembling something out of a Saturday morning cartoon. Most importantly, Marco shows a clear disdain for the Italian Air Force and their fascist ideology. He refuses to purchase Patriotic Bonds under the argument that he is not a person. During a military parade, he ignores its excitement and grandeur and walks past it, knowing firsthand that war is not entertainment.
The curse that Marco is forced to endure is a metaphor for the emotional and psychological scars that stay with servicemen long after coming home from battle. Sociology professor Michael Rustin, and psychotherapist Margaret Rustin see the curse as a form of survivor’s guilt. As Rustin and Rustin state, “Porco Rosso, the film’s hero, is preoccupied with the memory of friends and comrades who have died in war and suffers from guilt and melancholy at their loss” (2012, 180). In describing his most traumatic experience, Marco notes, “Planes were going down like flies, ours and theirs. There were three on my tail. I had my hands full. Then I was the only one left on our side. The enemy kept on coming. They had blood in their eyes. I was numb, I couldn’t see. I thought I was a goner. Suddenly everything went white all around me” (Miyazaki, 1992). The next sight that Marco sees is thousands of planes, both belonging to his comrades and his enemies, flying further and further into the sky. It is implied that they are flying into Heaven. The fact that both sides are entering into the same salvation suggests that no one side is right or wrong and that the war was pointless, making the death of Marco’s comrades all the more in vain. As Rustin and Rustin note, “It is because of this guilt that he has turned into a pig, now bereft, as he sees it, of feeling and conscience. As a pig, he is a creature of mere appetites and can neither love nor be loved” (2012, 181). Animé researcher Helen McCarthy sees the curse as a metaphor for a feeling of numbness after experiencing a traumatic event. As McCarthy observes, “In Porco Rosso ‘pig’ is a metaphor for a man who lost faith in mankind and has chosen to reject his own humanity” ( 2002, 160). Rhetoric professor Susan Napier suggests that the curse could be a combination of survivor’s guilt and the self-rejection of one’s humanity. As Napier argues, “We never really do find out what transforms ‘Marco’ into ‘Porco.’ We assume it is some kind of magical manifestation of survivor’s guilt combined with Marco’s contempt for a human race that can produce a fascist ideology and a war that sacrifices thousands of young men for nothing” (2018, 153-154). Whether it is survivor’s guilt or numbness, either metaphor explains the film’s ambiguous ending. After winning the duel, Marco teams up with Curtis to outfly the Italian Air Force, which has come to arrest them. Curtis suddenly has a surprised look and asks Marco about his face, which the audience cannot see as the shot cuts off at his neck. It is implied that Marco, now seeing himself as honorable for defending Fio, has turned back into a human.
Ashitaka in Princess Mononoke is very much a pacifist. In the film, which is set in 14th century Japan, also known as the Muromachi period, a black mysterious creature covered in withering tentacles invades a rural village. Ashitaka tries to persuade the monster to leave. Unable to reason with it, Ashitaka kills the beast with his arrow, but not without getting his arm caught in the creature’s tentacles. As the creature dies, it is revealed to be the boar god Nago, who has turned into a demon after being consumed by hate. An iron ball is found in the boar’s body, which is what caused it to turn into a demon. The wound that Ashitaka received from the beast leaves a scar that will slowly spread throughout the rest of his body, ending in a painful death. Ashitaka leaves his village in search of the source of the ball. On his journey, Ashitaka comes across an army of samurais raiding a village. He defends the village by shooting at the samurais, but develops superhuman strength due to the curse, causing his arrows to decapitate one of the samurais, and shoot off another’s arms. Ashitaka expresses regret that his actions caused such bodily harm. He comes across Tataraba, an industrial community that manufactures firearms, and meets their militaristic leader, Lady Eboshi. She explains that the village was built by clearing out large sections of the forest. Tataraba’s construction has created conflicts with the local samurai lords and forest animals. Eboshi plans on decapitating Shishigami, the shapeshifting forest god that resembles an elk-like creature by day and a transparent giant by night, and giving its severed head to the emperor as a gift. Upon learning of Eboshi’s role in the corruption of Nago, and ultimately Ashitaka’s cursed fate, his infected arm tries to grab at his sword, ready to strike at Eboshi, but Ashitaka, refusing to become a demon, resists the temptation. In addition to the people of Tataraba, Ashitaka befriends San, a human girl raised by a pack of wolves, whom the people of Tataraba refer to as Princess Mononoke. In Eboshi’s pursuit of Shishigami’s head, war breaks out between Tataraba and the samurai army under the leadership of Lord Asano. At the same time, a pack of boars, aided by the wolves, declares war on Tataraba to reclaim their land and avenge Nago. Ashitaka does not take sides and attempts to act as the mediator. Most significant is the role Ashitaka takes upon himself to bring peace between the animals and the people of Tataraba. He understands that no particular side is right or wrong, but that each side is trying to bring prosperity to their kind. His ultimate goal is peace between nature and humankind.
In Howl’s Moving Castle, Miyazaki conveys two different sides of pacifism: one fueled by anger and the other fueled by compassion. In a fantasy science fiction universe that is made to resemble Europe in the late 19th Century, a prince of an unnamed kingdom has suddenly gone missing. Desperate to find answers, the kingdom declares war on its neighboring kingdom. Howl is a young wizard who lives in a magical castle that has the power to move locations. This allows him to work under multiple identities. He has been called upon by the king of the accused kingdom to fight in the war. Refusing to fight, Howl sabotages both sides, destroying their weapons and aircraft. He sees no difference between the two armies. To him, they are both evil institutions causing needless bloodshed. He expresses his disdain for the war by interfering with battles. At first, his interferences are harmless and petty tricks, such as causing a ship to malfunction. Though harmless, his actions lead to his own punishment. Each time he plays his tricks, he turns into a hideous, crow-like creature, becoming progressively less and less human. Literary researcher Dani Cavallaro states, “His commitment to the annihilation of deadly weapons in the guise of a grim bird of prey, vampirically fanged, covered with metallic plumage and equipped with intimidating talons, vividly conveys the gravity of his intent and actions” (2006, 160). Each time Howl returns home from a night of sabotage, he finds the process of turning back into his human form more painful and difficult. After an airstrike occurs on the home of his lover, Sophie, Howl, blinded by rage, becomes a full monster and destroys an entire airship, likely killing the soldiers on board. Though Howl is able to change back in the end, Miyazaki paints a clear message of the effects that anger can have on an individual. While Howl’s disdain for warfare is defensible, he allows his anger to keep growing until he becomes just as violent as those he was trying to sabotage.
Sophie sees no reason in getting involved in the war and begs Howl not to interfere. She shows kindness to those she disagrees with. She even shows kindness towards the Witch of the Waste, who has cursed Sophie to turn into an elderly woman. When the Witch of the Waste is stripped of her power, Sophie allows her to live with them in the castle. Cavallaro notes, “At the same time, Miyazaki typically eschews the spirit of revenge: Sophie ultimately shelters and feeds the witch once the latter has returned to the state of a haggard and inoffensive old woman” (2006, 160). Sophie has the opportunity to get her revenge. She can easily kill the witch or, at the very least, leave her to die in her wretched state, but chooses not to. Sophie’s kind and loving demeanor can best be described as being grounded in the belief of ‘yasashisa’. Cavallaro observes, “To the cumulative worth of these interrelated qualities, Sophie’s conduct adds a generous dose of that ensemble of virtues which the Japanese language designates as yasashisa—kindness, compassion, sensitivity” (2006, 164). Miyazaki seems to suggest that a life of love, forgiveness, and peace is better than a life of hate, bitterness, and revenge.
The only biopic in Miyazaki’s filmmaking career, The Wind Rises, tells the story of Jiro Horikoshi, the chief engineer behind the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, the Japanese fighter jet that was used in the Second World War. Miyazaki depicts Horikoshi as a kind and sensitive man, mesmerized by the beauty of aviation. As a child, Horikoshi aspires to become a pilot, but knows that it is not possible due to his nearsightedness. In a dream, he meets his idol, the Italian aeronautical engineer Giovanni Battista Caproni. Caproni informs Horikoshi that he has never flown a plane in his life. He lives to design planes, not fly them. This inspires Horikoshi to pursue aeronautical engineering and design aircraft. Throughout the film, Horikoshi continues to meet with Caproni in his dreams. The fantasized Caproni acts as a mentor, offering Horikoshi advice not just on engineering, but also about life in general. While the film is based on a historical figure, it is heavily fictionalized and is influenced by Miyazaki’s own artistic license. Horikoshi and Caproni are both depicted as pacifists in the film. They view aviation as a beautiful invention made to give humankind the ability to experience the freedom of flying. Although they both design planes for the military, they detest the idea of aviation being used for war. As Caproni states, “Humanity dreams of flight, but the dream is cursed. Aircrafts are destined to become tools for slaughter and destruction” (Miyazaki 2013). In the first dream sequence, Caproni arrives with a fleet of Italian World War I fighter jets. Caproni looks up at his creation and says to Horikoshi, “Look at them. They will bomb the enemy city. Most of them won’t return” (Miyazaki 2013). Images appear on the screen of Caproni’s planes being shot down and falling into a burning city. Horror emerges in the young Horikoshi’s eyes as the carnage reflects off his glasses.
When Horikoshi is introduced to the audience as an adolescent, he witnesses a group of his peers bullying a smaller boy. He confronts the bullies and tells them to stop. The leader attempts to swing a punch at Horikoshi, but Horikoshi is able to grab the boy’s arm, and throws him to the ground. Upon returning home, his mother sees the cuts and bruises on his faces and tells him, “Fighting is never justified” (Miyazaki 2013). Though this scene might seem insignificant to the overall plot, it contributes to Miyazaki’s display of pacifism.
Step Two: A Complex and Three-Dimensional Antagonist
The second essential aspect in reinforcing pacifism is the nuance of the antagonists. The antagonists in Miyazaki’s films are complex, three-dimensional characters and are not simply evil. They could have well-meaning and justified motives that are clouded by greed or ambition. Most important is that the antagonists are very much human and sometimes even relatable. Miyazaki seems to suggest that no one is fully good or evil. It is more that humans are influenced, both positively and negatively, by the people and events around them. In some cases, the antagonist is not necessarily a singular character but an external factor, such as a corrupt or power-hungry government. Some of the films have characters that could easily be labeled as the villain, but are really just victims to controlling forces.
In Porco Rosso, it would be easy to identify Curtis as the film’s antagonist. However, he is more arrogant than he is nefarious. The various air pirates that Marco hunts down are not fully evil either. Even when they commit the devious act of kidnapping a group of schoolgirls at the beginning of the film, they are incapable of inflicting any harm. Rustin and Rustin argue that, “[The girls] make it into an exciting adventure and, when captured, show the pirates to be softies at heart” (2012, 180). The girls see the pirates as nonthreatening and incompetent. The pirates prove this by doing nothing more than telling the girls, unsuccessfully, to settle down.
Arguably, the main antagonist in Porco Rosso is the fascist Italian Air Force. They are the ones that serve as the film’s main symbol of warfare, and as a painful reminder of Marco’s past. Depending on one’s historical knowledge, a viewer could associate them with Benito Mussolini and the role that Italy would go on to play in the Second World War, especially as the Italian fascist symbol of a fasces is present on one of the planes. Most importantly, they serve as a mutual enemy for both Marco and his pirate rivals. As Rustin and Rustin state, “It appears there is solidarity, even among the pirates and bounty-hunters, against the Italian fascists” (2012, 182). That being said, Miyazaki does not dismiss every pilot in the Italian Air Force as being without morals. In fact, the only prominent fascist character, an old World War I friend named Ferrarin, warns Marco about the Air Force’s plans to arrest him. This is consistent with Miyazaki’s sub-theme of no one being truly evil.
Eboshi is clearly the antagonist in Princess Mononoke, but it is not fair to call her evil. While she causes both physical and emotional harm to the animals of the forest, her intention is to build a safe and prosperous community. It is important to note that Tataraba is not a standard town, but a refuge for social outcasts, such as lepers and survivors of human trafficking. Eboshi provides employment for everyone in the community. The men hunt and gather the food, the women manage the bellows that forge the iron, and the lepers make the firearms. McCarthy writes the following:
[Ashitaka] finds a community where lepers are looked after and taught skills, where everyone works and everyone eats, and where there is plenty of good humored teasing and laughter…When he joins the women working at the great bellows, he sees even more clearly that although he may not agree with all Eboshi’s methods, she is doing her best to create a better life for her people. ( 1999, 196-197)
Even her most harmful action of decapitating Shishigami is done with the hope that the emperor will cease the harassment of her people. Most importantly, Eboshi changes at the end, agreeing to find a way to live in harmony with the forest.
At first, the antagonist in Howl’s Moving Castle appears to be The Witch of the Waste, but she quickly loses all of her wickedness and intimidation. She also has very little to do with the film’s theme on war. Then, it appears that the film’s antagonist is Suliman, the king’s magical advisor. She is a major player in the war, having a great deal of influence over the king, and drains the magic of witches and wizards. She also acts as a threat to Howl and Sophie, ordering the airstrike on Sophie’s hometown. She only appears twice in the film, however, and does not leave much of an impact on the audience. When Heen, a dog she sends to spy on Howl, enthusiastically informs her of the prince’s return, she states, “A happy ending I see…Let’s put an end to this foolish war” (Miyazaki 2004). Her calling the war “foolish” suggests that her involvement was not out of hatred of the enemy, but out of devotion to her country. Thus, the film’s antagonist is not a single character, but the militaristic culture of the two kingdoms.
At the beginning of the film, a military parade takes place in Sophie’s hometown. Spectators cheer as planes, tanks, and soldiers march on their way to battle. Much like Marco in Porco Rosso, Sophie shows no interest in the spectacle and makes a detour through an alley to avoid the chaos. This turns out to provide no benefit as she is immediately approached by two domineering soldiers who make subtle, but clearly sexual, advances towards her. This suggests that there is a type of rape culture within the military. When the audience first witnesses Howl’s sabotage, there is a horrific sight of explosions and burning houses. The disgusted look on Howl’s face communicates to the audience the film’s attitude on war. In a scene where Sophie goes shopping at a port market, her errand is interrupted by the sight of a charred and damaged battleship coming into dock. Spectators watch on in horror, learning that war has consequences and is not a grand patriotic jubilee.
Though the film has a pacifist message, Cavallaro expresses a disturbance in how quickly Suliman is able to end the war. Cavallaro writes the following:
[Suliman’s] eventual decision to terminate the conflict is indubitably felicitous and makes it possible for the film to end under the canopy of a joyfully fair sky, yet it is made to appear quite sudden and arbitrary. This is a way of suggesting that the very opposite choice – the decision to start a war – could just as simply be made at any point in time, no less unexpectedly and no less capriciously. (2006, 171)
The film’s conclusion shows how easily and quickly a war can begin and end. A war that could have devastating effects on a country and can kill thousands of people, both soldiers and civilians, can begin in just a matter of seconds.
The Wind Rises is unique compared to the other three films discussed in this article in that there is no central character to serve as the antagonist. Similar to Howl’s Moving Castle, a militaristic culture ultimately fills that role. Unlike Howl’s Moving Castle, however, the militaristic culture is not that of a fictional kingdom, but of Japan itself. As Cavallaro states, “The Wind Rises focuses on the perversion of ideals by power-hungry politicians, dramatizing the tragedy of an imagination doomed to serve the insane interest of a monomaniacal nation” (2015a, 59). In addition, Howl’s Moving Castle has a specific character, Suliman, whom the audience could label as the villain. The Wind Rises does not have such a character for the audience to fall back on. Given that The Wind Rises is a Japanese film, Miyazaki uses his story to speak directly to his audience. As Napier observes, “He clearly wanted the film to be provocative, to stir up discussions of difficult matters his countrymen for decades wanted to sweep under the rug” (2018, 249). Miyazaki was a young boy during the Second World War and saw the effects that the war had on his country. He has been openly critical of the imperialistic role that Japan played in the war and has chastised Japan’s unwillingness to address its transgressions. Cavallaro writes the following:
Miyazaki’s views on contemporary Japanese politics point to the insidiousness of this cultural phenomenon. The present government’s militaristic tendencies, in particular, are centered on a sense of history which allows for the endurance in present-day Japan of the aggressive and jingoistic agendas which blighted the country’s past to often disastrous effect. The vision of history promulgated by the current regime pivots on a distorted vision of the past which attempts to blot out the sinister reality of Japan’s imperialist ambitions. (2015a, 53)
Miyazaki presses his audience to recognize and accept the detrimental role that their country played in the Second World War. If Japan chooses to ignore their transgressions and continues to move towards having a strong militaristic presence, the country will put itself at risk of self-destruction.
A central character useful to understanding Japan’s self-destructive ambitions in the war is Castorp, a German whom Horikoshi meets at a summer resort in Karuizawa. The fact that Castorp is German is significant, as it reminds the audience of Japan’s and Germany’s association as Axis Powers. Castorp is critical of the imperialistic nature of Germany and Japan, and believes that their quest for global domination will lead to their own self-destruction. Castorp takes in the peaceful summer night at the resort and states, “A good place for forgetting. Start a war in China, then forget it. Make a puppet state in Manchuria, then forget it. Quit the League of Nations, then forget it. Make the world your enemy, then forget it. Japan will blow up. Germany will blow up too” (Miyazaki 2013). The film also addresses Germany’s transgression by making a subtle reference to the Holocaust. On a business trip in Germany, Horikoshi and his colleague go on an evening walk when a man suddenly runs past them. It is revealed that he is being chased by a group of men from the secret police. As the two men continue on their walk, the scene cuts to the secret police looting a house.
Step Three: Something of Value is Corrupted by Warfare
The third and final aspect of these films is that warfare corrupts something of value. This could include a specific object, like an airplane in Porco Rosso and The Wind Rises. It could also be a skill, as is the case with magic in Howl’s Moving Castle. In Princess Mononoke, it is nature, people, and gods that are tainted by the hatred brought on by war.
Porco Rosso and The Wind Rises both show how the amazement and wonder of aviation can be used as instruments of death in war. Miyazaki is known for his love of aviation and almost all of his films feature at least one scene that involves some form of flying. As Cavallaro states, “His films seek to celebrate the unmatched beauty of bodies, both breathing and mechanical, as they soar and glide unfettered by the laws of gravity” (2015a, 147). In Porco Rosso, Miyazaki animates beautiful scenes of planes flying over sunsets, oceans, and fields. He also animates disturbing images of blazing, burning planes plummeting after being shot down, showing how the beauty of aviation can be corrupted in warfare.
The Wind Rises discusses the topic of aviation and warfare even further. Asian studies professor Michal Daliot-Bul states, “The Wind Rises is not simply the story of an aviation pioneer. It is about a man who faces ethical dilemmas in trying to reconcile his private dreams and ambitions with the unfortunate circumstances of his time” (2017, 573). Miyazaki concludes the film with the image of planes flying into a cloud of smoke. The camera moves down to reveal a Japanese city on fire. The audience then sees Horikoshi walking through a wasteland filled with the remains of destroyed Zeros where he meets Caproni. A group of Zeros fly over them and make their way to join thousands of other planes flying further into the sky, just as in Porco Rosso. Horikoshi regrets that not a single one of his planes survived the war. Caproni laments, “Airplanes are beautiful dreams, cursed dreams waiting for the sky to swallow them up” (Miyazaki 2013). The film’s tone suggests that Horikoshi’s hard work and the deaths of the pilots who flew the Zeros were all in vain.
There are two things of value that are corrupted by warfare in Princess Mononoke. The first is nature. In addition to hearing how the forest was cleared for the construction of Tataraba, the audience sees firsthand the damage that the war has inflicted. This is present in the conflict with the boars. Large boars charge at the humans, ramming them with their great tusks and destroying their shelters. Landmines and grenades go off, causing the boars to go flying in the air from the impact of the explosion. In the ruins of the battlefield, there are piles of dead boars and humans, showing the fatalities that both sides have suffered.
The second thing of value is one’s soul. Miyazaki’s key message in Princess Mononoke is that anything or anyone can be corrupted by war and hate, causing them to turn into a demon. Upon losing its head, Shishigami becomes a monster and destroys the forest, the very thing it was made to protect. McCarthy writes the following:
In Princess Mononoke, the gods are real and tangible—but the growing greed and cynicism of humans is literally diminishing them, making them physically smaller, and their own rage and incomprehension is focusing on every injury offered to them and turning them into seething masses of pain and suffering that can be passed on to man. ( 1999, 200).
If it was not for his resistance, Ashitaka himself could have become a demon. In a scene where he gets between Eboshi and San, withering tentacles come out of his cursed arm. Ashitaka states, “There’s a demon inside of you. And in her” (Miyazaki 1997). He then shows his demonic arm to the crowd of spectators and states, “Look! This is the hatred and bitterness that curses me! It rots my flesh and summons my death. You cannot yield to it” (Miyazaki 1997). No matter who you are, human, god, or animal, anyone can become a demon if they are corrupted by the hatred that can come only from war.
Miyazaki takes an interesting turn in the fantasy genre by exploring how magic could be corrupted by warfare in Howl’s Moving Castle. In Howl’s kingdom, all witches and wizards are drafted to provide their magic in aiding the war effort. The idea of magic being used for war is not something new. Fantasy films such as the Harry Potter franchise (2001-2011) and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) have explored this theme, but in both examples, it was dark magic that created war and destruction. In Howl’s Moving Castle, a non-magical king exploits magic for his foolish war, thus abusing resources that could be used for the greater good. Cavallaro notes, “Even the use of magic stems from human beings’ greedy appropriation and deployment of supernatural powers, not from non-human agencies per se” (2015b, 16). It is made clear that magic and spells can be used to benefit the general public. Howl, under his multiple identities, provides spells and potions to civilians. For example, a girl comes in to buy a substance that will bring good fortune to her family’s ship. In this universe, magic has the power to serve humankind, but is instead used for destruction.
A devoted pacifist, Hayao Miyazaki uses this three-step formula to deliver a consistent message while also covering a variety of genres. In analyzing the four films, it is clear how Miyazaki is able to incorporate this formula in communicating this rhetoric. His protagonists convey varying levels of pacifism. Some, such as Sophie, refuse to use any form of violence, while others, such as Ashitaka, use it only when absolutely necessary. His antagonists are complex. Some, such as Eboshi, only want what is best for their people. Sometimes, the antagonist is not a singular character, but the government as a whole, as is the case in Howl’s Moving Castle and The Wind Rises. Most importantly, something of value is corrupted by warfare, whether it be aircraft, magic, or one’s very soul. Miyazaki’s films, as disparate as they can be, share a firm anti-war ideology. Through these four films Miyazaki presents a crucial plea for peace.
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