Humanity and Morals: Miyazaki and Kurosawa

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

Just as much as art imitates life, life imitates art. Prior to authentic experience, all that is possible has already been lived through our experience of entertainment. Before ever going on a date, you had a picture of it in your mind from the media you consumed. Before traveling to a foreign country, the country already had a mental landscape in your mind; you've already seen it represented on screen. We make media but media makes us; it's influence can't be denied. It sets our expectations, shapes our psyche, but the criticism of fiction vs. real life has always been, fiction has no consequences whereas real life does.

Through two beautiful video essays, Channel Criswell explores how two Japanese filmmakers, Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki, use art not only as a tool for entertainment, but as a tool for transmitting humanity and morals.

Actions and Consequences

What does it mean to have influence over the minds of millions (and possibly billions) of other people? Is it only to entertain them? It is egotistic and only about self-expression? Or does having others open their minds to you come with a high degree of responsibility? Through masterful filmmaking, Kurosawa shows that even impulsive and inane actions have consequences, and asks: can you live with them? Since this is more real, it doesn't take away, but rather, it heightens the drama.

Kurosawa always emphasizes the consequences rather than the actions themselves; much like the unforgiving realities of real life, a one second decision can alter the rest of your life. It must be carefully considered because some things you can't undo.

The Essence of Humanity

In real life, being able to control what you pay attention to is called mindfulness, but to Hayao Miyazaki, it's just a natural part of good filmmaking. And what should we be paying attention to? We all ask big questions: what does it mean to be human, what makes you you? What Miyazaki shows us is, rather than looking at the big things, how much money you make, what kind of car you drive, or even your big aspirations, it's all the little things that makes you human, it's all the subtleties that make you you. Things you might have been doing since you were a child, the things that are consistently you, that are always you, the things that people fall in love with. How you put on your shoes, how you chew, how you smile, how you treat others, how you furrow your brow in the sunlight, little things you forget you do but do any way because you're a thoughtful and courteous person. And these are not little things, these things are worth taking time to notice because that's what makes people seem like people, what makes Miyazaki's animations feel so real, even though the stories are fantastical, because his characters aren't wooden, they have idiosyncrasies like you do and I do.

When you watch a Miyazaki film, you leave loving life. Not because life got any better, but because he teaches you to pay attention to all the little things that make life worth living.