Tag Archives: Hayao Miyazaki

Every Story Needs a Villain, Part Two

Last time, some of you may remember, we were discussing the lack of villains in the films of Hayao Miyazaki. Hopefully by now you even may have seen some of these films for yourself.

But as a refresher let us review the stock Miyazaki storyline: A bratty young woman on the cusp of adolescence is cut off from her parents or her family situation and must find her way back home. Along the way she will come into contact with a boy about her own age, an ambitious dreamer, usually an orphan, who will help our heroine find her way back. And while our young heroine will appear unchanged on the outside to both family and friends, on the inside she will have grown as a person and become stronger and more able to handle whatever life has to throw at her; though by story’s end she will also be saddened, even a little disillusioned, by the outsize effort that has been required of her.

Now I would like to discuss the most recent novel by Richard Ford, Canada, and the ways in which one artist’s approach to ‘bad guys’ in his story can be so very different from another’s.

Canadian flag

In the story that it tells, Canada is remarkably similar to many of the films of Hayao Miyazaki: a teenaged boy is cut off from his family situation and tries to find his way home—only in his case there is no home to return to. However, and in contrast to Miyazaki’s work, there is a very clear bad guy who drives the second half of the narrative, and who brings about the requisite change in our hero that allows him to complete the journey that is the plot of the novel, as well as his life.

Like any good story, the stakes for the protagonist have to be high, as well as clearly stated, and Ford achieves all this in his opening paragraph:

First, I’ll tell you about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important part, since it served to set my and my sister’s lives on the courses they eventually followed. Nothing would make complete sense without that being told first…. Continue reading

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Every Story Needs a Villain

It’s an old saying: Every story needs a villain. But if you are a parent to a newly minted child, or even a not so newly minted one, then you are probably aware of the work of the Japanese filmmaker and illustrator Hayao Miyazaki.

The Man Himself

The Man Himself

And one of the more striking aspects of Miyazaki’s work is the (almost) complete absence of villains in his movies. The characters in his films come into violent conflict with one another and (frequently) with their natural environment; but regardless of the depth or violence of the conflict — and it is often visceral and intense — within the story, what is clear by movie’s end is that, though it might have seemed otherwise at the start, there are no clear-cut villains here. Why?

Because everybody has their reasons.

Even characters that lie, cheat, steal — even kill wantonly — by movie’s end will have been shown to be acting for reasons that make sense to them, and for that reason alone are in a way justified in their actions. And the final justification for any, and all, of these character’s actions seems to be that our environment, both natural and social, requires balance in order to operate properly.

An attempt by the end of each story to strike balance, both between the human characters, and between humanity and the natural world, seems to be a hallmark of all Miyazaki’s films.

The only obvious villain that comes to mind in the entire film oeuvre is the murderously efficient government operative Colonel Muska, from the film ‘Castle in the Sky,’ who by movie’s end — and quite unusual for any Miyazaki movie — is destroyed, killed off by his own plans. And what makes Muska so different from most characters in the filmmaker’s catalogue is that he openly works to pursue his own selfish goals of power and dominance at the expense of family and clan interests. Continue reading

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