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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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