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Michael Toscano

"Something Beautiful for Japan"

The moral imagination of Hayao Miyazaki.

Hayao Miyazaki is one of the greatest animators in cinema history, if not the greatest. He is a national treasure in his home country of Japan, where, according to one incredible statistic, 96 percent of the population have viewed at least one of his films. Miyazaki garners almost universal respect from prestige critics, having won countless awards, including Berlin's Golden Bear, Amsterdam's Silver Screen Award, Venice's lifetime achievement award, an Academy Award for best animated feature, and, this past November, the Academy's lifetime achievement award.

So when in September 2013 he announced that he was retiring after the release of his latest film, The Wind Rises, moviegoers the world over grieved. While he has since made known his plans to illustrate a new manga—a Japanese comic—and to direct some short films for release in Japan, this is goodbye to one of the luminaries of animation and one of the greatest fairy tale makers in cinema history. Not even England, home to the richest tradition of fairy tales in modern literature, has produced a filmmaker of such decided significance for the genre. In light of his departure, there's no better time to reflect on his achievement.

To that end, we must go back to a night in 1945, when the US Air Force firebombed Utsunomiya, the city to which Miyazaki and his family relocated during the war. Miyazaki has vivid memories of the night of the bombing: "I was awakened because of the air raid, it was midnight, but the sky was dyed in red, no, pink, like an evening glow."

As Utsunomiya went up in flame, Miyazaki's father hid the family beneath a bridge. While they hunkered down, his uncle braved the streets to fetch a small flatbed truck, one of the few automobiles in the city. His uncle drove through the burning city, reaching Hayao and his family, who climbed quickly into the truck. Then, with little Hayao hidden beneath a futon mattress in the flatbed, his uncle drove ...

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