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Miyazaki And His Meaningful Meals: How The Studio Ghibli Director Uses Food As Symbolism

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There is not much I can write about Hayao Miyazaki that hasn’t been written before, or his sense of animation that is simply exemplary. It is detailed, very realistic in spite of the heavy use of watercolors and animation, and most of the times, aesthetically beautiful.

The characters in his films are well-rounded and interesting. The treatment of his female characters in particular is not like most other filmmakers. They are given importance while also remaining fair and balanced with the male characters, treating gender as incidental. It is refreshing to watch a movie like that.

But one of the things in Miyazaki’s films that is endlessly captivating is how he weaves food into his stories. Indeed, for years Miyazaki’s films have been peppered with beautiful references related to cooking and cuisine. Numerous times throughout his films, food is a comfort — whether as a safety, a guarantee, familiarity or even as nostalgia. Cooking is an act performed out of love and duty, and not just to satisfy one’s hunger.

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Hardworking Young Women

In From up on Poppy Hill, the character Umi cooks food for the entire household, and is quite good at it. She prepares her own elaborate lunches to take to school daily. Even something as simple as spooning rice out of a container is not devoid of the steam that the rice is producing.

A simple breakfast of ham, eggs and vegetables shows the communal eating that Umi was responsible for, seeing as her mother was away studying in America. We see her dream of her mother in the kitchen, showing both Umi’s fear and her need for a parenting figure. It was in the act of cooking where her mother’s love was most missed. The people of the household depended on Umi for delicious food, and she yearned for that same dependence on her mother, especially during times of distress.

However, she remains dependable with her daily cooking at home, and is sometimes the only person to be on kitchen duty. In fact, it is noted that her school extracurricular activities were a hindrance to her duties at home, and in spite of that Umi remains determined to get it all done, managing to accomplish both tasks every day. This determination makes Umi instantly likable. This familiar theme of a hardworking young women is repeated in a lot of Miyazaki films — even in Ponyo, in the form of Lisa, Sosuke’s mother.

Lunch made by Umi for school
Lunch made by Umi for school

Eating Together, A Common Bond

The communal eating is emphasized several times, as we also see this when the household sits down to eat. This is also a nostalgic theme that is brought to life by animated food. Eating together is of significant importance in many cultures throughout the world. It shows camaraderie and a deeper notion of familial ties.

It is quite commonly known that families who eat together, stay together. However, inFrom up on Poppy Hill, Umi lives in a boarding house, and in spite of no familial ties with each other, the women there are firm friends who tend to eat their meals as a group. The appreciation of diversity of women living under the one roof is apparent and does not fail to make them multidimensional characters.

As a vegetarian, the feelings of hunger within me that Miyazaki films evoke are confusing. The clip below of Umi frying fish is deliciously distracting in terms of what real food is like. Fish need not be something I actually like in real life for me to enjoy seeing it being cooked in thick, bubbling oil, the sizzling sound making it a very realistic expression of food.

Never eating alone
Never eating alone

Good For The Soul

In Ponyo too, food is comfort. After surviving a major flood in the town, Ponyo (a goldfish who has turned into a human child), five-year-old Sosuke and his mother Lisa return home. There is no electricity and they are dripping wet. In such a state, all they can make are noodles and hot chocolate with honey. It is this very notion of comfort food that Miyazaki captures the essence of. It is similar to craving hot soup when it’s cold outside.

Ramen noodles in Ponyo
Ramen noodles in Ponyo

This is the first time Ponyo has ever had honey or real food (other than a little ham Sosuke feeds her when she is still a fish), and her excitement for the food is infectious. In the film, little motherly affection was shown to her while she was still a fish. Someone cooking for her is something she has never experienced, especially such a satisfying meal after a difficult day. Lisa is generous and loving toward her. Even with disaster lurking outside, food makes the inside of their home feel warm and gratifying.

Here is also a little clip from Howl’s Moving Castle, with some exceptional-looking bacon and eggs sizzling in the pan.

The Deadly Sin Of Gluttony

On the other hand, Spirited Away shows food in a slightly contrarian tone. Chihiro’s parents would never have transformed into pigs had they listened to her warnings about paying for the feast. The spread was tempting and Chihiro’s parents gave into the temptation, and here, it is the image of gluttony that Miyazaki is antagonizing us with.

Chihiro’s parents eating like pigs in "Spirited Away."
Chihiro’s parents eating like pigs in “Spirited Away.”

The change of her parents into farm animals because of the food reminded me ofAnimal Farm by George Orwell.

In Spirited Away, food means excess, and Chihiro lives in fear and confusion, trying to save her parents somehow. The majestic feasts are not at all tempting for her now that she feels she has lost her mother and father forever, and might never find them. No amount of lavish meal could make her feel better, and there is a lot of food to spare. Even for the perspective of the viewer, the spirit world in this film is scary and uncomfortable, and the food is definitely not trustworthy.

This distrust of food is unique and surprising, but is in keeping with Miyazaki’s use of food as expression, whether that expression is discomfort, comfort, or both — something the filmmaker is very skilled at doing. Comfort food is called comfort food for a reason, and not everything is comfortable. A lot of cultural factors shape what is considered comfort food. Homely meals, generally, are comfort foods. A big, heavy meal every time one eats is exhausting. Comfort food is not fancy — it is simple and everyday — rice, meat, eggs and such for Japanese culture.

Food can be observed in The Cat Returns, where Haru doesn’t have time to eat breakfast and is shown visibly tempted by it, in spite of the fact that it is a simple meal of eggs and vegetables on bread, garnished with succulent cherry tomatoes.

A simple yet tempting breakfast.
A simple yet tempting breakfast.

When Haru finds herself in the kingdom of the cats with a feast before her, although it’s all the more suited to a cat’s palate, she is gloomy and refuses to eat. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that the feast itself is picturesque.

Feast for the cats
Feast for the cats

Nourish The Body

On the other hand, in Grave of the Fireflies, even a small tin of candy or a jar of pickled plums holds value for the comfort of both Seita and Setsuko. It is the only thing left of their home and their previously easy lives. They hold onto these treasures as their war-torn surrounds only get worse. Here, it is the memory of food that is so redolent, with the desperate Seito and Setsuko seen sharing the last of their candy.

"Grave of the Fireflies"
“Grave of the Fireflies”

It is rare to see what filmmakers do with food in their films. It is undeniably one of the most important aspects of people’s lives. A lot of the audiences are people who are lucky to eat three meals a day. Food is the sustenance that is a part of every celebration or sadness. The lack of food brings sadness and gloom, and the excess of it seems wasteful and extravagant, giving filmmakers a great tool with which to describe the world they are recreating.

Fortunately for Miyazaki, he has already figured it out.

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It’s Adventure Time: What I Love About TV’s Best Modern Cartoon

For those who grew up in the ‘golden age’ of anime television during the 90s, the current state of the anime medium here in the West has become a sorry sight for sore eyes. Back in the day, the likes of Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon were the sole reason children from across Europe and the USA would run home from school and park their noses about 3 inches away from the television screen ready to catch up on the latest adventures of their favourite anime’s. The bright colours, unique story-lines, detailed backstories and connected toys, games and cards turned anime from a small cult-like phenomena into an obsession for an entire generation. Now the anime genre has returned back to it’s relatively niche status in the Western hemisphere, with only the likes of Attack on Titan and One Punch Man holding up the baton of pure anime.

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However, what if the legacy of the 90s golden age is a lot more prominent than may at first be apparent? What if anime’s influence has’t been reduced, just transformed? Notable works from a number of contemporary western animations have been subtly influenced by the anime genre. From The Simpsons, South Park, and of course,Adventure Time, all have been heavily influenced by Japanese anime; here’s how.

Expanding Dogs, Wingless Unicorns and Sailor Moon

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The influence of anime on Adventure Time can be seen in the most obvious, and the subtlest of places. The most obvious easter egg might be in the series’ frequent use of ‘anime eyes’ as pictured above. This unique, overly expressive technique for drawing eyes, with a focus on their large, spherical shape, dotted with a number of smaller whitened circles around the pupil clearly originated from the anime genre. Also, the fact that Jake and his girlfriend; Lady Raincorn both speak Korean is another nod to the shows oriental leanings. In fact Jake and Lady have come to some what symbolise how much the Far East has influenced the series. Being set in a rural area where one of the main characters; Jake, can expand and shrink in size is clearly inspired by perhaps Studio Ghibli’s most famous film; My Neighbour Totoro.

Jake’s girlfriend; Lady is also a character partially inspired by another famous Ghibli release; Spirited Away. Despite being a unicorn with the ability to fly Lady Raincorn doesn’t have wings. This is a reflection of Japanese mythology where their dragons, despite having the ability to fly also, never had wings either. This is most famously shown with the fiery character; Haku in Spirited Away. However, dragons in Western mythology, for example in The Lord of the Rings, or St. George’s Dragon, did have wings. Even many unicorns in the West have wings. Therefore a key difference between Western mythology and Japanese mythology is that flying mythological creatures in the West do traditionally have wings, whereas in Japan they don’t. So the fact that the creators of Adventure Time specifically chose to draw a Korean speaking unicorn without wings cannot be an accident.

Another easter egg is in the Adventure Time episode ‘Fiona and Cake’. This is the episode where Jake and Finn are replaced by female versions of themselves. The dress Fiona wears to her prom in this episode is a replica of the famous Sailor Moon dress as pictured below. Yet another example of how the aesthetic appearance of characters are inspired by a wide variety of anime characters in Adventure Time.

Not Just a Pretty Face

Anime’s influence on Adventure Time transcends beyond the aesthetic however. They’re not just inspired by the look and feel of the genre, but also by it’s content. Many have cited that a lot of the actual stories told in the Adventure Time have been heavily influenced by writer/director David Lynch’s infamously unnerving and mind-warping works. However, the Adventure Time team weren’t the first animators to try introducing a ‘Lynchian’ quality to their work. Over in Japan, acclaimed writer and director Satoshi Kon released a number of films that were clearly influenced by Lynch’s films such as Blue Valentine, Paprika and Paranoia Agent. Although creator of Adventure Time; Pendleton Ward has never explicitly said that he has been influenced by Kon’s work, it wouldn’t be too far fetched to assume he is, especially given the already massive influence Kon has had on Western cinema. Satoshi Kon was the first to at least prove that Lynchian cinema can be converted onto the animated format.

An anime creator Adventure Time creators have explicitly admitted to being influenced by however is director; Massaaki Yuasa. This can be seen in the fact that he was asked to write and direct an entire episode of Adventure Time – Food Chain. This meant that for one episode at least Adventure Time not only drew influence from the anime genre, but arguably became an anime in it’s own right as well. This decision was also perhaps the clearest indicator of the shows love for anime.

Beyond the Land of Ooo

As earlier specified, Adventure Time hasn’t been the only contemporary animation to step onto the anime bandwagon. The Simpsons, perhaps America’s most famous animated series ever, devoted an entire sequence to their love for Studio Ghibli. EvenSouth Park, based an episode off the aforementioned My Neighbour Totoro and lesser known animated works such as Stevens Universe owes a lot to the anime medium in terms of it’s aesthetic, sound-effects, sound-track and light-hearted storylines.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Perhaps the most famous American novelist of the 20th century; Earnest Hemingway, always implicitly linked great art with astute honesty. He once said “all you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know”. I think honesty has also been a key theme in Adventure Time as well. Perhaps the most obvious reflection of this was in the episode ‘what was missing’, an episode where the plot rested in the characters discovering the power of honesty in the songs they sing and the art they create. All aspects of the show have always been unapologetically honest. From the stories they tell, the characters they draw, the songs they sing, to the artists they are inspired by, the only connecting theme in a show that is all about variation, is it’s counter-balance of absolute honesty. Any episode Adventure Time releases is filled with a platitude of colour, a symphony of sound and a maze of plot twists and turns. However the undercurrent of truth is always there. As a result the emotions they convey resonate in a more meaningful way than any of it’s other contemporaries. This can also attribute why in a time where all western animations, not just Adventure Time, steal from anime’s of the 90s, their references still stand out. This is because they’re not just parading the design or look of the Japanese genre, they are drawing genuine inspiration from it’s content. Rather than anime’s influence on Adventure Time being in the form of a 10 minute sequence, or in an episode or two, anime’s influence of Adventure Time is marked in a more permanent form. It can be seen in it’s main characters, it’s most popular stories and even the creators themselves. In Adventure Time’s pursuit to convey absolute honesty, it is always willing to go one step further than the rest, and as such stand taller higher than the rest.

What I love most about Adventure Time is that it’s not afraid to look beyond, well beyond the animated genre in drawing inspiration for it’s style and content. This has been a theme common in almost all recent animated series. With Rick and Morty clearly being influenced by the Back to the Future franchise, Archer paradying pretty much the entire spy/thriller genre and Bojack Horseman being influenced by, well everything, Adventure Time also draws from a number of unconventional and unassuming works. And this can perhaps best be seen in it’s leaning towards the Japanese anime genre. As suchAdventure Time has managed to find new and inventive ways of using the animated forum to tell original, unique and inspired stories that work as well with adults as they do with children. And it is for this reason that I love Adventure Time so much.

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You Don’t Want To Miss This Game Inspired By The Art Of Studio Ghibli

If you’ve ever seen a film by Hayao Miyazaki, then you already can imagine the beauty that this game is going to bring. The various tales that Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have introduced span vast and masterfully crafted worlds and have given us grandiose adventures. We’ve taken flight and fought air pirates in Porco Rosso, we met a world full of monsters and beasts in Spirited Away, we’ve watched a fish-girl who wishes to become a human girl in Ponyo, and even saved a forest full of spirits in Princess Monokoke.

So regardless of whether you’ve ever seen any of the films that Studio Ghibli has produced, you’ve probably seen the beautiful artwork that goes with every film they bring us. And if you loved the art direction of the films, heck if you ever seen anything from Hayao Miyazaki (Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Castle in the Sky, Howl’s Moving Castle) then you should be incredibly excited for what this French gaming developer is bringing us with Lynn and the Spirits of Inao.

Bloomylight Studio is a new studio to game developing as they were founded in 2013 by David Tollari. Growing up he fell in love with games and the animation works of Miyazaki and had this crazy idea to combine his two loves. After graduating with a degree in game development and working for Eden Studio (V-rally, Kya: Dark Lineage & Alone in the Dark) he was convinced that he needed to start his own studio and work on a truly unique game.

And that’s how it all began, with a simple idea. David’s small team of 5 have spent a great deal of time and energy to meet their vision, and it looks breathtaking. Take a look at the early test footage below:

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The development team has stated on their Kickstarter, which went live last week, that their goal is to mix the beauty and magic of Miyazaki’s films with the old-school, beloved gameplay of classic Nintendo games like Super Mario Bros. In a similar manner as Metroidvania, you’ll be able to explore through an open world progression and truly experience the game as you wish to by enjoying a myriad of side quests and platform levels.

So What Makes The Game Unique?

Well, aside from the beautiful hand-drawn art throughout the game itself, the game play will encompass a few key features:

Night and Day Control

This is a unique twist to the standard 2D platformer which gives the player the ability, as you would imagine, to control whether you travel at night or day. As you progress through the game you will gain the power to switch freely between night and day in the blink of an eye. On the island of Inao, where the game takes place, the world at night differs from the world during the day and it gives the player two different points of view as the two worlds are both in perpetual motion as some elements and creatures react differently depending on night or day.

Movement Control

Just like a standard platformer Lynn, the main character, can run and jump across the screen. And in the game, she also has the ability to double jump to reach higher places, and even on certain enemies and objects, which can lead to new discoverable areas based on the rebound. Along with gliding, crouching, sneaking, sliding and wall jumping, Lynn has a seemingly infinite range of motion.

Enemy Battle

This is where Lynn and the Spirits of Inao differs from the standard platformer, as the aim of the game isn’t to simply kill your enemies; but rather to help the tormented souls find peace and reach the other side. This is accomplished in various ways such as jumping on them, striking them with a powerful spectral blade, throwing bombs and some enemies can only be appeased by discovering a new way at your own risk. As with any good platform game, there are a variety of bosses that you’ll face at certain points through the game and each one will require a different strategy to discover it’s weakness.

Side Quests and Non-Main Mission Content

Lynn and the Spirits of Inao utilize a village at the center of the island. This village is where the different areas of the island intersect and although it may appear ordinary, the village holds secrets that you can uncover by meeting the characters, joining the night festival, playing mini-games and searching for treasures.

Does This Game Interest You?

Well if it does, then head over to their Kickstarter and you’ll see more information about the game and where it stands in development. As well as find out how you can contribute you bringing this game to life.

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