Close your eyes and imagine: an ancient floating castle in the clouds, a bath house for ghosts, a mighty clash between forest spirits and the realm of men, waged over the fate of Nature. These are but a few of the several visionary worlds brought to life by Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder and mastermind of the Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli. Though these films were originally geared towards children, there are various lessons that viewers of all ages can internalize. Namely, the lesson I would like to focus on today is the ways in which you can indulge your imagination.
One of Miyazaki’s most notable films is called “Spirited Away”, which follows a young girl who is whisked away to the Spirit Realm. Once there, she must save her parents from the witch who imprisons them in the bodies of pigs, and find a way to escape. Amidst the captivating illustrations and whirlwind of fantastical characters, the most iconic scene ironically has no plot development. No dialogue. The protagonist rides a train alone surrounded by shadowy strangers who go about their lives entering and exiting at each stop. A melancholic melody engulfs the scene, provoking a swell of emotion and a sense of stillness. Hayazaki means to depict beauty that would otherwise go unnoticed. The focus on the protagonist fades into the scenery and the comings and goings of strangers at each stop make you wonder what sort of lives they lead. Likewise, you indulge your imagination by being aware of the world around you, pondering the lives of strangers and consequently yourself.
Continuing henceforth, Miyazaki made another film called “Whisper of the Heart”, which is my personal favorite. This is actually one of his most underrated films that he created towards the beginning of his career at Studio Ghibli. Contrary to many of his other films,which are based in a fantasy setting, this film is set in rural Japan following the journey of an ordinary high school girl who challenges herself to write a novel. Despite its simplicity, this film taught me to pursue adventure in the mundane. One of the scenes that inspired that in me is towards the beginning where the protagonist sees a stray cat riding beside her on the train, and follows it through the neighborhood. By doing so she discovers an amazing antique shop where she meets the owner, an old man and artist at heart, who encourages her to write a novel. Now, I’m not telling you to follow stray cats to see where they lead, but I am saying that there is adventure waiting for you, and it can appear in the most unexpected way. Be open to these adventures and indulge your imagination with what awaits you on the path to trying something new.
Now you may be thinking: what does any of this have to do with me? Well, I’m glad you asked. The most vital attribute of indulging your imagination is wonder. When you wonder, you question, and when you question, you seek answers. Your imagination in turn is often what may bring you those answers. When you take the time to observe the world around you, you wonder about the lives of others or the nature of being for places or things. Your imagination is what conjures the stories in your mind behind the lives of strangers, and allows you to see things not as they are but as they could be. You may wonder what lies in store for you on this day or in general for your life. Your imagination is what draws the roadmap for where you want to go and the adventures you can have along the way. These films have indulged my imagination by inspiring my writing, and have instilled in me the desire to encourage wonder in my readers. Miyazaki once said, “we shouldn’t stick too close to everyday reality but give room to the reality of the heart, of the mind, and of the imagination.”