Susan. “Confronting Master Narratives: History as Vision in Miyazaki Hayao’s Cinema of De-assurance.” Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique 9.2 (2001): 467-493.
Susan Napier’s article discusses the cinematic master narratives in the context of Japanese cinema and the larger global cultural consciousness. Its main subject is Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, though his work is described in view of his contemporaries and influences. Napier begins by discussing the broad ideas of modernization vs. history and the role of cultural identity in art and cinema. She asserts that films have the power to “write history” and “create national identity” on the global stage. She points to the crucial post-WWII period in Japan when Japanese cinema first made its mark. Specfically, she credits Akira Kurosawa and his jidaigeki, “period films,” with their realism and dazzling visual aesthetics, as being the most influential Japanese filmmaker at the time. In his films, Kurosawa both “exploit[ed] and deconstruct[ed] the mythology of samurai.” His films powerfully brought humanity to the Japanese traditions and brought the past into the contemporary discussion of Japanese identity. Similarly, the animator Miyazaki, of the title of the piece, created scenes and characters that while being decidedly Japanese are individual in their personalities and actions. Notably, this characterization can be seen in Miyazaki’s many female protagonists, who stand out from their group-oriented traditional counterparts. The article then focuses on Miyazaki’s film Princess Mononoke, comparing it to the English powerhouse animation counterpart, Disney.
The relevance of this article to my project is found beyond the simple citing of Kurosawa’s influence and works. The real insights came from the comparisons of Miyazaki’s style and that of Kurosawa. Miyazaki is cited as criticizing Kurosawa’s formulaic depictions of good and evil in his samurai films. However, it seems clear in the larger sense that Kurosawa’s humanism did anything but adhere to clichés. He brought life into historical stereotypes. Furthermore, Princess Mononoke is praised as being “history as vision,” or representing in a new light a “historical reality,” recognizable yet distinctly unique. What style could better apply here than that of Kurosawa and his Rashomon-effect. Rashomon deals entirely with the reconstructions of identity through deceit and the power of perspective on redefining historical fact. The two directors offer a great deal of illumination to one another.