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Miyazaki’s Quiet Protest of the Iraq War

Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki didn’t come to the United States in 2003 to accept his Oscar for Spirited Away because of his opposition to the Iraq War, he recently told the LA Times:

“The reason I wasn’t here for the Academy Award was because I didn’t want to visit a country that was bombing Iraq. At the time, my producer shut me up and did not allow me to say that, but I don’t see him around today. By the way, my producer also shared in that feeling.”

Critic Daniel Thomas MacInnes offers some context to Miyazaki’s actions on The Ghibli Blog:

It should be common knowledge to any serious Miyazaki scholar that he abhorred not only the Iraq War, but war itself. The idea of violence is depicted in his work as violent tragedy, slapstick mockery, or both…I don’t think very many Westerners know that the war in Howl’s Moving Castle was itself a reflection on the Iraq War. It was a comment on that war, viewed through the lens of Miyazaki’s long career.

  • cnote

    Good on him!

  • I agree with the whole Iraq thing, but doesn’t he live in Japan? A country that helped initiate our (The United States Government, not mine) feeling towards policing the world?

    • I’m sure he objected to that just as much: After all I’m sure just as many Americans abhorred the Iraq war but couldn’t openly protest any easier then Miyazaki at the awards. One should never assume that everyone in a country are in alliance with a country’s governments actions

  • irrelevant

    What does living in japan have to do with anything? Do you not live in the US and “agree with the whole Iraq thing”?

    You imply that he holds no criticism of Japan, something that I know to be false based on his statements Saturday night in Berkeley.

  • Jason

    So it’s better to leave a dictator in place and watch him continue to fill mass graves, throw children in prison and try to acquire nuclear weapons? Oh, and plot to assassinate American presidents?

    Ah, what a funny cartoon notion THAT is!

    Look how much good our “restraint” has done in regards to Iran and North Korea. Tell me it *wouldn’t* be a good thing to get rid of the nutcase dictators in THOSE countries too. If we did, everyone would benefit, including Japan. In the case of North Korea, ESPECIALLY Japan.

    Everyone with sense hates war. But an equal amount of sense is needed to discern when war is sadly necessary. We used diplomacy with North Korea and Iran, and now both are on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons! Sorry, kids, but sometimes that “Give Peace A Chance” stuff doesn’t work.

    • david A

      You’re completely ignorant of the situation and sadly hold the same adopted ignorance of many people’s attitudes.

      Invading and occupying Iraq had nothing to do with liberating anyone. It was an acquisition of material resources. Most wars are.

      The reason why ‘we’ used restraint with north korea and iran is because there’s nothing to be gained materially from invading them.

      North Korea’s combined military force is only 5 % of what the US spends per year on military defense. It’s a ludicrous nation. Iran is only a threat in that it stands to show other middle eastern countries against foreign influence like us.

      Get your facts straight. You’re saying ”sorry kids”, but you’re the only one with a child’s mentality here.

      It’s a testament to miyazaki’s work that it even touches the hearts of bigoted people like you.

    • The trouble is: There’s a lot of people who think the same way about attacking America and assasinating it’s presidents because IT’S country has nuclear bombs, and if one can justify your reasoning, you’d have to justify theres. People on opposing side of a war RARELY think they’re in the wrong, and that there actions would benefit the world. War is only “sadly necessary” because the OTHER side thinks it’s sadly necessary. And while a lot of people argue that WW2 would’ve ended a lot sooner and with a lot less tragedy if people had preemptively acted againt’s Hitler, the war STARTED because Hitler managed to convince lots of people (and intimidate a lot of others from disagreeing with those he convinced) that they had to make “preemptive strikes”

  • Now if you can just get the Neo-cons to the Comi-con we’d all have peace.

    I can see W wandering around there and people saying “that’s a pretty good George Bush, but…

  • Annie-Mae

    Well what’s upsetting about this is that he makes it sound like he thought the WHOLE country agreed to the government bombing Iraq. Granted that was a time when most of the country was still in support of Bush but what could anti-war activists do to protest against the war without rioting ourselves?

    The view points to be taken from Howl was to show that normal people will go on with their lives and avoid a fight until it affects their lives personally. In the end Howl fought in the war but couldn’t do anything to stop it (making his efforts pointless), but the rest of the movie he was just trying to make a living without getting involved with the government. I do now understand why most of the people in the movie showed large support of the war, showing it as fun and festive. It’s a reflection of the blind ignorance a mass audience can have over things that will eventually cause major turmoil and pain. Their city was burnt to the ground because of their arrogance.

    In the end, now having seen Howl in a new light, still no reason to hold the country accountable for the actions of a few people in power.

  • I’d like to hear what Miyazaki thinks about whether Putin or Medvedev is really in charge in Russia. And I would like to know what John Lasseter thinks of the current turmoil in Iran. I also really need to know Nick Park’s opinion on the current economic crisis. Oh yes!

  • Jason,

    And look at how it’s going on now under the US-backed Iraq regime, which ended up being WORSE than it was under Saddam.

    Good for Hayao.

  • To clarify, I’m interested to hear what any artist I admire has to say about world events if it’s original and insightful. The snippet from Hayao Miyazaki seems to be neither, though he may have said more interesting things about Iraq elsewhere. I would hope and expect that his view would be better informed and more considered than Mr Brubaker’s.

  • Saturnome

    He reminds me of Colonel Sanders on that pic

  • marbpl

    Not trying to justify the war or anything, but as far as I know the current Iraqi government was elected and not a “regime”. And if it’s worse now than under Saddam, it’s in spite of the government not because of it.

  • I am a big fan of Miyazaki. However, a silent protest is just that – silent. It makes no bit of difference. I think no less of him, but no more either.

    I also suppose it would have been rather shrill for him to have made Howl and then go around telling everyone how it was a statement against U.S. policy towards Iraq. Its probably better to let the art speak for itself.

  • If Miyazaki’s protest against the Iraq War made no difference, the blogosphere wouldn’t be on fire today. Most of today’s traffic to The Ghibli Blog is for the relating post.

    I have to admit I’m a bit surprised, as most Americans are now opposed to the war in Iraq and want our family members to come back home. Perhaps this is an issue that has quietly forgotten about, and perhaps America has yet to make its peace with this war.

    As a child of World War II, Hayao Miyazaki was scarred by the devestation of Japan during the war and its long reconstruction. This, I believe, goes to the heart of much of his thinking; not only his abhorrence of war, but his apocalyptic visions. And such themes are very common among his Japanese peers.

  • i think Miyazaki is great and all but I never put too much thought behind his film’s pictures.

  • Twitch Jenkins

    How’s the war at home, Mr. Miyazaki?

  • To bad Howl’s Moving Castle wasn’t nearly his best or even in the top 5. Goro’s film which came out at the same time (about) Tales of Earth Sea was really bad. Looking forward to seeing Ponyo, but not much from Miyazaki has peaked my interest of late.

    Wow this really got into a war debate, sorry for bringing it back to animation:P

  • It makes a difference in one way – I’ll have to see Howl again. I find my memory of it isn’t at all clear.

    Coincidentally I watched Porco Rosso again last night, and that film resonates with this news in a strange way – Miyazaki’s silent withdrawal, not speaking publicly but instead making an exciting fantasy film, seems a similar response to Marco’s. The actions of both seem riven with contradictions. Marco withdraws from war, but fights pirates for money instead. The film Porco Rosso is anti-war but revels in violent thrills. For all of his justifications, “rather a pig than a Fascist” there is an implicit criticism of Marco’s withdrawal. He redeems himself through violence, though in the cause of an individual rather than a nation or political idea. Fio saves Marco through use of the language of idealism, language he has rejected. Her use of this language towards the pirates is manipulative propaganda, describing these cowardly scoundrels as honourable, though for better ends than when the Fascists use such words obviously. The difficult question of what Marco would have done as the Axis went on to lay waste to the Mediterranean and beyond is wholly avoided by the implied happy ending in the secret island garden. Contradictions, contradictions, that’s what makes it so interesting!

  • Personally, I’m rather surpised at how this seems to be such major news; the fact that Miyazaki didn’t come to the Oscars in protest, and the fact that Howl’s Moving Castle was his way of criticizing the Iraq War, was publicized back when HMC premiered a few years ago on nausicaa.net, if I remember correctly.

    Fact is, that is really why I appreciate HMC, despite its stark differences with the novel; Miyazaki made it into his own thing, pointing out the follies of war that would be viewed by an audience currently at war, in a way that would not get said audience defensive.

    We see this anti-war thinking not just in HMC or, as Kellie Strøm pointed out, Porco Rosso, but also in Princess Mononoke, where war between the humans of Iron Town, the forest gods, and the human samurais is shown as being terribly destructive and wasteful, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, which deals with a world having experienced global nuclear war, and Castle in the Sky, which features villains who desire to conquer all before them.

    Miyazaki grew up in post-WWII Japan, at an age when things would be deeply influential to him. To be astonished at the fact that he would be influenced by that past, and to even include it in his films, seems rather silly and redundant to me.

  • Oluseyi


    You simplify complexities and gloss over our (USA) complicity in creating the initial situation. Many of these dictators are in power thanks to our support; to now decry them as abusive totalitarians is hollow.

    Further, there is tremendous value in stability and organic indigenous democracy. Saddam may have been a brutal despot, but the streets were generally peaceful, electricity was constant, water flowed and was clean… Not having a plan as we rushed in to topple the figurehead has now created a nightmare that will have repercussions for us probably for generations.

    Yes, sometimes war is a necessity, but I don’t think the Iraq war was necessary. I don’t even think the Afghan war was necessary. And I certainly don’t think that the “threat” of a nuclear North Korea or Iran automatically justifies armed incursion. If you “got rid” of the dictators in North Korea or Iran (in the case of the latter would that be the President or the Ayatollah? both?), who do you think would fill the power vacuum? Do you expect the transition from authoritarian strongman to democratically elected leader to proceed smoothly, given all the military facilitators who have propped up the dictatorial regimes?

    This isn’t about “Give Peace a Chance,” as you so dismissively put it. This is about “think what you’re doing through; fuck this up and we’ll be in this shit for a mighty long time.”

    All that said, I find the protest hollow, especially considering that since the statement was not made at the time, its impact is virtually nil now. The larger audience that would have been exposed to Miyazaki as he accepted his Oscar (and he wouldn’t have had to get all Michael Moore on it) has been denied a thoughtful articulation, and now only animation aficionados and Japanophiles will know, or care.

    The far more difficult challenge is to engage, not to retreat. Still liked HMC, though.

  • Displeased and Annoyed

    Miyazaki should shut his pie-hole. He’s the biggest freaking hypocrite. After all his family did make their living out of other people’s suffering: making the planes that Japan used to colonise Asia. The same country that has been denying that they’ve done no damage during the World War 2 despite all the women hurt around South East Asia/and all the people raped, tortured and murdered in Nanking.

    It’s also worth mentioning that a lot of Hollywood didn’t agree with the war in Iraq either.

  • Displeased and Annoyed

    Also: ADAPTING DOES NOT MEAN butcher, twist and destroy a property that works

    Howl would have been better if it’s NOT called Howl’s Moving Castle at all because it is clearly NOT the cheeky, funny fairy tale send-up of a novel that makes me laugh even in the rainiest of days.

    It’s his own story, he could just damn well named it something else.

  • acetate

    But we’re still in Iraq. Nothing’s changed. Even with a democrat lead congress and a democratic prez. Kinda sad.

  • Jarko

    To Displeased and Annoyed says: Hayao Miyazaki can’t be blamed for what his parents or his country did.

  • Porco Rosso

    I have always found it surprising that Miyazaki’s relationship with John Lassiter is described/translated as ‘friendship’ when neither speaks the other’s language and, whilst JL clearly admires Miyazaki’s work (although I have never heard Mr Miyazaki praising PIXAR’s output directly) and Studio Ghibli have clearly benfitted from PIXAR promoting their films in the USA, their relationship seems to exist on more of a business footing than a personal one.

    I have seen “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea” and, whilst it has wildly imaginative moments, it failed to work cohesively for me. It seems to be oft-compared to “Totoro” yet I think this has a strong narrative thread, for example, there is a real sense of pain and loss when Satsuki is looking for Mei, wheras in Ponyo, there is never any sense of threat or urgency in that vein. I very much admire Miyazaki’s work and he has directed some wonderful films and series but, for me, I have found that Ghibli’s recent output has felt disappointing in comparison to their films of the 80s and 90s. “Ponyo” as described above, “Tales from Earthsea” was one of the dullest experiences of my life (the issue of employing a director with no animation experience whatsoever to helm a multi-million yen feature simply because he was Mr Miyazaki’s son rather soured my view of the studio ethically also), “Howls Moving Castle” again had its moments but the opulence of the backgrounds and animation were, I felt, working against a weak story that fell apart near the end. Maybe I am in a minority in this sense but I can still watch “Kiki’s Delivery Service” or “Laputa” or “Porco Rosso” etc and lap up the strong stories, enjoyable characters and charming animation, something of which seems to have been missing for me since “Spirited Away”…

  • yeah, animators and artists should keep their opinions to themselves! just keep making colorful moving shapes to entertain out spawn, why don’t you, you pesky strange asian, and keep the noise down while i do some REAL work.

    I mean, what kind of naive dreamer believes the OCCASIONAL DEATH OF COLLATERAL INNOCENTS is a crime against humanity?

    come on, we did it with the best of intentions! and, hey, japan isn’t perfect either! you should be on OUR side!

    that’s the side that wants saddam out of the picture and freedom for all! sure, we gave saddam weapons and fund dictators in south america sometimes, but it’s with the BEST OF INTENTIONS!

    not like with miyazaki. the man doesn’t have a best intention in his measly lasseter-befriending body. pooh.

  • D+A and Kazzer, David Low had that kind of line down pat in one of his Colonel Blimp panel cartoons: “Gracious sir, Lord P. is right. Sir Francis Drake was a pirate, so no Briton has the right to protest against piracy today. Hang it all, it isn’t decent.”

    More here: http://airforceamazons.blogspot.com/2008/05/while-sun-shines.html