Features and Columns

The Power of Sound: Why a Hayao Miyazaki Film Feels Alive

Here’s a video essay explaining how Miyazaki films use sound to bring animation to life.
By  · Published on May 26th, 2020

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When it comes to bringing animation to life, the way a film “looks” is only part of the equation. There is no better example of this principle than the work of animator and Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki. His films just feel different, and you can sense this when you’re watching one of them: there’s a depth, a contagious empathy, a persistent sense of adventure. That unmistakable “Miyazaki feel” has a liveliness to it, a vibrancy that brings together all the disparate elements we know and love about him as a filmmaker.

Hayao Miyazaki – How Animation Comes to Life,” a video essay from kaptainkristian, explains how sound design defines Miyazaki’s worlds and makes them come alive. Each of Miyazaki’s films has a unique sound identity, from the violent cacophony of Princess Mononoke to the arid howls of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Sound design is never an afterthought or a requirement. It’s a crucial part of building a world and telling a story.

The video essay also helpfully illustrates how localization can rob foreign viewers of the texture of Miyazaki’s soundscapes, the depth that makes these worlds feel vast, crunchy, dimensional, and alive. There’s a tendency in Western animation to jettison sound design in favor of wall-to-wall scores that shun silence and mask lifeless backgrounds. In contrast, the work of Miyazaki (which includes the work of an army of unsung sound engineers, foley artists, and background painters) honors the storytelling potential of sound.

You can watch “Hayao Miyazaki – How Animation Comes to Life” here:

Who made this?

Kaptainkristian is a YouTube-based video essay channel that peddles in visual love letters to filmmakers, musicians, and syndicated cartoons. The account is run by Kristian T. Williams, whom you can follow on Twitter here. You can subscribe to kaptainkristian, and check out their back catalog on YouTube here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).