Hayao Miyazaki and The Perfect Story

The first time I watched a Miyazaki film, I was blown away. I was an adult, but My Neighbor Totoro truly touched my soul in a way that I hadn’t felt since I was a tiny child. Though as I was watching for the first time, I was constantly asking myself “okay, who is the bad guy?”

But anyone who knows how Miyazaki tells a story knows there are no bad guys: there is good and evil in all, and the true hero finds a balance. THAT is a story that touches us.

As storytelling starts getting more attention in the non-profit world, there has been a lot of discussion about “The Hero’s Journey” – Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, or the basic fundamental pattern that all great stories share (so claim the proponents.) As a student of Medieval Literature, it’s a theme I’m quite familiar with – from the Táin Bó Cúailnge to the Mabinogi to Le Morte D’Arthur – The Hero’s Journey was a popular conversation as my peers and I tore apart the texts.

In conversations about organisational storytelling, I’ve debated with my peers over the usefulness of this archetype, some even suggesting it’s time we put it to rest and create new archetypes for the stories we tell about our organisations and communities.

I’m not here to debate that idea today – I think that if you force hard enough, any square peg will fit in a round hole, though it shouldn’t diminish the usefulness of either the peg or the hole.

Back to Miyazaki. While some familiar archetypes can be found in his work, he shrugs off predictable tropes in a way that embraces a whole person in a flawed but beautiful world. It is not a sugar-coated fairy tale of goodness and perfection – his characters are incredibly flawed but speak to the deepest struggles and fantastic triumphs that resonate in each of us. There ain’t no good guys. There ain’t no bad guys. But there is a whole lot of magic in the real world of these characters, encouraging hope in the bleakest of situations.

“Miyazaki has explained that the lack of clearly defined good and evil is because of his views of the 21st century as a complex time, where old norms no longer are true and need to be re-examined. Simple stereotypes cannot be used, even in children’s films. Even though Miyazaki sometimes feels pessemistic about the world, he prefers to show children a positive world view instead” (from Wikipedia) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Styles_and_themes_of_Hayao_Miyazaki#Good_and_evil

Have you watched any of his films? Do it. Please. And think about how we tell our stories, and how we might tell them better.

Miyazaki’s Philosophy in Comic Form