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EDITORIAL | Academy Awards Bring Spotlight Back on Japanese Artistry 

The Academy Awards for Miyazaki and Yamazaki's films are a tribute to Japanese film culture, which values artisanal craftsmanship and classical methods.



Takashi Yamazaki, holds a Godzilla figure next to the Oscar for Best Visual Effects for "Godzilla Minus One" in the Oscars photo room at the 96th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, on March 10 local time. (March 11 JST). (©REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

What a great pair of achievements at this year's Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood! Two Japanese films picked up Oscars, the most prestigious award in the world of cinema.

Animation and "Cool Japan" are practically synonymous, and special effects productions are a Japanese specialty. The honors also showed how highly valued Japanese culture is abroad. Even as we celebrate the awards, we look forward to further development for Japan's movie industry. 

Director Hayao Miyazaki (left) and producer Toshio Suzuki show off their shaved faces on the Academy Awards official YouTube channel (from the Academy Awards official YouTube channel)

Hayao Miyazaki's Prize-Winning Animation

Hayao Miyazaki's film The Boy and the Heron picked up the prize for Best Animated Feature Film. (The original Japanese title is Kimitachi wa Do Ikiru ka, which in English means How Do You Live.) It is a fantasy adventure set in Japan during World War II.  

This was the second time a Miyazaki film has brought home an Oscar. The first was his much beloved Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi), which triumphed at the 75th Academy Awards 21 years ago. Meanwhile, Miyazaki announced his retirement in 2013, citing old age. However, he later retracted his decision. After that, he spent around seven years working on his latest movie. 

Director Hayao Miyazaki's "The Boy and the Heron" won the 96th Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki poses with a new poster after the press conference on March 11 in Koganei, Tokyo (© Sankei by Shunsuke Sakamaki)

Miyazaki took the title for the movie from a 1937 novel by Genzaburo Yoshino. It is said to be a semi-biographical tale reflecting the author's own childhood. His worldview, in which life and death are as one, is difficult to understand, yet profound. Furthermore, along with its beautiful cinematography, The Boy and the Heron has demonstrated how, besides providing entertainment, animation can attain considerable depth. 

Director Takashi Yamazaki. (©Sankei by Kan Emori)

Takashi Yamazaki's 'Godzilla Minus One'

Meanwhile, Godzilla Minus One, directed by Takashi Yamazaki, became the first Japanese movie to win an Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. In the past, this same award has gone to movies filled with groundbreaking special effects or outstanding computer graphics. For example, among past recipients were movies of the Star Wars series. So clearly Yamazaki has come to be regarded by his peers as a master of visual effects technology

There was a lot of talk this year about the small budget for Godzilla Minus One as compared to blockbuster US movies with huge budgets. But that was not the only thing. Yamazaki also managed to effectively combine cutting-edge special effects with traditional Japanese analog-type detailed special photographic methods. Such Japanese technology has won worldwide recognition. 

Handcrafting Japanese Movies

Actually, both Miyazaki and Yamazaki's films have a handcrafted feel to them. Even though 3D animation that makes extensive use of computers is all the rage today, the artistry of Miyazaki's hand-drawn animation continues to be revered around the world. 

Shouldn't the double win for Japanese films at this year's Academy Awards be viewed as a tribute to Japanese film culture? It is this culture which in Japan has always valued artisanal craftsmanship and classical methods. 

Recently the manga artist Akira Toriyama, known for his phenomenally successful Dragon Ball and other popular comics and animations, died at age 68. One of the driving forces behind the boom for Japanese anime sweeping the world, Toriyama is said to have been influenced by Miyazaki's works. 


Finally, there is no retirement age in the world of culture and the arts. Hayao Miyazaki is back in full force at 83. Toshio Suzuki, producer of The Boy and the Heron for Studio Ghibli, is 75.

In accepting the award, Suzuki said, "This is a message to us to work harder."

For the sake of Japan's film industry, we hope that Miyazaki and other artists will also stay healthy and continue to create.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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