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Eisner states that “artistic style tells story.” (Eisner, p.149). Defining
style in terms of Japanese animation refers to an art style heavily influences
by culture, particularly nature and Zen philosophy that is still a strong part
of Japanese life today. In Studio Ghibli’s films, this is especially true,
resulting in an art style often filled with symbolism in order to add to the
overall message of them narrative.


at nature as an influence highlights the idea of emptiness and negative space,
or ‘mu’ in Japanese. This can be seen even in Japanese sliding doors (shoji),
in which the thin paper holding together the structure creates negative space
as light shines through, acknowledged by Japanese culture as mu. Gian Carlo
Calza discusses this concept of emptiness in Japan Style (Calza, 2007), and how this is used to enhance to
overall image in Japanese art. Studio Ghibli is also known for its use of
emptiness to enhance the narrative in various ways, such as the pacing of the
narrative. My Neighbour Totoro is a
great example of this, when the two main characters, Mei and Satsuki wait in
the rain at the bus stop in silence before the fantasy character Totoro
appears. By using pacing in this way, the moment when Totoro appears is more
effective, particularly as the focus is on the silence, allowing the audience
to listen to the rain and appreciate the artistic style whilst imagining what
will happen next. Art style is important here because if it does not fit the
narrative perfectly, the audience lose interest especially in scenes without
dialogue, which require the audiences’ interpretation of the narrative with
their imagination.

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Berger corroborates this argument by discussing “the eye of the beholder” (Berger,
p.266) as a crucial element of the perception of narrative, and how “everything
converges onto the eye.” (Berger, p.266). This supports the argument that
stylistic choices affect the narrative, as Berger highlights how the perception
of the audience relies on the artists portrayal of the narrative, which he can
alter to best fit the narrative.


back to Japanese religious influences in agreement with Berger’s idea, Wilson
discusses the Zen influence on Japanese art, looking at the relationship
between the artist and their artwork compared to Western methods. To further
understand this, I looked at Miyazaki’s method of developing the story through
the artwork, rather than finalising narrative ideas before beginning
production, arguing that art style drives the narrative in Japanese animation.

It is also suggested by Wilson that artwork has the ability to show the
audience something that may have gone unnoticed without the aid of the artistic
style portraying what the creators want the audience to see, as stated by Levi,
“Miyazaki’s drawing speaks the narrative” (Levi, 1996:22).


the approach to narrative in Japanese animation also gives a clearer
understanding of the importance of art style as a way of enticing the audience,
which can be illustrated by comparing Disney Pixar’s narrative style to that of
Japanese studios. The Syd Fields Theory states that a narrative requires a
confrontation to allow an end resolution. When taking this into consideration
as a recipe for a ‘successful’ narrative, it is interesting to discover that My Neighbour Totoro (Miyazaki, 1988)
does not include any confrontation throughout the film. As a result, this
questions what caused this animated film to gross over £7 million and win five
awards including best film and best Japanese film in 1989.


proposes the idea that the art style must be necessary to the portrayal of
narrative, which can be supported by an interview with Miyazaki in Starting Point (2009), in which he
discusses the intricate planning of artistic detail to ensure the artwork is
relevant to the story. For example in Spirited
Away, Miyazaki understood that the “power to convince” (Bigelow, p.71) was
achieved through image, resulting in a change of the end scene to a more stylistically
appealing scene, allowing the audience to feel like the film had concluded. This
can be brought back to Berger’s argument that “the nature of vision is more
fundamental than that of spoken dialogue.” (Berger, p.9), which can be seen in
Studio Triggers The Making of Little
Witch Academia, particularly when the head animator makes corrections based
on how to display force in movement, confirming the idea that artistic style
must be used to make animation believable to the audience, and portray what the
creators want them to see.

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