Cátia Alexandra dos Santos Peres

Graphical Meaning in the films of Hayao Miyazaki


Eduardo Corte Real, IADE, Creative University
Marina Estela Graça, Universidade do Algarve


This thesis is set in the intersected and multidisciplinary domains of Storytelling, Graphical language, Design and Animation studies, centring its analysis in the production of meaning through graphical language and design within the context of animation. The goal of this thesis is to analyse the structures of graphical language that depicts meaning as a visual symbolic process which depicts a world similar to the way we perceive the world around us, through visuality, perceptions, gestures, images and graphical language. Our case study consists on a sample of ten features films of the director Hayao Miyazaki, produced at Studio Ghibli, in Japan between the years of 1984 and 2013. Our analysis proposes both an introduction to the context to visuality, a model with ten categories de analysis and a methodology of analysis, which proposes a combination of both compositional and content analysis methodologies. The objective of this investigation is to analyse the role of visual language in animation, and its graphical structures of meaning used in the animated films of Miyazaki and to reveal its results in patterns of occurrences in the films of our case study and to propose both a context, a tool of analysis and an outcome result.

Keywords: Storytelling, Design, Animation, Graphic language, Hayao Miyazaki

1. Introduction and literature review

Our framework departs from the shift on the knowledge of visual language around the 1960's under the concept of visuality, gaze, ways of seeing in a similar way of seeing the world around us, as its consequent practises of showing it on our contemporary world such as animation. Key authors such as Mirzoeff (How to see the world, 2015), Mitchell (Showing Seeing, 2002),, Berger (Ways of seeing. 1972), Hall (Representation: cultural representations and signifying practices 1997), Arnheim(Art and visual perception, 2004) give body to the framework approach. Authors such as Wells (1998), Napier (2005), Buchan, Lamarre (2009), McCarthy, Cavallaro, Disney and Thomas, Frank, & Johnston, Ollie, (1981), Eisenstein, McLaren, Raffaelli, Massironi, Bendazzi (1994, 2016), Eisner (1985), McCloud (1994) give critical context within the practise of animation.

2. Problem/ Question of thesis:
  • What are the intentions of Hayao Miyazaki on making animated films?
  • How does the director construct meaning through graphical language?
  • What is the director's proposing with his worlds and universes?
3. Hypothesis:

Miyazaki's films are intentionally graphically designed to act as a “disobedient machine” of the real, changing the real, liberating the viewer into worlds of escape and giving visibility to worlds that doesn't exist but which when given visibility act as an inspiring and transforming vehicle of change of the issues of our society as they propose change, a better an ethical of humanity to its issues such as war, weapons of mass destruction, co-existence between humans and environment, pollution, values of friendship, love and affection, etc.

4. What is the relevance:
  •  The relevance of creating a context of analysis and model for animated films regarding the use of graphical language in a systematized way
  • The relevance on applying this model to our case study or other case studies constructing patterns of results for this or other case studies, which can be compared
5. Methodology:
  • The methodology of analysis combines content and compositional analysis under key authors such as Rose (2001), Cohn (2014), Foss (2005).
  • The methodology proposes a model of analysis applied to our case study based on 3 levels (meaning, form, movement) and 10 variables (universe, narrative, content, characters, objects, scenery, behaviour, continuity, time and music)
  • Our case study is composed by 10 featured films directed by Hayao Miyazaki produced at Studio Ghibli: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Porco Rosso (1992), Princess Mononoke (1997), Spirited Away (2001), Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), Ponyo (2008), The Wind Rises (2013)
6. Debate of results and conclusions:
  • The results of occurrences were organized by categories and given coding analysis
  • From data analysis we organized the results by category and in comparative tables with all results of each film and identify patterns of analysis that emerged in the case study.
  • We found in his case, that the concept of substituting graphical elements from the real with fantasy elements as a crucial aspect which revealed an approach which alters and liberates the viewers from the structures of the real, intentionally created to depict worlds that don't exist but which propose the possibility of change, hope, dream and reform of places of vulnerable and in certain cases of intolerable existence.
  1. Arnheim, R. (2004). Art and visual perception (Special Ed.) Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  2. Berger, J. (1972). Ways of Seeing. London: British Broadcasting Association and Penguin.
  3. Bendazzi, G. (2016). Animation: A World History (Vol. 1,2,3). Florida: CRC Press.
  4. Cavallaro, Dani, (2006). The Animé Art of Hayao Miyazaki. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co.
  5. Cohn, N. (2014). The visual language of comics: Introduction to the structure and cognition of sequential images. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
  6. Foss, S. (2005). Theory of Visual rhetoric (Chapter, pp.141-152), In Smith K, Moriarty S, Barbatsis G, Kenney K (eds 2005). Handbook of Visual Communication, Theory, Methods, and Media. Lawrence Erlbaum Ass.
  7. Hall, S. (1997). Introduction. Representation: cultural representations and signifying practices. London: Sage, pp1-12.
  8. Lamarre, Thomas, (2009). The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  9. Mitchell, W.J.T. (2002) Showing seeing: A critique of visual culture. Sage Publications, Vol. 1(2): 165-181. London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi.
  10. Rose, G. (2001). Visual Methodologies. An Introduction to the interpretation of Visual Materials. London. Sage Publications.