It’s 2005. I’m sitting in my living room on a Friday night when the door swings open and my dad steps through. In his hand is the DVD he would rent at the end of every week for me and my brother. I had no idea that this week, we were going to watch something that would inspire me for the rest of my life and expose me to the importance of creative collaboration.
As a four-year-old, I sat on the carpet, eyes wide, completely enraptured by the beauty of the hand-drawn animation. The fish-out-of-water story of a young girl, lost in the Japanese countryside, who stumbles upon the mystical and dangerous world of the Bathhouse – a never-ending well of bombastic fun and creativity, filled to the brim with hundreds of uncanny creatures, and breathed to life in vivid colour by the team at Studio Ghibli. I felt as though I was the main character, thrust into a realm of impossibility.
I must have watched it several dozen times as I grew up, and as my literacy of media evolved, I took it upon myself to research and better understand how such a work was constructed. Now, studying film at university, I feel I can truly understand the brilliance of Miyazaki’s work as a director, and how he and his team collaborated creatively to make what must have felt like an insurmountable effort into a fully realised reality.
Miyazaki’s ability to inspire those around him with self-confidence and a tenacious desire to realise one’s imagination is something I see as a very literal lesson on teamwork in a creative field. Animation can act as a very apt analogy for the creative process.
One draws their ideas out slowly and repeatedly. With the help of others like background artists, storyboarders, composers and voice actors, eventually, the cohesive moving picture begins to weave together. Any team must have a leader, someone to express a vision and hear the ideas of others intently. A director is that leader, and Miyazaki with this film taught me that sharing one’s dreams is a terrifying task worth facing.
Miyazaki and those involved in the production described the process of translating what was in the director’s head onto the page as excruciatingly difficult, but the results are breathtaking. In behind-the-scenes footage, Miyazaki can often be seen seemingly in despair. His head is often in his hands, and he constantly smokes to abate his anxiety.
Being the leader of a creative project is not without the absence of feeling anxious and overwhelmed with ideas. But as a director of that project, it is your job to push through these feelings and achieve the overall goal of every creative involved.
This is a skill I admire in Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki allows himself to become vulnerable when collaborating with other creatives on his projects. He openly shares his ideas with each member of his team and allows collaborators to take on tasks and achieve their own wonders. Miyazaki’s skills in management and leadership weave each of these specialised talents together to envision and create the tapestry of the film.
Leadership as a Creative
The more I learnt about Hayao Miyazaki’s process, the less I feared creative collaboration. Following my idol’s approach, I was able to be assured that sharing my ideas with other creatives could be an enriching experience and help bring my projects to fruition.
When I was completing Theatre Studies in high school, I was assigned to direct multiple scenes for our class play, The Laramie Project. I was able to get a glimpse of the difficult balance between confidently sharing your own ideas in a collaborative space while also encouraging other creatives in my group to reach their full potential.
Often when you’re in the role of a director, you can fear that your ideas, once shared, may be twisted and no longer be your own. You open yourself up to vulnerability and potential criticism. What if other collaborators don’t agree with your sequence of events for the project? What if an idea you have gets shut down by the bulk of your collaborators?
Is this arrogance, to think that your own ideas should remain secret, unwarped by those around you? The fear and stress involved in sharing your own creative ideas with others is why I often look to Miyazaki for inspiration.
Miyazaki has often been credited as an auteur who has managed to stay true to himself by creating films that are approachable to people everywhere.
Throughout his career, he has always remained an animator and artist, working amongst his peers in the offices and drawing inspiration from them by animating alongside them. He does not dictate from above them.
By refusing to retreat into a corporate, more typically managerial mindset and role, Miyazaki remains in touch with the deep well of human experience and imagination within his collaborators. By reminding himself that those he works with are just as invested in his ideas as he is, he can abate his fears of diluting his creativity.
Miyazaki showed me that going to these great efforts allows creative collaboration to thrive and made me understand that it’s worth taking the risk. It is worth sharing your ideas with other collaborators and creatives. It is worth allowing them to peak into your world of ideas. Creative collaboration allows you to realise those ideas with like-minded people and weave the tapestry of meaningful projects to life.