“I’m not a storyteller,” says Hayao Miyazaki of his films. “I’m a man who draws pictures.”

People who admire Hayao Miyazaki’s films may take issue with that statement. Not only is Mr. Miyazaki highly respected for his animation skills, he’s also respected as a storyteller who can spin complex tales that contain a great deal of moral ambiguity. While the protagonists tend to be young, strong girls, the antagonists are rarely without redeeming qualities or at least compelling reasons behind their actions.

Miyazaki broke into America’s movie scene with Princess Mononoke in 1997. The film was a hit, just as it was in Japan—except in Japan Princess Mononoke became its best-selling film of all time. (A few months later, Titanic eclipsed its sales record.) Set in Japan’s distant past (during its Muromachi period) the film is an epic tale of the age-old struggle between nature and man.

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Miyazaki’s reputation was further cemented in 2001 with Spirited Away, the story of a young girl whose parents are turned into pigs after indulging in a free meal in a place that nightly turns into a bathhouse for the gods. The girl gets a job there both to survive and as a means of freeing them from their curse. It’s a more personal film than Princess Mononoke, but in one of its themes it again touches on man’s tendency to ruin nature.

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Howl’s Moving Castle followed in 2004. Based on the novel by Diane Wynne Jones, it’s a story of an ordinary girl, Sophie Hatter, who finds herself swept away from her uneventful life by the wizard Howl. She and Howl both are cursed by the Wicked Witch of the Waste, and their adventures soon find Sophie falling in love.

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One of the elements that sets Miyazaki’s films apart from that of other filmmakers is his process. He always starts making his films before he has a completed script. This results in each scene being a pivotal scene in each film. “We never know where the story will go but we just keeping working on the film as it develops,” he says of his process. “It’s a dangerous way to make an animation film and I would like it to be different, but unfortunately, that’s the way I work and everyone else is kind of forced to subject themselves to it.”

He has also shied away from the heavy use of CGI in his films—one of the features of his deal with Disney in that he has complete creative control over his films.

The results are both stunning and highly acclaimed. Highly respected among animators, Miyazaki’s films have not only been financially successful, but critically acclaimed. Spirited Away not only won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film in 2002, it is the highest-grossing film in Japan’s history—eclipsing even Titanic in its sales. Miyazaki won a second Academy Award in 2004 for Howl’s Moving Castle.

His latest work, Ponyo, gathered many awards in Japan as well as top voice talent (Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett) in America.

Miyazaki’s latest project is Kariqurashi no Arrietty (Borrower Arrietty), an adaptation of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers. Its release is set for summer 2010.

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