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Does Hayao Miyazaki hate the father of manga?

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The Studio Ghibli director has mixed feelings about his childhood idol, Osamu Tezuka

Astro Boy Image: Kobunsha

May 25 to 30 is Studio Ghibli Week at Polygon. To celebrate the arrival of the Japanese animation house’s library on digital and streaming services, we’re surveying the studio’s history, impact, and biggest themes. Follow along via our Ghibli Week page.

In part thanks to global distribution deals — like the ones that brought Studio Ghibli films to HBO Max and Netflix worldwide — Hayao Miyazaki is a household name around the world. That’s less true for manga’s patron saint Osamu Tezuka, though his career has arguably had even more of an impact on modern media than Miyazaki.

And Miyazaki himself might have a bone to pick with that.

Miyazaki is a humanist artist, creator of some of the most touching, gentle, and hopeful films in the animated canon. He’s also an outspoken idealist with no obvious inhibitions about expressing his opinion, and in a daily series for Ghibli Week, we’re highlighting some of the things the reclusive director has famously disdained.

So, does Hayao Miyazaki disdain the “Father of Manga?” Yes. But it’s also clear that he idolizes him, too.

Osamu Tezuka’s Shin Takarajima, or New Treasure Island.
Tezuka’s Shin Takarajima, or New Treasure Island.
Image: Osamu Tezuka/Ikuei Shuppan

Tezuka began his artistic career in the days of the Allied occupation of Japan that immediately followed World War II. His hugely successful (though loose) manga adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island — perfectly poised to impress the Western officials in charge of censoring Japanese media — kicked off manga’s first golden age, and he went on to create Astro Boy, Princess Knight, and Kimba the White Lion, as well as many equally influential, more adult works. He’s colloquially known as the “Father of Manga,” and his contributions to the nascent anime industry have also caused him to be compared to Walt Disney — who Tezuka himself revered.

When Tezuka’s career was kicking off, there’s no question that the teenaged Miyazaki saw Tezuka as an aspirational figure. But in 2009, Miyazaki spoke to the LA Times about the moment he realized he’d gone beyond aspiration to imitation.

“When I was finally forced to admit that my drawings actually did look like Tezuka’s, I took out the sketches I had stored in the drawer of our dresser and burned them all. I burned them and resolved to start over from scratch, and in the belief that I needed to study the basics first, I went back to practicing drawing and draftsmanship. Yet it still wasn’t easy to rid myself of Tezuka’s influence.”

In his later career, Tezuka split off from his early kid-friendly work to join the gekiga movement of 1960s Japan, which was kind of analogous to what American comics went through in the 1980s: adding more realism and darker stories, in a search for an adult audience. In an essay published in Starting Point, a book of his early writing, Miyazaki has written about how he found the cynicism of Tezuka’s later animated work off-putting:

I found myself disgusted by the cheap pessimism of works like [Mermaid] or [The Drop], which showed a drop of water falling on a thirsty man adrift at sea. I felt that this pessimism was qualitatively different from the pessimism Tezuka used to have in the old days, as in the early days of [Astro Boy], for example — but it also could have been that in the early days I felt great tragedy and trembled with excitement at Tezuka’s cheap pessimism precisely because I was so young. [...]

I felt the same thing with Tezuka’s Tales of a Street Corner — the animated film which Muschi Pro poured everything into making. There’s a scene in the film where posters of a ballerina and a violinist of some such things are trampled and scattered by soldiers’ boots during an air raid and then waft into the flames like moths. I remember that when I saw this, I was so disgusted that chills ran down my spine.

Miyazaki has even criticized Tezuka’s willingness to accept a very low budget to produce an animated television series of his extremely popular Astro Boy manga. 1962’s Astro Boy series is credited with setting the first stylistic standards for the anime aesthetic. And if Tezuka had held out for more money, Miyazaki has said, the anime industry might not be so synonymous with low production standards, small paychecks, and overwork.

But like most of us with childhood idols, Miyazaki hasn’t lost sight of the good in Tezuka’s work. According to Ghibli Blog, he once told the national Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun:

The world that Tezuka showed us wasn’t only bright, but often scary, absurd, painful or hopeful. Modernism meant prosperity and mass consumption and at a time it invented destruction. At the corner of Asia, only Tezuka found it. He realized the absurdity of modernism more deeply than Disney.

And there’s something deliciously symmetrical in Osamu Tezuka revering Walt Disney, Hayao Miyazaki interrogating his relationship to Tezuka in his own work, and his work becoming so subsequently successful that the Walt Disney Corporation came knocking for the distribution rights. Not that they made good use of them when they got them, but that’s an entirely different story.


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