Princess Mononoke was on TV the other day. Like the other Miyazaki movies I’ve seen, it’s very concerned with the idea of nature spirits. The idea that every tree or rock has spirits associated with it is drawn from Shinto, of course, but it seems to have a particular resonance for Miyazaki.
I find the magical world of these movies much more attractive than, for example, Harry Potter. In the Potter books, the wizards are superhuman beings living secretly in a mundane world, holding themselves aloof from the lives of mortals except when they feel the need to play God.
Miyazaki’s characters are ordinary humans living in a magical world. They don’t get to do magic; magic happens around them and to them. They don’t get to bend the world to their will; the world is mysterious and rather inhuman. Sometimes it’s friendly and charming, and sometimes it’s hostile and scary, but it’s always other, and demanding of respect.
I think that the ordinary person in a magical world is a much more attractive dynamic. The clear environmental message intended appeals as well. But I think mostly it’s the idea of investing the world, and nature, with a sense of wonder.
I’ve commented on this strand of Japanese culture before, though from a rather different angle.