+7: How Miyazaki Found His Future in a Music Video
Looking at the creation and meaning of 'On Your Mark.'
Welcome back! This is the seventh bonus issue of the Animation Obsessive newsletter. It’s been a full month since our Thursday deep-dives became exclusive to members. We hope you’ve liked them so far.
Our subject today is On Your Mark — a 1995 music video directed by Hayao Miyazaki. This isn’t just a footnote to his career, though. You could actually call it a turning point. We explore what that means while looking at production art, layouts and Miyazaki’s complete storyboard for the film.
“I begin to hear of Ghibli as ‘sweet’ or ‘healing,’ and I get an urge to destroy it.”
Hayao Miyazaki spoke those words in the mid-1990s. He meant that he needed to subvert what the audience expected. If they saw Ghibli one way, it had to be another. “Should I just come to follow those expected images,” he said, “I’d be finished!”1
But pushing back against the impression of Ghibli’s work as “sweet” wasn’t just a contrarian move.
The truth is, Ghibli has always had an edge. My Neighbor Totoro premiered as a double feature with Grave of the Fireflies. Even Kiki’s Delivery Service has a real sense of melancholy. And these films were made against the backdrop of Miyazaki’s darkest and most violent work — the manga version of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Viewing Ghibli as strictly soft and comforting misses something important.
In the mid-1990s, Miyazaki made this telling comment about creating Nausicaä and his films at the same time:2
I won’t go so far as to say that because I had something as heavy as Nausicaä to work on, I deliberately created lighter works. I do think, however, that if I hadn’t had Nausicaä to work on I probably would have been floundering about, trying to incorporate somewhat more serious elements into the films. Of course, I can only say this in hindsight; at the time I didn’t feel this way, and just made such films because I thought it was the right thing to do.
The Nausicaä manga finally ended in 1994 — after more than a decade. Miyazaki no longer had it as an outlet. Combined with his frustration that the public had painted Ghibli into a corner, it’s no surprise that he responded with Princess Mononoke.
Before he could make that film, though, Miyazaki found himself on a detour into the world of music videos. In 1995, Ghibli released the musical short On Your Mark. It put Miyazaki’s films on a new trajectory. Without it, Mononoke might never have happened.
Miyazaki had gotten stuck. At first, he’d based Princess Mononoke on a children’s storybook he’d published in 1980. The problem was that time had passed — and it no longer spoke to the modern world, according to producer Toshio Suzuki. Mononoke stalled for months. Then, Ghibli got an offer to create a video for the musical duo Chage and Aska.
“I had an intuition that this would change Miyazaki’s mood,” Suzuki later wrote.3
Miyazaki accepted. The video he produced is a beautiful, thrilling adventure story set in a futuristic world. Many of Miyazaki’s visual ideas from films like Castle in the Sky appear. But it’s also very different from what Chage and Aska had probably expected.
The darkness and violence of the Nausicaä manga are here — almost like a proto-Mononoke. Miyazaki admitted to having “purposely distorted” the implication of the song’s title, On Your Mark, into something more sinister. And he snuck in “a lot of coded meanings” along the way.
Miyazaki once called this film “somewhat subversive.” That’s just one way to translate his words, though. Another version has it as “filled with ill-will.”
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Animation Obsessive to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.