Eric Reinders, the author of The Moral Narratives of Hayao Miyazaki, specializes in Chinese religion, particularly Medieval Buddhism, Buddhist monasticism, and Christian missionary cultures. The primary themes of his work are cultural constructions of the body, destruction studies, and comparative fantasy. In “Improv at the Miyazaki,” 5:30PM Friday in Hilton Galleria 1, Reinders lead the participants in a discussion as to what makes Hayao Miyazaki’s films so unique.
Participants came up with a list of reasons. That list included flying, female protagonists, detail to the ordinary (like chores), leaving home and growing up, the mundane and the magical coexisting, delicious food, how it is an alternate history, how a spirit “just is”—it is not all good or all bad, and getting along with the villain toward the end of the story.
Miyazaki wrote in a style opposite to that of Pixar. While Pixar wrote their story line with constant singing or jumping around, Miyazaki wrote his characters with moments of quietness and contemplation. He gives children credit for being more insightful and intuitive than the “cartoon” world presents. His lessons are life lesson and the ability to accept life to a level of success.
After this discussion, and using the formula in his book, the room came up with a Miyazaki-ish type of story line. Three ideas were considered: adolescence, suffering, and ambiguity. There were other factors brought into play. Granted, there is no real way that a group as large as the one present would agree with 100% of the ideas, but the process was an experiment in the design of the type of story line that Miyazaki could possibly develop.
It was a fun learning experience, which generated a lot of interest to further the study the works of Hayao Miazaki.
Reinders’ first book is Borrowed Gods and Foreign Bodies: Christian Missionaries Imagine Chinese Religion (University of California Press, 2004). His second book is Buddhism and Iconoclasm in East Asia: A History (co-written with Fabio Rambelli of UCSB; Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2012). His current book project is Ritual Topography: Bowing and Refusing to Bow in China, comparing Buddhist and Christian objections to obeisance. An ongoing project is A Guide to Chinese Buddhist Temples, co-written with Michael Walsh of Vassar College. He is also developing a book project on Chinese translations of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.