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The best Hayao Miyazaki quotes (and what they tell us about him)

Here are some of the best quotes from Hayao Miyazaki about life, art, and the nature of humanity.

Hayao Miyazaki
Image credit: NHK Japan

In the world of animation, few directors have been as influential as Hayao Miyazaki. The legendary filmmaker helped found Studio Ghibli and is widely regarded as the greatest living director in animation. Beyond his work on the screen, Miyazaki was never one to hold back his opinion, resulting in some iconic quotes that resonate with his fans to this day.

With what could be his final film, The Boy & the Heron, coming out later this year, we’ve been looking at how Hayao Miyazaki’s life and words have become almost as influential as the man himself. Here are some of the best quotes from Hayao Miyazaki about life, art, and the nature of humanity.

“Humans have both the urge to create and destroy.” - Hayao Miyazaki

Studio Ghibli
Image credit: Studio Ghibli

This quote was taken from a 2009 interview with Miyazaki where he was discussing his approach to characters, particularly the wilful and rebellious Ponyo. He always tried to shy away from presenting either the heroes or villains as all good or all evil, noting that this is seldom the case in real life. Allowing his characters to express both positive and negative emotions helped bring them to life on the screen.

“I feel strongly that this is an insult to life itself.” - Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki
Image credit: NHK Japan

Like many artists, Hayao Miyazaki has strong feelings about AI art. After being shown a clip of how an AI, which has no concept of physical pain, would animate a human walking with its head or a broken arm, his reaction was intensely visceral. This quote is the capstone to his explanation, which surfaced on Twitter in late 2022, about why artists need an understanding of pain and difficulty that people live through to create meaningful art, something that a computer is not capable of doing.

Safe to say, Miyazaki won’t be in a hurry to use the technology in his films.

“Many of my movies have strong female leads—brave, self-sufficient girls that don't think twice about fighting for what they believe with all their heart. They'll need a friend, or a supporter, but never a savior.” - Hayao Miyazaki

Studio Ghibli
Image credit: Studio Ghibli

From the very beginning of Studio Ghibli, when Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind hit theatres in 1984, Miyazaki’s films have often had exceptional female characters. Princess Mononoke’s San is a fierce, independent warrior who rides on the backs of wolves to defend nature from encouraging industry. Chihiro survives in a world filled with spirits and gods to help change her family back into humans.

The women and girls in Miyazaki films have just as much agency, if not more, than their male counterparts, and this quote, from a 2013 interview with The Guardian, helps sum up what makes them so wonderful to watch. Just like most of us, they don’t need a savior; they need someone to give them the support to save themselves.

“Children understand intuitively that the world they have been born into is not a blessed world.” - Hayao Miyazaki

Studio Ghibli
Image credit: Studio Ghibli

Despite being obstinately for children, most of Miyazaki’s films don’t pull their punches. Even My Neighbor Totoro, arguably the most whimsical and joyous of his films, is about two young children grieving for their seriously ill mother. This quote was delivered at the New York Film Festival around the release of Princess Mononoke’s English version, offering insight into why so many of his films aren’t afraid to tackle the darker aspects of the world.

Children, according to Miyazaki, know the world is imperfect. To hide that fact from them is, in his eyes, doing a disservice to them. Teaching kids why their world is flawed, even in the context of forest spirits and flying castles, helps them see the ways they can make that world better.

“Even in the middle of hatred and killings, there are things worth living for. A wonderful meeting, or a beautiful thing can exist.”- Hayao Miyazaki

Studio Ghibli
Image credit: Studio Ghibli

This quote is from the 1995 project proposal from Princess Mononoke. This short document, which has been floating around the internet for over a decade, details many of the plot points for the film. This line, near the end, remains one of the most elegant statements about art as well as life in general, showing just how effortlessly good Hayao Miyazaki was.

Darkness is inevitable in life. We live in a flawed world, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate the little points of light that emerge. There is good in the world, according to Miyazaki, if you’re willing to look for it.

“It [Japanese animation] is produced by humans who can’t stand looking at other humans. And that’s why the industry is full of otaku!” - Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki
Image credit: NHK Japan

If you’ve ever seen the meme of Hayao Miyazaki proclaiming “Anime was a mistake,” then you’ve encountered this quote before. While his actual statement isn’t quite as damning as the meme misquotes him, it does highlight something that helps Miyazaki’s films stand out in the industry. In the interview this quote comes from, he explains that you can only draw real people if you spend time watching real people live their lives.

This is true in any art, really. To portray humanity, in all its foibles and flaws and beauty, you have to spend time with humans. To Miyazaki, the key to making great characters is to get to know as many people as possible. While he never claimed that anime was a mistake, he does seem to lament the future of an industry that doesn’t embrace the joy of simply watching humans live their lives.