Lessons on Art and Artists from Miyazaki

by | Jan 28, 2007 | Artwork

As many of you know, I (Mike) am a huge fan of the movies of animator Miyazaki Hayao. In fact, although I first came to develop an interest in Japanese culture through Japanese animation ( anime ), the only anime I now have any interest in are the movies of Miyazaki and his closest collaborators (particularly Takahata Isao). The reason for this is that they are actually well-crafted stories, not mere adolescent fluff or the ultra-violent, sexualized rubbish that’s so prevalent today. Each movie is a true work of art, a masterpiece that can appreciated on many levels. I like that kind of story–the kind you can watch over and over again and see new things every time.

This month over winter break, after being encouraged by one of my co-workers, I finally got around to watching the movie Whisper of The Heart (Mimi wo Sumaseba). It wasn’t actually directed by Miyazaki, but it was written and storyboarded by him, so it’s pretty much his story. And while it was a great movie and all, there was one scene in particular that made a big impression on me that I wanted to share.

The protagonist (named Shizuku) is a budding young lyricist and writer–an aspiring artist. She feels keenly the desire to create, and she wants more than anything to be an artist, but she feels doubts as to whether she has it in her or not. Then one day a mentor of hers shows her something. It’s a rock:

Whisper of the Heart 1

Upon closer inspection, there’s a crack in the top of the rock, and inside is a beautiful green crystal that sparkles in the light. The old man explains that the crystal is beryl –the same mineral that emeralds are made of.

Whisper of the Heart 2

The old man explains that unless the mineral inside is extracted, the rock is of no value; it does no good to polish and refine the surface of the rock. Instead, the rough, common rock must be chipped away, bit by bit, so that the mineral can be brought forth to shine. And not only is that is a difficult and long process, but even the mineral itself must be chipped away at until the emerald inside–the smallest, purest essence of the mineral, the thing of true value–can be brought forth. Often, large rocks are whittled down to tiny clumps of mineral, and tiny clumps of mineral are chipped down to even tinier gems (often of of incredible worth). But until this chipping process reveals what’s inside all anyone can see is a rock.

Artists, too, must go through this process. An artist that has not yet started to produce art either believes that there is no gem inside of him, or else is afraid that if he did search, he would find out that the gem inside of him is too small and not worth the effort. Often he entertains himself with fantastical notions of one day being a great artist, but he never takes the first step to finding the gem in himself, and is instead content to polish the surface of the rock and merely dream about what may be inside. But the artist that does begin to dig deeper will find that there really is a gem inside of him, which is deeply encouraging and exciting. In fact, it is sometimes initial glimpses of the gem inside of him that keep him going through the long, arduous years of work required to bring that gem out so that others can see. There is no such thing as an artist who does not need to build his skills and refine his handiwork, any more than there has ever been a musician who did not know how to play his instrument or a writer who could write skillful prose in a language he does not speak. And it is the artists that persevere in the chipping process, not those who are somehow magically gifted or talented or different from you or me, that end up becoming great and producing great works of art.

And believe it or not, I (Mike) am becoming an artist. Last month, with the advent of my mp3 recording hobby, I caught a glimpse of the gem inside me. I’ve got a long way to go before I can create the kinds of songs and comedy skits and miscellaneous projects that I want to create, but I’ve officially stopped polishing my rock and started chipping away at it. I know, some of you may be wondering if commercials for Boar and goofy talking hippos count as art. But they do. They’re the beginning of a process of self-expression that I’ve wanted to embark on my whole life. And of course, my most invaluable helper in this new journey has been Jen, a veteran artist who is still in process herself. She’s seen the gem in me too, and she’s helping me to keep going by encouraging me every step of the way. But many of you out there have been a huge encouragement to me as well. Thank you for your kind words and for enjoying the initial chips that I’ve been able to flake off.

Yet again I cannot help but give the glory to God, who plants gems in the hearts of the people he created. When the final gem is unveiled, and the light scatters and shines, it ultimately reflects the glory of God back to Him. Who gave man his eyes, that he can see? None other than the one who is making us into creatures worth beholding. Great is Thy faithfulness.

Soli Deo gloria!



  1. iEatNatto
    Hey I think that’s really inspiring. Thank you for sharing.
  2. bubblegumjapan
    Great post and very encouraging. I had started to chip away and discover, went on a 2-year drought of feeling like the inside couldn’t be shared, but it’s time to get going again. You’re right: it takes a good environment and encouraging people.

    I know we’ve never met, but I enjoy your creative posts and I was totally impressed with your audio clips. The happy hippo is definitely God-inspired! Let’s cheer each other on to keep chipping away.