On Miyazaki's incredible realism
"Miyazaki’s characters seemed real, too, because they were shown even in their least triumphant, most ordinary moments. In all of his films, the director includes the quiet scenes and mundane daily acts that many other movies, animated ones in particular, eschew. Characters gaze at streams or brush their hair, not to advance the film’s plot, but to add a sense of realism—the kind that makes fictional people feel less like tropes and more like human beings. This sense of humanity is so often missing from other animated portrayals of characters, female characters in particular, which made Miyazaki’s films even more meaningful to me.
These scenes, Miyazaki explained in his interview with Roger Ebert, are moments of ma, or emptiness. The filmmaker illustrated the concept to Ebert by clapping. “The time in between my clapping is ma. If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it’s just busyness. But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension.” He told Ebert that American movies with frantic paces are often afraid of that silence, that ma, causing boredom. Yet life is filled with those empty spaces—and this technique, however subtle, helped bring Miyazaki’s female characters to life for me in a way that few other movies could."