A Hayao Miyazaki film is a work of art. As much a visual treat as it is a narrative treat, the beauty of a Miyazaki film like Spirited Away is that it’s told in the medium of animation and can only be told in that medium. Buuuuut…let’s just say that a Miyazaki film was live-action. How would that look? You may scoff, but Disney’s been adapting many of their animated classics for years now, ranging from the great (The Jungle Book) to the not as great (The Lion King). So why not a Miyazaki film, which could turn out to be more like The Jungle Book than The Lion King?
Now, I know what you’re thinking. That’s a terrible idea, right? But just hear me out, since I actually do think that some of Miyazaki’s best films would make for some amazing live-action movies. Perhaps it’s their tone, or the visuals themselves that would be really interesting if they were live-action. Or maybe I just want to see the world burn. But while I know there have been reports that Miyazaki himself wouldn’t want his masterpieces to be turned into live-action films, I still want to pretend that he’d be all for it, and that we’d get new live-action versions of some of his past classics. So what are those classic movies that I think would look really great with live actors and CG? Well, I’ll show you.
Spirited Away (2001)
Probably Miyazaki’s most beloved film and definitely his most celebrated, Spirited Away is about a 10-year-old girl named Chihiro who moves to a new town with her parents, only for said parents to be turned into pigs. So the young girl has to work to turn them back into their regular form, all while going on an adventure that may or may not be a metaphor for transitioning from early adolescence to young adulthood.
Look, I get it. Spirited Away is Miyazkai’s crowning achievement and quite possibly the greatest animated film of all time. But I really think a live-action Spirited Away could be this generation’s The Neverending Story, as it’s fantastical, pretty dark for a kid’s film, and has all the qualifications to be the kind of movie that really informs a generation on how to cope with growing up in a way that is both artistic and abstract at the same time. Sure, kids could just watch the animated version, and many have, but I get a real sense that kids would connect better with a live-action version, since a live-action version is “more grown up” than a “cartoon”. Even though it’s not, of course. But we know that since we’re adults. Kids don’t always think like that, though.
The Wind Rises (2013)
The last Miyazaki film as of the time of this writing, The Wind Rises is set during World War II, and is about a man named Jiro who wants to build planes since he finds them beautiful. But he’s torn up about it since he knows that the machines he’s building will one day be used to cut people down in warfare. Internal conflict ensues.
The Wind Rises has always been the oddball Miyazaki film since it’s very much devoid of many of the fantastical elements that Miyazaki movies are known for. But at the film’s heart is a deep story about pacifism, and how sometimes, following your dreams can still hurt others, even when you don’t mean to. There are a few dream-like sequences in the film that I think could be beautifully translated into CG, and may even be more effective if they weren’t animated. The Wind Rises is the only Miyazaki film that I think is actually hurt by being animated since it’s so tonally different from the rest of his work. So maybe a live-action version would somehow lift it up.
Ponyo is The Little Mermaid, but way more eccentric. It’s the story of a little goldfish named Brunhilde who uses magic to grow limbs since she falls in love with a five-year-old boy who rescues her and wants to be with him. It’s also one of my least favorite Miyazaki films. Sorry!
Still, Ponyo is a visual feast, and I think a CG version would really lend itself to the story. Seeing a little girl running on waves would be awesome if the CG was good enough. Plus, I think some of the weirdness would actually be even weirder (and more fun) if it was live-action rather than being animated. I know there’s a live-action The Little Mermaid coming, so why not a live-action Ponyo? Just saying.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
One of the most political Miyazaki films, Howl’s Moving Castle, which is loosely based on a British fantasy novel, is about a young woman who’s turned into an old woman and has to find a way to turn back. She gets help from a wizard with a moving castle, and there’s a war at the center of it, which was apparently a metaphor for the then-current war in Iraq.
Did you know that Kiki’s Delivery Service was made into a live-action movie? And guess what! It’s actually not that bad. I mean, it's not great, but it's not bad, either. I bring this up since the only reason that movie was made into a film was because it also came from a book. In other words, it is not based on Miyazaki Kiki’s Delivery Service, but rather the original story. But a Howl’s Moving Castle movie sounds like it would be a really cool version of Mortal Engines, and I would love to see Miyazaki’s tone and story mixed in with those kinds of visuals. It could work. It worked for Kiki! Well, sort of, anyway.
Porco Rosso (1992)
Porco Rosso is the story of a former WWI pilot who is turned into a pig and has dog fights with sky pirates. Yep. Nothing weird about that.
I was going to put Princess Mononoke for my last pick, but then I came to my senses since I now think that that film would be impossible to translate into live-action, given how grandiose it all is. But Porco Rosso would be a really cute live-action movie. And it’s fun enough that I don’t think most Miyazaki fans wouldn't be all that upset if there was a live-action version of it. And I can already see the tagline: When Pig’s Fly. I mean, come on now. What’s not to love about this pick?
Honestly, I love Miyazaki so much that I would love to see somebody actually try to adapt one of his films. But what do you think? Should any of Miyazaki’s classics be made into live-action movies, or would that just be a fool’s errand? Sound off in the comments.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.