I’m not sure what my first Hayao Miyazaki movie was, but it just might have been Spirited Away, which I had the pleasure of watching in a movie theater near downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, back in college. Perhaps it was Princess Mononoke, which I rented (probably without paying) from the video department (which I managed) tucked away in the corner of the Russ’s Market I worked in to pay for rent, gas, and school. It undoubtedly was not Kiki’s Delivery Service, which I saw with my friend Gavin–probably in his house on 17th street either before or after playing a game of spades with Drew and Robert, but if not then certainly in our rental house on 51st Street where Gavin and I lived, along with Evan, Nick, Ross, Ben, Simon (the other one), Craig, and other friends who rotated in and out of for four years while we were all at UNL. My first Miyazaki film was definitely not My Neighbor Totoro, which I watched on the recommendation of Jennica, one of my students, when I taught high school in Andover, MN, on the north side of the Twin Cities. Nor was it Howl’s Moving Castle which I have seen but do not remember when, where, or really anything about the movie at all come to think of it.
But here’s the thing about Miyazaki movies: they leave an impression. They transport you to another place and time, and invite you to sit back and absorb the sheer wonder of the world you are invited to inhabit, if only for a little while, along with all its vibrant and unique characters. Creatures great and small, filled with heart and emotion, each with a story to tell or, as Michael W. Smith might say, a place in this world. (Note: please leave that link un-clicked. The song, and its accompanying video, are impossibly cheesy. But decades later that sandpaper-scratchy voice is still wandering around in my head, loath to vacate the space between my ears though long have I tried.)
Creatures such as the kodama you see here, whose presence is a clear and tangible indicator that the forest they inhabit is doing OK.
I saw these while wandering through the OSU Botanic Gardens with my family and some of our friends on a warm September afternoon, and was delighted to have my Nikon D750 and 105mm f/2.8 macro lens along for the occasion. Each of these little white figures is about an inch tall, and someone had placed them in a shallow pan hanging by three chains from the branch of a tree near the garden entrance. It was one of those little moments of serendipity that you encounter every so often that reminds you how clever and creative people can be–that someone thought to put these little creatures in the middle of the garden to keep watch, in a manner of speaking, over the area and reassure visitors that everything is going to be alright.
I experimented with a few different angles and focal lengths, as I almost always do when shooting close-ups like this, but didn’t want to move the figures at all—only myself and my camera. I tried a few shots with the shorter one in focus but found that I preferred this one, and with the light hitting it as you see here it really made for a fun composition. When both figured were well-lit it didn’t have quite the same effect, but here your eye is brought squarely to the first one and then to everything else in the frame which slowly reveals itself the more you look at the image.
This was a fun picture to take, a creative scene to stumble upon, and a reminder that I really need to show my kids some Miyazaki movies :)