The Kraft of Labour, Labour as Craft: Hayao Miyazaki’s Images of Work

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The animated films of Hayao Miyazaki are populated by women, children and men at work. This article argues that the rendering of physical labour has the capacity to (re)connect the body to its broader social collective experience. The late philosopher, Bernard Stiegler, identifies the loss of savoir-faire (know-how) and savoir-vivre (life skills) as a critical deficit to how we live and work today. Miyazaki’s animated films provide a platform for potentially regaining savoir-faire and savoir-vivre in their reflexive portrayals of human labour. Every story told by Miyazaki involves scenes where bodies work with tools, with each other, and with machines to perform tasks. The rhythms of the working body speak to the ideals of labour as craft – not as exceptionally skilled expertise, but as an everyday practice – that presents ‘an opportunity to “think otherwise”’ as proposed by Glenn Adamson in The Crafter Reader (2010: 136). This article examines the performance of manual tasks in three contexts: the physical act of labour, labouring with machines and the animator’s labour. The author concludes by making the case that the animator’s labour extends to the craft of storytelling and, specifically, that Miyazaki’s animations are what Walter Benjamin called Kraftwerk – a ‘power work’ that re-models the ‘folkloric relations of space’ (see Esther Leslie’s, ‘Walter Benjamin, Traces of Craft’, 1998: 47) that keeps the human spirit alive.

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