From Anime News Network:
The survey firm Oricon marked Japan’s Culture Day on November 3 by reporting a questionnaire asking which cultural figure represents Japan….Studio Ghibli’s co-founder and anime director Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away) placed second with 56 votes.
Mike’s Take: admittedly, since the question was who “represents Japan,” Miyazaki is certainly the best choice out of most anime directors who have any name recognition. Miyazaki is a cultural conservative in the Japanese context: respectful of the nation’s religious and spiritual heritage, environmentally aware, and not above using his films to inculcate such values of working hard without complaining (Spirited Away), venerating the spirits (My Neighbor Totoro), and of course being anti-war and pro-enviroment in general (like…every one of his movies almost). He also thinks most anime sucks and that Japan is going down the tubes, and almost can’t wait for it to collapse if the New Yorker interview with him is any indication. In all this he really reminds me of what we know about JRR Tolkien, who also couldn’t stand his rabid fans, was a cheerful curmudgeon, devoutly religious, and had a strong loathing of technology in general. Both Tolkien and Miyazaki also created fantasy worlds that were quintessentially English and Japanese, respectively. So Miyazaki is an excellent choice if the criterion is Japaneseness, though I think I’d expand it slightly to include all of Studio Ghibli, especially Takahata’s works. How can one leave out the director of Grave of the Fireflies and Only Yesterday, which are some of the sharpest evocations of 20th century Japan anywhere?
I think the online, youth-oriented bias of the poll though is revealed in the winner: Takeshi “Beat” Kitano, the prolific director of many both artsy and schlocky movies, some of which have made it even over here. I haven’t seen any of his films, but he is certainly an exemplary figure of modern Japan–eclectic, incredibly talented in many fields, and having a taste for violence. :)