For my review duties at Anime.about.com, I’m currently watching Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky. Miyazaki, and his Studio Ghibli, have produced more genuine masterpieces per capita than almost anyone else I know alive.
I could fill any number of columns this length with rhapsodies about what makes their work stand out so. These are films that appeal not just to children, not just to adolescents, not just to adults, but to people as they pass through every stage of life. The more you come back to them, and across that many more eras in your own lifetime, the more you see in them.
The more you can make your work worthy of being rediscovered, the more people will want to do just that.
Roger Ebert once reviewed Federico Fellini’s La dolce vita in the same light. In his twenties, it symbolized everything he dreamed about embracing: the romance of the all-night parties, the glitzy life of the paparazzi. In his thirties, it stood for everything he was trapped in: the cynicism, the quiet despair, the way every party always breaks up and leaves behind a mess. In his forties, it was emblematic of everything he had escaped from. I watched the film myself at different stages in my own life and while I didn’t experience quite as profound a sense of rediscovery as Ebert did, I saw what he was talking about. All the things that seemed so sexy when you’re in your teens seem simply desperate ten years later.
It took the Studio Ghibli production Whisper of the Heart (in the review pile directly below Castle) to make Ebert’s points clear for me in the personal way required for such a thing to have meaning. Like many of Ghibli’s films, Whisper is populated by characters of most every age: a preadolescent heroine, an adolescent or two, a smattering of adults, and an old man. Each of them represents, or maybe better to say embodies, the vicissitudes embodied in each age of humankind: the longing and pent-up energy of childhood, the smoldering of adolescence, the discipline and maturation of adulthood, and the resignation and grace of old age.
What struck me most is how all this might only become clear to someone on repeat viewings and in different stages of their lives. As a kid, I would have identified most with little Shizuku; as a teenager, with her crush Seiji; and now as an adult, with her parents, her older sister, and even the old man whom she befriends.
Was this deliberate? I’m not sure. Most every Ghibli movie has characters in each age bracket, so it strikes me if nothing else as being a sensible way to allow everyone in the audience to feel at least some degree of connection with someone onscreen. But it also strikes me as a great strategy to allow an audience to come back to the same story, again and again, to see it with fresh eyes each time and to be rewarded anew for doing so.
The world you create in your story should have room for these things, these different slices of human experience. Not just age, but spectrums of many other things whenever possible. Weath vs. poverty; idealism vs. cynicism; whatever the polarities are that best show off what your world is meant to be about. This isn’t just for the sake of contrasts and color—it’s to give people new things to see each time they come back.
Because each time they come back, they’re going to be a different person. The more room you make for that in the world of your creation, the more they’ll want to come back to what you offer.