In a 2002 interview with Roger Ebert, legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki comments on the importance of emptiness in his films:

I told Miyazaki I love the gratuitous motion” in his films; instead of every movement being dictated by the story, sometimes people will just sit for a moment, or they will sigh, or look in a running stream, or do something extra, not to advance the story but only to give the sense of time and place and who they are.

We have a word for that in Japanese,” he said. It’s called ma. Emptiness. It’s there intentionally.”

He clapped his hands three or four times. The time in between my clapping is ma. If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it’s just busyness, But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension. If you just have constant tension at 80 degrees all the time you just get numb.”

I find especially in Western culture, we are scared of emptiness. This can be seen whether through the non-stop action in Hollywood films, the glorification of hustle culture, and consumerism.

Miyazaki mentioned that pockets of stillness are essential in storytelling. I think pockets of stillness are essential in everyday life.

July 8, 2021

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