Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles In the wondrous films of Hayao Miyazaki, we get action, spectacle, war, and thrilling chases. But we also get moments like this. Stillness. Tranquility. Peace. Balance. These are scenes where nothing happens. And yet, they can be the most compelling moments in the film. Most films have some sort of pause or moment of calm either before or after a moment of action. So what makes Miyazaki's moments of silence different? Welcome to "The Director's Playbook". You may have been told that stories are like sharks. They have to keep moving or they die. Well, that's not true of all sharks and it's not true of all stories. One filmmaker who breaks this rule all the time is Hayao Miyazaki. Roger Ebert once interviewed Miyazaki and shared his appreciation for these moments. 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. Not to advance the story, but only 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." Miyazaki 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." "What really matters is the underlying emotions. That you never let go of those." "If you stay true to joy, and astonishment, and empathy, you don't have to have violence, and you don't have to have action." "They'll follow you. This is our principle." Let's take a closer look at how Miyazaki brings these principles into his films. A well-known rule in screenwriting is movies shouldn't have a constant rise in tension. They should include peaks and valleys, providing a break from the action every so often to keep the overall story balanced. This is done all the time. And yet, Hayao Miyazaki doesn't treat his valleys as obligatory pauses. He uses them to create non-traditional pacing to create an immersive experience for the audience, and to underline his themes. A common theme in Miyazaki's work is the clash between humans and nature. Especially the destruction of the natural world through war. We can see this in "Howl's Moving Castle". After settling in an idyllic location around Star Lake, we have a quiet and serene moment. Sophie and Markl enjoy a tranquil picnic. Tiny waves gently lap the shore as Sophie admires the view. This scene is the time between claps as Miyazaki put it. And its serenity is juxtaposed with the next scene. Howl soars over an apocalyptic scene as airships drop bombs on the city. By placing these extremely disparate scenes next to each other, Miyazaki creates a clear message. First, showing us everything we can appreciate about the natural world. Then showing us its destruction. Without taking moments like this in his storytelling, without 'ma', his themes would not be as strong. Another way Miyazaki uses 'ma' is to make us feel present in the scene with the characters by creating an immersive experience for the audience. For example, in "My Neighbor Totoro," Satsuki and May wait at a grizzly bus stop for their father to return from work. (Japanese) Daddy was not on it. (Japanese) He'll be on the next one. Why don't you wait at Nanny's? May splashes in a puddle, observes a darkened shrine, and drifts off to sleep. A toad slowly makes his way down the road. Someone on a bike squeaks by. All quiet moments surrounded by the light batter of rain. Moments of no obvious significance. And then Totoro arrives and Satsuki has a first interaction with the lovable giant. For nearly seven and a half minutes, the plot is put on hold. The way Miyazaki fills this time with serene innocence is compelling nonetheless. Both the tranquil sound design and lengthy pacing give the audience an opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the moment. Dedicating this much time to a scene where nothing happens is what separates Miyazaki from the rest. And yet another way we see 'ma' is how Miyazaki creates non-traditional pacing. In screenwriting, pacing is the speed at which a story is told. In a very broad sense, most movies start slow and pick up speed until the climax. But watching a Miyazaki movie, our expectations for traditional western narrative pacing go out of the window. There is a great example of this in "Spirited Away." Chihiro befriends a boy named Haku, who is dying from a deadly curse. On her way to save him, Chihiro encounters the monstrous No-Face wreaking havoc in the bathhouse. After the clap of the bathhouse scene, we sit with her in silence as the train passes through painterly dreamlike landscapes. With her friend's life on the line, we would expect more urgency. But the silence allows us to consider what must be going through Chihiro's head. Is my friend going to die? Will I be able to rescue my parents? A more traditional treatment of the scene would have a cry, panicking, or voicing these concerns through dialogue. Instead, we share this contemplative moment of 'ma' with her. Hayao Miyazaki isn't the only filmmaker to use this technique but he might just be the best. No matter the genre you're working in, all filmmakers can follow Miyazaki's lead with a little 'ma'. Consider the story you're telling and ask yourself how you might be able to fill in the time between claps. With silence? With romance? Or with a giant fuzzy magical beast. What's your favorite moment of 'ma' you've seen in the movie? Share it with us in the comments. 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