"Creating animation means creating a fictional world. That world soothes the spirit of those who are disheartened and exhausted from dealing with the sharp edges of reality."
This nice video essay looks at the work of legendary Japanese animator and co-founder of Studio Ghibli Hayao Miyazaki, known for films like Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro. Unlike many animated features that have stereotypical cartoon characters and simplistic plots, Miyazaki's films deal with the same difficult themes as live action and his characters are more complex.
Miyazaki started his career as a manga artist and was influenced by a style called Gekiga, which is Japanese for "dramatic pictures". The term was coined for more serious Japanese cartoonists, who created more realistic drawings and stories. Miyazaki tends to focus on subtlety rather than broad and fleshy movements in his animation, and he's spoken out openly about his distaste for the cheap tactics of the anime industry to achieve audience reaction through overexpression in characters.
His stories are about characters who grow rather than win, and there's not a clear divide between good and evil. Showing the mundane things in life we learn how characters think based on how they approach things, and this makes us empathize with them.
"You see what drives animation is the will of the characters. You don't depict fate, you depict will." says Miyazaki. As a filmmaker he never studied screenwriting and leaves a lot to feeling and intuition. This leads to a unique approach where scripts and storyboards are being worked on simultaneously and because no one knows how the story will end it never takes focus. Miyazaki continues to draw settings that invoke emotions and isn't concerned with plot during the early stages. This lets imagery take precedence and the moods of the character are expressed through the surrounding world.
Alien worlds are left to interpretation, but we don't need to understand everything. Sometimes it's better not to offer explanations.