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Miyazaki and Kurosawa Fireside Chat (Part One)

Translated by Yuto Shinagawa without permission for personal entertainment purpose only.

Translator Notes: From the tone of the conversation and their language, I got the impression that Kurosawa is the mentor (interviewee) and Miyazaki is the student (interviewer), and for good reason, too. Kurosawa is a good 30 years older than Miyazaki, with just as many more years of film-making experience, dating back into the 1930s. This disparity is subtly manifested by the use of Keigo (polite language) on Miyazaki's part, and with a more casual vocabulary on Kurosawa's. Likewise, Miyazaki seemed a little tense all throughout this chat. Though, I don't blame him; Heck I'd be nervous sitting across either of these guys.

MIYAZAKI - As a film-maker, I suppose the hardest thing for me to deal with are questions regarding my own work. It's as if they expect me to have been involved in every aspect of the movie.

KUROSAWA - Like when they ask you to say something to the audience on stage. . .you really don't have anything to say, right?

MIYAZAKI - Right, and it's especially irritating when someone asks something like, "What's the theme of the movie" [Laughs]

KUROSAWA - Yeah, those are really inconvenient.

KUROSAWA - I agree, I really don't know how to respond to questions like "how do you feel about this work of yours" or something.

MIYAZAKI - That's when you're supposed to take on an air of confidence: "This is my work; how 'bout it!". . .is what you're supposed to say. But me, I'm more like "Uh oh, I am in deep trouble!" And I start to feel the pressure pile on top of me like a mountain. The truth of the matter is, I'd rather just be hiding under some rock until all the excitement dies down [Laughs]. But that's really when you're supposed to be speaking out about your own work isn't it? Is that how you feel? [Laughs]

KUROSAWA - The thing is, you've already seen the movie countless times to make all the edits, so. . .you really don't feel like watching it anymore.

MIYAZAKI - [Laughs] I know exactly what you mean.


[Moves onto discussion about Kurosawa's most recent movie, Maadadayo (1993)]

KUROSAWA So what are your thoughts on Maadadayo?

MIYAZAKI - The tiny room [~7.5 sq ft] that the couple lives in. . .that was really wonderful. And the scene when the guests come to visit. . .the mannerism of the Misses as she served the tea - placing it on the shelf first, and then offering it to the guests. . .I was already impressed by that point. [Laughs]. Those sensible mannerisms are something that people like me completely lack in. She'll step out of view for a second, and we don't quite see what's there. . . but the fact that her presence is so subtle and un-awkward, even in such a small room is. . . .when exactly did the Japanese loose that kind of touch? [Laughs].

KUROSAWA - I agree; Kagawa-kun did such a splendid job this time. It's funny because she's not mentioned much in the book. . . [Note, it is common for more respected individuals to refer to younger ones with a -kun suffix regardless of their sex]

MIYAZAKI - Oh, is that so? So it was all your. . .

KUROSAWA - No it's not that as much as it is me relying on her talent. . .for example, remember how they offer to build the professor a new house, which he adamantly refuses to accept; and then later, he says something like. . . "you know, a pond would be nice." Well. . .she doesn't want to leave Mr. Hyakken there, nor stay there herself. So you might've noticed that she glances over and breathes a little sigh of relief before stepping outside [I apologize; I don't know what he's referring to here]. That's how good her acting is. Her reaction was extremely well done. I was really impressed by that.

MIYAZAKI - Oh I thought you were just depicting a man's dream. [Laughs].

KUROSAWA - No no. . .I just left everything up to Kagawa-kun. In fact, I wasn't even paying attention to her during the filming. . .complete confidence. I kept a careful watch on the other actors. . .but not Kagawa-kun. I told her afterwards and her response was "oh golly, no!" or something like that.

MIYAZAKI - . . .[Laughs].

KUROSAWA - That's how it is.

[Shows above clip from Maadadayo]

MIYAZAKI - Uhm, you know, I'm really envious of the people in the live action business - the osake at the end of the day must taste really really good.

KUROSAWA - Oh absolutely. Especially if we're filming on location, we'll just start drinking right there at the end of the day.

MIYAZAKI - Well in the animation business. . .the osake at the end of the day isn't that good. [Laughs]. Doesn't relieve any of the stress. [Laughs]

KUROSAWA - Dinner time is a lot of fun too. We usually have a big staff, so we can't necessarily accommodate everyone at the same hotel. But with the ones that do stay with us - the main cast and staff - it's always a pleasure socializing with them during dinnertime. I always tell people that it's then that I truly fulfill my role as director.

MIYAZAKI - See that's what we're so jealous about. For us, it's only when we finish. . . and when we're about to start [on a film] that we get to drink and celebrate. That's it. Everything during the actual production. . . is like rowing a boat [Laughs and pretends to row boat].

KUROSAWA - Right, right. Tezuka-kun was saying the same thing wasn't he?

MIYAZAKI - Yes, it's actually bad to relieve all the stress. You really need to maintain a certain level of anxiety.

KUROSAWA - We try to have fun while we work. . .while we film, and it shows on their face when they perform. So I always tell my staff, "don't be in a bad mood, because your facial expressions will show it. Let's have some fun." We try to have some good laughs.

MIYAZAKI - [I think this is what he said]. I guess it's not good for me to be drawing when I'm having to fight back yawns and complain about stiff shoulders. [Laughs]

KUROSAWA - Well you really don't have a choice with animation.

MIYAZAKI - I noticed that when we're working on an uplifting film with a lot of smiles, the animators tend to be smiling when they draw -- because it's important to make the facial expressions yourself. And at the same time, if we're making a serious movie, people tend to have serious expressions when they draw.

KUROSAWA - [Laughs]

MIYAZAKI - When you walk into the studio, there's this staleness to the atmosphere, almost as if there's some big dark entity somewhere. . . and as we make more and more films over the years, it intensifies until people start saying things like "that corner over there is haunted," or "you'll get nightmares if you sleep right here" or those kinds of rumors [Laughs]

MIYAZAKI - Our job is about being shackled to our desk. . .the consequence being we keep getting fatter and don't get any healthier. [Laughs]

MIYAZAKI - The last scene in 'Yume' by the river. . .you really found the perfect spot for it!

KUROSAWA - Yeah, we did a lot of searching. One thing about that scene is that in order to be able to film the moss on the bottom of the river, we couldn't let the sky reflect off the top surface of the water. We had to use these huge cranes to drape blackout curtains over the set.

MIYAZAKI - Ah. . .

KUROSAWA - The same goes when we have greenscape against a blue sky - the blueness ends up dominating and it completely messes up the colors.

MIYAZAKI - I'll be honest. Seeing that one scene really made me wish I had gone into the live action business. In reality, I wouldn't be worth anything once I'm on the set, but still. . .About the waterwheels in that scene.

KUROSAWA - Only about. . .three of those waterwheels were actually water-driven. The rest were just turned by the people hiding inside.

MIYAZAKI - [Laughs] People? I thought they were motors.

KUROSAWA - We'd be finished filming for the day and uh. . ."Wait a minute, is that guy still turning?"

MIYAZAKI - [Big Laugh] Poor guy! [Laughs]

KUROSAWA - [Laughs] And he's still there, cranking that thing with everything he's got! And here we are, getting ready to pack up and leave.

MIYAZAKI - Making a movie that depicts even the immediate past. . . it seems like it would end up costing an unbelievable amount of money.

KUROSAWA - Right, it costs a huge amount of money!

MIYAZAKI - That sloping street in Maadadayo. . . when I heard you constructed that on the set, the only thing I could say was, "that's extreme!"

KUROSAWA - That. . . might've been the most expensive thing. . . that sloping street. We had to haul in all the dirt with an insane number of trucks.

[Shows clip of soldiers marching down the sloping street in Maadadayo]

KUROSAWA - And afterwards, we had to flatten in out again. I told them to leave it as is, but they apparently needed to use the set for something else so. . . I know it's exorbitant, but whether or not there's a hill there makes all the difference in the world.

MIYAZAKI - A huge difference, right.

KUROSAWA - But the biggest hassle is having to wait for the dirt and gravel to settle, so it looks all natural. It's not enough to just drive over it with a roller; it has to be walked on by human foot. So as people trample over it over the course of a few days. . . actually more like a half a month, and as they go about their daily work on top of it. . . the gravel eventually settles. Wooden fences too. . . rain drops bounce off the surface at first but eventually. . . you know. Newly constructed sets just don't cut it; you have to give it some time.

MIYAZAKI - I see. . . it makes me impatient just thinking about it. [Laughs]

KUROSAWA - The burning castle in Ran (1985) was actually constructed within view of here. . . right over there. Its construction had to be authentic in that we couldn't set a fake mock-up on fire. . . it would just be too obvious. That castle kept burning for at least half a day after we filmed it.

MIYAZAKI - What a waste. . . [Laughs]

[Shows clip of burning Castle in Ran]

[Shows on screen Kurosawa's various image board drawings, which gradually fade into their respective scenes in the movie]

[Miyazaki flips through a book of image board drawings]

MIYAZAKI - It must be a lot of work!

KUROSAWA - Well, not as much as you'd think.

MIYAZAKI - Really?

KUROSAWA - They're just quick sketches; I don't put too much effort into them.

MIYAZAKI - It seems as if you already had an actor/actress in mind when you sketched these. [Laughs]

KUROSAWA - When I first start drawing, they don't resemble the actual actors/actresses, but I start having some fun by making them caricatures.

KUROSAWA - You'll see that I have a lot of drawings for scenes with rain. It's because that segment was all filmed without any cuts. And so making all these drawings really helped me work out the camera angles of each scene. So not only do they help you convey your thought-picture to the rest of the staff, it makes you aware of the tiny details within each scene -- what do they buildings in the background look like, what are they wearing, and so forth. It teaches you a lot of things.

MIYAZAKI - Like this drawing right here. I'd be thinking "that building over there is gonna cost a lot to build!" [Laughs]

KUROSAWA - Well, you just have to accept the fact that movies cost a lot to make.

MIYAZAKI - [Laughing] It's just that I tend to be cheap like that.

KUROSAWA - If we were to have to make, say, burnt rubble, the ground itself has to be black with all the ash. And it's such an impossible task to have to do so, that we decided to make the set on the side of Mount Fuji itself. So in terms of having to cover everything with ash, it really made things easier. But to create the burnt rubble, people were just scattering some charred wood on the ground. But you see, that's not good enough. I asked them, "what did the house look like originally? It doesn't make sense for the foundation to have burned away too." So I made them draw up blueprints from the ground up. "There must have been pillars here. There was a shed here right? And a kitchen here, so let's put in some piping for the faucet. Is this a brick house? What does a brick house look like when it crumbles?" And as you work out these details, the set becomes noticeably more realistic, and your job becomes more interesting. The audience won't necessarily pick up on those details, but they'll definitely feel the difference.

KUROSAWA - Often times, you'll see dust devils amid the rubble. Well, we asked ourselves how we could make one, and as it turns out, there's a special field for those kinds of special effects -- we used a series of fans to pull it off. Those kinds of thing really make your job interesting.

[More scenes from the movie accompanied by storyboards]

MIYAZAKI - Up until a certain era, Japanese architecture. . .cityscape had a certain ambience. This is my opinion but. . .that image seems to have disappeared. [I couldn't quite catch what he said next]

KUROSAWA - In Seven Samurai -- you can't hear it now because the sound is all deteriorated, but -- we really had a hell of a time with the sounds of the Sengoku-era [1467-1567]

MIYAZAKI - I can imagine. . .absolutely.

KUROSAWA - I'm sure there were blacksmiths.

MIYAZAKI - [Laughs]

KUROSAWA - And peddlers too, but not like the ones from the Edo-era [who'd holler at passerbys]. Maybe they'd mumble in a low voice: "Abura. . .abura. . ." ["Oil. . .oil. . ."].

MIYAZAKI - [Laughs]

KUROSAWA - We had one instance: "Wow, this clip right here sounds really Sengoku-era-ish. I like it; let's use it. . . where'd you get it?" "Uh, I just [Laughs] dragged around a steel pipe."

MIYAZAKI - [Laughs] Ambient sounds. . .those are the hardest.

KUROSAWA - With optical sound recording, which is what we had for Seven Samurai, you can see the modulation of the screams each time someone is killed -- it has a distinct shape. Unfortunately a recorded scream just isn't effective enough, so I drew in the modulation myself, by hand. And the end result is a scream that doesn't even sound like it came from a human, really. . .

MIYAZAKI - [Laughing] You were really having fun weren't you!

KUROSAWA - So every night, I'd give these clips to the sound editor next door and he'd be like. . ."what in the world is this sound?!" "I'm drawing the modulation you see." "What?"

MIYAZAKI - [Laughing]

KUROSAWA - And all those sounds are in the movie. . .any time someone gets killed by a sword.

KUROSAWA - It's really peculiar. Machine gun fire looks like a square, a triangle and a circle all connected together - "rat tat tat tat." You can almost tell what kind of sound it is by looking at the modulation.

MIYAZAKI - If we're working on a movie with a foreign setting, and I come across a scene of a bustling city. . .I am at a complete loss. [Shows clip from Kiki's Delivery Service where Kiki triggers a big traffic jam in the streets of Koriko]. I'll ask the person in charge of sound effects to do some research on antique cars, but it's hopeless. I'll bring in a recording thinking "this'll do," but no, it's a dead giveaway that it's Tokyo. These days, it's almost impossible to even record bird chirps without it being contaminated by the sound of cars in the background. You have to go to some deserted island; but there, the wind is too loud.

KUROSAWA - We have a very talented staff member that does our sound effects - Minawa-kun. He'll pay attention to the slightest details. Even if it's the sound of rain, you'll hear it change as the scene changes. People like him are the true "En no shita no chikaramochi." [The strongman underneath the stage; people that do deserving work but receive little credit]. If you respect those small details, then the audience will definitely feel the difference.

[Shows clip from Maadadayo]

[End of Part 1]

Part Two

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