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Hayao Miyazaki Interview: Reasons why I don't make Slapstick Action Films now

[Comic box cover image]
Comic Box; October 1989

Translated from Japanese to English by Atsushi Fukumoto (AF) in September, 1991
Translation tune-up by Sheng-Te Tsao (STT) in November, 1991
Edited and colloquialized by Steven Feldman in November, 1991

© 1989 by Fusion Product
Translated without permission for personal entertainment purpose only. This is not, by any means, an accurate word for word translation.




Since Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Mr. Miyazaki has often been compared to live-action film directors. On the other hand, there are also many people who voiced their support for the slapstick action films he made before Nausicaa.

In a direct manner, I asked him a question on many fans' minds: "Why aren't you making slapstick action films?"[1]


I like silly and slapstick animations that one can watch and laugh at. But just because I like them doesn't mean I can make them.

I want to see whether or not I can make a movie without any action. But films such as Totoro or Majo no Takkyubin (Kiki's Delivery Service) are made because there were demands for them. Of course, the other reason is that they were what I wanted to make.

I have some film ideas right now, including ideas that have not yet been released... and a cartoon sort of movie.

I feel that I want to make something like Buta no Sensha (Pig's Tank) or some such silly movie which will show my embarrassing side.

On board a rundown bi-plane, with only one torpedo loaded, fighting a big task force for one's pride, while knowing all the while how foolish it is-- It will become a breathlessly exciting film, the kind of movie that make you want to say "Ah! that was amazing, I want to watch it again!"

I can understand why the adolescent audience-- those who are responsible for the anime boom-- claim that my older works are more enjoyable. I am sorry that I am ignoring that audience.

But that doesn't mean that my intent has changed, just that I've gotten old. I am not yet 50, but I am enough of an old man to feel what an old man would feel. <grin>

Moreover, I wonder why there aren't young directors surfacing who want to make such entertaining, thrilling, enjoyable films.

The truth is that I am happiest when I am writing about stupid airplanes and tanks in magazines like Model Graphix.[2] I have a burning desire to resume that serial. <grin>

But I feel that it if it stops being a hobby, I should stop doing it, even if I think I can show my abilities better in it than in a story about a 13-year-old girl going to town.

I could write the story all by myself, but animation requires an enormous amount of manpower. It has to be done by an organization, and it's difficult to make silly movies for a company. Therefore, sometimes I dream of making a silly movie with my own money, a videotape (OAV) that can't even recover the costs. I'd love to do a film that is frowned upon by the parent-teacher associations.

The ideas have been around in my head for a long time, and I have always been eager to make movies like Charge! Ironpork. I've even imagined e konte, thinking about required scenes...[3]

Had I failed in every other way, I would have made such movies. Unfortunately, I was fortunate to have the chance to make other types of films that would "let me get more famous awards next time." <grin> Moreover, I have to draw Nausicaa, and I want to draw in Model Graphix-- thus I have reached my full capacity.

Animated films cannot be made as easily as live-action films. I can't be like John Ford, who made more than 100 films, sometimes without even participating in editing his own work.

Imagine me directing at this studio for two or three hours, then moving on to another studio to direct a scene like "there, now the pig gets on the tank," and then moving on to draw Nausicaa-- that's just not possible. I don't do things that way, and I don't want to. Animation just doesn't work that way by nature, and if we think it can work that way then we are finished.

Nowadays, we cannot avoid the question of "motivation" when we make a slapstick action film.

For example, breaking down an entire huge building is a form of motivation. Such motivation is like the reaction to suppressed impulses, or an objection that leads to destruction. I don't feel that I have to make films that are constructive. Destructive films and such are fine with me, too, because it's natural to destroy a huge thing. But, the constraints of living in a suppressed society aside, I'm hoping to single out motivations for dreams, desires, and hopes.[4]

A film without these motivations becomes a mere fisticuff fest.

"I will survive even if everyone dies," "I must have that," or "I'll grab all the treasures"-- putting aside the question of ideologies or righteousness, all these things have their root in our desire to have the best for ourselves, like a male sea-lion. But these are happy endings typical of an action film-- made to make you feel happy to have been born and to be alive-- regardless of whether the scale is large or small.

In this age, there's no doubt that we can't go in such a crude manner on earth, right?

The root that holds a slapstick action films together-- things like "I want to be big," "I want to be rich," "I want to have a girl"-- are crumbling. We just can't naively believe in these things anymore.

In making a slapstick action film, one must employ a story structure in which there are initially various plot complications but, after a certain point, the action becomes the main thing.

Cagliostro, Doubutsu Takarajima (Animal Treasure Island), and Conan, are all like this. The most difficult part in making such a film is anticipating that point where all the audience wants to see are airplanes being shot down. If, after all that effort results in a convincing story, then the remaining action sequences will be satisfying.

Action-oriented predicaments like falling, getting hurt, using guns, fist fights, running on the wing of an airplane, diving into water-- I can do anything with scenes like these. I have a huge stock of ideas like those. But it wouldn't be entertaining if there was only action, without spending the effort introduce it to the story.

Today's OAVs are negligent in that they fail to properly introduce their action, and are therefore not very entertaining.

As an example of how they are negligent, say there is a God of Darkness and there is a God of Light, and when the light is to be covered with darkness, a Warrior of Light appears. <grin>

Are OAVs like this convincing? No. Of course not. The reason they're not is, first of all, we don't have the religion of Light and Darkness, do we? They are using it for convenience's sake. Nobody believes in it. Do you think filmmakers believe in it? No, they don't. Do they believe in the god Ahura Mazda of Zoroastrianism? No, they don't.

Another example would be, say, Star Wars. It is, after all, a story about family. A story of selfhood and self-independence, where the enemy is the father, help comes from the grandfather, the princess is the younger sister, etc.; these are all formulas from the popularized version of classic Jungian theory. They cloak the interstellar action with the story of a child who gains autonomy by fighting against his parents. Such things aren't very convincing, now.[5]

Another convenient way to avoid real conflicts is to idealize the enemy in the form of computers or machines. You can do anything if your opponent is a machine.

I understand very well why Lupin III does not fit in this era. I was asked why I am not going to make another one, but I'm not making it because it's hard to make, but because it requires an enormous amount of labor and effort to make it in an orthodox manner.

The kind of films I really want to make are ones where I can freely create action sequences. I have all sorts of ideas which I think can yield comedies and stupid war films.

But I don't have any decisive idea on how to make the first half of the movie.[6] There is talk about skipping that part and going straight to the action, but I must not do that.

There is an idea that I've been fermenting for a long time called Ankaa (Anchor). It would be very difficult to make, but I feel that the opportunity exists for its being made.

When I talked with Tetsuya Takada recently, we concluded that the most difficult part about making a film set in Tokyo is deciding who should be the villain.[7]

With OAVs, it's all right if we have something that's an enemy to the whole world, such as Afghanistan, or someone who is just plain evil, like TENG Hsiao-ping.[8]

I can see making animated action slapstick films rife with all manner of esoteric computer and military stuff as a hobby, but it must remain a hobby.

Most people would say that entertainment must be enjoyable outside the purview of critical analysis, and yet entertainment, like everything else, is contingent upon an enormous amount of interdependent theories that together create a logical system which must be adhered to if anything worthwhile is to be produced.

To make it so that a film is enjoyable without overt theorizing, the initial problems of motivation and identification-- such as sympathizing with the villain or the hero's hesitance at firing a gun-- must be solved, or the ensuing action just becomes pointless.

But the evil problems we face today are the results of our everyday lives, the sum of which is polluting earth and making Japan do stupid things.

Some OAVs and movies set their villains up as secret leaders-- blotchy old men who pull the strings of Japanese politicians-- but this is just a fantasy. In reality, Japan's government is being led by very timid and cautious people. Without funding, they will be betrayed by their own factions-- so their secretaries busy themselves with collecting as much money as possible-- while they inadvertently run down blind alleys to suicide.

This perspective is all wrong and misses the point entirely.

The thing which confounds and hurts us the most is that which we can't identify-- the root of the problem itself. This is most elusive. But trying to tackle this problem head-on doesn't exactly result in popular entertainment, does it?

So, I tried to tap into the root, but there are young people who complain that they liked the slapstick movies more.

I don't want to spend the little time I have left just for the benefit of those particular young people.

How should I use my remaining energy effectively in a way which will gratifying to me, personally-- or rather, how should I use it in a way which will gratify the people concerned?

The most important thing that Japanese animations should not do is define the fans as a certain kind of people, and to make movies only for those dilettantes. How can we make films that will gain the acceptance of those people who have never seen animation? We need to get near to that universality when making a movie, or it will fail after all.

(Interviewed at Studio Ghibli, July 12)

Notes from the translators
1. The kanji for "slapstick action film" literary means "animated action films purely for entertainment." --STT
2. Model Graphix is a monthly magazine for model hobbyists. Miyazaki had a manga serialized in it-- which is currently on hiatus. Each installment consisted of either a self-contained episode or movie-idea illustrations. The pig appears in some episodes of the serial. --AF
3. E konte is a combination of continuity and storyboarding. Literally, it translates as "picture continuity." --AF
4. I think he's referring to the desire to watch destructive film in a society that suppresses impulsive actions. --STT
5. I think Miyazaki is referring to the fact that today it's very hard for people to gain autonomy, so the theme of autonomy through rebellion has little relevance. --STT
6. He's referring to the part of the story that will introduce the action sequences. --STT
7. Tetsuya Takeda is an actor who has directed a few movies. The talk referred to here is in the Majo no Takkyubin Guidebook. --AF
8. DEN Xia-Ping, the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, this interview is probably conducted soon after the June 4 Tienanmen massacre. --STT

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