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Making possible the impossible: Miyazaki talks about 3 latest Ghibli films

© 12 January 2006 by Yomiuri Shimbun
Posted without permission for personal entertainment purpose only.

By Yasuhisa Harada

Hayao Miyazaki, Japan's leading animation writer and director, recently created three short films--Yadosagashi (House Hunting), Mizugumo Monmon (Mon Mon the Water Spider), and Hoshi o Katta Hi (The Day I Bought a Star). They were recently screened at the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, western Tokyo, "allowing children to enjoy them without being influenced by commercialism," the director told The Yomiuri Shimbun. Miyazaki made the comments in a rare interview for the domestic press in which the internationally acclaimed anime master gave his thoughts about these latest short films and other topics. The following are excerpts from the interview:

YS - You said you set about making the films right after you concluded production of Hauru no Ugoku Shiro (Howl's Moving Castle), which hit screens in 2004. You split your staff into three groups, each of which was led by one director-animator, giving them generous leeway in making the films.

MIYAZAKI - In the film Yadosagashi, the onomatopoeic sounds such as "zah" for pounding rain and "zawa-zawa" for a breeze in the forest were represented by the words themselves on the screen. All the sound effects and incidental "music" were performed vocally by [TV personality] Tamori and [pianist, singer and composer] Akiko Yano. We can't do this sort of thing in a typical film for the cinema.

Filmmaking these days is so restricted by conventions and rules. The sound effects, incidental music and dialogue are all done separately, and mixed and digitally processed later...For this reason, I wanted to give the work a live feel by requesting the two performers [Tamori and Yano] to produce oral sound effects, for example, the "zah" sound...recording the sounds in one take. I was really surprised by the talent shown by the two performers.

YS - I hear you used 30,000 cels to make Mizugumo Monmon (Mon Mon the Water Spider).

MIYAZAKI - To depict bubbles and the rippling of water takes a lot of cels, and the amount used is reflected in the cost. Making short films is definitely not commercial. But Studio Ghibli has a museum (Ghibli Museum, Mitaka). There, we don't need to worry about the commercial aspect of a film. You can't expect to have a more enjoyable job than that.

Nowadays, we live in an era of mass production and mass consumption, and films are no exception. You switch on [a video player] and you can watch screen images as often as you like. But, I believe, children's encounters with ideal visual images should not be like that. Our latest films are only available at the museum and I will be very happy if I am able to provide children with a different type of encounter with the visual arts.

Studio Ghibli, my animation company, is now amid something of a baby boom as two of our animators became fathers during the production of the shorts. I sent each of the new-born children greeting cards saying, "Your father was working on these films when you were still inside your mother. He did a great job." That was a really happy experience for me.

YS - You have received a number of prizes, including the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2002 and an Oscar for best animated feature film in 2003 for Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away), which first came out in 2001. Hauru no Ugoku Shiro also was awarded the Osella prize for outstanding technical contribution at the Venice International Film Festival.

MIYAZAKI - Prizes do not mean anything to me. I think it is more important to make a child aware of the existence of a weird creature like a water spider that breathes through its backside.

In Yadosagashi, the leading character, a girl, encounters a lot of bugs when she spends a night at an empty house. The insects stop approaching her after she draws a line between herself and them.

That kind of thing would never happen in real life. But children like to play with these kinds of rules that stop you from crossing some kind of boundary. I think it is important to hold on to that kind of sensitivity. It also is important to have the feeling that everything in the world has a life. That is why the girl observes civilities [toward bugs, trees and shrines].

If I were told I could make a film on any theme I liked, I would like to do the legendary story of the people who escaped the fire during the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. These people took refuge on the Sumidagawa river aboard small boats tied up in the Fukagawa area of Tokyo. It is said that the people worked together to cool down the wooden boats, which were crackling in the intense heat, by showering them with water. I would love to re-create these scenes in an animation.

I also dream of making an animation about Edo at the time of Ota Dokan (1432-1486) [the warlord who built Edo Castle].

Actually, there's one unreleased screenplay I've already completed. It's the story of transportation at the end of Meiji era (1868-1912) on the Shinkashigawa river [that runs from what is now Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, into the Sumidagawa river]. I've had our staff animators visit local museums and read books to research the techniques of boatmen at the time and how they sculled boats.

I wanted to make a movie with this scenario so reference libraries could use it as educational material. But it's too long--30 minutes long--so I had to give up on the idea. I'm still ready to produce it if there's someone willing to fund the rest of the project.

YS - Studio Ghibli is producing a new animated film, Gedo Senki (Tales from Earthsea) [adapted from the fantasy novel Earthsea series by U.S. author, Ursula K. Le Guin]. The movie will open in July and is directed by your son, Goro Miyazaki. What are your thoughts?

MIYAZAKI - I won't say anything [about the movie], lend a hand or even look it over. I'm not involved in any way. I'm keeping myself to myself in my studio as whenever we see each other we quickly start to feel tension.

The relationship between a parent and a child isn't easy or simple. And I myself have my own standards to evaluate other people as professionals--whoever they may be.

But I'd never say, "Give up!" even if I didn't like something he was doing. I've never said anything like that to him.

YS - You turned 65 last week (Jan. 5). You say it's still not the time to talk about your next project.

MIYAZAKI - I haven't talked with anyone about it yet. Once I start talking, the idea will start to go flat. It's curious how the brain works. As long as it has some capacity, it keeps coming up with ideas. When it stops generating ideas, it's all over.

Creation is always a series of regrets, but Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi was an exception. I felt really good when I was creating it. I'd always wanted to visualize a train running on the surface of the sea, and I think we came up with the scene that perfectly matches that image.

I'd also wanted to create an image of shooting stars falling in a blaze of light right from the time when I was wondering if I should become a manga artist or an animator. I achieved this visualization in Hauru. I have other images I'd like to visualize, too, but I'm not sure if I really can do so. I don't have much time left.

These shorts, though, are among the things I've wanted to do. The celebrities aside, at the end of each of the films I credited all our staff members in random order in one shot. I don't like recent movies that roll the credits on and on and on. Doing the same thing for a short could even be considered insulting to the audience. It was fun to do it this other way.

This time round it struck me that Studio Ghibli had the world's best studio in terms of potential. You can say that in terms of cinematography, computer graphics, sound recording, personal connections and sincerity toward the work...in every aspect really. Nowhere else can make shorts like these. But having said that, we're just a group of average people with poor skills. Check out Ghibli Museum.

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