Producer Suzuki's Interview About Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo on a Cliff
When it comes to animated movies, as much as I love Pixar, I have a special spot in my heart for Hayao Miyazaki's films as well (check his IMDb page for a list). Castle in the Sky and Howl's Moving Castle are two of my all-time favorites that are easily as good as, if not better than, most of the live-action movies on my personal top 10 list. After making Howl's Moving Castle in 2004, Miyazaki's next full length feature animated movie is one called Ponyo on a Cliff about a goldfish princess. The film hits theaters this upcoming June in Japan, but won't arrive in America until late 2009. Long-time Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki (pictured above) recently did an interview with a Japanese magazine and compliments of GhibliWorld.com, it's been translated for English readers. If you're a Miyazaki fan in the slightest, you'll want to check out this very detailed and inspiring interview.
If you're curious to learn what Ponyo on a Cliff is actually about, IMDb's listing explains the plot as the following: An animated adventure centered on a 5-year-old boy and his relationship with a goldfish princess who longs to become human. But Suzuki explains it in a much more humanistic way.
"The story is very simple, mixing an old tale and The Little Mermaid. A young little female fish is swimming and puts her head into a jar. She can't put it off, is washed ashore and is found by a 5 year old boy. The boy helps her and they quickly fall in love with each other. And where does the story go? It just like Urashima Taro. As the story is very simple, we are focusing on its expression to make it richer and more complex."
Suzuki talks at length in the beginning about Miyazaki and his inspiration for his wonderful films. Like Shigeru Miyamoto, another profound entertainment mogul from Japan, Miyazaki is an incredibly creative individual inspired by his surroundings and the life he lives. Suzuki shares how Miyazaki was inspired for a few of his movies:
"Miyazaki is a person who has always been influenced a lot by the places he lived or to which he had traveled. For example, after he visited Yakushima he created Nausicaa [of the Valley of the Winds] and he got the idea of [Kiki's Delivery Service] after he visited Sweden. In addition, some of Ghibli's films got located around Tama (a western Tokyo suburb), but we got bored of it."
He goes on to tell Miyazaki's most recent life story about a small town in the Setonai-kai area, where Miyazaki eventually lived for 2 months because he loved it so much. The story Suzuki recalls is even something that he says he isn't supposed to share, because it's so personal, but he goes on to say that it was "Miyazaki's long-cherished dream" to build a real nursery in this small town. And subsequently as he lived in this town and his imagination grew, this is where the idea for Ponyo on a Cliff originated. Miyazaki initially called it "Gake no Shita no Iya Iya En (The No No Nursery School under the Cliff)" because the house he lived in was on a cliff, and he told Suzuki, "this is my life's wish…"
You would think after 37 years of directing animation, Miyazaki would've reached a peak and discovered the best ways to represent any and everything with animation. But if you've ever seen a Miyazaki film, you know that isn't the case - each and everyone is as visually stunning as the last. Suzuki goes on to talk about the animation in Ponyo, explaining that Miyazaki is still intricately involved in the process, even hand drawing most of it. Apparently "80% of [Ponyo on a Cliff] is sea," and Suzuki talks about how Miyazaki tackled the idea of "expressing" the water.
"The waves are an important theme. He never makes others draw the waves. He draws them all by himself. He is devising to find a better way on how to express waves and sea. He is enjoying it. I don't know if it works well."
"The appearance of the movie is different. Usual audiences might say 'Aha… this is a different Miyazaki from what I'm used to…' The backgrounds are also different. Not so many handed. I think those are going very well…"
Another important aspect of animation nowadays surrounds using CG to create even 2D animated movies. Although Pixar is incredible in its own right, hand drawn 2D animation is a beloved style that still lives on today. Suzuki recalls an experience making Howl's Moving Castle where they converted some of their animation to CG initially, but later went back to hand drawing the remainder mid-way through because "it didn't seem very natural."
"If a movie at one point is made by the highest tech, it will become outdated soon. There is one more point. We tried CG on Howl's. For example, the legs of the castle were made by CG. However, it didn't seem very natural to me and I told Miyazaki that his skill was better than that of a computer. He accepted it and quit using CG after that. Hence the latter half of Howl's doesn't include any CG. We now know CG has both its plus and minus sides. So the theme of this movie is as the story: simple. The visual effects are simple as well, while on the other hand it needs very hard working because of the drawing all it by hand."
And to wrap things up, as we wait another year to finally see Ponyo on a Cliff, although very humble, Suzuki says that he has "a hunch it might become a masterpiece." He explains: "Miyazaki basically has a viewpoint of watching the essence of human in nature. He also has the dynamism of bold stories. He has kept both of these."
Suzuki does also confirm that the film is progressing smoothly and should be done on time for a June release in Japan. Disney will be releasing the film in America around October of 2009, most likely in theaters with dubbed voices.
It's incredibly inspiring to hear this story about Miyazaki (pictured left) and the upcoming Ponyo on a Cliff. Whether Miyazaki is well-known in America or not, it can't be denied that he is one of the most profound filmmakers ever in the history of cinema. After watching Howl's Moving Castle a few years back and first hearing about Ponyo on a Cliff, I've been anxiously looking forward to it, ready to discover another animated gem. The process of making an entire film at Studio Ghibli certainly takes a very long time, but with Miyazaki involved, in the end it will certainly pay off with, hopefully, another masterpiece.
To read the complete interview with Toshio Suzuki, head over to GhibliWorld.com.