Interview: Writer, Director, and Animator Hayao Miyazaki
by Alex Billington
August 10, 2009
A couple of weeks ago I had the tremendous honor of interviewing the legendary Hayao Miyazaki in Los Angeles for the US release of his newest film Ponyo (watch the trailer). This was his first trip to America in more than five years and it was a truly rare and incredible experience to meet one of the greatest filmmakers in history. I've been a big Miyazaki fan for a very long time and I've always loved his films, with Castle in the Sky being my personal favorite. Ponyo (which arrives in theaters on Friday) is another wonderful addition to his already extraordinary filmography and just I can't suggest it enough, especially for kids. Read on!
This interview was conducted by both myself and Steve from Collider (that's the only way Disney could get us time with him). Miyazaki spoke in Japanese and was translated on the spot, which is why it's a bit short overall. We each took turns asking questions; I've included all of them below, as it's a great interview. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this very rare one-of-a-kind interview with the legendary Hayao Miyazaki!
We are going to try to ask you questions you have not been asked before.
Miyazaki: That's alright!
My first question is, have you ever thought about putting in any of your previous characters in any of your other movies as almost an "Easter egg" in the background?
Miyazaki: As a joke, the staff sometimes wants to put it in or tries to, but I haven't considered that myself, no. So the little character might be [drawn] way off at the side. In the scene where they put the banners up on the boats after it's flooded, and they're rowing the boats, etc., it says, "Numa Kuma Shrine" on it. Okay? And the whole setting is supposed to be kind of an anonymous town, but the actual town of Tomonoura, where I got the idea for the town, has a Numa Kuma Shrine. So then people realize that it's a real place.
Of course, the local people in Tomonoura were very happy that their town was shown, but that was a little bit of a joke. And I was -- I thought of maybe changing it, and fixing it, but it was written in characters, in Chinese characters, and the banner is moving in the wind, so it was really hard, a lot of effort to try to get rid of all that, so I just let it go.
You've done so much in animation, what are the challenges for you nowadays? And with Ponyo, were creating the waves the biggest challenge on this one?
Miyazaki: The greatest challenge we have right now is that my staff has aged along with me, and so we need to get some fresh blood into our studio. And we're making those efforts, but that's a big challenge we have. But of course I don't want to fire my old staff, so I want them to stay on, and we are trying to figure out ways where they can continue to work, as well as [bring on] new staff.
The waves weren't as difficult as I thought they would be. So as I was drawing, I thought, "Well, I should have done this from beginning." I realized that I should do it like an Ukiyo-e woodblock print, draw them that way.
I wanted to know, many of your films deal with the environmental damage to our planet. Have you ever thought about doing a more real world, futuristic movie that shows the real damage we're doing to our planet, and trying to incorporate that, almost as a real world sci-fi film, say taking place 100 or 200 years in the future?
Miyazaki: So many films like that have been made by other people, that I can't see a new kind of image that we could use to make a movie about environmental damage. I don't think there's anything we can sort of add in terms of an interest in spiritual aspects. If I draw flooded buildings, or if I draw a town at the bottom of the sea, then I think people say, "Oh, that's just like some other films that we've seen."
Do you think hand drawn animation will always exist forever? And will you continue to hand draw your films as long as you can?
Miyazaki: There are so many ships in the animation sea that are computer driven, that I think we can have at least one that's just a log raft that we can row by hand.
I have heard you are extremely famous in Japan. And I'm curious, being in America, I believe you're probably a little bit more anonymous. What have you been able to enjoy with your anonymity here in America?
Miyazaki: This is a hard-schedule week, so I'm tired, so I haven't been able to enjoy much. [laughs] I was surprised that San Francisco was so chilly!
If you have a little extra time, what would be the kind of things you would enjoy doing, if you had the free time?
Miyazaki: I have to rush back to continue doing the manga drawings that I'm doing as sort of a hobby of mine.
I wanted to know, many filmmakers have scripts that are lying around. Things that they've developed, things that maybe they'll get to down the road. Do you have a lot of scripts that you've written, or ideas that you have possibly fleshed out, that you hope, that are just waiting for you to have the time to do them?
Miyazaki: We are in the entertainment business, so our projects should be entertainment projects. I have quite a few scripts and ideas that wouldn't be that entertaining, that are more serious, but if I insist on making those, then Studio Ghibli would sink. So I can't make those.
As a follow-up, you have reached a point in your career where so many audiences are so interested in what you're doing. Do you really think that if you made something that wasn't as commercially viable that the audiences wouldn't come to see your vision?
Miyazaki: They won't come. [laughs] The things that I'm thinking of are just really my own little hobbies that -- so there's things like what the area of Tokyo was like before people lived there, and how it has changed as people started living there. And maybe a history museum might be interested in something like this, but the general audience would have no interest.
I think there is a way of making that story work. I do.
Miyazaki: Rather than making that a good project, I like to make the kinds of films that children can understand in five minutes what the film is about.
Being people who love films, we're sort of "geeks," and we love to collect different items. Is there anything that you love to collect as well?
Miyazaki: I'm not a collector. [laughs]
Thank you to everyone at Disney and Studio Ghibli, especially Andrew, for coordinating this interview. Miyazaki's Ponyo arrives in US theaters this Friday, August 14th, so make sure you get out and see it! It's a another wonderful Ghibli film that both kids and adults will enjoy.