INTERVIEWS

Interview: Writer, Director, and Animator Hayao Miyazaki

by
August 10, 2009

Hayao Miyazaki

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.

Ponyo Poster

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  • gabe the Accuser
    This might be alittle off topic but I dont have a problem with this cast becasue it does seem to have some of the most strongest actors and actresses in the Business, but I am starting to hate this trend where traditional Anime Voice actors are being replaced with celebrity actors in other films.
  • shellghost
    I hate the practice of dubbing altogether, I mean people in the US are the only ones that really prefer to watch a film and listen to dubbed dialoge instead of listening the entire master work as it is. To me that's just LAZY.
  • http://www.galaxykid.net Johnny Neat
    Where do they sale his glasses?! Who makes them? Anyone? Anyhow love this guy.
  • Scully
    Miyazaki is THE MAN!!. A Co-worker gave me a copy of "My Neighbor Totoro" back in the Mid 90's when it just came out here on VHS, that they received as a Promo Gift for some project they worked on. My 2 Girls and I Loved that Movie so much it was a Nightly Watch for a very long time. Ever since then we have been Big Fans of all of Miyazaki's works. We look forward to his New Releases and always get it on DVD when it finally comes out here. I advise Everyone I know with Children to see his films (minus Princess Mononoke due to the Bloody scenes of course). It's a Real Shame that his films were never released here prior to "Spirited Away", but at least now his work is getting some recognition here in the states. Great Stories. Great Animation. Master Artist. Truly 1 of the World's All-Time Greatest Filmakers.
  • Dreckent
    I found quite interesting the part when he talked about his personal projects. Would be awesome to know more about them. Nice work Alex!
  • xtheory
    "I have heard you are extremely famous in Japan." Was this the wording of the question verbatim? If so, yikes. The man is a living legend in Japan and has one of the most recognizable countenances in the entire country. Moreover, with all of his artistic accomplishments and his entire body of work in mind and the limited time you had with him, this question is one of the best you guys could come up with? How he handles anonymity in the US? C'mon now.
  • dspot
    I can understand how people do not like the dubbing, but come on that is all anyone ever says when I read an American review of his movies. Most of his movies are for children. You really think a child in the USA will sit and watch a movie that is subtitled? I can understand how the dubbing is annoying, but I am sorry I do not know a single kid that would sit and read subtitles while watching a movie. So of course Disney makes a dubbed version of the movie in America. Im just tired of every review being a bad one strictly because of the dubbing. To each his own. If you like the dubbing fine, if not watch the subtitled version.
  • Korm
    Right on, #5
  • DoomCanoe
    "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?" every single movie he has made has some sort of reference to "My Neighbor Totoro" be it a theme song being whistled or a character mentioning. No joke I've caught them all he straight up lied to you man
  • Silver
    lol #9
  • Paulo
    #9, like what? I've only caught the soots (?) in Spirited Away.
  • snickers
    For me personally, Miyzazki's greatest achievement in animation will always be 1986's Laputa: Castle in the Sky. The subbed version, not the awful Disney dub.
  • Doc Brown
    I can understand that people don't like dubs. But what I can't understand is why they bash Disney's dubs of Ghibli films. Honestly, they're some of the best dubs I've ever heard, they're always of amazing quality. People complain that they get celebrities to do the voice overs, but I see nothing wrong with that. If they're an A-list actor onscreen why wouldn't they be when voice acting? I've always preferred the dubs of Ghibli films and I'm usually a sub-only guy. To each his own, I guess, but people need to lighten up about this.
  • snickers
    Well it's a personal preference, and some of us really don't like the English dubs. And the Disney dubs sound dumbed-down for what they think is the audience for these films. Celebrity voices are just distracting to me, and some actors clearly are not very good at providing just voices to characters.
  • Doc Brown
    In what way are the Disney dubs dumbed down? They always seem to be very faithful to the original script, never changing the meaning of things or significantly changing the dialogue, at least as far as I can recall. Do you have any examples of them going out of their way to purposefully dumb down the script? I mean, Miyazaki himself wouldn't agree to any licensing of his films unless they were presented completely unedited. Wouldn't changing the script violate that?
  • snickers
    The scripts differ slightly because of the differences in culture, but also because Disney wants to market them more for children, and the dialogue seems more juvenile and contains unnecessary exposition. Often it's the poor delivery of simple lines of dialogue by the English actors which destroys the script. I recently watched Castle in the Sky, My Neighbour Totoro and Princess Mononoke, and flicked between the audio streams. There's just no comparison which is the better one.
  • http://www.stoeker.com Jojo
    I want his glasses. Where do I get them?
  • Glass
    Ugh, ultra-hack Miyazaki is pouring out more of his cinematic sludge? These guys are ruining animation. Pixar will continue to ejaculate directly in his face because their movies have a compulsive need to have interesting characters, developed stories and narratives that actually make sense. Fuck this shiteater.
    • daaviiapps101
      As a matter of fact, that's what makes a good movie, so fuck Pixar. And you'll be glad to know that Pixar is based on Studio Ghibli.

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