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Interview with Miyazaki

Animerica Anime & Manga Monthy magazine interview with Hayao Miyazaki

Copywrite 1997 Viz Communications, Inc.

ANIMERICA (interview done by Takashi Oshiguchi, 1993): First I'd like to ask you about Porco Rosso. It's received a lot of attention due to the fact that it's been the biggest money-maker of all your films. How do you feel about it's box-office success?

(HAYAO) MIYAZAKI: It was an unexpected hit. I was telling everyone, "This one's not going to go well, so don't get your hopes up." No one was more suprised than I when the film was a financial success.

ANIMERICA: Why is that?

MIYAZAKI: To my mind, animation is for children. Porco Rosso flies in the fact of that assumption. Morever, as a producer I still think Porco Rosso is too idiosyncratic a film for a toddlers-to-old-folks general audience. That it turned out to be a hit was an unexpected stroke of luck. It's actually kind of disturbing.

ANIMERICA: If you felt that way about it, why did you undertake the project in the first place?

MIYAZAKI: The biggest reason lies in Miyazaki's personality. ::LAUGHS:: The dangerous thing about him, particularly in terms of business, is that every once in a while he feels a sudden urge to stand everything he's ever done on its head.
I've very earnestly made a number of films for children, such as My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service and, as a producer, Omohide Poro Poro (lit., "Falling Tears of Remembrance," also known as Only Yesterday). After that, frustration began to build. Somewhere in the back of my mind, this idea started to take root that animation should be more fun, more absurd, and I just couldn't control this feeling.<
It was precisely at such a dangerous moment that, for a variety of reasons, we found ourselves commited to making a 45-minute film exclusively for screening on international flights. Actually, no one was more at loss over this commitment that I. All the while I was saying to myself, "We're just doing this just for laughs," but as it turns out, everyone else was thinking of it as a new movie--so much so that I had to start taking their expectations seriously.
What's more, I began to realize that the staff--who I could have sworn were thoroughly sick of working on all these serious projects--weren't sick of them at all. I had totally misread the situation. I thought to myself, "This is no good. I've got to get my act together." So as I'm frantically trying to catch up, forty-five minutes turns into ninety minutes, we have trouble with the animation, and expenses begin to mount to the point where the only way we can hope to recover our investment is to make it a general theatrical release. Then one day our producer, Mr. Suzuki, announces his decision to make this into a full-fledged movie and I think to myself, "YIKES!! This is bad--there's no way this is going to be a hit!! ::LAUGHS:: I was really worried.

ANIMERICA: As far back as a year ago, way before the film was released, I heard people talking about how the film had all the elements of a success. It had a retro theme, it was animated, and Miyazaki was involved with it.

MIYAZAKI: Well I never trusted the response of industry people. ::LAUGHS:: They're too conservative. They've always been a step behind the times. If industry people knew what they were talking about, the movie business wouldn't be on the decline like it is. Moviegoers aren't fools. You might get lucky and score a hit with a film that has no substance, but you won't get away with it twice. Now, the decision to go ahead with Porco Rosso may have evolved in a half-assed way, but when it came to the actual production of the film, we gave it everything we had.

ANIMERICA: So it's not just anime but the Japanese film industry in general that's pretty rough?

MIYAZAKI: If this business were easy, it would be a sin. It doesn't bother me that it's rough. What's really rough, though, is that the damage from a single failure can be fatal. People become too timid and end up making boring stuff. It seems to me that things have gotten rough in the American film industry, as well. In the old days, all they had to do was make love-conquers-all type movies. I don't know how much the people in Hollywood actually believed in love personally...they were probably more concerned with getting a home in Beverly Hills. But at one time that illusion held sway throughout the world.
It doesn't anymore. Or rather, it might be more accurate to say that movies today are about the psychology surrounding love. And these days they seem obliged to overdo everything. The goal now is to throw a huge amount of money at a project, do a huge promotion, and mobolize a huge number of viewers. But don't you think most of the best movies are those which were the end result of small productions?
When you watch Ben-Hur these days, it's so ridiculous, it's embarassing. But weren't My darling Clemntine, The Third Man and Casablanca small productions? And they're still excellent films. So it would be wrong to complain that it's paticularly hard in Japan. Filmmakers throughout the world are dealing with difficult issues peculiar to their own societies. One thing that can be said with certainty about Japan is that people want to see quality films. The need is there. And the money is there. I think that in order to meet that demand, we need new talent.

ANIMERICA: The question everyone is asking is, "Why did you make the hero a pig?"

MIYAZAKI: It's because I wouldn't want to draw a character like that as a human being. ::LAUGHS::

ANIMERICA: I've been reading MODEL GRAPHIX since the serial began. When Porco Rosso first showed up, I thought that it would make for some interesting animation...

MIYAZAKI: Pigs are creatures which might be loved, but they are never respected. They're synonymous with greed, obesity, debauchery. The word "pig" itself is used as an insult. I'm not an agnostic or anything, but I don't like a society that parades its righteousness. The righteousness of the U.S., the righteousness of Islam, the righteousness of China, the righteousness of this or that ethnic group, the righteousness of Greenpeace, the righteousness of the entrepreneur.... They all claim to be righteous, but they all try to coerce others into complying with their own standards. They restrain others through huge military power, economic power, political power or public opinions.
I myself have a number of things I believe are right. And some things make me angry. Actually, I'm a person who gets angry a lot more easily than most people, but I always try to start from teh assumption that human beings are foolish. I'm disgusted by the notion that man is the ultimate being, chosen by God. But I believe there are things in this world that are beautiful, that are important, that are worth striving for. I made the hero a pig because that was what best suited these feelings of mine.

ANIMERICA: About mecha. Have you liked that sort of thing since you were a child?

MIYAZAKI: Hmm. It wasn't mecha so much as drawing tanks and warships that I liked. I was a shy boy who was not very good at expressing himself. I think such children find ways like that to express their yearning for power and strength. I suppose nowadays that takes the form of air guns, video games, remote-controlled craft and the like. Motorbikes, too, are often used that way. But as we grow to adulthood, the core of taht interest shifts accordingly. At first, it's the capabilities and forms of the machines that facinate us, but in my case, my interest shifted to the dramas of the people who build them and who are made to use them.

ANIMERICA: Did you ever want to become a pilot?

MIYAZAKI: No, I don't think so. Even now, if you were going to give me a plane ride, I'd like to fly through a sky with some interesting clouds. I would enjoy seeing what kind of view there is, but I'm not really interested in flying for the sake of flying. A lot of different flying sports have come into being, so I suppose I could do it if I wanted to, but in order to do that, I'd probably have to give up something else. For expample, I wouldn't want to have to cut back on time spent relaxing in a mountain cabin or pouring all my energy into creating a film. I'd like to have a seaplane, but there wouldn't be any point without a beautiful body of water to maneuver on and a place to hide out in. And most of all I would need a society where one could fly and land as one pleased. I'd be in trouble if I were forced into speaking with an air traffic controller in English. English is not my forte, after all. ::LAUGHS::

ANIMERICA: A friend of mine whose pilot father had seen your movies and your read your manga wondered if you'd done a lot of research on technical matters.

MIYAZAKI: No, numbers aren't my forte either, so I don't read complicated books. Besides, I don't really like apirplanes that've been made since the Douglas DC-3. ::LAUGHS:: I'll fly in a jet airliner if I have to, but I'm not the kind of person who wishes they made jets with tatami floors.

ANIMERICA: So it's really form that interests you?

MIYAZAKI: Yes, but there's more to it than that. I drive a certain German car and the wheel lugs are really hard to get off. They won't budge if you don't jump up and down on the wrench. When I'm doing something like that, I'll find myself thinking something along the lines of, "Man, I bet it must have been hard getting the lugs off the wheels of one of those heavy German tanks. It would be really awful if, to top it all off, there was sleet falling and you were knee-deep in mud and shells started exploding all around you." This sort of fantasy will be running through my head as I'm taking the tire off.
There was a triple-engine plane in Italy called the Savoia-Marchetti S.M. 79 for which I've just happened to get a good diagram. So, I'm trying to recreate in my mind what the interior space of that plane must have been like. If I went to Italy, I could see the actual airplane in a museum, but I'd much rather piece together the interior of the plane in my mind, than go and see the real thing.
It's something like philology.... It's strange, I know. But if I were to see the real thing, I'd lose my motivation. ::LAUGHS:: There was this diagram of a handle for which I didn't know the purpose, so I thought about it and thought about it until finally I figured out that it must have been used to pull a metal cover over the glass gondola in the belly of the S.M. 79 to protect it during landing. I was really thrilled with myself for figuring it out. ::LAUGHS:: I can just picture the Italian bombardier dragging the cover up.

ANIMERICA: There was a plane in Lupin III called the Albatross, wasn't there? I didn't realize at the time that a plane like that had actually exsisted once.

MIYAZAKI: There was something like that, yes. I believe it was the "Dornier Do X" or something like that.

ANIMERICA: When you see a plane like that in a black and white film, it looks even bigger, don't you think?

MIYAZAKI: They do looks bigger. As if something that shouldn't be able to fly at all is flying magnificently. I prefer the planes from that period, from the '20s through the early '30s.

ANIMERICA: When illustrators in the early 1900s drew planes of the future, it wasn't jets they drew, but just a lot more propellers. I guess your own work is an extention of that.

MIYAZAKI: Those images are really interesting, even today. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is still interesting today, don't you think? Later, when submarines were actually built, the bottom of the sea was potrayed countless times, but none of those images were paticularly interesting. What makes 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea so interesting even today is that the sea depicted there isn't just any sea--it's a sea of the mind. At one time, flight, too, was something that just took place only in the world of imagination. It was potrayed with the sense that, "Wouldn't it be wonderful to be set free and fly through the sky?" Now it's strictly a matter of physics. I think it must have been different back then.

ANIMERICA: Even with all those propellers there's no way those things could have flown.

MIYAZAKI: No, they couldn't. But to children, those things make more sense. Children aren't interested in logic; to them, it's pure imagination.

ANIMERICA: Porco Rosso seems to be set in the 1930's...

MIYAZAKI: I'd wanted to do it somewhere around 1928, but the world depression hadn't begun at that time, and it still hadn't reached Italy by 1929, so it ended up taking place in 1930. We sort of fudged on the dates.

ANIMERICA: There were still biplanes at that time.

MIYAZAKI: Yes, there were a lot of biplanes in use. It's not that I have a paticular love of biplanes, but that I have a love of technology which no longer exsists. We can't go back and witness it, and there's something stirring about that impossibility, don't you think? That's what it is. That's what makes the past so stirring...the fact that you can never return to it. The fact that it can never be recovered. The period when the airplane seemed more significant, a period that can never be recovered, is teh 1920s and 1930s. The airplanes from the true dawn of aviation, the 1910s, are so rickety they just aren't interesting. But the skies of World War I were so cruel and tragic it's just too painful to potray them. When you get to the late '30s, you're in the world of the DC-3 and the direction aviation is taking is already carved in stone. And that's why they're boring.

ANIMERICA: What do you think of the animation industry today? Do you think it's heading in a good direction or a bad one?

MIYAZAKI: There's no denying we're in a boring period. There just isn't very much interesting stuff coming out. We're getting too many films whose budget limitations are making their seams show, so to speak, and not enough stimulating works. But the biggest problem is that we're not seeing any new talent emerge.

ANIMERICA: Does that go for television, too?

MIYAZAKI: Yes, but looked at another way, a boring period can be seen as a time for building up the energy needed for the next leap; a time for staffers to build up frustration. It's teh compression needed for an explosion. But it's also possible that we could just go on compressing and sputter out.

ANIMERICA: What do you think about new technologies such as computer graphics?

MIYAZAKI: I don't think it's paticularly useful in terms of labor-saving. It's a new form of expression, yes, but my sense is that the introduction of computer graphics has become a sort of competion with video games. If that's the case, well, video games will win. People who want to use computer graphics should use them, but personally I'm not interested.

ANIMERICA: Have you ever considered making a live-action film?

MIYAZAKI: I'm always bemoaning the fact that I haven't got enough energy even for animation. I wonder if I could possibly succeed in another genre.

ANIMERICA: The only work of yours that's appeared in the U.S. (in animated form) at this point is a modified version of Nausicaa, and yet your name has become very well established. I believe you once commented that your work wouldn't be understood outside of Japan.

MIYAZAKI: What I meant was that I discovered that my work was a product of a Japanese historical perspective and sense of nature, much more so than I myself had originally thought. I think popular culture tends to be conservative. So I have no plans to start making films with a global market in mind. I want to create enjoyment for Japanese children. If the children of other continents or islands enjoy my work as well, then to me that's just icing on the cake.

ANIMERICA: But the fact is, you already have many fans in other countries.

MIYAZAKI: I'm grateful for that. But Japan will always remain very much the foundation of my work.

ANIMERICA: So far, we've been talking about your work. Let's start focusing on Hayao Miyazaki the man. When you're not busy creating animation or doing manga, what do you do for relaxation?

MIYAZAKI: When I have the time, I like to go up to a cabin I have in the mountains. Sometimes friends will come by to visit me, but I also like to spend time alone. It reinvigorates me, hiking those mountain trails. After working on a film, it usually takes half a year for me to recover my mental and physical balance. I have to set aside time to recuperate. I guess when you add it all up, I'm not really working that many hours. ::LAUGHS::

ANIMERICA: One thing about the industry which isn't all that well-known abroad is the incredible amount of women working in the actual production of animation. What sort of relationship do you enjoy with the female members of your staff?

MIYAZAKI: One thing I've learned from working with women is that they have the ability to persevere. Men may be faster out the gate, but I also think men's concentration tends to lag over a period of time. Women, though...they can really dig in there for the long haul, once the goal is set. My experience is that, when working with a big staff, it's always best to have a diverse a group as possible. Group dynamics are alwasy the same, after all; you're just as likely to find the same ratio of "good people" in a group of priests as you are in a motorcycle gang. By "good people," I mean those who can lead and influence the whole group.

ANIMERICA: How about on a personal level? What about women in general?

MIYAZAKI: I don't really have a view toward women in general--like anyone else, there are those whom I like and those whom I don't. But then again, I can usually get along with just about any member of the female sex, so maybe it's correct to say I'm susceptible to feminine charms. ::LAUGHS::

ANIMERICA: Even when you're acting only as a producer, I understand that your approach to making films is very hands-on. What do you do when you can't get as involved in the actual production? Are there any directors to whom you feel you could entrust one of your films...?

MIYAZAKI: No, but believe me, I'm looking. ::LAUGHS:: The fact that my name was listed as a producer on recent Takahata film (the above-mentioned Omohide Poro Poro, produced by Studio Ghibli and released in 1991-Ed.) should be taken as nothing more than an effort on my part to reassure the investors. I didn't do much more producing than that. There are those who define a producer as someone who greenlights a project, secures consent from investors and assembles the staff--especially the director. I define a producer as someone whose fate is intertwined with his film, sharing the joys and heartbreaks of every precious frame. In that sense, as a producer, I was a failure.

ANIMERICA: "A failure"...?

MIYAZAKI: I left everything up to Takahata, you see. We both knew that my involvement as a producer in the film would mean conflict. It was inevitable. Neither of us are the compromising type. The same thing happens when he acts as a producer on my work. Ghibli desperately needs a new, talented diretor. We have yet to find one. At this rate, I'll be forced to keep participating in the actual production of films no matter how old I get. I wonder how realistic that is...

ANIMERICA: But you're still fairly young--you're still in your fifties, right?

MIYAZAKI: I am a director who actually draws animation. Maintaining my current level of involvement can't possibly last much longer. Believe me, I'll be the first to recognize my own limits. And I'd like to retire before someone suggests it to me. ::LAUGHS::

ANIMERICA: Is this age speaking, or are we talking about the artistic sensibilities between a director and his audience?

MIYAZAKI: It's not my sensibilities. Up until now, the animation I've been creating has been that which I enjoy myself, and that seems to have worked out okay. No matter how old or young you are, I think it's time to step down when your audience no longer enjoys your work, even though you yourself might. This doesn't apply to me, of course...not yet, anyway. ::LAUGHS::

ANIMERICA: So this talk about retiring is basically a matter of stamina, then.

MIYAZAKI: Yes, stamina and concentration. You can bolster your stamina with your concentration, but it doesn't necessarily work the other way around. My particular Achilles heel is my worsening eyesight. It seems to be lowering my concentration. It all comes down to how far you can push yourself. When you're making a film, your life has to revolve around it, both sleeping and awake. you've got to dictate all your hours to it. Only then can you actually say to yourself, "Hey, I'm making a film!" It's a tough row to hoe, but you can't really break through the "shell" of your "common sense" in any other way. If you can manage it, get really, intensely involved, you don't even catch colds, no matter how fatigued you might become. The last time I was on the verge of coming down with something, I swear I had to fend off the invading cold viruses by chewing them up with my teeth. Isn't that wretched? ::LAUGHS::

ANIMERICA: How depressing.... Let's talk about something else.


ANIMERICA: Do you feel that your works reflect the spirit of the times?

MIYAZAKI: Of course I do. There has never been a work of art created which didn't somehow reflect its own time.

ANIMERICA: Well then, let's talk about that. What kind of influences do you see in your works of the '70s and '80s?

MIYAZAKI: That's not for me as a filmmaker to explain. The audience should be able to intuit where I'm coming from. I will give a few simple clues, though. Nausicaa comes from the new world views regarding nature which came about in the '70s. Laputa is my challenge to the children who felt the world and therefore their lives were getting smaller, the possibilities more finite. You could say that among the children of the '70s and 80's, those sensibilities were nothing more than the negative result of the new world view. My Neighbor Totoro, now...Totoro is where my consciousness begins. It explains how my mind works. That the film was actually made in the first place says something important about what kind of era the '80s was. Kiki's Delivery Service shows another side of the '80s, that of Japanese economic prosperity. Even back then, I realized that just like the '80s, Kiki was sincere but somewhat lacking energy. For various reasons, it was a movie I had to make. Commercially, it was a success, but it left me with a personal sense of regret. Porco Rosso is a product of the early '90s, of my world views being challenged by real-world events. It's also the product of my resolve to overcome the challenge and build a stronger way of life, a stronger way of looking at things. Right now, I feel as though I understand my own philosophical conundrums a bit better then before, but the answers don't come to me easily, and I'm certain that my next work will reflect that.

ANIMERICA: It sounds as though you're moving on to your next creative plateau.

MIYAZAKI: That would be nice, but ultimately it's my own talents which will determine where I end up. Now that the interview is almost at a close...


MIYAZAKI: ...I want to make sure I'm not creating the wrong impression. While it's true that I do have a cynical side ::LAUGHS::, I'm usually cheerful and enthusiastic about things. Make no mistake--I'm not saying awake nights worrying about my talent or whether it's time for me to be put to pasture. ::LAUGHS:: I've always been so busy all my life; there's so many things I've always wanted to do but could never find time for before. If I'm going to be retiring from filmmaking, I'd like to devote my time to more important matters...

ANIMERICA: Such as...?

MIYAZAKI: Making a film means making entertainment for a lot of people. It's not the sort of thing you can quantify. Entertaining a group of people is no better or worse than entertaining just one person and making that individual happy. For example--this happened the other day--I have this funny-looking little three-wheeled red car which I use for my daily commute. I was parking it downstairs one day when a small child who was passing by just stopped in his tracks, staring open-mouthed. His eyes were popping out with amazement. His mother, who was with him, nudged him to go but he wouldn't budge. Eventually the boy drew closer and closer little by little and extended his hand as if to touch it. My car is a handmade English model, with this bare Italian motorcycle engine sticking out in front, and I worried that he might burn his hand by touching it so I said something really inane like "Don't touch it--that's hot" or something automatic like that. So the boy gave up and left with his mother. Later on, though, I really started to regret what I'd done. Sure, I was busy and pressed for time, but I really should have invited the little boy and his mother to go for a ride in the car. I could have given that boy a fantastic experience, one which would have lived forever in the fuzzy childhood memories of a five-year-old.
When I talk about devoting my time to more important matters, that's the kind of thing I'm talking about. A personal experience like that is more meaningful than any film. That should have been the way of someone who presumes to call himself an entertainer. Someday, maybe for some other small child, next time I'd like to give him a ride.


The serialization of the Nausicaa manga has since ended, but perhaps the largest change in Miyazaki's career came in 1996 when news of a landmark distribution deal between Miyazaki's longtime publisher Tokuma and Disney's Buena Vista distribution house was announced. Reportedly, the bones of the agreement include not only the rights to distribute Miyazaki's film in America, but in Japan, as well. What this means to the mainstream market is that, due to the size and marketing might of Buena Vista, Miyazaki's films would soon be availible on a much more widespread basis, and at a much reduced price.

As of this writing, Miyazaki's latest work, a full-length film titled Mononoke Hime("Monster Princess," or, according to Tokuma, "The Princess Mononoke," as the English release title may eventually read), has already debuted in Japanese Theatres. With a story set in mideval Japan, it's likely that it'll also be the first of Miyazaki's works to be released directly to a worldwide audience. (It is also interesting to note that, despite a stated aversion to same, MH is chock-full with computer graphics-effects.)

For those who've been "into" Miyazaki for a long time now, way back before any rumblings of a possible distribution deal with Disney ever came to light, there seems to exist a certain frustration. It's as though there's a resentment that it's taken an official nod from "the Mouse" to validate or somehow legitimize their interest in an artist many animation fans for years no have felt coutns among the greatest filmmakers of our generation... Japanese or otherwise.

Whether (as some fear) Disney's involvement will have bowdlerizing effects on his films--with a murderous look and her blood-smeared face, Mononoke Hime's eponymous princess is Miyazaki's grimmest heroine yet--remains to be seen. However, despite the fact that Miyazaki subsequently declared to the Japanese (and, by extension, the world) press that Mononoke Hime may be his "last and greatest work," surely the greatest acclaim for this artist is yet to come, as the world outside Japan becomes more aware of his unique filmmaking genius.