If you know the work of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, you don’t need to guess my reaction when Disney offered me an interview with the legendary filmmaker here in Los Angeles last week. As one of Japan’s greatest animation directors, his work is known the world over and his films have inspired millions. “Howl’s Moving Castle”, “Spirited Away”, and “Princess Mononoke” are some of his most recent films in an artistically rich and prolific career. Hayao Miyazaki is a living legend and it was a dream for me to sit down and ask him some questions.
Here’s what you need to know: Since Hayao had limited time, Disney offered Alex from FirstShowing and I a combined interview, so it was just the two of us taking turns asking questions. While we were given 15 minutes, Miyazaki uses a translator, so the interview isn’t as long as a typical 15-minute interview. I didn’t care. Just getting a few minutes was an amazing experience and one I will never forget.
Finally, since Hayao Miyazaki went to Comic-Con and has been doing a lot of press recently, Alex and I agreed to try and ask some questions that we hadn’t read online or heard him already answer. If you want to read about why he wanted to make Ponyo or the standard Q&A, there’s plenty of places to find it elsewhere. For questions you haven’t read or heard anywhere else, you’re in the right place. Read our conversation after the jump:
As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the interview by clicking here.”Ponyo” gets released this Friday and it’s a typical Hayao Miyazaki film…amazing.
Steve (Collider): We are going to try to ask you questions you have not been asked before.
Miyazaki: That’s alright!
Steve: 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 written [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.
Alex (FirstShowing): You’ve done so much in animation, what are the challenges for you nowadays, and with Ponyo, were 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 have [bring on] new staff. So 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.
Steve: 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 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.”
Alex: 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.
Steve: I have heard you are extremely famous in Japan. So 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!
Steve: 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.
Steve: 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.
Steve: 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.
Steve: 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.
Alex: 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]