So I got to see Miyazaki do a rare in-person interview with Roland Kelts last month in Berkeley. I didn’t have the best of seats, but it was still a memorable experience nonetheless. I gotta say, I don’t know of any Japanese animator (or animator, period, other than maybe John Lasseter) who is as revered in the U.S. as Miyazaki is. The audience was hanging onto his every word.
A good part of the interview was devoted to Ponyo, his newest movie. Having seen it twice, I’d say go watch it, but it’s definitely more geared towards kids than most of his films are. I’m more into the dark and heavy stuff, so I didn’t enjoy it as much as other people did, but it’s still got that definitive Miyazaki spark.
Here are little bits and pieces of the on-stage conversation:
Kelts: Some of you might be a fan of what we in America call, in very broad terms – “anime,” or animation that comes from Japan. As many of you know, most anime films are based on manga series, or graphic novel series. And yet Miyazaki-san has more or less abandoned that approach and carved his own way by developing his own ideas and feature films. I’m wondering, what led to that?
Miyazaki: I think we can just enjoy manga by reading manga as they are. Of course if you animate it, you can perhaps add some features to the manga, but I think if you can avoid making animation through manga, it would be better.
Manga and film, or animation, have very different concepts of time and space, and unless you’re very aware of that, then the animation becomes very boring and uninteresting. In animation, we are very intent on showing that we have drawn this; that time and space flow as we have drawn the frames.
In the U.S., animation films tend to be storyboarded, and storyboards tend to be done by a group of artists. But I know that you do your own storyboards yourself. Do you think there’s an advantage to having a single artistic vision dominate a storyboard?
In Japan, it’s customary to have the director draw the storyboards. Occasionally there’s several people working on it – someone perhaps draws the storyboard and someone else films – but that’s not the usual method. In fact, there’s almost a condition to become a director, to be able to draw a storyboard. So if a person can’t draw a storyboard, then he might be thought of unnecessary to the production. (pause) That’s one way to think about it. (audience laughs)
I know you do a lot of thinking about a story to come up with the original idea for a new film. And I wonder, how do you know when you have the first illustration that you can develop into an entire feature length animation? What is it that tells you that you’ve got something and are ready to proceed?
Of course, depending on the film, it’s different. But it’s only when I’ve tried something that I realize I can’t go on this path anymore; that I can’t push this idea anymore. Then I have to abandon it and find something else that I think will work. It might be kind of a loser’s way of thinking about it, but I tell my staff that they have to really struggle and do something that’s kind of useless and impossible first and then maybe they’ll find something.
We want our characters to end up being happy in the film, but we can’t have that happen in an un-persuasive way. We have to satisfy the audience’s wishes and make them really believe that the characters have really done something to make themselves happy. So whether it’s through effort or by accident, we have to find the best ending – or the best ending might find us in some sort of mysterious way.
Has that process become any easier for you over the decades of work or has it become more difficult?
Each time I do a film I feel like I’ve just been able to get through it and I hope that people don’t find the weaknesses that show that I’ve just managed to get through it. (audience laughs) After a film is made, I don’t want to see it again. I try to forget about it as soon as possible.
With each Miyazaki film that’s come out, we’ve been told that this might be the last.
I told my wife when I was doing my second film – Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind – that I don’t want to go through this kind of pain anymore. So since I say this every time, for every film, it has become less persuasive over the years. I’ve been trying not to say this, at home at least.
Regarding this new crop of up and coming animators that you’re training at Ghibli now – in my experience, having recently written about the anime industry in Japan, one of the challenges that the industry faces today is finding and keeping young talent.
Actually, from the beginning of television and animation, it’s been very difficult to have enough animators to satisfy. Nowadays, we’re kind of avoiding the problem by sending out work to China and Korea, but the problem hasn’t been solved, nor have conditions improved. In our company, we are determined to keep drawing with pencils and rowing a bark among many high-speed boats. We promote the hypothesis, which has no basis at all, that we can actually keep going like this. At least we want to assure people’s wages and a place to work.
Can you explain for audience members who are perhaps accustomed to CGI or computer-generated animation what the virtues are of rowing your lonely boat amongst the speed boats? Why?
Since it involves a lot of drudgework to draw by human hand, we thought it might be simpler to have a computer draw or use computer graphics, so we hired a young person to do the computer drawing. But we realized that we could draw faster by hand than by the computer so I make it a matter of thinking that we should be more casual about drawing animation. I think we’re freer when we’re able to draw by hand – when the character is feeling very downtrodden, we can draw him very small. When the character is feeling very confident, we can draw his head bigger and make it show the feelings that he has. It’s difficult for computers to give this kind of feeling.
That’s all the transcribing I was able to do. For a full transcription by someone much more experienced, visit here
-posted by Shirley Mak