Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hayao Miyazaki Live

Anime and manga legend Hayao Miyazaki in conversation. July 25, 2009.
Location: Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley.

The legendary animator takes the stage -- to a standing ovation, of course.

To the left: Roland Kelts (Tokyo University lecturer and author of Japanamerica) asking the questions. To his right, the translator, Beth something...

Topics discussed:

-- Apocalypse as a theme in his films (he once thought the end of the world would happen in his lifetime, but at his age (68), that's not likely now...laughs).

-- With our interactions increasingly virtual, is that a bad thing? (It's all relative...)

-- Where does he go to find inspiration? (Walks near his house...)

-- He's told his wife as far back as Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (1984) that it would be his last film, due to the amount of work involved. Twenty-five years and eight more films later, he doesn't say that much, at least at home.

-- Making an animated film becomes so involving that when it's complete, he doesn't want to watch them again.

-- Which is his favorite among his films? Well, each film is like his child, and if you have eight children, you can't say you love one more than the others!

-- How do you think audiences will view his films 50 years from now? (He makes films grandmothers want to show their grand kids, rather than films mothers would take their kids.)

-- Why the tendency for strong girls as protagonists in your films? (Well, of the current crop of 20 or so animators he's hired and is training for his Studio Ghibli, only one is a man. Maybe I have to start making films with strong boy characters.)

-- There are rarely any truly evil bad guys in his films...(He doesn't want to have to draw that; and reality is never as simple as all good or all bad.)

-- On expressive eyes: In My Neighbor Totoro, he wanted his artists to draw Totoro's eyes so that you can't tell whether it's intelligent or not. As for the insect Ohmu from Nausicaa, you really have no clue with so many eyes.

-- His advice to young animators and artists: Draw everything around you for inspiration.

-- Some animators he considers contemporaries: Pixar's John Lasseter and Nick Park of Aardman Animation.

-- On true love in his films: It has to be earned after the overcoming obstacles (and he speculates things will be tough for Sosuke and Ponyo after the movie's (Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea)over...).

-- On overcoming writer's block: When he gets stuck he would concentrate so hard that his nose bleed...

-- On the Japanese government viewing Anime and Manga as "soft-power": Well, the government won't be around much longer (laughs)! But his films are mostly intended for Japanese audiences. The fact that they've found an audience outside of Japan is just a bonus.

(ED: Japanese PM Taro Aso called for new Diet elections due to low approval ratings.)

-- What lies ahead? He doesn't think about the future...

As with any chat that relies on a translator, there's an unpleasant lag between his answer in Japanese and the English translation for us non-speakers.

The questions from Kelts were thoughtful, despite early on focusing too much on Miyazaki's latest film Ponyo, which I haven't seen. Some tough questions drew a few good humor groans from the filmmaker.

Still, Kelts sometimes made the mistake of asking questions with long prefaces, which may have elicited some off-topic answers from Miyazaki. Always keep it short and tight, then shut up and let the subject talk.

Miyazaki often answers questions indirectly -- maybe it's a cultural thing, or he's trying to be diplomatic. And I'm sure some of his answers got lost in translation too. In the end, he revealed himself a thoughtful, tough-but-fair minded visionary artist who can have a sense of humor about his work.

After the event, a group of autograph hounds (myself included) gathered by the stage entrance waiting for the man to emerge. He did about a half hour later and posed for a few photos, but declined to sign anything.


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