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Momoru Oshii Interview
"Miyazaki-san and Takahata-san are outrageously energetic. I can't take my eyes off them."

[Kinema Junpo cover image]
The Animation of Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and Studio Ghibli
Kinema Junpo Special Issue, Number 1166; July 16th, 1995

Translated from Japanese to English by Ryoko Toyama in July, 1996
Edited by Brian Stacy

© 1995 by Kinema Junpo Sha
Translated without permission for personal entertainment purpose only. This is not, by any means, an accurate word for word translation, and the translator is solely responsible for any mistranslation or misunderstanding due to it.


[Mamoru Oshii is the director of such movies as Angel's Egg, Urusei yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer, and Patlabor (1 & 2).]

Interviewer: Rika Ishii


Anchor, the joint project which wasn't realized

I met Miya-san (Hayao Miyazaki) for the first time in 1983, for an interview in Animage. It was right after I finished directing my first film, and he was more like a god. The first (work of) Miya-san's I saw was Conan the Future Boy. It was on the air when I joined Tatsunoko Production to be a director, so I was really blown away by it.[1] I had a feeling that we would meet some day, but it was sooner than I expected, so I was really nervous.

My first impression was that he was a really light hearted person. But when the conversation got heated, he was really merciless, and I was told many harsh things. -laughs- So it ended with the impression like "what a SOB!"

He is unbelievably energetic. The point where I thought he and I were alike was that he is really aggressive and talks a lot. It's the same with Takahata-san, it's like the one who talks more wins. There is no idle chatting when we talk. (We?) always try to convince the other. -laughs- So it's really tiresome. I myself think the winning rate is 50%. We've been busy these days, so we can't meet more than once a year, but once we meet, we always end up like that.

Since Takahata-san works at the same place as Miya-san, I often meet him, and we talk from time to time. There was even a project which we three were going to do. I think it was after Angel's Egg (1985), it was a Ghibli project called Anchor. I think Miya-san was going to be the producer, I was going to be the director, and Takahata-san was going to produce too. We three got together and made a plot, but one night, we had a big fight and disagreement, and I quit.

On the surface, Takahata-san also likes to argue and has a passion to convince others, but he is very different inside. Miya-san has something sweet in him, and in the end, it comes down to (for him) "what's good is good, though it's not logical." In the case of Takahata-san, he is consistent. He is a person of logic. I heard that Yasuo Otsuka-san once said that Takahata-san is walking logic, and I'm logic riding a bike. -laughs-

I guess I should be able to get along with Takahata-san better (than Miya-san), but, film-wise, I sympathize more with what Miya-san makes. I feel that a part of Takahata-san is a bit cold. He is like a person who doesn't get hurt or feel failure fundamentally.

He doesn't say what he wants to say up front like Miya-san does. He looks like a warm guy, but once something happens, he totally changes. It's like he gets a totally different personality. When he denies someone, he denies everything about that person, including their personality. I think of him as a Stalinist. -laughs- Miya-san is a bit like a Trotskyist, but for me, they are both men (ojisan) of 1960s Anpo, having very intimidating tendencies.[2] Especially, it's really something when they intimidate the young staff members. It's totally different from their everyday smiling nature. They get totally different personalities once they are in a project.


Studio Ghibli is (like) the Kremlin

In short, in the 1960s way of saying things, if the end is just, the means don't matter. I think that for them, making a movie is still a kind of extension of the union movement. Making strategy, organizing people, and purging traitors-- it's the same. There are agitation and intimidation characteristics to any popular movement. Basically, it's a thorough organizing to carry out the top's will.

I think Studio Ghibli is (like) the Kremlin. -laughs- The real one is long gone, but it's still sitting in the middle of the field in Higashi Koganei. But in a sense, there is a reason for it's existence, meaning, I think it plays a certain role by existing. Just like those steel-like athletes could not be produced other than in the communist countries, a certain kind of people can not be produced by the principals of the market economy.

There should be a type of animator who can be fostered only by Ghibli, where the level of staff is really high, from in-between to painting. So, it can be valued in the sense that it cultured (such staff members) purely, but if you ask me if it's totally right, I'd say I don't think so. I think they should be disbanded immediately. -laughs- I think it would be more meaningful if those who grew up at Ghibli would go outside.

However, there are things that only Ghibli can do, and if it disappears, the tradition would disappear. But that's a relative value, and as for an individual value, I think they should be disbanded immediately. It's the same with the question of whether it got better after the Soviet Union was disbanded, but I think for creative work, anarchy is at least better than freedom under a state power.

It's like Miya-san is the chairman, and Takahata-san is the head of the party, or the president of the Russian Republic. Producer Suzuki is definitely the chief of KGB. But the things that are made and the reality of the organization which makes them are two totally different things. People who think such cohesion is good flock there.

What do other animators think of Ghibli? As far as I know, they basically respect Ghibli. It's half love, and half hate. A general response would be: it's a tremendous place, but I don't want to go there. Because they control you too tightly (at Ghibli). For example, (they tell you) come in at 10 in the morning and go home at 10 in the evening, and you just keep on working for one or two years. At my place, no one comes in till evening, and no one knows who is doing what. And (the project) ends within 8 to 10 months cause I get bored. This is a more common way (of making animation).

I myself have been invited several times, but the biggest reason why I don't want to work at Ghibli is because the control is too tight. -laughs- And there aren't many good food places around Ghibli. I can't tolerate poor eating. Those two are not interested in eating. One instance shows all, they push their ideology, or rather, their constitution to everybody. (They say) it's best if you come into the studio in the morning and go home at night, not because they think so, but because they can't do otherwise.

Well, it's (like) the military or a (political) party, and for some, it's a good order, but for some, it's an intolerable fascism. However, it is certain that only by such mountains of tight control, such movies can be made.

A movie director always has a conflict inside of him, between the need to do what he wants to do and how far he can force others to make sacrifices. Because he can't do anything without others' help. Everyone has a different strategy, but I think all these differences come from ideological issues.

Those two aren't moralists. The lack of ethics is common among men in the 1960s. They definitely think that if there is a validity, or a "just cause" (nishiki no mihata), they are allowed to do anything. In a sense, that's the thing I most hate about them, and that's what keeps me from liking them in the end.

For me, it's better if the end and the means match, though it's almost impossible. To cope with the reality, they use intimidation and refuting. I trick (staff members), or in nicer words, I try to find common interests (with staff members). I try to accept certain things even if they are against my will, or I try to think I'll get payback for that sometime later.

Some anime magazines and manga magazines praise Ghibli as the best animation studio in Japan, or in the world, and say such things as it's the conscience of the Japanese anime industry, but that's all a lie. -laughs- Anyone who's been there even once would know that. Well, I'm not going to deny everything (about Ghibli), but if you worship them like that, it will only make people (at Ghibli) miserable. And indeed they are miserable, so I'm hoping they would stop (worshipping them). Someone should criticize them somewhere. Though to do that, you really need forcefulness and resolution.

Apart from Takahata-san, Miya-san has a somewhat shady past. Such aspects also consitutue who Takahtata-san and Miya-san are. You shouldn't make him a god. Since he is the one who has to carry that burden. I think that's one of the reasons why he struggled and struggled, and is still struggling today.


What (stories) will they tell now, in this era?

They are probably at a loss right now, more than ever. I think they are in great confusion, not knowing what to make now. Though I guess it's the same with everybody. Both Miya-san and Takahata-san are the kind of people who wouldn't make a film unless they could justify the cause (to make the film) to the world, and to themselves, after thinking through why they make this film now. Considering the situation as it is now, I think it must be harder for them.

They think they are responsible for staff members and audience. It's a very important thing for them, but that's a limitation of men of the 1960s Anpo. I don't think I have to be responsible. The thing "being responsible" itself breeds fascism, and if I'm responsible for anything, it should be just for myself.

More than anyone, he himself knows that his next movie, Mononoke Hime won't hold up (as a story) in principle. How in the world can he make a story like "they defeated the evil sheriff, and the village folks lived happily ever after" in this era? The world is filled with stories about things becoming worse after an evil sheriff got defeated, so how can he make children believe in (such a story)? The story of "defeat the dictator," like Horus: Prince of the Sun could be believed in back then, but what's the use of doing Horus now?

Until now, they kept at least one thing; not making a film unless they have an answer to the question of how they face the current era and what to say. If they start making (films) even though they know (what they are saying) is a lie, there will be terrible consequences. Since their belief system will totally crumble away.


Criticizing Takahata's and Miyazaki's works

After all, we don't have many friends in the anime industry. Since it is a craftsmen's world, there is a strong sentiment against criticizing others' work, so Miya-san, Takahata-san, or me, those who go around and badmouth loudly can not be liked. I suppose there are tons of people who talk behind others' backs, though. I myself think that since it's a fair game, we'd better say whatever we want to say. For example, for Patlabor 2 (1993), Miya-san gave me a hard time saying such things as it's unfair, or cheating. I also always talk about Miya-san's work. About Ghibli films: Nausicaa-- this is The Spaceship Yamato (Star Blazer) Miya-san style. He dressed it up a lot, but it was filled with the emotion of a Kamikaze attack. In that sense, this is a powerful film which was made out of the ideology itself, supported by heroic energy.

Laputa-- Among Ghibli films, I like this best. Since it has a good structure as a boy's adventure story. In this film, what he wants to do in making a film and the emotions he (Miya-san) holds are well-balanced. In Nausicaa, the balance was really tipped. -laughs- However, I got a chill from the scene where humans fell from the sky and Muska laughed "Humans are like garbage!" Somewhere, there is such a very cruel side like "all the humans should die."

Totoro-- Despite it's fundamental flaw of having no other choice than transplanting Trolls from Northern Europe to depict his ideal, beautiful Japanese countryside, he pulled it off with sheer force. I can understand why kids love it, since it plays to the audience as much as it can. But since I'm (also) a creator, I'm resolved not to be carried away by it.

Kiki's Delivery Service-- When the era wanted (that movie to be made), Toshio Suzuki pursuaded Miya-san to make this film (against Miya-san's will), based on his (Suzuki's) own instinct as a great producer. As a Miya-san work, I think it plays to the audience too much, and falls apart. I suspect he got depressed after that. He took a hiatus for about two years after that, you know.

Porco Rosso-- In short, it's a personal novel (shi shyousetsu).[3] He (Miya-san as Porco?) put on such airs and spoke such flashy lines, posing as a pirate, but that's all self-excusing. I think it would have been good if the ending was such that he took off the pig's head, and Miya-san's face showed up underneath it, (saying) "I'm sorry." I think it would have been a fine film if the hero was a pig who could only say "Oink Oink," but he was very good at air battles.

I have tons of things I want to say about Takahata-san, -laughs- but Grave of the fireflies attracts my attention most. That's an immoral world, since it's a story of incest. And the image of death is lined up right behind it. In that sense, it was an erotic movie, and it gave me chills.

His (Takahata's) other works aren't my cup of tea to start with. He is very particular about descriptions, but to me, they all look quibbling. But in truth, as a director, I was most influenced not by Conan, but by Anne of Green Gables. I was astounded by how broad the range of direction can be. Because, there was no story. It's just washing dishes, or watching a carriage go by. And it's a long (scene). But, this has tremendous power. In that sense, my eyes were opened.

Though I complain a lot, I think it would be boring if those two stopped making (films). I guess I'd feel strangely empty.

I talk a lot about Miya-san and Ghibli everywhere, and although people nod when they are listening (to me), once they see (Ghibli films), they (change their opinions) to "well, but I still love them."

In terms of the persuasiveness of their films, it is true that they have just such a power, and it is also true that they have what I don't have. You can say that they have their own instinct for appealing to the general public. I think they have extraordinary energy in terms of making what they want to make, while surviving in the general consumer society with their ideological constitution of the 1960s intact. In the usual case, they should've been put into a museum a long time ago.

At one point, they almost were (put into a museum). But they made a splendid comeback, because they put up a united front. Each was able to make (a film) because the other made (a film). How they are tuned into each other is really something. Those two are not on good terms at all. If you think they are on good terms, you're totally wrong. In a sense, they are like a cat and a dog, and each has a part of the other he can't accept. Despite that, they can put up a united front without hesitation, since they are from the people's front generation. That's the world I can't get into.

Well, I've never seen such an interesting person since I started working. Miya-san is one of my friends whom I can really trust, but I don't agree with him in the end, and I shouldn't.

I can say I became shrewd, learning from their aggressiveness, and I drew many lessons from them about how not to do things. And I was also taught the realistic aspects of making a movie, such as how to speak to a client. I learned a lot (from them) about how to behave and what to tell to whom, in order to make a movie I want to make. Thanks to that, my life became easier, and I was encouraged very much.

I have nothing I want from them. It won't matter to them, but as my personal wish, I just want to see how they exit, including how they take the responsibility for what they've been doing. I have almost no expectation for them to show us something new, or some new development. It is true that they showed us great things at one point in time. Why would you want more (from them)?

In Miya-san's case, his hair became totally white, and his stomach became so weak, he can't even eat a katsudon.[4] Since his hands no longer move (easily), I heard that he puts Elekiban on his arms.[5] Even so, he is still working because he loves to work.

I'm sure it will be a fight if I say so, but, his mission in history has ended. Speaking from my experience in watching (his works), I think he peaked with Conan the Future Boy or Lupin III, the Castle of Cagliostro. After he moved to Ghibli, (things started) to decline. This has been the ten years in which the substance of the works declined, while the quality of them improved. But I think of him as a lucky man, since he has done everything (he wanted to do).

He always says he wants to go back to the mountain. He has such a feeling, too. Still, he comes back to the studio and makes much noise, because it's a kind of karma of a creator. When he is shouting at the studio, he can feel his existence in his heart. -laughs- So, I think he'll keep going as long as he can move around.

Actually, I really don't expect him to go quietly in a mature way. He can't have a simple retired life, living in a cottage on a mountain, writing picture books of trees and insects, and waiting for children to come by. If he became so, I think I'd feel desolated.


May 17, 1995, at Production IG in Kokubunji

Notes from the translator
1. Tatsunoko Production is a studio which produced Speed Racer and G-Force. It was the very first anime studio Oshii worked for.
2. The phrase "1960s Anpo" represents the opposition movement against the extension of Japan-US Security Agreement (Anpo) in 1960. There are certain personalities, tendencies, and cultures common among those who participated in this movement. Oshii, on the other hand, is the 1970s Anpo generation, which had a totally different culture from the 1960s Anpo.
3. Shi shousetsu (personal novel) is a genre which is very popular in Japanese literature. It's about an author's personal life, but a bit different from autobiography. It's more introvert.
4. Katsudo is a fried pork and rice bowl; a bit greasy.
5. Elekiban is a small magnet patch to improve blood flow. Japanese people put this on their shoulders and necks to ease their muscle pain.

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