movie is a story about a 10-year-old whose father and
mother happened to eat something they shouldn't have, and
so became pigs. The movie appears to be satire, but that
isn't my purpose. I have five young female friends who
are about the same age as Hiiragi-san*, and I spend every
summer with them at my mountain cabin. I wanted to make a
movie they could enjoy. That is why I started this film,
and that is my true purpose.
*HIIRAGI Rumi, the 13-year-old
voice actress of Chihiro. She was at the press
conference during which this interview took place.
We have made "Totoro,"
which was for small children, "Laputa," in
which a boy sets out on a journey, and "Kiki's
Delivery Service," in which a teenager has to live
with herself. We have not made a film for 10-year-old
girls, who are in the first stage of their adolescence.
So, I read the shoujo manga such as Nakayoshi or Ribon
which they left at my mountain cabin.
I felt this country only offered such things as crushes
and romance to 10-year-old girls, though, and looking at
my young friends, I felt this was not what they held dear
in their hearts, not what they wanted. And so I wondered
if I could make a movie in which they could be
If they find this movie to be exciting, it will be a
success in my mind. They can't lie. Until now, I made
"I wish there was such a person" leading
characters. This time, however, I created a heroine who
is an ordinary girl, someone with whom the audience can
sympathize, someone about whom they can say, "Yes,
it's like that." It's very important to make it
plain and unexaggerated. Starting with that, it's not a
story in which the characters grow up, but a story in
which they draw on something already inside them, brought
out by the particular circumstances... I wanted to tell
such a story in this movie. I want my young friends to
live like that, and I think they, too, have such a
-When did you start thinking about making a new
M: There is a book for children,
"Kirino Mukouno Fushigina Machi (A Mysterious Town
Over the Mist)" (by Sachiko KASHIWABA, published by
Kodansha). It was published in 1980, and I wondered
if I could make a movie based on it. This was before we
started work on "Mononoke Hime". There is a
staff member who loved this book when s/he was in fifth
grade, and s/he read it many times. But I couldn't
understand why it was so interesting; I was mortified,
and I really wanted to know why. So, I wrote a project
proposal (based on the book), but it was rejected in the
After that, I thought it would be better to have a more
lively character, so I wrote a proposal called "Rin
and the Chimney Painter." It was a contemporary
story with a heroine who was a little bit older, but it
was rejected as well. It ended up being a story with a
scary old woman sitting on the bandai* of a bath house.
Looking back, all three stories had bath houses in them.
*Bandai - a seat on a raised
platform where the manager of a bath house sits.
-Why did you make a story
that takes place at a bath house?
M: For me, a bath house is a mysterious
place in town. The first time I saw an oil painting was
in a bath house. And there was a small door next to the
bath tub. I wondered what was behind that door. So, I
thought up a story about a young man the same age as
Hiiragi-san, but it was rejected as well. (laughs)
-Where did the idea of bath house being a place
for gods come from?
M: It would be fun if there were such a
bath house. It's the same as when we go to hot springs.
Japanese gods go there to rest for a few days, then
return home saying they wished they could stay for a little
while longer. I was imagining such things as I made
images (of the film). I was thinking that it's tough
being a Japanese god today. (laughs)
- Are there any models for the gods (in the
M: The Shinto ritual at Kasuga Shrine uses a piece of
paper (mask) with a drawing of an old man's face. I
borrowed such images, but Japanese gods have no actual
form: They are in the rocks, in pillars, or in the trees.
But they need a form to go to the bath house. A god of
Daikoku looks like Daikoku*, and some of them have shapes
too strange to figure out.
*Daikoku: a Japanese deity.
- Why did you set the story
in the present time?
M: It's a world like this Edo Tokyo
Tatemonoen (Edo Tokyo Museum, Building Park*) rather than
our modern world. I've always been interested in the
pseudo-Western-style buildings** you can find here. I
feel nostalgic here, especially when I stand here alone
in the evening, near closing time, and the sun is
setting--tears well up in my eyes. (laughs)
*Edo Tokyo Tatemonoen: A park with Japanese houses and shops
from the Meiji and Taisho era (about 120 to 70 years
ago). Miyazaki-San loves the park and often visits
there. The interview took place in the park.
**Pseudo-Western style - A
style of Japanese architecture in the early Meiji
era. It's a mixture of traditional Japanese design
and Western design.
I think we have forgotten the life,
the buildings, and the streets we used to have not so
long ago. I feel that we weren't so weak...for example, a
life in that house you see there (pointing at one of the
buildings in the park) was a modest one. They ate a small
amount of food, enough to fit on a small table in a tiny
room. Everyone thinks our problems today are the big
problems we have for the first time in the world. But I
think we just aren't used to them, what with the
recession and all. Well, it's enough since everyone is
talking about these current problems. Rather, let's cheer up
(laughs). I'm making a film with such a feeling.
- What was the biggest difficulty in making the
M: As usual, after the production
started, I realized that it would be more than three
hours long if I made it according to my plot (laughs).
So, I had to cut a lot from the story, and make a
complete change. I'm also trying to make this film using
an ordinary man's eye this time, so I reduced the
eye-candy as much as possible and made it simple. I
didn't want to make the heroine a pretty girl, but even I
was frustrated at the beginning of the movie: I thought,
"What a dull girl she is" (laughs). When I saw
the rushes, I thought, "She isn't cute. Isn't there
something we can do?" But as the film neared the
end, I was a bit relieved to feel, "Oh, she will be
a charming woman."
- How do you feel about Chihiro, Ms. Hiiragi?
Hiiragi: She is willful and spoiled, very
much like girls today. I think that she is a bit like me.
M: I think this story is similar to that
of a girl who comes to, for example, Ghibli, and says,
"Let me work here." For us, Ghibli is a
familiar place, but it would look like a labyrinth to a
girl coming here for the first time, a scary place. There
are a lot of grumpy people here. Joining an organization,
finding your own place, and being recognized there
requires a lot of effort. In many instances, you must use
your own strength. But that's a matter of course, that's
living in the world. So, I am making the film with the
idea that it is the world, rather than bad guys or good
guys. The scary woman, Yu-baaba, who looks like a bad guy
in this film, is actually the manager of the bath house
where the heroine works. She's having a hard time
managing the bath house; she has many employees, a son,
and her own desires, and she is suffering because of
those things. So I don't intend to portray her as a
-Do you have any ideas on how today's children,
such as Chihiro, can regain their energy?
M: If you let me have my own way, I'd
first reduce the amount of manga, video games, and weekly
magazines. I would drastically reduce the number of
businesses that target children. Our work is part of
them, but I think we should let our children watch
animation only once or twice a year, and ban cram school
as well. If we let children have more of their own time
and have their own way, they'll become more lively in a
year or so. There are too many people who make money off
of children. There is evidence we can live without such
things here in this park, yet there are too many things
around us to relieve our unsatisfied hearts and boredom.
This is the fault of adults; it's adults who are in the
wrong shape. Children are just mirrors, so no wonder they
are in the wrong shape.
- When Mr. Takahata made "My Neighbor the
Yamadas," he was questioning the act of telling a
story in the fantasy genre. Are you trying to answer that
by making Sen to Chihiro?
M: No, I don't mean that, but I do think
we need fantasy. For those who are in their powerless
childhood, when they feel helpless, fantasy has something
to give them relief. When children face complicated or
difficult problems, they have to dodge at first. They
would surely lose if they tried to tackle it head-on. We
don't need to use a complex and questionable phrase such
as "escaping from reality". There are many
people who were saved by Tezuka-san's manga, not just in
my generation, but also in older generations. I have no
doubt about the power of fantasy itself. Still, it is
true that the creators of fantasy are getting emotionally
weaker. Surely more and more people are saying, "I
can't believe such a thing." But it's just that a
fantasy that can confront this complicated era has not
been created yet. I think so.