Spirited Away (Interviews)
Interview: Miyazaki on Spirited Away
"I wanted to make a movie they could enjoy."
An Interview with Hayao Miyazaki
Animage, May 2001
Translated to English by Ryoko Toyama
Edited by Team Ghiblink
Miyazaki: This 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.
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 heroines...
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 wish.
- When did you start thinking about making a new film?
M: There is a book for children, A Mysterious Town Over the Mist (Kirino Mukouno Fushigina Machi?) (by Sachiko Kashiwaba (Kashiwaba Sachiko?), 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 Princess Mononoke. 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 end.
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.
- 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 film)?
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.
- Why did you set the story in the present time?
M: It's a world like this Edo Tokyo Tatemonoen 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)
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 film?
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 simple villain.
- 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 Neighbors 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.
- Rumi Hiiragi (Hiiragi Rumi?), the 13-year-old voice actress of Chihiro. She was at the press conference during which this interview took place.
- Bandai: a seat on a raised platform where the manager of a bath house sits.
- Daikoku: a Japanese deity.
- (Edo Tokyo Museum, Building Park (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.