Studio Ghibli & Retirement - Rheault Sylvain - 15 December 1993
An Interview with Hayao Miyazaki
Protoculture Addicts, number 19 (1992)
Posted to the Hayao Miyazaki Mailing List by Sylvain Rheault, December 15, 1993
Reformatted and edited by Steven Feldman, April 1, 1994
Transcribed with the permission of Sylvain Rheault.
[Foreward by the Sylvain Rheault, the interviewer]
This is just another interview with Hayao Miyazaki. I don't think you will find anything new about the master of animation in this post. Anyway, I really enjoyed performing it.
I sent this article from Japan to my friends in Montreal who published it in Protoculture Addicts, number 19, September-October 1992. There is a picture of Miyazaki-san with Porco Rosso and me. There are also many pictures of the studio, with a plan drawn from memory. But they moved since. For those interested, I have the address of the new Studio Ghibli.
There was a critic of my article in a french magazine called Tsunami. (Thanks to you guys, but you were very too flattering.)
I would like to remember that I had a hard time understanding the answers (except when they were drawn by Miyazaki). Also, I did not only concentrated on Mr. Miyazaki himself, I wanted to know how works the studio, how to produce an animated motion picture, etc.
Interview with Miyazaki
Performed at Studio Ghibli; 6 June 1992
One might think that such an animation superstar as Mr. Miyazaki is someone who must be treated with great respect. In fact, he refused the honorific title of sensei (master) and prefered to be called only san (mister). And, surprisingly, contrary to most Japanese people, he does not carry a meishi (business card) with his title written on it. He is someone very kind and very human. He hates violence and he is particularly sensible to minority problems such as the korean and chinese people in Japan or the black people in America. He feels hurt whenever he heard about racial problems. Now, he can't stand Disneyland because of that scene of a white explorer and black luggage carriers who climbed a tree because a rhino was chasing them. "Why was the white guy at the top of the tree? Why not at the bottom?" he wondered.
Mr. Miyazaki studied economics at the university and started to work in animation at the age of 29. He is an animation producer who works for Studio Ghibli. He wrotes stories, then leads a team of people that will make them become animation. He rarely works on the books published afterward that are based on his scripts and, actually, he is not even thinking about his next movie project. He expects to retire at 60 and do anything but animation.
"Actual Japanese movies are nuts" he said, but he loves documentaries, particularly those on NHK, the Japanese public television network. These programs show different places and people of the world. He cares very little about critics (he never read them) but he feels rewarded if children like his stories. Japanese children especially love Totoro from "Tonari no Totoro". By the way, he systematically rejects any offers from any companies to use his characters in advertisement.
Maybe some people noticed some strange phenomenon in Mr. Miyazaki's animations, like Canada geese appearing in the sky of Europe in "Majo no Takkyubin" (Kiki's Delivery Service). Mr. Miyazaki explained that he gathers things he likes and puts them together in his movies. For example, the city of Colico in "Majo no Takkyubin" is a rag tag combination of Scandinavian and Italian cities as well as parts of San Francisco (he refers to the funicular). What matters is the emotion. He did the same thing with "Kurenai no Buta", where the mediterranean islands are actually drawn from pictures of the Sea of China. If they look good, they fit in.
"Kurenai no Buta" (Porco Rosso) is the project on which Mr. Miyazaki is [in June 1992] actually working on. He did the preproduction in March 1991 and the production really started in July 1991. The movie will be released next July, so the deadline is now very close. The production cost of such a movie is about ¥600 million (make the conversion by yourself). To this amount must be added another ¥600 million for the distribution of the movie and the unavoidable publicity. This animation is financed by Tokuma Shoten, Japan Airlines, Nihon Television and Studio Ghibli. If you include the 80 people working full time at Studio Ghibli, the 60 people orchestra that will perform the music, the 40 people that will give their voices to the characters and the various technicians and staff members, about 300 people are involved in this project. "When this project will be over, I will take a nice walk to the mountain" said Mr. Miyazaki.
Studio Ghibli is a branch of Tokuma Shoten, one of the big manga publishers in Japan. As said previously, 80 people are working in an office crowded with bottles of paint, copiers, and drawing desks. The most talented ones (6 or 7) will draw the backgrounds while the others will make the outlines and color the pictures. Everyone respects Mr. Miyazaki and everyone is expected to work very hard. Days may be as long as 14 hours, but according to the bottles of sake and the boxes of cookies that can be found on the tables, there are also some very good times at the studio. And to enhance the team spirit, the staff members have their own "Studio Ghibli" jackets.
The staff consists mainly of very young people, men and women, between 18 and 25 years old. Mr. Miyazaki explained that at this age, people are more flexible: "Yet, their brain did not become concrete." This is very important in animation, especially for long features such as Kurenai no Buta, because the style of the characters must remain the same until the end.
For those who dream about working at Studio Ghibli, it is possible. Some foreigners, mainly Italians, are already working there. But remember that you must be between 18 and 25 years old and very flexible.
How I met Mr. Miyazaki
By Sylvain Rheault, the interviewer
I suppose most of the people in this group have already met Mr. Miyazaki. So please do not bother to read this story if such a meeting is familiar to you.
My hobbies are comics and journalism. Three years ago, I decided to go to Japan in order to discover its fabulous world of mangas and animation. I spent two years learning Japanese and making contacts. I also prepared a meishi with my name and shinbunkisha (reporter) as a title. I also started to collect information about mangas, and there were some names I heard more oftenly, like Takahashi Rumiko, Matsumoto Reiji and, of course, Miyazaki Hayao.
I met a lot of people in Japan, but I've got a lot of help from Hiroko, a professionnal animation artist I met in Montreal. She came to Montreal for the challenge of working for a foreign company and for the opportunity to learn both english and french. Hiroko gave me a very exhaustive list of the animation studios in Tokyo, along with the addresses and phone numbers, something you can't get from the phonebook. So I sent many letters to the majors studios but got very few answers (now I realize I made some mistake in the way of asking for an appointment). Anyway, I've received one letter from Mr. Tanaka at studio Ghibli, which for me was just one studio amongst the others.
When I landed in Tokyo, my Japanese was so basic that I was asking for someone on the phone with "... imasuka" instead of "... irasshaimasuka." But I was enthusiastic and bold. I phoned.
"Mr. Tanaka? You wrote back to me, I would like to visit your studio"
"Would you like to do an interview with Mr. Miyazaki?"
"What? Mr. Miyazaki? Yes. Why not. (I was thinking: Hiroko, you little devil, you should have told me about that.)"
I really wasn't expecting to meet such a celebrity so fast.
Then Mr. Tanaka explained to me how to get to the studio in Kichijouji, on the Chuuo line. As you know, there are no name for the streets in Tokyo (except for the big ones), and people usually explain how to get to a place from the nearest station. But I did not fully understand what he was saying. So I arrived very early, 3 hours before the appointment at 13:00 on June 6th, 1992. It took me two hours to find the place, using the postal address and a detailed map I newly bought. Even though I found the right block of houses, I had to turn around 3 times before finding a small sign with "Studio Ghibli."
I entered and ask for Mr. Tanaka. We talked a bit.
"I will see if Mr. Miyazaki is avalaible."
Mr. Miyazaki appeared, 6 inches shorter than me. We shaked hands.
[I must confess that I hate tape recorders. A friend and I did a lot of interviews with the underground comics authors in France, and when the time came to write down the report, we just realized that we had more than 24 hours of tapes to listen to. Disheartened, we did the report without even listening to the tapes. Since that time, I did all my interviews with notes instead of a recorder. The one who is interviewd also feel more confortable. But I regret that I didn't tape Mr. Miyazaki.]
We went to the meeting room. Everywhere in the studio were souvenirs from the previous animations. Posters, dolls, pictures.
As I told you before, my Japanese was very basic at that time. I had no difficulty asking questions to Mr. Miyazaki, because I prepared the interview, but I had a hard time understanding the answer. I should have used a recorder this time. Sometimes, Miyazaki san asked me: "Wakatta? (did you understand)" "Daitai wakarimashita. (I understand roughly)"
He was patient like a mother with me, using simple words, repeating, making a lot of drawings which I still have. He also did a little "Kurenai no Buta" for me.
We talked like this for two hours. He answered all my questions, and only left when I was fully satisfied.
After the interview with Mr. Miyazaki, Mr Tanaka showed me the studio. I met some of the staff, including Mizamura Katsu. She was in charge of all the backgrounds and graduated from an art school.
I took a lot of pictures and I left.
When I was heading home, in Saitama, I felt like an idiot. I had the feeling that I spoiled the opportunity. Of course, it was great and very funny, but because my Japanese was so primitive, I do not consider I acted like a professional. Moushi wake arimasen. But it kicked my ass and I decided to study Japanese very hard. I studied intensively 1 year in Japan, and my last interview, with Kawamori, was like a fluent conversation. But there was no point in making another interview with Mr. Miyazaki.