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Hayao Miyazaki:

Children Give Me Courage and Hope


In this exclusive interview, renowned Japanese animated film director Hayao Miyazaki explores the process of creation, the perils of the present era, and the divine nature of children.



Children Give Me Courage and Hope

By Katherine Kuan, Eric Chang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 414 )

Hayao Miyazaki, Japan's master director of animated film, has released a new feature-length cartoon for kids, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. Already a sensation at the Venice Film Festival and a box office smash in Japan, the movie soon opens in Taiwan, just in time for the Lunar New Year holiday.

How does Miyazaki manage to convey a message of hope in these troubled times, touching young and old around the globe with his enchanting movies? In this exclusive interview with CommonWealth Magazine, Miyazaki offered some very simple yet valuable answers.

Q: How do you express a creative idea?

A: It is probably easier to understand if I describe it as piecing together a puzzle. I often have a lot of ideas. For example, for Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, I had the following elements in mind: Sitting on a cliff, a young boy sees a ship at sea which is very strange and not at all like a normal ship. At the cliff the boy comes across a little girl who used to be a frog or a goldfish before turning human. The boy promises to take good care of her. It is a story about keeping promises.

It's like making a collage of different ideas, eliminating those that you feel won't work and trying out different possibilities, until eventually you have a complete story. I have a somewhat different approach to creating movies. I don't take an original idea and add other elements to make this idea richer and more diverse. Instead I put together many odd bits and pieces and slowly develop the core story from among them.

Q: Your movies are hugely popular not only in Japan, but also in Europe and the United States. What does it take for a story to move audiences from different cultural backgrounds?

A: They're not that popular, are they? (laughs) Each time when I create an animated movie, I will specify for whom I make that film and get a clear picture as to who my audience is. Ponyo, for instance, I drew for children, but sometimes I will also produce a film for an adult audience.

I think my films are popular overseas because everyone can see in these films the things that we have in common rather than what sets us apart. I am not advocating the idea of "internationalization," and I don't want to address internationalization with my creations. The only thing that I want to achieve is to create a piece that Japanese people can understand. I think that's better.

Q: People feel that your movies are full of passion and hope and emphasize an anti-war and pro-environment stance. What are your expectations of today's world? What kind of message do you hope to convey with your films?

A: There are two jobs that I would want less than any others. One is Japanese prime minister, and the other is American president. That's because in our present time we face many problems that are difficult to solve. These problems cannot be solved by listening to the opinions of others, but require execution by taking a tough stance and standing on solid ground – only then will change be possible. Japanese politicians don't have such ability and boldness. That's why our prime ministers keep getting replaced all the time.

For example, I don't think that the current financial crisis is a crisis, but rather an opportunity to do some soul-searching about consumer capitalism. Falling means you need to truly fall and deeply feel the pain. It's not this empty talk that declares, "We should face our problems with this or that attitude" and "We have a very thorny issue on our hands." Right now there are many problems that can't be immediately solved, so we all need to endure it together.

Q: The global situation seems to grow worse by the day, so why are you not depressed and disheartened, but continue to encourage others with your creations?

A: It's because we need to make money to make a living. (laughs) Just kidding!

Let's take as example the kindergarten that is next door to my place. I feel that these little children actually give some hope to the adults. If the adults make just a few changes and make an effort, they will bring about major changes for these children. Actually, I also want to gain some hope through this kindergarten.

Children, especially children at the tender kindergarten age – I feel that they're not normal humans, but have a strong spiritual or divine streak. I don't have any expectations for children, because I don't think that children should grow up matching the expectations of adults. I spend 15 minutes every day secretly observing the children at the kindergarten next door. In that process I notice how the children grow every day. I feel that contrary to expectations, it's the children that give me courage and motivation.

Q: Have you gained any new insights into human life in the course of your long career as a filmmaker?

A: Each of my films contains some reflections or projections of my own life and emotions. I'm not good at making up stories about things I haven't experienced myself. When I create a story plot, I consider what I would think myself and how I would feel if I were in such a situation. It's not a story that is set in place from the outset, but one that develops according to human nature. Creativity is an endeavor in which you have to honestly face yourself.

(Compiled by Eric Chang)

Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz