Saturday, July 25, 2009

notes from Miyazaki talking in Berkeley

Just got back from seeing Hayao Miyazaki talking, interviewed by Roland Kelts. Lot of fun, he's a funny guy, making jokes all the time. Here's some notes I took. Even with a translator giving me a little breathing room, you should assume these are all paraphrases instead of direct quotes.

Animation is a way to help soothe the soul after dealing with the harsh edge of reality.

Many people live in virtual worlds, where the information entertainment and friends are all virtual, what's the solution?

Old people always say that things are not as good now as they used to be. But when I was a child I was probably living in a more virtual world then people 100 years before with cinema and things. Civilization has always grown with and absorbed it's weak parts. What I'm concerned with now is an end of civilization. It would be wonderful to see the end of civilization in my life time (everybody laughs) but I don't think it will happen, so i have to use my imagination in my films.
We often feel that people and nature are separate, but nature is inside of people. We are not separate from it, it's inside of us. Ponyo's nature has a tsunami inside of her. But the tsunami doesn't destroy the town when it reaches it, it cleans it, purifies it, which is the hope I see in nature.
The river near the village I live in often swells and floods during winter, which always gets the old people excited. It only comes up to your knees so it's not a big disaster, but it does get high enough to get into people's houses. In times like this people always feel like they have to save someone, people are nicer to each other, so the disaster makes people become better people. When we rebuilt our house we didn't raise it any higher, so that we will flood with everyone around us if it comes again.
I don't think it's a good idea to equate a disaster with evil or a "Bad thing". We manage the local forest and even though after a flood a lot of junk gets washed into it, the forest always seems healthier and stronger from all the water. So the flood is not a bad or evil thing, it's just an event, just a part of life and we live with it.

Boring old question about no flat evil characters in your pieces? (okay I editorialized that one, but c'mon, do any research and everyone asks him that. is it really so hard to imagine a story that's like the world where everyone has complex reasons for doing what they are doing, and no one does things just to be evil? sheesh)

To have a film where there an evil figure with the hero having a great battle with them and a big happy ending is one way to make a film. but that means as an animator you have to draw the evil guy through the whole movie, which isn't very pleasant. So I decided not to have evil character's in my film. (everyone laughs)

Color of the film Ponyo almost a character in the film?

The chief background artist has a very specific way of working. He always puts some red and green in every scene, he always puts 5 clouds in. It's a little childlike, and makes you feel good to look at it. I pushed him to become more childlike, (he is a very nice person, so I really pushed him to become a lot more childlike so that it would come through in his paintings, but I think it may have been a little difficult after the film his re-entry into being with people) So his work became very strong and vibrant and colorful. The whole staff were surprised at how full of child like niceness we became.

Ponyo is a goldfish, but looks nothing like one at a pet store, Totorro can't be found in an encyclopedia, when an American film company makes a film with animals they are always rooted in biological truth, can you comment on the imaginative animals in your films?

When we draw animals we have to draw the eyes. Some styles of animation simplify the eyes so that we as humans can understand them, but we can't understand nature. Nature doesn't match our psychology. So for Totorro, I told my staff to draw him so that you don't know where he is looking. Ohmu's (from Nausicaa) have many many eyes so you don't know where they are looking either. I explained to my staff that we need to make Totorro in a way that you can't tell if he is very wise, or very dumb, that he is thinking very deep thoughts, or nothing at all.

role of fantasy?

The easy way to make a fantasy world is to go through a door or a tunnel or some way of just stepping into it. I was looking for a different way to get Chihiro into the fantasy world in Spirited Away. I thought and thought, and the scene got longer and longer until I had to just throw it away and send her through a tunnel.
it works!
yeah. (everyone laughs) I just thought I was cheating myself using such an easy entry point.

the other boring question everyone asks about having strong female characters?(again just do a spec of research man

At Ghibli we are in the process of training 22 new arrivals, 4 of them are men. We are also looking at another batch of 22 to hire, 1 of them is a man. Since there are so many strong women now, I may have to start making films about boys. (everyone laughs)
In film the roles of males and females are different. In Ponyo the boy makes a promise to protect Ponyo and he goes through a lot of hardship to keep his promise, but no one really notices or gives him credit. In my life I've broken many promises, i think it's important to keep your promises, a really strong thing, a good thing to do in life.
I want mother who watch Ponyo to become stronger from it, like the mother in the film, the way she drives the car in the rain is amazing! (laughter)

Typically anime is based upon existing manga stories, why doesn't Ghibli do this?

I think we can just enjoy manga by just reading it as it is. (I agree, stories are usually best told in the medium they are created in and for. Hellboy and SinCity spring to mind-Alonso)
Manga and film have very different concepts of space and time, if you're not aware of that then the ultimate product can be very boring. The sense of expansion and compression of time is a very salient feature of manga. In animation time and space flow since we draw each frame.

You do all your own storyboards, what's the advantage to this over the American way of having a story team?

In Japan it's normal to have the director draw the storyboards, it's almost a condition of becoming the director. If you can't draw them everyone has the feeling of why do we need him then?

I know it takes a lot of thinking and working on an idea to create the seed of a new film, how do you know when the idea is ready to begin developing it?

It depends on the film. Only when I've tried and realize I can't push this idea anymore, I can't try any new versions of it or new ways of looking at it, only then have I found the core of my movie. That's what I tell my staff, you have to be willing to try really hard and work really hard on something that might be useless and impossible to find the core that's worth keeping.
We want the characters to have a happy ending. But we can't have that happen in an unpersuasive way, they must overcome something, go through some struggle. By effort or accident we have to find the best ending, or the best ending sometimes finds us in a mysterious way.

has making films gotten any easier?

Each time I make a film I feel that I have just barely been able to get through it, and I hope that people won't see all the weak spots and holes where I just barely patched it through. So once I finish I don't want to see it again and try to forget it as soon as possible.

I told my wife when I finished Nausicaa that I didn't want to go through that pain again. But since I say this after every film I've become less persuasive, so I try not to say it at home as often anymore.

virtues of 2D vs CG?

Sometimes it feels like we are rowing a lonely bark in a sea of speedboats. Since hand drawn involves so much drudge work we thought we'd hire a young guy to try making it with a computer, but we found that it was faster and easier to just draw it by hand. So I think we should be more casual about hand drawn animation. I think we are freer when we draw by hand. When a character is feeling down trodden we can draw them thin and small, when they are very confident we can draw them with a bigger head. It's very hard to do that type of thing in CG.

what do you do when you get artists block?

Only thing I can do is think. When I really think hard I smell blood deep in my nose. It's not necessarily that thought process but something may come to me out of the blue while I'm thinking so hard. But I have to have really hit a wall and thought about it a lot for something to come. My own theory is that we do a lot thinking with the surface of our brains, then underneath there's the subconscious, and even deeper theres a deeper darker space. What we really want to say comes from our subconscious, and the truest most pure things we want to say come from that deep dark area. That's when I smell the most blood. (everyone laughs)

Do you think children will be able to appreciate your films in 50 years?

I think I might be able to make a film that a grandmother can tell the granddaughter this is a good film to see, but I'm not sure if I can make one that a mother can tell her daughter.

Your films are about love, any thoughts on it?

I think at the end of all our difficulties and problems we find it. When we finished Ponyo my staff said that the boy will have a lot difficulty being with Ponyo, I was the only one who said "he'll be alright", that's what life is: dealing with difficulties.

what is your hope for the future of animation?

Those who want to make films should be making films. I don't like to theorize about the future, we should deal with the present moment.

have you ever considered doing live action?

(big surprised reaction from Miyazaki)
Would have to turn the Japanese landscape back 50 years. The roads, the factories, the inlets, the clouds, even peoples faces, all are different, we'd need a lot of computers to make it right.

Do you have a favorite film of yours?

I don't think if you have many children you can say this one I love more then the others.

What's next?

I don't know myself. People often say that I'm energetic for my age, but I often feel very tired. What happens next won't totally be my decision. I have to decide if I'm going to just keep going until I flop down dead at my drawing desk, which isn't a very cool way to go.


Frank said...

Hey Alonso

Thanks for sharing these notes!

Dhar said...

Excellent notes Alonso. Sorry we missed each other but that was such a huge crowd it would have been impossible. Next time we plan it better :o)

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing this, Alonso. I only just found it. I feel really great and calm as I read Miyazaki's comments. He's so down to earth and he respects the intelligence of his audience. He seems to live really authentically, doesn't he, without pretending towards being any sort of animation guru. I love the smelling blood in the tip of his nose comment, when he talks about thinking really hard to find a true core to his films ideas! Can't wait to experience Ponyo over here. Thanks again.

Alonso said...

I really get the feeling that Miyazaki is a little embarrassed by all the fuss made over him. That he's gratified that everyone loves his stuff so much but is a bit overwhelmed by all the attention he gets. I get the feeling he would rather be behind a desk working on his next story. Really cool guy, I'm really glad I got to see him.