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Comic-Con '09: Capone Chats With The Mighty Hayao Miyazaki about his Latest, PONYO!!

Hey folks. Capone in Chicago here, with another interview I picked up at Comic-Con this year. This particular talk came after Disney Animation Studios/Pixar's lengthy panel (hosted by John Lasseter), in which they previewed the TOY STORY 1 & 2 3-D double-bill trailer; some great stuff from TOY STORY 3 (also in 3-D), including the introduction of short film on a new character introduced in this film, Barbi's pal Ken (voiced by Michael Keaton). In the short "documentary" on Ken, he attempt to convince us that Ken is a doll for boys and not girls. It was a hilarious way to show us Keaton's enthusiastic approach to the character, and I can't wait to see the scene in which Ken realizes he's gay (assuming that scene is in TS3). We also got to watch an entire musical number (centered around the song "Belle") from the BEAUTY AND THE BEAST 3-D reissue, set for release in February. One of the more impressive surprised of the panel was footage from a Disney animated special done for ABC and scheduled to run around the Christmas holiday. "Prep and Landing" is about an elite group of elves that break into homes and prepare each one for Santa's arrival. The sequence we were shown was hilarious, as the elves use high-tech gadgets to make sure all is right, including a device that trims the bottom of the tree to make sure the gifts fit and a temperature gauge to test the chill of the mild and the warmth of the cookies. This is one worth looking forward to. The next to last film discussed was the first new traditionally animated feature film from Disney in quite some time, and the first full-blown musical the studio has done in about as long. THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG takes the age-old "Frog Prince" story and transports it to New Orleans during the Jazz Age of the 1920s. We got to see an entire musical number, featuring Keith David as the villainous Dr. Facilier. All of the tunes are from Randy Newman, and the film is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker (co-directors of THE LITTLE MERMAID, ALADDIN, and HERCULES). What we saw was really strong stuff, so my hopes are high for this December 11 release. The panel concluded with a rare stateside appearance of the man who animators in the world look to for inspiration, Hayao Miyazaki, the great Japanese artist, who at 68 years old, is still putting out the most relevant and creative works of anyone, anywhere. He still writes his films as storyboards, rather than scripts, and usually has no idea where his plots are going or what his characters are going to look like until he's actually drawing them. Seriously, most animation houses can't even fathom a human being that works this way, but that is how Miyazaki-san has always worked and will continue to do so until he simply can't. If you haven't ever seen one of his films, just pick one; they're all good--THE CASTLE of CAGLIOSTRO; NAUSICA; CASTLE IN THE SKY; MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO: PORCO ROSSO; KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE; PRINCESS MONONOKE; SPIRITED AWAY; and HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE. I was fortunate to meet and interview some of my absolute favorite directors at this year's Comic-Con (including Peter Jackson, Tim Burton, and Chan-wook Park), but none meant more to me than Miyasaki. We spoke with the help of his very nice translator to this understated, quiet-spoken master of the pencil and ink. His new film is called PONYO, a sweet tale about a goldfish that wants to become human, and it's another magnificent and awe-inspiring visual feast that ought not to be missed. Please enjoy Miyasaki-san.
Capone: What did you think of the reaction--just to you coming on stage, first of all, and then to the film as well, the footage that you showed? Hayao Miyazaki: Well, I know that the audience today are real fans, and the ones who are really pro-animation, so I don’t want to be too complacent, thinking that all the audiences will be like that. Capone: [Laughs] It’s not like that wherever you go? HM: I think it’s better if we don’t get too excited about that kind of reaction. Years later, after somebody has seen one of my films, then I meet them, I feel it was really good that I made this film for that child--by then they’re not children anymore--but, I have that kind of reaction myself. So, that’s what supports me in terms of making my films. Capone: Are the reactions of younger audiences to your films more important and fulfilling to you than those of people my age, for example? HM: It’s hard to gauge people’s reactions. For example, I hear sometimes that a two-year-old sat through the film, the whole movie, and it’s unbelievable to me that a two-year-old could do that. But, what that means is hard to tell. Just the fact that a child was able to concentrate for that long doesn’t necessarily make it something that we can really count on or evaluate the film by. And, there are also parts of the films that make the adults watching happy, too, so you can’t just have that to rely on either. So, I try not to get distracted by what the audience feels in terms of influencing how I make movies or how I see my work.
Capone: You made a joke during the panel downstairs about not knowing where your inspiration comes from, which is exactly the right answer for a question like that. But, I am kind of curious about the birth of PONYO, as much as you are willing to disclose. HM: The name, Ponyo, comes from sort of onomatopoetic…When you touch something, and it goes boing, poing, poinyo, poinyo…That kind of soft, squishy softness. I was thinking of making a completely different movie, and my concept was that I really wanted to show a stormy sea, and how a boat chases you on the sea. And, waves are higher than the house on a hillside, and I wasted a lot of time thinking of those things. Of course, those aspects didn’t make into the final film, but that was the kind of concept I had for this film. Capone: Do you keep track of other current animators’ work? And, are you still impressed by, maybe, what your friends do at Pixar or Disney or any of the other animation houses around the world? HM: No, actually, I don’t watch video or movies. I hardly watch any films or TV anymore. Before I came here, I was watching the Tour de France on television eagerly, but I had to stop that to come here. So, I was in the middle of that. Capone: [laughs] That’s terrible! Another interesting question that come up in the panel was about your usually having a very youthful protagonist and very often a female one. And, again, as much as you are willing to say, can you tell me why? I think it’s wonderful that you acknowledge that children often see the world in very different ways. HM: Well, in my studio, we make films basically for children to watch. Sometimes, we kind of get a little bit off course on that, but we try to keep to that general principle, that we’re making films for children. Within that, sometimes what I see myself doing is thinking of a specific child that’s around me somehow…My own children, of course, are no longer children, but, let’s say, a 10-year-old, or if one of my staff members has a 2-year-old, then by the time this movie is finished, that child will be about 4 years old. So, maybe, that can be the first film that that child sees. So, we have that kind of idea that gets affected by the age of the children that seem to be the first target audience. Actually, in this film, the person who is most like a main character is the little boy, Sosuke. And, it’s because he says he will protect Ponyo and works hard to do that…that the world doesn’t collapse, basically. And, he has many difficulties that are thrown at him, and he overcomes these difficulties, even though, as a boy, he doesn’t have a job yet. And, he’s not strong. But, he’s able to do what he promised to do. And, that’s the person who’s closest to the main character in the film. It’s very hard to make this kind of anonymous boy be a main character. It’s a hundred times easier to make a girl be the main character. But, I think now is the time that I can finally make a movie that has a boy as a main character. So, I started thinking of that with this movie. But, I think it’s going to go further, maybe, in the future.
Capone: I was going to ask about that. Over the years, I've heard rumors that you've threatened to retire. And, then, a year or so passes, and we hear about a new movie being made. So, have you at this point decided that you’re going to keep working until you can’t work anymore? HM: I’ve decided that it’s not a decision I can make by myself, whether I will continue to make films or not. It’s fated. And, if the conditions aren’t there for me to make a film, then I won’t make them. And, if they are, I will. But, now I’m putting a lot of effort in training and supporting unknown, young directors that could then make movies of their own. Capone: That is wonderful news to hear. But, please, keep making movies of your own as well! Miyasaki-san, thank you so much. HM: Thank you.
-- Capone Follow Me On Twitter

Readers Talkback
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  • Aug. 3, 2009, 1:25 p.m. CST


    by anonymoose


  • Aug. 3, 2009, 1:29 p.m. CST

    Anyone interested in Hayao Miyazaki's work

    by ScottGreen

    Check out Starting Point: 1979-1996 due to be released tomorrow (8/4/09) - it's fascinating collection of Miyazaki's essays. I've spot read a bunch, and strongly considering taking a day off just to read through the book

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 1:31 p.m. CST

    A Master

    by MediaNerd

    He's truly a master artist with a brilliant mind and always comes off as very quiet and modest. Excited to be seeing the movie this Thursday, thanks again Capone.

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 1:36 p.m. CST

    Starting Point

    by The_Coyote

    They were actually selling that at Ghibli booth at Comic-Con. I wanted to get one, but it sold out so fast that I ended up getting the Art of Ponyo book (which is awesome). Miyazaki introduced Moriarty's special screening of Ponyo that night, too. He got like a five minute standing ovation when he entered the theater. Cool dude. Not to mention a genius.

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 1:36 p.m. CST

    He is so cool.

    by Traumnovelle

    Just look at him. Legend.

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 1:41 p.m. CST

    God, why didn't I go to Comic-Con this year?

    by anonymoose

    Fuck Cameron, Burton, Jackson... I just want a chance to see Miyazaki in person, that's all.

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 2:06 p.m. CST

    My personal hero.

    by gnarwhal_evan

    I have a Totoro tattoo. This man is my god. I would kill for the chance to talk with him, even just meet him. Capone, you lucky bastatd!

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 2:45 p.m. CST

    Screw the kids!!!

    by Johnno

    I want Princess Mononoke II!!! Or something thereabouts... Before you die Miyazaki-san, I want another opus like that one! Show those Disney bastards how it's done!

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 2:45 p.m. CST

    Screw the kids!!!

    by Johnno

    I want Princess Mononoke II!!! Or something thereabouts... Before you die Miyazaki-san, I want another opus like that one! Show those Disney bastards how it's done!

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 2:55 p.m. CST

    What do you think?

    by frongbak

    About Howl's Moving Castle. I found it hard to get my head around.

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 2:57 p.m. CST


    by frongbak

    Definite Classic, I want one of those Forest Spirts for my desk, the original BobbleHead

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 2:58 p.m. CST


    by ev1ldead

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 3:42 p.m. CST

    Thank you Capone, and Hayao Miyazaki

    by Duke_Whittington

    Every time I watch a Miyazaki film I get this feeling that's hard to describe. The best way to explain it is the flood of emotions that the food critic feels in Ratatouie as he samples the dish at the end. That rememberance of childhood. No other films, animated or otherwise, have had that effect on me and for that I thank you Miyazaki-san

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 4:29 p.m. CST

    Howl's Moving Castle

    by sn2214

    That film is by far my least favorite Miyazaki film. I guess the plot just didn't really shine for me.

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 4:50 p.m. CST

    Now get Herc to post about Venture Brothers

    by Squashua


  • Aug. 3, 2009, 4:52 p.m. CST


    by Duke_Whittington

    Love the film for the most part but the ending was way too rushed.

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 4:59 p.m. CST

    Capone this was one of your greatest interview!

    by HollywoodHellraiser

    Hayao Miyazaki is a walking legend! I have to admit that I cheated because I already seen Ponyo!!!<p>It is as ever bit cute, awe-inspiring, and enviromental aware!<p>Ponyo is such an adorable creation and I can't wait til people get a load of the "lady in the water"!LOL<P>If I spoiled you guys, then forgive me!<p>Do yourselves and you kids, lil bro/sis, cousin, or whatever a favor and take them!

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 5:35 p.m. CST

    I love these little morsels of goodness!!

    by Ang_Lee

    Not only is Miyazaki a creative genius but the emotion that his films generate are in a class of their own. He has the ability to create worlds that are 'believable' in their own right and I'm fully invested in the characters and journey of each one I see… my mind gets blown every time…and now I’m semi-retarded, thanks Miyazaki!

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 7:01 p.m. CST

    What's also interesting, Capone -

    by maliswan

    Is that his female characters REMAIN women when going through their own struggles; in contrast, and for example, James Cameron has been lauded for his portrayal of women as strong characters, but they're just aping men. Also - Ever notice that in "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Kiki's Delivery Service"...That there are no antagonists! Very interesting, from a writers perspective.

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 7:46 p.m. CST

    By far the most incredible person AICN has ever interviewed...

    by Galactic

    Miyazaki-san is a true genius. You want to talk about a living legend? The man is already a GOD in animation circles, and he didn't even have to die to become considered that! His work speaks for itself.

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 7:56 p.m. CST

    LOVELY INTERVIEW! thanks!!

    by LT Weezie

    This interview, with the charming and personable photos of Miyazake-san, was fabulous! We started collecting his work (and the Japanese art books that came with them) when you were lucky to find a Beta tape of it! We have Laserdisc copies (from Japan), of every one that was available. We would never part with them, and are thrilled that they have been coming out on DVD (and hope soon) Blu-Ray. My favorites are Laputa, Nausicaa, and Totoro, but we watch them all and often on our big screen HDTV. One thing I just adore about his films...they are beautiful. The sky, and the environments - the ripple of the water, the waving of the grass. Amazing! We are thrilled that we will have more of these animated masterpieces to come!!

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 8:23 p.m. CST

    very fun

    by vaterite

    he seems almost as hard to pin down in interviews as his movies are

  • Aug. 3, 2009, 11:04 p.m. CST

    Miyazaki - surely up there with Kurosawa

    by Miyamoto_Musashi

    In terms of Japan's all time directors, and also in the world. <p> For me he is the greatest storyteller in the movie business. His imagination is second to none. <p> Just watched UP on the weekend and thought that it could have been a Miyazaki movie. Re UP was brilliant, will get best animation, though surely has to also be a contender for best film.

  • Aug. 4, 2009, 4:03 a.m. CST

    so hm makes movies the marvel way

    by bacci40

    no script, just an idea...script written afterward<p> hm is the japanese kirby

  • Aug. 4, 2009, 6:02 a.m. CST

    Howl's Moving Castle was great

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    Christian Bale's Howl voice SHOULD have been the voice he used for Batman, dammit, not that Clint Eastwood/Patty & Selma rasp.

  • Aug. 4, 2009, 8:22 a.m. CST

    If I sat down across from Miyazaki...

    by Silventhal

    I'd probably shit myself, throw up and then pass out. Greatest living director.

  • Aug. 4, 2009, 9:08 a.m. CST

    I love Miyazaki!

    by Animation

    He is awesome. I have seen all his films, except I havent got around to buying My Neighbor Tortoro yet. I need to.

  • Aug. 4, 2009, 10 a.m. CST

    Miyasaki and Pixar

    by Spock

    I too have enjoyed his movies and we all know how much the guys at Pixar idolize the man, but how many know that the feeling is not necessarily mutual? Miyasaki-san has NEVER seen a Pixar feature or short. Shocking but true.

  • Aug. 4, 2009, 11:33 a.m. CST

    Spirited Away, Kiki's Delivery Service, My Neighbor Tortoro

    by FeralAngel

    I am so grateful to Miyazaki for opening my eyes to the fact that a non-Disney toon can be just as moving and inspiring and beautiful and funny and just plain entertaining as the best Disney films without imitating them. I love his work to death. And can't wait to see Ponyo. The trailer kicks butt.

  • Aug. 4, 2009, 1:14 p.m. CST

    Not true Spock

    by Johnno

    Miyazaki is only being overly hyperbolic when he says he hasn't seen any other works. I know that Lasseter personally screened 'Cars' for Miyazaki and Miyazaki described the film as having a lot of heart, which I guess isn't high praise... but the point is that he has, it's just that none of it really influences his work...

  • Aug. 4, 2009, 6:44 p.m. CST

    One of the BEST if not, the BEST........................

    by SisterSpooky

    Animators/director/producer of all-time. Miyazaki's films are always inspirational, eye candy and full of heart. Thanks Miyazaki and AICN. I never forgot my first Ghibli film - Laputa. His films works for kids, grown ups and people who love to dream. Wow! Love the guy's works, it's wonderful, brilliant!