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Interview with Animator and Director Miyazaki about His Work, Influences, and Response to The Recent Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Disaster.

Aired August 10, 2011 - 05:30:00   ET



ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (voice over): He creates worlds where fantasy meets folklore. Witches cast spells, castles float in the sky, and princesses protect the earth. Known as Japan's Walt Disney, Hayao Miyazaki is regarded by many as the world's greatest living animator. Even Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and Pixar's John Lasseter have thrown their weight behind him.

In 2002, he burst onto international screens with the ghostly animation "Spirited Away". Smashing box office records at home in Japan and earning him an Oscar for best animated feature. Six years later, he wowed audiences with the aquatic adventure "Ponyo". The English language version featuring the voices of stars like Cate Blanchett.

CATE BLANCHETT, ACTOR: Good luck, Ponyo.

COREN: Matt Damon.

MATT DAMON, ACTOR: What is that?

COREN: And Liam Neeson.

LIAM NEESON, ACTOR: Ponyo, you have to trust me.

COREN: While his films have the ability to capture the imaginations of children around the world, they also tackle more serious topics, including the environment, pacifism, and feminism.

Now, in the wake of the country's deadly earthquake, tsunami, and resulting nuclear crisis, "Talk Asia" is in Japan for a rare interview with the animation master, Hayao Miyazaki as we join him on a special visit to one of the worst affected areas.


COREN: Miyazaki San, welcome to "Talk Asia". Your country was hit by a devastating earthquake, tsunami, and then nuclear disaster. Your country is still going through so much at the moment. How does that make you feel?

HAYAO MIYAZAKI, JAPANESE DIRECTOR AND ANIMATOR: I had expected something might happen. I didn't know quite what, but I didn't think it would happen in the North Eastern part of Japan. I thought it might happen to Tokyo. And, of course, what happened to the nuclear plant is something I didn't expect. People in Japan have experienced many tsunamis and various earthquakes throughout the ages. And I experienced the American air raids during the war. So, I think the latest disaster shocked Japan's youth the most. But it is still very painful for everyone.

COREN: Because one thing that struck me, covering the event, was the way that the community rallied together and helped each other. Were you proud of your people for the way that they did respond in such dire circumstances?

MIYAZAKI: Well, actually, there were instances like that in May. I heard many, many stories about the heroic people who went to the site at Fukushima right after the incident. The rescue squads and fire departments. That's worth mentioning. Also, there are many people who saved the lives of children and others by making paths into the mountains. But, of course, there are others who did very silly things as well. I think that helping each other, the community helping, is actually something we do quite obviously. And so, I don't feel especially proud of that. I think it is something that comes about quite naturally.

COREN: Where were you when the earthquake hit?

MIYAZAKI: I was here. Right upstairs in this building. And I thought one of the bookshelves was going to fall, so I was holding that. There were about 20 people who were unable to go home. I told people to go home early. I knew that the transportation systems would be in a mess. In the end, everyone got home safely.

COREN: And then, when you first saw those pictures of that tsunami - that wave hitting the coast - just the power and the force of the water - what went through your mind?

MIYAZAKI: I hope when I say, "I sort of expected it". That people don't misunderstand me. I've done so much animation, the visuals were sort of there in my mind. I don't want to be considered a cold onlooker, but that is how I felt at the time.

COREN: Well, the nuclear disaster is still ongoing and it's triggered a lot of debate here in Japan as to whether the country should be so reliant on nuclear energy. I believe a third of your country's energy comes from nuclear. What do you think should happen?

MIYAZAKI: I think we should stop using nuclear power plants because it's an old system that we can't control.

COREN: Well, you have erected a banner outside your studios that says, "Ghibli would like to make movies using electricity without nuclear power". Without stating the obvious, I guess, you know, what is your message?

MIYAZAKI: The phrasing we use was meant to convey that it is our hope that we can make films without relying on nuclear power. And that really is what we wish for. Those who are for nuclear power have become ultra- conservatives and those who are opposing it are the reform parties. Therefore, it is our wish to break away from all that. Unless we make that leap, we won't be able to do anything about it. That's our wish. And that is shown in the banner.

Actually, I have been opposed to nuclear power for about 40 years. And in those 40 years that I've been opposed to nuclear power, those who are for it have really become a huge power. They have actually monopolized much of the thinking and it is really for their own profit and that of officials and businesses.

COREN: Do you think that the tide of opinion is changing? That the people will be able to stop the government from using nuclear power?

MIYAZAKI: Yes, people are voicing these opinions. But, of course, there are those that are still opposing those voices and trying to make them forget. Whether this country is going to become a foolish one or a very wise one is right now being tested.

COREN: What do you think of the way that the government handled this crisis?

MIYAZAKI: This government hasn't even been around for a year and it changes almost every year. So we can't expect much from that kind of government. They're handling the crisis very, very slowly, but they must reach the right decision. And I think that whether it be Mr. Kan or even if it is the Liberal Democratic Party, because they're the ones who started this whole issue in the beginning, it doesn't make much difference. People shouldn't be angry at the government. It is more that they should look at the true nature of this issue. That is the most important thing.

I think the demonstrations against nuclear power, the fact that there are a lot of riots happening, and people are voicing their opinions - it is becoming a wave. The people didn't do anything about it up until now. They were so busy choosing things. Whether this is more expensive, this is less expensive - now is a time where we must voice our own opinions. And I think there is a bigger wave of people voicing their opinions coming.


COREN (voice over): This is the city of Rikuzentaka in Northeastern Japan. Four months on from the Tsunami and it's still in a state of devastation. Hayao Miyazaki wanted to highlight the plight of the people here, so he selected a local school to hold special screenings of his latest film in the hope of giving some much-needed relief to more than 800 young students still affected by the disaster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (subtitled): I was excited that a famous person was here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (subtitled): I got goose bumps and was so surprised.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (subtitled): I thought he was a foreigner. His skin was white, he had a long nose, and a big beard. I was so surprised seeing him for the first time.


COREN: Now, tell me, why did you want to come here and show the children this new film?

MIYAZAKI: The reason we came here is because we asked what we can do, and they suggested that we do the screenings here. All we did is bring the film and brought ourselves over here. So, from the Studio Ghibli, the staff are going to be coming here from tomorrow onwards to do some volunteer work.

COREN: How did you feel when you heard the news about the earthquake and the tsunami and then saw the pictures?

MIYAZAKI: Well, I thought, "Why didn't it happen to Tokyo?"

COREN: Really? Why is that?

MIYAZAKI: The reason is because that this whole area up north has experienced tsunamis so many times and yet, for their business, they come back to the sea again. And then it happens again. The thing is, in Tokyo, we forget we're near the sea and just for our desires and for our own benefit, we build near the sea. And so, we forget the dangers in Tokyo.

COREN: When you look out at the town -- when you look at the devastation, the rubble, the cleanup - does it fill you with hope?

MIYAZAKI: Well, I think these kind of things should not be done by the government. I think it should be done by the community. By the people who are actually going to live here again. And already in Japan the cities like this were on the decline. And I believe those hotels over there probably didn't have too many customers anyway. And I don't think there's any rush to rebuild. Because we need to take our time. There were many buildings that were spoiling the panorama and spoiling the look of the whole city. And I'm quite angry about that. But the people who are going to live here should take the time and really think about what kind of town should be rebuilt.


COREN (voice over): Coming up, Hayao Miyazaki talks to us about movies, money, and why he boycotted the Academy Awards.





COREN: In 1985, you established Studio Ghibli, which is (INAUDIBLE) now with your partner, your friend, your long-time colleague, Isao Takahata. You have had this working relationship for some 30 years, which is quite amazing. What was the dream back then?

MIYAZAKI: Our dream was not to make the studio big or to last very long. We just needed it. It was out of necessity. We had to have a studio to make animation. And we felt like we could close it at any time. And sometimes I wish we had.

COREN: Why is that?

MIYAZAKI: Sometimes we have to create animation to support the studio, not have the studio to support the animation. But we can't really have that approach. So, we changed our mindset and say that we want to make this animation.

COREN: Well, since 1985 and setting up Studio Ghibli, you have created some 18 feature animation films with hits like "Princes Mononoke", which was the highest grossing film in Japan until the "Titanic" came along. "Spirited Away", in which you won Oscar for best animation in 2003. "Howl's Moving Castle", which was released in the U.S. by Walt Disney. And then "Ponyo", which grossed $164 million at the Japanese box office. That is an amazing, amazing amount of work that you have produced.

MIYAZAKI: It's just luck, maybe. That said, if you're lucky, it means sometimes you're also not so lucky. You never know which card will be dealt. So, we try not to think too much about that.

COREN: Well, what is your greatest success? What's the greatest film that you have produced, in your opinion?

MIYAZAKI: All my films are all my children. So, I can't choose one over another. I know which ones had parts that didn't work and which ones worked, but they are all dear to me. Also, they have all grown up and they have left me, so I have forgotten the little details. I have no projects right now, and so I need to get to work on the next film. I hope that God's going to give me some time to make it.

COREN: What is your next project? What is your next film?

MIYAZAKI: We can't officially announce it, yet. But it will be something that you have never seen before. Although I don't think that there's going to be an international release. Even fans of ours in Japan are going to be a little puzzled about this one also.

COREN: We're intrigued.

MIYAZAKI: You shouldn't be.

COREN: People often refer to you as the Walt Disney of Japan. I know that's not a term you like. Why is that?

MIYAZAKI: The reason being is that Walt Disney is a producer and I'm a director. So the genre of work is different. I'm not a producer. We have a producer called Suzuki (ph).

COREN: Disney has exposed you and your work to the rest of the world, creating English versions of your films. Characters have been voiced by the likes of Matt Damon, Michael Caine, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal - I mean, it's quite a compliment to have those people feature in your work.

MIYAZAKI: I met Lauren Bacall. She was quite a wonderful person. Although I don't know the other people that you've just mentioned. My friend John Lasseter - I've left everything to him. I trust him.

COREN: Well, you mention John Lasseter, the director of Pixar. He describes you as the world's greatest living animator.

MIYAZAKI: He's exaggerating. He's a good friend of mine. A very dear friend of mine. He worked so hard and really tries. And so, I should do that too. Whether to say we're great or the greatest, I'm just a bit older than him, so it's easier for him to say that about me. I do think that he should lose a bit of weight, though.

COREN: You did a deal with Disney in 1997 that they could create English language versions of your films. The deal was no cuts. And I love this particular story - that you and your producer sent Harvey Weinstein a samurai sword when he was handling the release of "Princess Mononoke". And, on the blade, you attached a note saying "No cuts". How important is it to preserve your work as it is?

MIYAZAKI: Harvey said, "If you cut some of this film, it will be a big success". And I said, "It doesn't have to be a hit". The film was already a success in Japan. We'd recouped the production costs. Releasing the film in America and the rest of it was all a bonus for us. We're not businessmen. Just as long as there are people, that there is an audience for the films we make, that is enough. We're not that interested in the business aspect. But, of course, this is a business, so I appreciate that, too.

The governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, after seeing a film I did, did not understand it at all. But the children who saw it said they really got it. Which is the more important audience for us? I think it's very clear.

COREN: You won an Oscar in 2003 for best animation for your film "Spirited Away". You didn't attend the ceremony out of protest of the war in Iraq. But what was it like to receive that international recognition.

MIYAZAKI: I don't like waiting for the result and feeling all the butterflies. That's the part I don't like. It's like being in a slave market. So I don't really worry about awards.


COREN (voice over): Coming up, we find out about the inspiration behind the animation master's colorful characters.





COREN: You were born in 1941, during World War II. Japan was at war with the United States. At the age of three, you and your family had to evacuate Tokyo and move to the country because of the danger of the city being bombed. How do you think that period shaped the rest of your life?

MIYAZAKI: Actually, evacuating wasn't such a big influence on my life. After the war, I lived in a part of Tokyo, Suginami-ku, which felt like the countryside at the time. My father actually experienced the great earthquake of Kanto in the Tokyo district and he ran through the city through fire, pulling my sister's hand. He also experienced the air raids of Tokyo - the great air raids of Tokyo. He actually went through hell on earth twice. I always thought I might experience something big like that, and I actually feel that I now have experienced it with the recent disaster. And I must stay calm. But this is something that happens repeatedly in our country. And ever since Lemanshut (ph), I have said to my staff and people that we really should stay aware. We were quite sure that something would happen. And now, I feel that March 11 was the event that I thought was coming.

COREN: I want to talk about your art and where it came from. You obviously were born with this amazing talent, amazing ability, but how did it evolve? And where does your love of animation come from?

MIYAZAKI: I wish I was better at art. I love some of the great artists of the 19th century and, compared to them, I just feel I lack this technique that they had. They have so much skill. I wish I had worked harder in my teens, whether that would have made a difference or not, I'm not sure.

COREN: Are you just being especially critical of yourself, do you think?

MIYAZAKI: No, I think I'm being quite accurate.

COREN: Some of your stories come from novels. Others come from your imagination. Tell us, where do you get your inspiration from?

MIYAZAKI: Well, to be very truthful, every time we have to think up the next project, then I go to a bookstore and I think of what would be a good subject matter. I'm always looking and I'm always searching for the next material. There are some projects that I do want to make, although my projects are things that no one will come to see. For instance, it would be very educational or it would be about the history of Tokyo. So, I have to give up on those and think of things that would be more entertaining and modern.

Actually, we were making a script just prior to the earthquake and the producer and I really had to think about whether to continue making it or not. It was a hard decision, but we decided to go ahead with it.

COREN: You have developed a menagerie of characters. Where do they come from?

MIYAZAKI: Just dabbling in art. And it just comes when it does. I never think of what the audience wants. It's really something that just comes to me.

COREN: You speak about the themes that are throughout your movies - environmentalism, feminism, pacifism - what is it that you want people to take away from your movies?

MIYAZAKI: The themes you just mentioned are just on the surface of the piece. And what I really want to do is reach people's subconscious and touch their hearts. That's what I want to do.

COREN: You've said that people who don't use pencils don't belong in your studio. How much of your work is done by hand?

MIYAZAKI: Basically, it's all hand-drawn. We are an extinct species, maybe. And island of the Galapagos. And, well, that's the only thing I'm interested in. And, therefore, people who are not interested in working by hand should choose another place to work.

COREN: Is what you do a dying art form?

MIYAZAKI: I'm pretty sure that it is. Of course, there are some masterpieces born from personal work - people doing it on their own - but, as a business, I think it is a dying art.

COREN: You once described computer-generated imagery as "fake, shallow, and thin". You do now use it in your work, but what is the rule?

MIYAZAKI: We never use 3D. Our computers don't have 3D. It's all flat, 2D. Of course, we use it for certain purposes, but we don't really use it for 3D.

COREN: You have two sons, one of them has followed you into animation. His name is Goro. And he did his first feature film, "Tales from Earthsea". It did extremely well at the box office, but he did suffer quite a bit of criticism. It must be hard, following in his father's footsteps.

MIYAZAKI: Actually, I am not for him following in my footsteps. But, if that's what he wants to do, then I won't stop him. My son watched how I never came home or I came home only after everyone was asleep. And he knows how hard it is. And he's the one who knows about that most. So, I don't really expect him to follow in my footsteps.

COREN: You've said that your future involves teaching your craft - handing it on. And raising this new breed of animators. What would you like your legacy to be?

MIYAZAKI: Actually, my legacy is the works I've produced already. All that will remain and those people following, they should do what they want to do.

COREN: Miyazaki San, a pleasure to meet you. Thank you very much for having us.

MIYAZAKI: Arigato.