September 03, 2006

miyazaki new yorker piece surfaces


In January last year, The New Yorker published an incredible profile of Hayao Miyazaki by Margaret Talbot, who landed the rare opportunity to speak with the director during a tour of Studio Ghibli. Frustratingly, the piece was never put online; only this related interview with Talbot was offered. But a renewed interest and some deeper Google searching turned up an online reprint of the article in full on the New America Foundation website.

Here’s one of my favorite parts, which I was reminded of watching Howl’s Moving Castle last night, and marveling over the depiction of one particular scene where Howl and Sophie are in an Alsatian meadow, with wildflowers blowing in the breeze, something you can’t imagine many young Japanese people have experienced (nor Americans, for that matter).

In a Japanese television documentary about “Spirited Away,” [Miyazaki] is shown at a meeting with his young staff, explaining how they are to draw certain images based on his storyboards. “The dragon is supposed to fall from down the air vent, but, being a dragon, it doesn’t land on the ground,” Miyazaki says. “It attaches itself to the wall, like a gecko. And then — ow! — it falls — thud! — it should fall like a serpent. Have you ever seen a snake fall out of a tree?” He explains that it “doesn’t slither, but holds its position.” He looks around at the animators, most of whom appear to be in their twenties and early thirties. They are taking notes, looking grave: nobody has seen a snake fall out of a tree.

Miyazaki goes on to describe how the dragon — a protean creature named Haku, who sometimes takes this form — struggles when he is pinned down. “This will be tricky,” Miyazaki says, smiling. “If you want to get an idea, go to an eel restaurant and see how an eel is gutted.” The director wriggles around in his seat, imitating the action of a recalcitrant eel. “Have you ever seen an eel resisting?” Miyazaki asks.

“No, actually,” admits a young man with hipster glasses, an orange sweatshirt, and an indoor pallor.

Miyazaki groans. “Japanese culture is doomed!” He says. When he describes a scene in which his heroine, Chihiro, forces open the dragon’s mouth to give it medicine, he says the animators should be thinking, as they draw, of what it’s like to feed a dog a pill, when you tip its head to the side, and “the dog clenches its teeth and its gums stick out.” There is more note-taking, but no sign that this might be a familiar experience.

“Any of you ever had a dog?” Miyazaki asks.

“I had a cat,” somebody volunteers.

“This is pathetic,” Miyazaki says. The documentary shows the chastened staff making a field trip that night to a veterinary hospital, videotaping a golden retriever’s gums and teeth, and then returning to the studio to study the video.

Full article here.