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ART, ANIME, AND JAPANESE CULTURE
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Chihiro and magical friend Chihiro and magical friend Chihiro and magical friend
Article written by Mark Vallen/Jeannine Thorpe, Sept. 13, 2002.

On September 10th, 2002, the BLACK MOON was honored to attend the U.S. premiere of director Hayao Miyazaki's, Spirited Away. Mr. Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki (Cofounder of Studio Ghibli and producer of Spirited Away) were in attendance at the gala affair held at the El Capitan Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. There were two screenings that day, one private and one public. We were especially pleased to be given access to the private "Press Only" showing, and afterwards we were privy to a "closed to the public" question and answer period with the two famous animators.

We offer on this page our complete transcripts of the Press Only "Q & A" session held with Mr. Miyazaki and Mr. Suzuki. We recorded and carefully transcribed the proceedings, editing only for clarity and readability. Linda Hoagland (who did the translation work for the English language version of the film), was on stage as the interpreter who fielded questions from the news media. Her elegant and concise translation ability made the event run smoothly. When possible we identified the questioners, (some members of the press did not clearly identify themselves).

We think Spirited Away is a remarkable work of art, and surely Hayao Miyazaki's greatest work to date. Rather than publish yet another glowing review of this extraordinary film, we thought we'd contribute something special to the public discourse by offering a glimpse of the film's premiere.

Chihiro remembers the past
Chihiro remembers the past

[Reporter for Frontline] Q: In the bathhouse of the Spirits, she (Chihiro) senses a visual portrait of the Japanese ancient religion which is called Shinto or animism. What is your relationship to this religion? A: My understanding of the history of Shinto is that many centuries ago they used... the originators of Japan... used Shinto to unify the country and that it then ended up inspiring many wars of aggression against our neighbors.

So, there is still a great deal of ambiguity and contradiction within Japan about our relationship to Shinto, many wish to deny it, reject it. My feeling is that I have a very warm appreciation for the various, very humble rural Shinto rituals that continue to this day throughout rural Japan. Especially one ritual that takes place on the solstice when the villagers call forth all of the local Gods and invite them to bathe in their baths. Q: In many of your films, the common theme is flight.... and pigs. What is it that you find so appealing about those two things?
Chihiro and Kaonashi (No Face) Chihiro and Kaonashi (No Face)

A: You know, I also make non-aerial films too (laughter). But I guess my feeling is that we humans both are able to subsist on this planet Earth and are stuck here because of gravity. So my feeling is that what flight expresses is a liberation from that gravity, so for me really, flight is a form of liberation. Pigs symbolize greed, but ultimately they're kind of likeable so you can't really bring yourself to hate them, just the way I feel about humans (laughter).Q: When Chihiro enters Yubaba's apartment for the first time, we see in the background an incredibly detailed Chinese-style vase and it's shockingly realistic looking... really beautiful, but it looks real and I'm guessing that was done digitally. And indeed in this film you seem to have used more digital effects than you have in any of your previous films. Maybe you could talk about the digital effects, and that kind of thing. A:You're wrong, that's hand-drawn, that Chinese vase. It's also not Chinese... it's a Japanese vase from the Imari area. All of the drawings are hand-drawn, all of the artwork that's featured as design in the bathhouse in the film is all hand-drawn. We've you know... given it a little, sort of "elegance-boost" with digital technology. In digital technology, the color hues remain profoundly unstable so I spoke with my staff every chance.... [trails off]

Q: The themes you explored in this film seem a little more familiar in the sense of the environment and a nostalgia for lost places, but it also seems that you focused more on the theme of family. Can you talk about some of the themes in this film? A: The relationship between Chihiro and her parents as revealed in this film, are very typical of most family relationships in Japan. I was inspired to make this film when some daughters of friends of mine turned 10 and the most important thing for me in making this film is that I wanted to persuade those ten year olds that this was a movie about them. I wanted them to be able to recognize themselves in the characters.

Chihiro and Haku
Chihiro and Haku

Q: It's been announced off and on that Studio Ghibli and yourself will be making a film from the British novel "Howl's Moving Castle" by Diane Wynne Jones and I understand that this is your next project. I was wondering how you discovered this novel, did you read the novel on your own and decide this would be a good picture, a very good plot to make into a picture, or did someone suggest it to you? [Mr. Suzuki responds] A: Actually, the next project has not yet been formally announced in Japan so unfortunately I can't answer any questions about the next project.

[Mr. Miyazaki also responds] A: You know, I'm going to be doing it as usual, and the real reason he (Mr. Suzuki) doesn't want to talk about it is because he's not sure I can handle it (laughter). Q: I'm just wondering, given that the inspiration of the making of the film... to impact the ten year olds in Japan, what has been the affect of the film on ten year old girls and other people in Japan? A: Well actually my ten year old friends... of course by the time the film was made, were quite a bit much more like young ladies, but I think they really enjoyed the film. You know, pretty much everybody in the world has either been ten, or is going to be ten, and so I think everybody in Japan very much enjoyed the film. [John Murphy from the Movie World Radio show -KLAC AM 570] Q: Mr. Miyazaki, I enjoyed your film very very much. My question to you is, given the American audience, you made the films for ten year olds and above, a lot of the youth of our culture do not understand the history of Japan's culture with Gods in every aspect of being in Japan: Gods in the forest, Gods in the water, Gods in the sky. So not knowing that history and those traditions in Japanese culture, what can the American audiences, especially the young American audiences, get by seeing "Spirited Away"? A: I think I would like them to be in the movie theatre with a sense of humility about the complexity and difficulty of the world that we live in. But I think that an encounter with a film is always an encounter with something new... so I think there is the possibility for everyone in the world to appreciate this film.

Q: I know that your films have an extraordinarily high reputation both in Japan and in Europe. Given the somewhat disappointing box office of Princess Mononoke, what are your feelings about the upcoming release of the film here? A: You know, our presence here today and your being able to see the film today, all of this and the North American release... I owe to the unflagging dedication and determination of my dear friend John Lasseter who bulldozed his way through every obstacle to make this release happen. I frankly am not a big fan of valuing, evaluating a film's worth based on box office receipts. I believe that a film should represent a very intimate personal encounter between what's on the screen and an individual's heart, and to try to reduce the value of that to numbers on a page is not something that I can be a fan of.

Q: I have a girl with me who is going to be ten and I can vouch that she liked it very much and wants to see it again. I want to go back to the question about the digital versus the hand drawn, and I know it's hard to break it down but I'm just wondering because its so beautiful.... digitally, probably was hand drawn or as you said amplified a little bit by the digital technology. Could you tell us kind of how it broke down in terms of percentage how much was digital and how much was hand drawn?
A:
Fundamentally, the animation is all pencil drawn. In a few scenes we turned to digital, for instance to create patterns on the waves or to show bubbling water, water bubbling up.

Chihiro and Rin (Lin) Chihiro and Rin (Lin)
Chihiro and Rin (Lin) Chihiro and Rin (Lin)

As we headed into production on this film I gathered my staff and I said to them, "This is a two dimensional film, this is our strength." And there is a fundamental difference in thinking and approach between 3D movies and 2D, and I'll give you an example. For instance, I don't know if you noticed, but Yubaba's head, large as it is, is not identically the same size in every scene. Depending on my mood and her mood, the size of her head changes. This is something ... a relationship that we're... an emotional relationship that we developed to scale with the audience that we'd have to abandon if we wholeheartedly embraced 3D. I'm holding on to my pencil.

Just a normal train ride Just a normal train ride
Just a normal train ride Just a normal train ride

[Reporting for TheBlackMoon.com] Q: Art has the ability to transcend borders and nationalities. Many Americans don't know very much about Japan, but young Americans are turning towards anime as a way to understand Japan. What do you feel about this type of exchange... this type of cultural exchange, and in particular, how do you feel about being a part of that process? A: You know the truth is that many young people in Japan are as blissfully ignorant of their own traditions as many American young people are. So in some ways they're surprised at seeing many of the classical traditions in this film, its quite the same as what Americans may find in the film.

Q: The question I had, involving your films over the last many years, it seems to me that the themes and subject matters become more and more... for the lack of a better word, adult, more serious, and this is at a time when it seems that animation in this country is becoming simpler and simpler. I want to know how you feel as far as the audience, you mentioned for this film you were thinking in terms of ten year old children, and I think in the United States any films made directly at 10 year olds are going to be... simple. A: You know, to make a true children's film is a real daunting challenge and this is because we need to clearly portray the essence of a very complex world. So a truly... a real dedicated children's film is something that adults will also find rewarding, whereas a film made for adults that simply consists of a kind of adornment and decoration will leave children deeply dissatisfied. So I really am opposed to simplifying the world to present it to children. The crux of the matter is that children know, somehow they intuit and they deeply understand both the complexity and the anxiety of the world that we live in. So I would suggest that you not underestimate children.[Continued Next Page]

You can also read the official SPIRITED AWAY PRESS RELEASE
Artworks used with permission. Nibariki.TGNDDTM. Courtesy of Studio Ghibil/Disney. All rights reserved.
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