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Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2008

FYI

HAYAO MIYAZAKI

Japan's greatest film director?


Staff writer

How great is Hayao Miyazaki? Domestically, three of his movies are among the top five money-earners: His "Spirited Away" from 2001 outstrips even "Titanic" and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." Globally, his movies are the darlings of international film festivals. "Spirited Away" took the Golden Bear Prize, the highest award at the Berlin International Film Festival, in 2002, making it the first and only animated film to take the top honors.

Arguably the world's most famous animated film director, he is a role model for young people. Many wannabe "anime" creators apply for jobs at Studio Ghibli, the studio and production company he cofounded in Tokyo in 1985 with Isao Takahata, a colleague from Toei Animation Co. and elsewhere. Studio Ghibli now has 140 employees.

Miyazaki's latest movie is "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea," which tells the story of the friendship between a genetically modified girl-fish and a human boy. It was shown at the Venice Film Festival that ended Sept. 6 but did not win a prize.

Miyazaki was born Jan. 5, 1941, and graduated from Gakushuin University in Tokyo with a degree in politics and economics in 1963.

What movies has Miyazaki directed?

He has directed 10 movies: "Lupin the III: The Castle of Cagliostro" in 1979, "Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind" in 1984, "Laputa: Castle in the Sky" in 1986, "My Neighbor Totoro" in 1988, "Kiki's Delivery Service" in 1989, "Crimson Pig" in 1992, "Princess Mononoke" in 1997, "Spirited Away" in 2001, "Howl's Moving Castle" in 2004 and "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea," which is now in cinemas.

What was his highest grossing movie in Japan?

With ticket sales of ¥30.4 billion, "Spirited Away" is not only Miyazaki's biggest hit, but the biggest movie ever in Japan, according to the Federation of Japanese Films Industry Inc. Coming in second and third are "Titanic" at ¥26.2 billion and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" at ¥20.2 billion. Miyazaki's "Howl's Moving Castle" and "Princess Mononoke" hold the fourth and fifth places, earning ¥19.6 billion and ¥19.4 billion, respectively.

As of Sept. 25, "Ponyo" had taken in ¥14.3 billion.

What are the characteristics of Miyazaki's animated movies?

All of his movies feature strong and independent females in their teens or younger, often as the main character. Both children and adults find his work enjoyable. In most of his films, the main characters fly, maybe by using a broom or a flying cat bus as in "My Neighbor Totoro." In "Spirited Away," the main character, 10-year-old Chihiro, flies hand in hand with a boy who can turn into a dragon.

What do the experts say about his films?

Most praise his works. Haruhiko Kamijima, a novelist who authored a book about Miyazaki's movies, said no Japanese director — including Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu or Takeshi Kitano — has had a bigger impact on the worldwide movie industry than Miyazaki. That is partly because his movies are animated, an area in which Japanese artists shine, he said. He favors Miyazaki's recent works, and "Ponyo" is Miyazaki's best, he said.

Miyazaki is an excellent animator, Kamijima said. He is good at drawing. "Ponyo" was done without using computer graphics, which means Miyazaki and his staff drew all the pictures needed to produce the movie, Kamijima said.

"Miyazaki goes against the current trend by not using a computer," he said.

Meanwhile, Kaoru Kumi, who wrote a book critical of Miyazaki's movies, dismisses him as a mere animator and says his scripts are of low quality. Miyazaki does not begin with a script. Rather, in many cases he first comes up with a visual idea, and then thinks of a story to back up the visual, resulting in strange and arbitrarily made-up plots, Kumi said. He also complains that Studio Ghibli has not turned out a great director because Miyazaki cannot teach scriptwriting.

The judges at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2002 were deceived by the visuals of "Spirited Away," he said.

Defending Miyazaki, Kamijima said the director doesn't need to work from a script because he can create plots in his head with storyboards. He also praises Miyazaki for giving promising young animators the chance to work as paid employees at Studio Ghibli. Though many are interested in the field of animation, work is hard to come by, so Miyazaki is a valuable patron, he added.

What makes the visuals of his movies special?

He uses many different colors whereas most anime directors stick to the three primary colors of red, blue and yellow — plus a few other colors thrown in. His films use 300 to 600 different colors, according to "The Secret of Studio Ghibli" authored by Hayato Kazami and Tokyo Anime Research Association in 2002.

Miyazaki's characters exhibit a variety of expressions and gestures, even within a single scene. For example, in "Spirited Away," several customers at a public bath, some of the "8 million gods," walk slowly, while the employees, who are froglike creatures, hastily run up and down the hallways and stairs in all different directions. Producing that scene took a lot of time and effort, and most anime directors avoid such scenes, according to the book.

Miyazaki and his staff must create endless animation cells. Typically, his movies require 50,000 to 150,000 sheets, compared with about 10,000 used in a regular one-hour animated TV show, the book says.

The book also says Miyazaki's hair turns gray during the eight months it takes to make a movie, when he works from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day, and gradually turns black again after the movie is done.

How was Studio Ghibli established?

Impressed by the talents of Miyazaki and Takahata, Toshio Suzuki, the editor in chief of anime magazine Animage, arranged for the magazine's publisher, Tokuma Shoten, to set up Studio Ghibli for them in Mitaka, Tokyo, in June 1985. The two had worked together at several anime companies. Studio Ghibli set up its own studio in Koganei, Tokyo, in August 1992, and merged with Tokuma Shoten to create Tokuma Shoten Studio Ghibli Co. in June 1997.

What does Ghibli mean?

It is based on an Italian word meaning the hot wind of the Sahara Desert. It represents Miyazaki's ambition to blow a strong wind of change through the animation industry, according to "The Secret of Studio Ghibli."

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays (Wednesday in some areas). Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to National News Desk


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