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Princess Mononoke Director Interview

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"Princess Mononoke" is a very successful Japanese animated movie about ancient warriors, curses, and humanity's relationship with the natural world.

The following is an interview from the magazine "Nikkei Entertainment" in the August 1997 issue with the director, Hayao Miyazaki. He is also famous for many other beautiful animated movies including "My Neighbor Tototoro" and "Naussica of the Valley of the Winds."

This same issue contains several articles on the movie "Evangelion: Death and Rebirth" which are also translated here.

You may prefer the version with Japanese.

Interview with Hayao Miyazaki -- Getting the Facts About His Retirement

Interviewer: You conceived your current movie, "Princess Mononoke", 16 years ago. I hear it has become an entirely different work since that time? {1} How did you come to pick this subject, "Princess Mononoke"?

Miyazaki: Actually, in the beginning I wanted to do a fantasy rather than a period drama set in Japan. However, when I said "Now let's do it," I didn't have the heart for it. Because when you do a Japanese setting, you can't escape from how to style the kimonos and how to represent various other things. Besides that, I kept thinking "This isn't the right time."

But while I was putting it off, I changed my way of thinking and the core subject gradually changed, so the direction I wanted to take became very clear.

Interviewer: And what was this direction?

Miyazaki: I thought that I must make a deeper, more authentic movie. I continually thought about this as we entered the 90's. As I plunged in deeper, I came to look hard at the issue of the true nature of humanity, and to depict the relationship between man and nature and between man and man. Not just superficial ideas like "When nature is abundant, humanity will be happy."

When I say "superficial," I don't mean that it's entirely false, but beyond that we certainly know about the problems when man confronts nature. But anyway, I could not help but make the movie, and I came to the point where I was continually avoiding this issue. I couldn't go on like that, and I thought that I must get a bit deeper into it.

Besides that, this might be my last chance.

Interviewer: Your last chance?

Miyazaki: One thing is the money. I may not be able to do a movie as expensive as this again. I've come to accept that it's OK to mortgage Ghibli Studios in order to get going. For example, {2} when I was told by the producer that we were 350 million yen over the production budget, I calmly said, "Oh, is that right?"

One more thing is the matter of my age. Facing the issue squarely, I wonder if this will be my last...

Interviewer: You mean you have reached your physical limits? You are saying that you will retire from directing with "Princess Mononoke" as your last movie?

Miyazaki: I'm an animator, and it seems like I just got into movie production by chance. So, even when I'm producing, it's important to me to do a lot of my own pencil work as an animator.

However, that has become exhausting. So, I can't help but think that I shouldn't be an animator any more. To put in in plain words, I'm simply saying "I won't direct anymore. I will retire."

There's nothing unusual about this. Those that went before us also separated from the work little by little when their time came.

Interviewer: But aren't you raising up someone to be your successor? You've always said, "It's my task to raise up young people."

Miyazaki: I'm willing to give them water, and I'm willing to make them a shelter when the wind gets too strong. But really, I know that while I can give them water and shelter, I still can't make the seeds grow.

Somehow I was under the illusion that "If conditions are right they will come to full blossom." But, as one might expect, the blossoming hasn't happened.

One theory is that I'm like a heavy stone weighing down on them, but even if so, if the buds can't push through and burst out, there's no use in bothering about them.

Interviewer: Why aren't the young buds sprouting?

Miyazaki: It's very clear. Isn't it because in today's world people can have an adequate life, have enough, just by receiving? In spite of having money and leisure, getting and getting, they keep being told "You still aren't getting all the information."

With no real lacks, the way of saying "Let's set out on our own, let's make some changes" just disappears. It is said that "The Japanese are skillful" and "We are a nation that likes to make things." Some people like this remain, but the majority of the Japanese are unskillful and prefer enjoying things to making things.

But fortunately the bubble has burst and hard times have clearly come. Finally we have come to the point where surviving is hard and making a living is hard, and out of this must come a new type of people. This is a tough new bunch {3} who will say, "Even with no support, I know what I want to do." Comparatively, in a time of decline all kinds of cultural achievements will come out.

Interviewer: Supposing that buds come out, I think there will still be a problem making attractive software.

(Note: In Japan, "software" includes movies and other artistic work.)

Miyazaki: Various people say that software will be important from now on, but they're all on the distribution side. They're always thinking about getting things out the door and making a profit. I think the most important issue is that so few people are saying "Let's make something big and original from the ground up."

Interviewer: So there aren't any investors who will bear the risk of making new software...

Miyazaki: There aren't any people who will fight, with a willingness to take the risk of saying "I'm going to bet on this guy's talent." When you get right down to it, you come to the problem of human nature...

Yasuyoshi Tokuma is a [willing] person like that. He's a man who says "Make something good," but after it's a hit doesn't say "Make something just like it." I think it's thanks to getting together with him that Ghibli Studio {4} has been able to keep going for 10 years. It was extremely lucky for me.

(Note: Yasuyoshi Tokuma is the CEO of Tokuma Bookstores, the company that distributes Ghibli Studio's movies).

Interviewer: This year, animated movies like "New Century Evangelion", with worlds that are completely different from the ones in your art, have came out one after another and earned a large portion of the entertainment money. How does this trend look to you?

Miyazaki: I'm happy for (Hideaki) Anno, who made "Evangelion." {5} According to my own experience, one's right to speak increases after making a hit. The more hits, the more artists with an increased right to speak there are, and the better it will be for movies as a whole.

Generally, when I look back on it, Ghibli Studio's movies have by no means been the most popular. Movies like "Little Maruko" and "Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon" may have been the ones.

We intentionally aim past the Milky Way. I think that is why we are able to produce works that raise deep questions, like "Princess Mononoke."

Footnote 1

From the first conception 16 years ago, this movie has become something completely different.

Because of her father's careless promise, the daughter of a lord was married to a mononoke [forest spirit]. She stubbornly refused the mononoke, but after she saw it fight desperately to save the soul of her father who was possessed by an evil spirit and turned into a tyrant, she decided to leave the castle completely and spend her life in the forest with the mononoke. This typical Miyazaki fantasy work has been completed. It is now being sold as a picture-book (by Tokuma Bookstore).

Footnote 2

Because Mr. Miyazaki always takes the challenge of doing something new, his production expenses usually go over budget. The one who has demonstracted the business skill to keep the books balanced, the one in Ghibli's management doing the actual cost administration is the producer, Toshio Suzuki. (He is now managing director of Tokuma Bookstores). It's a great combination.

Footnote 3

When speaking of tough new people, one can't help but think of young daredevils in their twenties, but the "new people" Mr. Miyazaki means are adults who, while gaining the usual experience in the real world, are able to put forth strongly their own style. To put it in terms of age, he is saying "A mid-thirties debut is ideal."

Footnote 4

He started with "Naussica of the Valley of the Winds" (1984), and after "Laputa, the Castle in the Sky" (1986) he produced new movies at a rate of about one per year. After "Witch Express Home Delivery" [Kiki's Delivery Service] (1989) made a record as a mega-hit, earning distribution receipts of 2 billion 170 million yen, the formula developed that "a Ghibli Movie = a sure 2 billion yen hit."

Besides this there are "My Neighbor Totoro" (1988), "Grave of the Fireflies" (1988), "Memories Drop by Drop" [Only Yesterday] (1991), "The Scarlet Pig" [Porco Rosso] (1992), "I Can Hear the Sea" (1993), "Heisei Racoon Battle Pom Poko" (1994), and "Listen Carefully" [Whisper of the Heart] (1995); with "Princess Mononoke" this makes a library of 11 works. There is also a home page about "Princess Mononoke" (

[Note: the page reference above is in Japanese only.]

Footnote 5

Mr. Hideaki Anno, who made "Evangelion", is an old friend of Mr. Miyazaki who worked with him in the past. There may be many anime fans of Mr. Miyazaki who are already aware of this, but the drawing of one figure, a giant god-soldier that melts away like a blob of mud, introduced towards the end of "Naussica of the Valley of the Winds," is actually by Mr. Anno.

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