Interview: Hayao Miyazaki from ‘Ponyo’

Ponyo, the latest animated masterpiece from Academy-Award-winning director Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) debuts on DVD & Blu-ray on March 2, 2010 from Walt Disney Home Entertainment.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fairy tale, The Little Mermaid, Ponyo tells the enchanting and visually rich story of a young and overeager goldfish named Ponyo and her quest to become human. Ponyo was the top film in Japan in 2008 and is the eighth highest grossing film in Japanese history. Featuring an all-star English language voice cast, including newcomers Noah Cyrus and Frankie Jonas, the Walt Disney Studios presentation of a Studio Ghibli film is also the highest grossing Miyazaki feature in U.S. history.

The single disc Ponyo DVD contains the new English-language version executive produced by John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer for Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, and Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall. Also included is the subtitled original Japanese version. Bonus features include: “Behind The Microphone,” a behind the scenes look at the voice talent for Ponyo, and the music video for the Ponyo theme song sung by Frankie Jonas & Noah Cyrus.

Meanwhile, the single disc Ponyo Blu-ray contains the same content as the DVD, plus such exclusive bonus features as “The Five Geniuses Who Created Ponyo” (including Supervising Animator Katsuya Kondo, Art Director Noboru Yoshida, Color Designer Michiyo Yasuda and Recording & Sound Mixer Shuji Inoue); interviews with Miyazaki and long-time producer Toshio Suzuki; a storyboard documentary; and Trailer #2.

We had the pleasure of talking with Ponyo director Hayao Miyazaki about his inspiration for the movie, how he creates his masterpieces, and the message he hopes to convey.

Aside from The Little Mermaid, what else inspired Ponyo?

Hayao Miyazaki: I was initially attracted to a children’s book about a frog: But as I worked on the story, it became something completely different… so I didn’t pursue that direction. I have told the author of that children’s book that that was the hint for this film, though. Sometimes, I test myself, wondering, if I get a death sentence if I don’t make this movie, would I still make this movie. And that’s where the frog came into play.

Why are you attracted to fairy tales?

Hayao Miyazaki: When I work on a new story, I think I’m writing a new story, but when I scrape things away to its core, I realize that there are fragments of these old folk tales or legends that form my stories. It’s not that I’m trying to resurrect an old legend, but naturally it’s there at the core. I think it shows that I’m in the flow of human civilization.

Did you reference Disney’s animated version of The Little Mermaid?

Hayao Miyazaki: I watched the video of The Little Mermaid many years ago when I was first given it,” Miyazaki continued, “but I haven’t watched it recently. And, on purpose, I didn’t watch it while making this film.

How do you make your movies?

Hayao Miyazaki: I do all my work on storyboard, so as I draw my storyboard, the world gets more and more complex. And as a result, my north, south, east, west sense of direction kind of shift and go off base. But it seems like my staff as well as the audience don’t quite realize that this is happening. Don’t tell them about it.

Why did you abandon your CG department for Ponyo?

Hayao Miyazaki: Actually, at Studio Ghibli, we dissolved the computer graphics section before we started production on Ponyo. So we had decided at that point to stick with hand-drawn animation… I think I can leave the computer-generated animation [John Lasseter] and I can stick to the hand-drawn animation.

How did you achieve the splashing waves?

Hayao Miyazaki: The secret was keeping the squiggly lines moving all the time.

Where does your concern for nature come from?

Hayao Miyazaki: It’s not that nature or ecology has become a growing concern for me. I think it’s just part of our natural surrounding and it’s sort of a common thing to depict it. For example, I tell my artists and the team working together to make it smoggier. Then it looks more like the natural surroundings that we live in. It’s not that I like smog. So it’s the kind of landscape that our children and we are used to living in and whether we should do something about it or not is something that we should think about in real life rather than depicting it in a particular way in the stories on screen.

How do you make your villains so sympathetic?

Hayao Miyazaki: When I start creating a villain, I start liking the villain and so the villain is not really evil. The Fleischer brothers made Superman, and they have a scene where there’s a steel making iron works right behind the Hollywood Hills. A bad guy — the evil character — who puts so much into creating such a factory and investing so much is somebody that should be lovable. And villains actually work harder than the heroes.

How is the importance of family demonstrated in Ponyo?

Hayao Miyazaki: The most important thing is, I think, that even within such an environment, children grow up, they learn to love and they enjoy living in that environment. I think what is most important is that parents and children see each other as being very valuable and very precious to each other, and if they can get that out of the movie that’s fine.

Official Ponyo Site:

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