Turning Point is the second collection in English of interviews and writings by Hayao Miyazaki. It covers the period from Princess Mononoke to the pre-production of Ponyo.
The breadth and depth of Miyazaki's interests are on display here. Where North American animators talk about the craft and the history of animation, perhaps also speaking of live action films, Miyazaki ranges much farther afield. His interests include literature, Japanese history, social class, gender roles, consumer capitalism, geography, nature, environmentalism, economics, child rearing, mythology, religion and comparative religion.
Miyazaki is conscious of his need for knowledge. "It's up to the individual whether one reads books while a student, but the penalty for not reading will eventually come around for the individual. Increasing numbers of people think knowledge and cultivation are not strengths, but ignorance is, after all, ignorance. No matter how good-natured and diligent you are, if you don't know about the world around you it means you don't know where you are. Especially in our age, when each of us has to think about where we are going, there will be a heavy price to pay for ignorance about past history."
Miyazaki reflects on the people who enter the animation
industry. "We animators are involved in this occupation because we have
things that were left undone in our childhood. Those who enjoyed their
childhood to the fullest don't go into this line of work. Those who
fully graduated from their childhood leave it behind."
The people who talk to Miyazki are not just reporters. They include authors, academics and scientists. It is a sign of the respect for Miyazaki and his films that he is not considered just an entertainer, but a social commentator with important things to say.
It is Miyazaki's curiosity and wide-ranging knowledge that makes his films so satisfying. He's not focusing on the box office or on story formulas. He uses his films to try to figure things out and the uncertainty as to whether characters or events are good or bad lends a complexity to his films that is completely lacking in North American animation. He says that American films "seem too manipulative, so I hate to give into that and get all excited. And with splatter films, as soon as the music starts warning us about what's coming up, well, they just make me want to leave the theater."
"[People] delude themselves into thinking films are all about
identifying with something and finding momentary relief in a virtual
world. But in the old days, people went to see films to learn about
life. Nowadays, when you go into a supermarket, you're presented with a
dizzying array of choices, and, similarly, people think of the
audiences for film as consumers who just grumble, or complain about
things being too expensive or not tasting good. But I'm not creating
something just to be consumed. I'm creating and watching films that
will make me a slightly better person than I was before."
The seeds of future work are revealed in some of these interviews. In an interview about cities made at the time of Mononoke, Miyazaki says, "I would like to see an expansion of workplaces for [older people] rather than insisting they have a comfortable old age. A town where everyone, from children to the elderly, has self-awareness and a role as a member of the community is a town full of energy." He's describing one of the main themes of his yet-to-be-produced feature Ponyo.
In writing about the 1937 book How Will Young People Live by Genzaburo Yoshino, Miyazaki reveals concerns that he dealt with in The Wind Rises. Both are set in the Showa period leading up to the second World War. "When Yoshino poses the question of 'How will you live?' he means we should go on living, despite all our problems. He isn't saying that if we live in a specific way that the problems will disappear and everything will be fine. He is saying that we must think seriously about things and that, while enduring all sorts of difficulties, we must continue to live, even if ultimately to die in vain. Even if to die in vain. Yoshino was unable to write directly about the violence of his times, so all he could tell us to do when such times arrive is to keep living without giving up our humanity. Genzaburo Yoshino-san knew that was all he could do."
I have one disappointment with this book. The period of articles that date from the period when Howl's Moving Castle was produced do not cover that film at all. It is a problematical film for me, and I was hoping that there would be a clue as to Miyazaki's thoughts that would serve as a key to that film. At the time, Miyazaki was also involved in the creation of the Ghibli Museum and the day care centre for Ghibli employees. Did these distract him from Howl? Unfortunately, this book gives no indication.
I sincerely hope that there is a third volume, as I am interesting in reading what Miyazaki has to say about The Wind Rises. In any case, this volume, and the earlier Starting Point, are essential reading for anyone interested in animation and particularly for those in the field. Miyazaki's erudition shames us. While many of us call for North American animation to break free of genre conventions, it will take more than wishes for it to happen. It will only happen when animation artists engage more with the world as it is and let that be reflected in their work.
(For more Miyazaki quotes, please see my review of Starting Point.)