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Oscar-winning animator Hayao Miyazaki bemoans prime minister, state of Japan

'Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea'
“Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea”

TOKYO (TR) – At a press luncheon last week, Japan’s most successful contemporary filmmaker expressed great displeasure with Prime Minister Taro Aso and concern for the future of the nation’s children.

Animation director Hayao Miyazaki, whose smash “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea” this year topped the box office over the summer, said that rather than raising children in an environment filled with nationalist ideals young people should be taught crucial skills, such as building fires, climbing trees and using knives and ropes, before learning to read and write.

“Instead of looking for ways to stimulate domestic demand by building bridges or roads,” said Miyazaki at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Thursday, “we should have the proper environment in place for our future generation.”

His harshest indictment came against Prime Minister Taro Aso, who has used his love of comic books as a means of garnering support from the otaku crowd. “It’s embarrassing,” the animator said, sporting his usual spectacles and thick gray beard, of Aso’s hobby. “That is something he should do in his private time.”

Such a bold comment was in line with public criticism levied against Aso since he took power from Yasuo Fukuda in September. A pension scandal and a downward spiraling economy has sent the prime minister’s approval rating plummeting to 36 percent, as indicated by a poll conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun in October.

Appealing to the interests of young people is not unusual for Miyazaki, whose films — from “Laputa: Castle in the Sky” (1986) to “Princess Mononoke” (1997) — have focused on children and their relationship with nature.

Miyazaki further bemoaned the virtual worlds that the children of today are living within. “When we look at the situation we see children occupied by television, video games, email, mobile phones, and manga,” he said. “We are taking away a strength that children inherently have.”

He acknowledged that his films, too, are part of this fantasy yet he considers this to be a challenge: “If children can feel at least one film is something they cannot forget for the rest of their lives it truly would make us happy,” he said of himself and his team at Studio Ghibili, which he co-founded in 1985 with director Isao Takahata. “Therefore, it is our intention to continue, and it is my intention to continue with this work.”

Miyazaki, who was born in Tokyo in 1941, graduated from Gakushuin University in 1963. He soon after joined Toei Animation. “Spirited Away” (2001), the story of 10-year-old girl who stumbles into theme park haunted by supernatural creatures, was a worldwide hit that garnered Miyazaki an Oscar in 2003 for Best Animated Feature Film. Two years later, he was awarded the Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement accolade at the Venice Film Festival.

Miyazaki admitted that over the years the themes of his works have changed slightly, with the possible interpretation of his latter films being more wide and varied. “There are changes in myself that causes this but also the world has become a more complicated place,” he said. “Following the lead of the real world, I find that my movies have become more complicated as well.”

The animator emphasized that it is his responsibility to embark on works that everybody within his team feels positive about. However, the early days posed difficulties. During the making of “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988), in which two young girls discover that their new home in the countryside is haunted by tiny spirits, Miyazaki lacked confidence but maintained his vision. “Judging by common sense at that time,” he said, “that film should never have had an audience. It was like trying to get a pin through a small hole in one try.”

For his part, Miyazaki has started to take small steps to improve the well-being of young people. In April, a day care center was established at Studio Ghibli for the staff’s children. The facility contains various hills and climbing areas. The animator was truly amazed to see how quickly the children adapted to the new environment.

“We no longer felt great uncertainty about the future of our children,” he said. “But rather we were astonished to see the capabilities of our children.”