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Japan's anime master makes powerful films

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One of the first side trips animation master Hayao Miyazaki took upon arriving in Los Angeles was a tour of the animation studios at The Walt Disney Company.

"I love watching my colleagues at work," he says with a tranquil smile.

It is a fitting, if ironic, start to the American visit of a man whom younger disciples of the art form around the globe regard with awe-like reverence.

The directors of Disney's animated film "Mulan" remarked in a recent tribute that "Miyazaki is like a god to us." Over at Pixar, the studio responsible for the animated features "Toy Story" and "a bug's life," the feeling is similar. "When we have a problem," director John Lasseter has said, "we often watch a copy of one of Mr. Miyazaki's films for inspiration. And it always works. We come away amazed and inspired."

Now the maestro is on an international tour to bring attention to the English-language release of his wildly successful Jap-anese masterwork, "Princess Mononoke." (Its 1997 Japanese release set box-office records there with more than $150 million in earnings, second only to "Titanic.")

At the moment, he is ensconced in an elegant hotel suite exuding a Buddha-esque calm at the center of a considerable storm of activity. Half-a-dozen assistants flutter around him, and his personal translator warns that the master's time is extremely valuable and that "He does not suffer fools [gladly]." The lights and cameras of a Japanese film crew record the scene for posterity. The team is trailing its country's acknowledged king of animation to document his life story for Japanese television.

Miyazaki takes it all in and reflects on his reasons for becoming an artist of this particular form. "I want to capture the essence of movement," muses the magician of the hand-drawn cell. "Animation is a manifestation of that desire."

He has pursued that desire over a period of decades in his native country, perfecting his anime style, the comic book-based animation that was born in Japan. This particular form differs from the American Saturday morning cartoon or even the more sophisticated feature-length films first produced by Disney and now by several other studios.

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