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Hayao Miyazaki and John Lasseter on "Ponyo"

In conjunction with its release on home video this week, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has released the following article and interview with Hayao Miyazaki and John Lasseter about Ponyo. In it, Miyazaki details some of the inspirations for Ponyo, why there is are no computer graphics in the movie at all, his rationale behind the antagonists in his movies, and more.

Ponyo will be available on DVD and Blu-ray on March 2, 2010.

The full article follows:


PONYO INTERVIEWS WITH JOHN LASSETER AND HAYAO MIYAZAKI

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

“In one of my favorite scenes, Ponyo arrives at Sosuke’s house as a girl while a storm rages,” says Lasseter. “Sosuke’s mother makes noodles for her — which she discovers she loves. It’s so special, because Ponyo is a little girl but she’s a brand-new little girl and everything is brand new to her.

Ponyo transcends age groups: everybody enjoys this film,” adds Lasseter. “I’ve watched it with many audiences and people are truly entertained by it. There’s a depth and a beauty to the film; it really works for all ages.”

Aside from The Little Mermaid, what else inspired Ponyo? On a rare trip to Los Angeles for the movie’s theatrical release, the legendary director suggested that he 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.”

“He is one of the great filmmakers of our time and has been a tremendous inspiration to our generation of animators,” continues Lasseter. “At Pixar, when we have a problem that we can’t seem to solve, we often look at one of Miyazaki’s films.”

The lure of fairy tales still resonates strongly for 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.”

And what inspiration did Miyazaki glean from the acclaimed Disney animated version of The Little Mermaid? “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.”

Not surprisingly, the 68-year-old animation master, who manages to find the time to draw monthly for a Japanese Manga magazine, still maintains the same disciplined approach to making his animated features. “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,” he joked.

For those who notice a much simpler graphic design to Ponyo, it’s no coincidence. Ponyo marks Miyazaki’s return to completely hand-drawn animation. “Actually, at Studio Ghibli, we dissolved the computer graphics section before we started production on Ponyo,” Miyazaki explained. “So we had decided at that point to stick with hand-drawn animation… I think I can leave the computer-generated animation to [John Lasseter] and I can stick to the hand-drawn animation.”

In fact, watching Ponyo more closely on DVD or Blu-ray will enable the viewer to see how exquisite the splashing waves look. Miyazaki explained that the secret to the hand-animated waves in Ponyo was keeping the squiggly lines moving all the time.

“It reminded me of when I was on holiday at the beach with my boys,” explains Lasseter. “The waves were very different—coming up out of the water and smashing right on the boys. They were scared, so I started giving the waves personality—like they’re hiding from the kids and waiting for them to come close and then they’d reach up and get them. In Ponyo, Miyazaki actually made the ocean a character,” Lasseter continues. “The waves become creatures and the style of the water is actually very believable for the world that he created.”

And yet, Miyazaki’s appreciation and love of nature is very evident in Ponyo. “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.”

Even Miyazaki’s depiction of villains remains generous in Ponyo. The goldfish’s wizard of a father (voiced by Liam Neeson) is terrified that his daughter’s transformation into a little human girl will upset the delicate balance of nature. He tries to use his magic to return her to the sea and her former self, rather than letting go and letting her exhibit her free will.

“When I start creating a villain, “Miyazaki explained, “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.”

And with Ponyo, the director stresses the importance of family.”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.”

Ponyo is just stunning visually and tells a wonderful story. The magic in the film, the adventure itself are beyond description,” says Lasseter. “It’s so beautiful and full of heart and it features great characters. I want people all over the country to see it, fall in love with it, and discover Miyazaki’s whole library.”

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Miyazaki Q&A

On a rare trip to Los Angeles for the movie’s theatrical release, the legendary director spoke about Ponyo:

Q: Aside from The Little Mermaid, what else inspired Ponyo?

A: 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.

Q: Why are you attracted to fairy tales?

A: 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.

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

A: 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.

Q: How do you make your movies?

A: 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.

Q: Why did you abandon your CG department for Ponyo?

A: 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.

Q: How did you achieve the splashing waves?

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

Q: Where does your concern for nature come from?

A: 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.

Q: How do you make your villains so sympathetic?

A: 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.

Q: How is the importance of family demonstrated in Ponyo?

A: 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.

Return to Toonzone’s Hayao Miyazaki Week.

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