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A Handful Of Reactions To Last Night's SPIRITED AWAY Screening At The El Capitan In Hollywood!!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

I first had the privilege to sit down with Hayao Miyazaki in 1999, as part of the promotional push for PRINCESS MONONOKE. I was fortunate enough to be able to do a one-on-one interview with him that you can read right here. I still consider that one of the highlights of my time at AICN, and at the time, I hardly had any idea of how brilliant he really was. I was still new to his films, still trying to see them all.

Now, three years later, I can say that I consider him one of the very finest filmmakers working today, live-action or animation or otherwise. I think his body of work may well be the single best overall career by any fantasy filmmaker. I am awed by the characters he has given such effortless life to, and I consider his work as crucial to the language of cinema as that of Hitchcock or Eisenstein.

Last night, The American Cinematheque hosted an event with Disney at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood. It was the LA Premiere of SPIRITED AWAY, and Miyazaki-san himself was there to speak afterwards.

I’m already written a series of Miyazaki pieces that will be running next week, leading up to my Friday review of SPIRITED AWAY. I’ve seen both the American dub and the original Japanese version, subtitled, and have strong feelings about the movie.

Right now, though, I’d like to present the reactions of some of the other people who where there last night. First up, we’ve got The Lovely Kushana with a transcript of the Q&A that took place after the screening:

Dear Moriarity,

Call me Kushana.

I attended the premiere of Miyazaki's new film SPIRITED AWAY (SEN TO CHIHIRO NO KAMIKAKUSHI) at the El Capitan in Los Angeles last night. Here's my transcript of the Q&A with Miyazaki in MS Word format (if you need it in plain text format, I'd be delighted to re-send it.)

(Slightly paraphrased, I tried to get as many of Miyazaki's exact words as I could, but I may not have the phrases and questions dead right since I didn't have a tape recorder. All of Miyazaki-san’s answers are in red.)

Charles Solomon: Sensei, you said you made this film for the daughters of several friends who had all just turned 10. Please tell us some more about this.

A: I made many films but none that addressed them. Several friends' daughters have turned 10 and we have never made a film for them. I started reading books and manga and discovered there was a disconnect between what was in them and what was in the minds of these girls.

Solomon: I have heard the film, as originally storyboarded, ran three hours. What did you cut? Did you postpone this film a year?

A: The story would fill three hours, although there were not three hours worth of storyboards. In my usual tricky way, I said this was no problem, we just need one more year. I cut the film for the producer's sake: I remember the day, May 3, 2000. (No Face became a central character as a result of that cut.) It was a holiday that day, there were only 4 of us in the studio . I was explaining the storyboard when I realized, "Oh no, this is a three hour film..." So it had to be cut.

Solomon: So No Face is the producer-figure?

A: In the scene early in the film (when Chihiro is crossing the bridge) No Face appears as a minor character. I decided to expand his character -- I make up the film as I go along.

Solomon: And that's what we're doing here, tonight. I've heard that the scene with the Stink god/River god was based on a personal experience. Could you elaborate?

A: River gods have long been revered in Japan, but our actual rivers are desecrated and polluted. I helped clean the local river: once we did yank out a bicycle. It smelled bad!

Solomon: Is Studio Ghibli like Yubaba's bathhouse, with people running around, in a way that would upset a child?

A: When the Studio Ghibli staff ask me what the bathhouse represents, I say "Studio Ghibli". It's just a small building, our studio (like the bathhouse) has three floors. If a rookie animator was told to make a visit to the scary producer on the third floor, you would have felt the same as Chihiro did visiting Yubaba.

Solomon: You are Haku to the producer's Yubaba?

A: It takes both of us to make up Yubaba. At first he said I'm Kamagi (the boiler room attendant). Plenty of our animators have six arms...

Solomon: Many animators wish they did! What is your reaction to the English dub?

A: We haven’t seen it. I trust John Lasseter and trust he's done a good job.

Solomon: Princess Mononoke did very well in Japan, although the response here was not the same. It did not do as well, not equal to Japan, in part because it was set in Muromachi Japan [This was not as clear in the American adaptation of the script.] But Spirited Away is a contemporary story, more approachable by audiences in other countries.

A: Princess Mononoke is difficult for adults to understand, and better understood by children. In Japan it is the children who instinctively get it, while adults were scratching their heads. Perhaps it was too raw for American children to see...

Solomon: In America we have the odd notion that kids ought not to see some things... Talk about the importance of fantasy for children.

A: Fantasy is an absolutely essential element for children, as a temporary respite or escape or as a sucker and source of support. But if you go to completely into it and surrender to it, it can become a psychosis. It may sound hypocritical, since we sell videos: but I believe you should watch the films just once.

Solomon: I saw it four times!

A: Then you're close to psychosis, aren't you?

Solomon: I think the audience would do so, too! Since Miyazai woke up early this morning to fly from Toronto to join us, the equivalent of 2:30 am local time, we'll only have a few questions.

Audience member questions (cleaned up and paraphrased for the sanity of all involved):

Q: I've heard there will be an animated version of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai by Monkey Punch. Are you involved in this, or will there be another Lupin movie?

A: I am opposed to the animation of Seven Samurai. Lupin, I leave to everyone else.

Solomon: An equally bad idea is the current project to film a live action version of Dragon Ball Z.

Q: I heard during Princess Mononoke that you were having pain in your hand. Did you do less drawing on this film? Are you feeling better?

A: My hand always hurts. In Japan we have a saying, "To be long-lived is bad for your health."

Solomon: To be an animator is to be a masochist.

A: Perhaps.

Q: I'm a high school art teacher and yearbook advisor. Our young people always seem to be studying for AP exams rather than spending time with their families. How do I teach them? I can't replace their parents...

A: We have the same problem in Japan. Our young people don't study, or do anything but play computer games. I think in order to revive our children we need to change the way we live. My producer and I talk about this often.

Solomon: Children are mirrors, if their is a flaw in them then it is only our reflection.

A: In a way I can't point my finger at the current generation's parents, since we raised them. We should look to ourselves to understand the failing.

Q: I've heard you said that you would retire after making Princess Mononoke, but then Spirited Away came along -- are you planning to retire?

A: I've learned in life you don't always get what you want.

Q: You’ve created so many characters that people love. Kiki. Totoro. Nausicaa. Porco Rosso. Will you ever do a sequel to any of your earlier films?

A: Never.

Q: You said you made this for the daughters of your friends; I had nothing like this as a ten-year-old girl... Thank you.

Q: Some ideas come from dreams, some from hard work, some come to you all at once -- which ones are the most satisfying to you and what do you do when you can't think of ideas?

Q: What is the source of your inspiration?

A: I think and write, and think and write, and think and write; but the more I work and the more I torment myself the less it works -- then, from inside: voila! There it is.

The Lovely Kushana also had this to say:

Dear Moriarity,

Call me Kushana.

I couldn't disagree with Ms. Taylor's review more: I saw _Sen to Chihiro_ (subtitled) in Berkeley and again (dubbed) in L.A. The American voice actors were a good match for their Japanese counterparts, Disney did an excellent job on this adaptation and dub. I was especially pleased with Chihiro's voice, her characterization was key to the film and Disney made the wise choice of picking a natural, un-mannered, not-cartoony voice for the character. Lin's voice was also very well suited to her character. I only noticed a few places where lines had been added to clarify a cultural detail or a plot element. Per Disney's contract, no cuts were made in the film, and the footage ran just as it had in Berkeley. The film has not been Disnified, it is a careful and sincere translation of Miyazaki's work into English. This is still a strange, wonderful, beautiful film -- unlike anything else Studio Ghibli (or any other studio) has made. Wipe _Princess Mononoke_ from your mind and see _Sen to Chihiro_ on its own terms.


The Lovely Kushana

The “Ms. Taylor” she was responding to sent her review of the film in a few days ago, and I have to admit... I don’t know what to say to someone who isn’t charmed by Miyazaki’s work. I just don’t know what you could be looking for in a film if this doesn’t thrill you on a fundamental level.

Finally, we’ve got Mr. Jinxo with his look at the event:

Hi there!

Well I imagine that the mysterious Moriarty may have been at the Tuesday U.S. premiere of Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away at the El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles. But just in case I figured I'd send in a comment or two.

First of all going in I had already seen the subtitled version of Spirited Away and I have to say they did do an amazing job with the dub. This is not the normal case of a Japanese animated film being dubbed by actors who seem to think they need to overact the hell out of everything. This is a great cast just hitting it right on. Having Disney behind you does have benefits.

On top of that the American translation does do a good job of making things a little clearer and easier to follow. This film is much more ambitious than some of Miyazaki's other films. I know that probably sounds crazy given his other films but it is true. It's a bit more out there and any to make the audience understand it easier is appreciated. On first viewing I had felt it was a great film but maybe not one of Miyazaki's best. It was enjoyable but seemed... scattered? A lot of cool stuff that didn't all seem to add up entirely to something more. That was on the first viewing. This film needs at least two viewings. On second viewing I found myself putting it very high on the list of his films. The second time through I was more at ease in the world Miyazaki creates and so I could relax into it a bit more. And hells bells if all the stuff I didn't see adding up actually did add up to some really cool and meaningful things.

After my first viewing I had two of my friends both asking me, "What was up with the character of No Face? I don't get it?" And I kind of agreed. It seemed he was there for some sort of meaning but I didn't see it. The second time through I got it. And that was so great. It was like going to a familiar place you like and finding that you hadn't even seen it at all! How many films can you find that seem new on repeated viewing?

But don't let any of what I've said put you off seeing it maybe thinking its some deep boring foreign flick. On a purely visceral level the film is a great ride and a whole lot of fun.

After the movie the even bigger treat was getting to see and hear Hayao Miyazaki himself interviewed on stage. Even through a translator he was charming and funny. The film is about a young girl who has to work for a witch running a bath house (spa) for spirits and ghosts (I know that might sound odd but go with it). Miyazaki had stated in the past that the bath house was based on his studio, Studio Ghibli. When asked whether he or his producer was the mean witch he laughed and said it took both of them together to be that witch and that if you were an animator having to go up to his office at the top of the building for the first time to talk to him you'd be just as frightened as the lead character in Spirited away having to go ask the witch for a job.

The questions from the audience were not all exactly inspired. But blame that on the fact they were getting a chance to ask a question of a legendary director. It seemed like a lot of cases of, "I don't want to miss my chance to talk to him but I don't have anything to really ask" and then them trying to think of something truly deep and meaningful to ask. Except for the guy whose question was, "Can I get you to sign something for me?" Yep, we'll just stop the whole show for that. Anyway, with all the pressure most people didn't exactly reach "deep and meaningful". But you could tell they all really wanted to ask good questions if that counts for anything. And Miyazaki's answers were always entertaining.

When asked if, since he was a fan of Akira Kurosawa, he would want to help in the new anime version of that film he replied that he hated the idea of Seven Samurai being made into an animated feature. Got a nice round of applauds for that. Similarly when ask if since everyone loved his old characters like Totoro and Kiki if there would be sequels to any of his films he said no and again got a HUGE round of applauds.

He also said that fantasy was good to give people a chance for escapism and relaxation and that, even though they do sell DVDs and videos, he felt you should only see the films once. If you watched and obsessed on them too much he said that was... I don't think the word he used was psychotic but it was similar. The host pointed out that then everyone in the theater would happily have to be called crazy and that he himself had seen Spirited Away four times. To that Miyazaki laughed and basically told him he was pretty close to the edge of crazy then.

And he basically confirmed for me that my read on No Face was correct (if you want to go in, see it for yourself without any clue skip the rest of this paragraph - hardly a spoilers though really). While talking about children - I'm paraphrasing here - Miyazaki said that children's behavior mirrors what they are shown and taught by others.

So anyway I highly recommend anyone who has a chance see this film. And despite Miyazaki saying "see each film only once" I say see it, mull it over and then go back for at least one more viewing.

Thanks for listening,

Mr. Jinxo

I’ll be starting that Miyazaki series this Monday, and can’t wait to see what everyone thinks when they get their chance to see SPIRITED AWAY starting in limited release on September 20th.

"Moriarty" out.

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