AN INTERVIEW WITH EDITOR NICK MAMATAS ABOUT VIZ MEDIA'S UPCOMING ENGLISH EDITION
This summer Miyazaki Hayao's Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea will receive its US release by the help of his American friends at Disney and Pixar Animation. Just around that time VIZ Media will not only release an English version of The Art of Ponyo, but also an English translation of a must-read book by none other than Miyazaki Hayao himself: Shuppatsu Ten 1979-1996 (????1979~1996, Starting Point: 1979-1996).
Shuppatsu Ten includes about 90 essays, talks, lectures, movie plans and texts that were contributed to various newspapers, magazines and other publications from 1979 to 1996. During the last 13 years of those, his most active period, Miyazaki Hayao established Studio Ghibli and directed & produced 10 masterpiece films: Nausicaa, Laputa, Totoro, Kiki, Only Yesterday, Porco, Pompoko, Whisper and Mononoke. Miyazaki tells many episodes around these films and insider anecdotes on Japan's animation industry. Andů every one of them is interesting.
Shuppatsu Ten is a book that does not tell very much on how to make animation, but instead it shows Miyazaki's philosophy, method of thinking, mentality and history very well. Apart from Miyazaki's popularity in the US, it might have a rather small market. However, Nick Mamatas, editor of Starting Point: 1979-1996's English edition, notes something different.
"We don't think that the market for Miyazaki is all that small, actually. We expect that the release of Ponyo here in the US in 2009 will increase Miyazaki's popularity and stoke interest in his career.
Further, there is increased interest in animation in general, and Miyazaki is a world-renowned leader and authority on the subject. He has to be "tangled with" as it were. Anyone interested in animation, manga, or filmmaking would benefit from reading Starting Point-it would be a good addition to recommended reading lists at film schools and perhaps be sold in art museum bookstores.
Ultimately, Starting Point is an important book. Important books aren't usually instant best-sellers, but tend to sell year after year. Even if there are a relatively small number of Miyazaki completists out there, nearly all of them will run to their local bookstore."
Starting Point 1979-1996 editor Mamatas is the "tradebooks" editor at VIZ Media, which means that if it isn't manga, "I do fiction, art books, and such", he is likely editing it. As far as the works of Miyazaki Hayao are concerned, one could say the legendary animation director has a special place for him.
"Miyazaki has always been interesting to me. I was in grad school for Media Studies in New York City in the early 1990s and would see his films in the art house theatres of my neighborhood. Kiki's Delivery Service was my first. There wasn't a lot of heart-warming or even well done animation on the art house circuit in those days, so the films' mere presence on the same screens where I saw transgressive underground movies was amazing to me."
Talking with Mamatas about the editing process of Shuppatsu Ten's English edition, he tells of his collaboration with two leading translators and scholars of Japanese popular culture-Fred Schodt and Beth Cary.
"They send me anywhere between 20 and 100 pages at a time and I spent weeks going through the material, sometimes spending my entire working day on just this one project. There are many different pieces in Starting Point-sometimes Miyazaki is confessing to his own inner turmoil or making an important point about the technical details of filmmaking; other chapters include a talk he gave to a class of schoolchildren. It's definitely a challenge to keep the different tones of the varied material intact during the translation and editing processes."
The other day, Studio Ghibli informed us of Yasuda Michiyo's retirement. For a long time she worked with Miyazaki as a color director. In a lecture which Miyazaki held back in 1982, he told about a woman who worked with him on producing Heidi in 1974. Her superhuman like work helped them so much in maintaining Heidi to be a quality production. While producing Heidi, for over a year she only slept for 2 hours a day. Now of course Miyazaki is known to be a big workaholic, but he was shocked to see her crazy working. Miyazaki does not tell who she was, though probably it was Yasuda (note: Yasuda Michiyo and Koyama Akiko were part of Heidi's final checking staff).
Stories like these show the backstage of making a TV anime series really well and make Shuppatsu Ten unmissable for any film enthusiast with a passion for the works of Miyazaki. So what in Mamatas' opinion makes this book a must read?
"Miyazaki is an explorer of the world of childhood. He's a very unusual individual, after all. Most of us have forgotten our childhood dreams, or failed to achieve them even if we managed to overcome the practical obstacles to even trying to make our dreams come true. How many astronauts or prima ballerinas do you know?
Miyazaki's dreams, at least those involving animation and film, have all come true. This makes him a very straightforward communicator; he's done the near-impossible. At the same time, he has never forgotten what it felt like to be an awkward child or a self-conscious teen. The tension between what he has achieved in his life and emotions that drive him is what really makes the book interesting to me. It's an honest book, one of the most honest I've ever read."
Besides being so honest, Shuppatsu Ten also contains a highly interesting special feature: it includes Miyazaki's less known manga Kuuchuu de Oshokuji. To be exact, it is not really a manga, but an essay with pictures and it takes 15 minutes to read despite it has only 8 pages. It has some episodes on the history of airplane meals, like the first-ever air-meal by a Russian or the air-meals served on zeppelins. In this case, Miyazaki does not note anything that has a value as a resource. As always, this sort of Miyazaki manga is very interesting and comes from his scholarly knowledge on aviation and military machines. Things like these make making an English translation ask for a special treatment.
"Some of the pages will be directly translated into English; a few will remain in Japanese and we'll put the translated text nearby on another page. That way people can get a look at Miyazaki's handwriting. It's cramped and agitated; it makes the pages seem like they burst with ideas."
Coming back to Mamatas' praise of Shuppatsu Ten being such an honest book, there is an honest and interesting chapter that needs to be mentioned as well: an essay contributed to a magazine commemorating the death of Tezuka Osamu. In 1989, all of Japan's mass media praised Tezuka's work at his death. He was a great manga writer and anime producer and was often called the "god of manga". Many manga writers followed Tezuka's style and none, except for Miyazaki Hayao, could criticize the god. Miyazaki was also much influenced by Tezuku when he was young and had tried to be a manga writer. Till he became an animator at Toei Doga. After struggling in making animation, Miyazaki exceeded Tezuka. Tezuka never commented about Miyazaki in his last stage of life. Most probably he must have realized he was left behind in time after seeing Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro or Nausicaa.
In Shuppatsu Ten Miyazaki told something like this, "Everyone praises Tezuka in lamenting and I don't think I have to add another compliment to add to that. Rather than that, I must point to his negative contribution to Japanese anime, because I'm the one who was influenced so much by him during my youth. His animation was silly. He spoiled Japanese anime so much..." At that time, everyone was shocked to read this. However, like the boy's pointing in The Emperor's New Clothes, Miyazaki's comment pointed the truth.
It is not only the example above, but it is all of Shuppatsu Ten's episodes and articles that make it interesting and impressive. Miyazaki's book allows its readers to fully understand him not only being a great creator, but also a very intellectual and humanistic person.
Most probably having raised people's interest with this preview & interview, Mamatas finally shares his own personal and most memorable part of Shuppatsu Ten.
"Well, that piece is certainly one of the most memorable and is sure to be controversial in the US as it was in Japan. For me, the discussion of Miyazaki's father and how he navigated the politics of Japan during the war years (Miyazaki's father was in aeronautics) was most interesting. He didn't want to fight, but gladly built planes for the Japanese military. At the same time, he was happy to bribe inspectors so that the military planes he made would pass inspection and be deployed despite being defective and sometimes useless in combat.
The world does things to us. Anyone can be an idealist in their own head. In practice, the world is a place that molds us, that we in turn push against. That's one of the continuing themes in Miyazaki's creative work, and also in his own life story. He's done better than a lot of people in keeping his idealism, but he is no Pollyanna. I think his concern about the war, what it meant for Japan (and being Japanese), and his twin interests in both military machines and peaceful environmentalism are all wrapped up in the stories of his father. I think that's the most powerful thing in the book."
The English edition of Miyazaki Hayao's extremely readworthy 500-page book "Shuppatsu Ten 1979-1996" will be released by VIZ Media on July 7 2009. Pre-orders are currently up at Amazon.com.