EXECUTIVE PRODUCER & FORMER PRESIDENT OF STUDIO GHIBLI SUZUKI TOSHIO REVEALS THE STORY BEHIND PONYO
In the March edition of the Japanese magazine Cut more details behind the story and history of Miyazaki Hayao’s new film Gake no ue no Ponyo (崖の上のポニョ, Ponyo on a Cliff)
have been unraveled. The international interview magazine features a highly interesting three page interview with Studio Ghibli producer Suzuki Toshio and logically GhibliWorld.com presents a must-read summary.
Q: When did you decide making Ponyo? Wasn't it shortly after Howl’s ?
Suzuki: It was during the winter of 2005 and we started production in October 2006… One day Miyazaki consulted me what kind of film to make next and I proposed him the next movie should be for kids. “How about something like Iya Iya En?”
(Note: Iya Iya En is a picture book written by Nakagawa Rieko (中川李枝子) and illustrated by her sister Yamawaki Yuriko. The story is about nursery kids and all over Japan every nursery has copy of it which is replaced every year.)
I guess it’s the most sold book in Japan. Back when I was a student I once read it and liked it very much and since Miyazaki was young he liked just as much. Anyway, we had talked about the fact that it would be nice if we could make it into a movie. However, the book was published long ago and some offerings of making it into a film were made before, but the author didn't accept and agree with them. When we were producing Totoro, we were talking about whom we should ask writing the lyrics of the theme song. Both Miyazaki and I shouted at the same time "Nakagawa Rieko!" As a result, she wrote Sanpo for us and we were happy.
After that, we started Ghibli Museum and planned to make some short films. Miyazaki proposed Iya Iya En and so I asked Nakagawa for her authorization. We ended up producing it, even though it was only one part of its episodes. It was Kujira-tori (くじらとり, The Whale Hunt). However, this time Miyazaki intended to make the whole story of it into a full length feature and started preparing it.
Q: Talking about the Totoro theme song, most of those reading this article might think that it is easy to get somebody to accept writing lyrics if maestro Miyazaki asks for it. However, I don't think it was, because back in those days I didn’t really knew Ghibli well.
Suzuki: Yes, Nakagawa didn't know about us at all and it wasn't easy to get her to accept.
Q: You mean Ghibli and Miyazaki didn't have any brand power back in those days, right?
Q: Anyway, so Ponyo started as a film version of Iya Iya En?
Suzuki: Right. In fact, I've never told about this.....
Q: No problem, go ahead!!
Suzuki: Miyazaki is a person who has always been influenced a lot by the places he lived or to which he had traveled. For example, after he visited Yakushima he created Nausicaa and he got the idea of Kiki after he visited Sweden. In addition, some of Ghibli’s films got located around Tama (多摩, a western Tokyo suburb), but we got bored of it.
Anyway, some time ago through certain circumstances, we had a company tour of three days and two nights and with 250 people we went to a small town in Setonai-kai area. At first, Miyazaki didn’t want to go along, but he still joined us and liked the place very much. Actually, I knew he would. Not long after he wanted to live there for a while, so I arranged it and he lived there for 2 months. His imagination began to grow… After he came back to Tokyo, he brought up an idea to me. "How about not Iya Iya En, but Gake no Shita no Iya Iya En (The No No Nursery School under the Cliff)? It was just because the house he lived in was on a cliff. And one day he told me "This is my life's wish..." To tell the truth, I'm not allowed to tell this...
Q: No problem, go ahead!
Suzuki: He said, "There is no meaning in making a story of a nursery into a film." I asked him "What do you mean??" and he replied "I want to make a real nursery in our company!". In those days many people in our company got babies and finally we made an in company nursery. Miyazaki's ekonte (storyboard) of the Iya Iya En story was done only little at that time, so we quit it and the real nursery is to open this April. It was build next to Miyazaki's atelier Nibariki (二馬力, 2 horse power, its name is inspired by a CitroŽn 2CV, one of Miyazaki’s cars). In fact, for over more then 10 years he had wishes to build one. His wife also came to me and told me, "This is Miyazaki's long-cherished dream. Please help him." I'm managing it, but in the mean time wondering “What am I doing?”.
Q: Miyazaki really seems to like kids. Because of this it enables us to better understand Ponyo. In it a goldfish wants to become human and it seems to be a usual movie showing children’s daily life and their parents raising them up, right?
Suzuki: It's indeed a usual movie. The story is very simple, mixing an old tale and The Little Mermaid. A young little female fish is swimming and puts her head into a jar. She can't put it off, is washed ashore and is found by a 5 year old boy. The boy helps her and they quickly fall in love with each other. And where does the story go? It just like Urashima Taro. As the story is very simple, we are focusing on its expression to make it richer and more complex.
Q: We heard you are adhering on hand-drawing.
Suzuki: During this decade CG came up and we realized that it enables us to make expressions richer when using it as supplement of regular cel animation. On the other hand a new problem appeared. The progress of computing tech is so fast that it isn't easy to catch up. If a movie at one point is made by the highest tech, it will become outdated soon. There is one more point. We tried CG on Howl’s. For example, the legs of the castle were made by CG. However, it didn't seem very natural to me and I told Miyazaki that his skill was better than that of a computer. He accepted it and quit using CG after that. Hence the latter half of Howl’s doesn't include any CG. We now know CG has both its plus and minus sides. So the theme of this movie is as the story: simple. The visual effects are simple as well, while on the other hand it needs very hard working because of the drawing all it by hand.
Q: What impression do you have of it? Can you say "You'll surely be surprised!"?
Suzuki: It's stupid to pride a uncompleted movie, isn't it? However, I have a hunch it might become a masterpiece.
Q: Hearing so, I also feel that.
Suzuki: Miyazaki basically has a viewpoint of watching the essence of human in nature. He also has the dynamism of bold stories. He has kept both of these.
Q: Is there another output different compared to for example Howl’s?
Suzuki: I think so. Simple, but strong.
Q: So I think the new Miyazaki story can start from this point. I guess hand drawing all of it is not only the result, but also the cause of it.
Suzuki: Maybe so. He doesn't decay, even though he always says he’s decaying. It's a lie. He creates the motion of anime all by himself. If anyone comes in who is more skilled than Miyazaki, he can't stay any longer. But none can. It's both a pleasure and worry for him.
Q: Though Miyazaki is good at expressing aviation, how does he express the water that just simply exists there?
Suzuki: Well, simply saying: 80% of the movie is sea.
Suzuki: The waves are an important theme. He never makes others draw the waves. He draws them all by himself. He is devising to find a better way on how to express waves and sea. He is enjoying it. I don't know if it works well.
Q: Hearing that, I feel we might be able to see another Miyazaki.
Suzuki: The appearance of the movie is different. Usual audiences might say "Aha… this is a different Miyazaki from what I’m used to…" The backgrounds are also different. Not so many handed. I think those are going very well. To tell the truth, I almost thought he was over.
Q: (laughing) I'll include it in the article, ok?
Suzuki: You know, he is already 67. I'm wondering where he had hidden such strong power.
Q: When did you think he was over?
Suzuki: Well, I didn't think he was really over. I thought people necessarily get old. Generally speaking, movie directors produce their best in their 40s. And in their 50s and 60s they usually decay. Is it possible to avoid this? Miyazaki always says "Until when can I do?" However, this time he is making a really youthful movie, surprisingly. This time, he doesn't use his specialty - aviation - at all. Despite that, it is very interesting.
Q: I'm sure he doesn't need it. By the way, what do you think of releasing it in July? Will it be all right? (Howl’s delayed 3 months and missed the summer vacation)
Suzuki: This time I'm sure it’s 100% all right. Usually, we often delay, though it is going very smooth now. Look forward to it. I can say so.