Spate of memoirs reveal the harsh realities behind Ghibli’s enigma
The Asahi Shimbun by ATSUSHI OHARA/ Staff Writer November 1, 2016
Hirokatsu Kihara (Photo by Atsushi Ohara) / “Mou Hitotsu no ‘Barusu’” (Provided by Kodansha Ltd.)
Its animated movies caught the imagination of millions around the world, but relatively little was known about the inner workings of Studio Ghibli until several memoirs by former staff appeared one after another over the past year.
These books vividly document the first-hand experiences of key Ghibli players.
While one recalls anime maestro Hayao Miyazaki’s struggles during the pioneering studio’s early days, others describe his professionalism as a director and the turbulent process of the company’s global expansion.
The tales of their blood, sweat and tears live up to the legendary studio’s name, which means sirocco.
In his latest book published by Kodansha Ltd. on Oct. 5, “Mou Hitotsu no ‘Barusu’” (The other “balse”), ghost story writer Hirokatsu Kihara graphically describes how Miyazaki devoted himself to working on “Castle in the Sky” with overwhelming intensity. At the time, Kihara served as a production assistant in charge of liaising with each department of the studio.
3 above - “Castle in the Sky”
Released in 1986, the film was the first Ghibli production, meaning it would determine the fate of the studio.
Miyazaki, who was 45 at the time, put so much pressure on himself that his hair turned white by the time the movie was complete.
“I thought I should document his struggles and efforts hidden behind his public image as a genius,” Kihara said of his book.
In one famous scene from the movie in which protagonists Pazu and Sheeta chant the word “balse” as a destructive spell, the boy and the girl place a “flying stone” between their hands. But when Kihara delved into production materials from the feature, he found a draft of a storyboard showing the two presenting the magical stone to the main villain, Muska.
“An action adventure story in which good triumphs over evil can end like this, but I think Miyazaki-san wanted to present the story as a drama where the two bring their hearts together as one.”
Anime producer Tomohiko Ishii recalls his training experiences under Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki in his book “Jibun o Suteru Shigoto-jutsu” (Professionalism that requires you to discard yourself) published by Wave Publishers Co. in August.
Suzuki had given Ishii numerous instructions that may sound unreasonable, including “Discard yourself and imitate what I do for the next three years.” However, the essence of his advice is: “Let go of your ego.”
“I want young people who are caught up in finding and fulfilling themselves like I had been to read it,” Ishii said.
Steven Alpert’s memoir “Wagahai wa Gaijin dearu: Ghibli o Sekaini Utta Otoko" (I am a foreigner: A man who sold Ghibli to the world) was published in September by Iwanami Shoten Publishers. Alpert took charge of Ghibli’s overseas operations after the studio sealed a distribution partnership with Walt Disney Co.
The book contains a notable section where Alpert thrillingly describes a seesaw battle with the U.S. distributor as it tried to change dialogue and sound effects in the English-dubbed version of “Princess Mononoke” (released in 1997) before it opened in North America.
above & below - Princess Mononoke
“Enpitsu Senki” (Pencil wars) is a memoir by Hitomi Tateno, who worked as an animator for 27 years, and published by Chuokoron-Shinsha Inc. in November last year.
She shares the bittersweet experiences of Ghibli animators as they try hard to live up to the expectations of Miyazaki, who demands a high level of work performance from his staff while sometimes exploding for no apparent reason.
Miyazaki retired from making feature-length films after 2013’s ”The Wind Rises,” and Ghibli announced a hiatus from making feature films after 2014’s “When Marnie Was There.”
Thirty-one years have passed since Miyazaki, Suzuki and director Isao Takahata founded Ghibli in 1985. With the memoirs by ex-Ghibli staff being published within just a year of each other, it seems that they have taken the studio’s hiatus as a cue to put their experiences on record.
“Ghibli’s success was largely attributed to Miyazaki-san and Takahata-san’s passion to pursue their ideal animation and Suzuki-san’s talent to get people involved,” said Seiji Okuda, who worked with Ghibli as a Nippon Television Network Corp. producer since ‘“Kiki’s Delivery Service” (released in 1989).
“They want to note down everything about how they played their parts while Ghibli grew large enough to gain worldwide recognition, and tell people all about it. Such sentiments have now become books.”
Hayao Miyazki source