Video - Miyazaki in America (1999)
Another treasure from YouTube. These two video clips feature Miyazaki in the United States to promote Princess Mononoke in the US. They make appearances before the press, before film festivals, and tour the Disney studios, speaking with many friends and admirers.
It's a very telling document, especially considering the way Mononoke, and future Ghibli films, were finally handled by Disney. I've held this opinion for quite some time, and I've argued it here on the Ghibli blog now and then, but watching these interviews really prove just how nervous Disney was at Miyazaki's new film.
When Disney signed the distribution deal with Studio Ghibli, there's no doubt that Disney had one eye on its competitors, wanting to snag the rights before a rival Hollywood studio did. But I think that's only half the story; they really wanted children's movies like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service. And they were expecting Miyazaki to deliver more movies in that vein. Then, to their shock, he delivers his darkest and most adult film yet.
Disney, as part of their contract, is obligated to release Miyazaki's future films in the US, and Mononoke was the first. This was a very big deal to both parties, but especially for Ghibli, which had yet to crack the American market. The names Miyazaki and Takahata were known the world over, but still unknown here, aside from the animation freaks. Each party - Ghibli and Disney - had one eye on the other, feeling this new relationship out.
There's a palpable sense of nervousness from the Disney people. You can hear the same worries in their questions. Mononoke isn't a cut-and-dried adventure. There is no clear hero and no clear villain. Every character is drawn in shades of grey. Heck, the entire picture is splintered like a Picasso painting. Instead of a simple moral lesson with a cheap corporate sales pitch at the end ("Buy all our products and toys!!"), we have several sides caught in a doomed war, splintered in multiple directions. Mononoke is a complex film.
I don't wish to sound overly harsh against Disney. Despite our best hopes, the truth is that animation in the US remains the domain of children. The last time the Oak Street Cinema screened a series of Miyazaki films, they included Mononoke in the schedule, between Totoro and Kiki. Sure enough, the theatre was filled with parents, their five-year-old children in tow. Oops. Clearly, greater effort at educating the public is needed.
Still, as an artist and dedicated Ghibl Freak, I am endlessly annoyed by all these stupid questions from the suits, the expectation that Miyazaki dumb his work down to the level of...I dunno. Why does everything in this country be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator? Are we really that dumb? Is this a question of cultural conditioning? Was Pauline Kael right, in that parents have become imprinted with Disney-style kitsch? Or do we point the finger at the executives from the Marketing Dept.?
Questions, questions, questions. I suspect the answer is a combination of all three, and that the education is the only solution. And that's going to take some time. Japan and America are separated by a common language (animation); it would appear that Disney only realized this once Miyazaki arrived with his Kurosawa epic in tow.