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.


DmL said...

I was also annoyed by those questions. The answer is obvious: Why did he make such a movie? Because we try to treat the world as if it is black and white and it simply isn't. Because we ignore the fact that things are difficult. Because it's powerful and confusing and fresh. Disney is anything but fresh. I think they were also nervous because, what if people liked it? Disney would seem that much more shallow in comparison.

The Constructivist said...

Sorry for the late notice--I replied over at Mostly Harmless a little while ago.

Anonymous said...

Hey, just thought that this might interest you if you havent already heard. I read your blog a lot, so this might give you something to write about. :)

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea gets an english voice cast!!


Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Thank you very much for all your inputs. You're the reason this blog is thriving, and I'm always kicking myself for not being able to write more often. I'll be sure to check everything out.

I can feel sympathetic towards the Disney people in these video clips. It's 1997, they just signed a distribution deal with Ghibli, and suddenly the filmmaker they looked to as another Walt Disney appeared with a Kurosawa film. It was a bit of a shock. They really didn't know who they were dealing with.

In a way, I think this is why Ghibli's movies have been given such little attention by Disney, in theatres or DVD. None of Miyazaki's last three features easily fit into the Hollywood paradigm. They were either too dark, too complex, or too nuanced.

I'm hoping that Ponyo will be given the red carpet treatment. It really is the children's movie that Disney was hoping for all these years. This is our best chance to discover for ourselves just where things stand. I know it's easy to expect cynicism, and another anemic theatre run, but I think this time will be different. We'll have to wait and see.

Anonymous said...

So, you wrote that you hope that Ponyo will be given the red carpet treatment, right? Well, the actors for the voices that Disney has lined up is a rather mixed bag of (very very)famous people and the younger siblings of Disney Channel stars (who will probably be doing the voices of Sosuke and Ponyo. Oh dear...)
Although I suppose that I should not judge before hearing the voices, I am a bit nervous about the way that Disney seems to be playing the 'who are the most famous people that we can get for this movie?' game, rather than trying to find the really good voice actors. That's just my two cents, and I know that I should not judge before watching the movie with the english dub... but really... What's up with choosing Tina Fey? And the younger siblings of The Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus? I mean, really?! WHYYY?!?! Just because of their names...
Although the addition of the famous people will generate interest in the movie for people, I will admit that.

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