[FILM] Goro Miyazaki's "Earthsea" & Conflict w/Hayao Miyazaki (Father)
- 'Gedo' starts with a father-son clash
Hayao Miyazaki had long wanted to create an animated 'Earthsea.' His
novice son did.
By Bruce Wallace, Times Staff Writer
TOKYO Through the fantasies of animation, director Hayao Miyazaki
has spoken to children and adults around the world, his language of
color and movement creating some of the best-loved movies of our
times. Yet plunked into the real-world intimacy of home and family,
Miyazaki the father never had much to say to his eldest son.
"To be honest, we're not that close; we don't know how to
communicate," Goro Miyazaki says when asked whether his father had
spoken to him about the commercial success of "Gedo Senki" (Tales
From Earthsea), the son's debut as a director.
Released in Japan on July 29, "Earthsea" has been the country's top-
drawing film for four of the last five weeks; the film screened at
the Venice Film Festival on Sunday but cannot have a release in the
U.S. until an American TV series' copyright expires in 2009.
"I heard from other people that he thought it was an honest film,
but frankly I think it was wise he never said anything to me
directly," the younger Miyazaki says. "We would probably have ended
up shouting and fighting. It would have been a messy situation."
It is that cold relationship between father and son the father an
icon of the Japanese animation industry, the son trying to step out
of that shadow, making his first feature film at the late age of 39
that makes it hard to call it coincidence when "Earthsea" opens
with a son's murder of his father.
It is a foul murder: the prince named Arren sneaking up on the king
and plunging a sword through his chest. The father dies bewildered
as to the motive, and Arren flees into rootless exile. Only later
does he confess to a companion that his father was "a great man" and
that he has no inkling of what led him to kill.
He is merely filled with an inner rage he can't explain.
"No, I never felt I wanted to kill my father because we didn't
have that much of a relationship to begin with," says the younger
Miyazaki during an interview in the Tokyo offices of Studio Ghibli,
the animation house Hayao Miyazaki built with the success of such
films as "My Neighbor Totoro" and, more recently, "Spirited Away"
and "Howl's Moving Castle." "I never thought that scene was about me
when I was making the film.
"It's not an experience of my own, but the experience of the young
people I have met," he continues. "Arren represents the young
generation in Japan. They are under mental stress. They have a rage
inside them. And it is some of these kids who might feel like
killing their parents."
But before the youngsters watching "Earthsea" get any murderous
ideas, they're going to have to get their heads around a universe
drawn with an almost old-fashioned look. This is not "Cars" with
dragons or "Over the Hedge" in a bigger landscape. "Earthsea's"
backgrounds look like they've been drawn by English landscape
artists, the skies could be canvases of a Dutch Old Master. You can
see the brush strokes on screen.
Something is amiss in this world as the movie opens. The livestock
have become listless. There is a drought in the provinces. Magic
chants are forgotten. More ominously, the dragons that long ago
opted out of man's world have returned and begun to fight each other.
"The setting is Europe, but the characters are a portrait of the
young generation of Japanese," Miyazaki explains. He describes Japan
as a society in which children are pampered and showered with
material plenty, yet lead lives devoid of purpose: no injustices to
rail against, as Miyazaki said he did when he was young, no older
generation's values to overthrow.
"In the past, parents did not dote so much on their children," he
says. "They were busy at work, didn't have so much money. The
children had to grow up on their own, but they were stronger
mentally because of it."
Miyazaki says his father was, like so many fathers of the generation
that grew up in postwar Japan, singularly focused on his work. "It
was really just me and my mother when I was growing up; any advice I
needed I got from her," he says. "Until I left home to go to
university, my father was too busy and didn't have the opportunity
to even chat with me."
Animation was not something he discussed much in the Miyazaki home,
nor a field to which the young Goro aspired. He studied forestry at
Shinshu University and started a career in landscape design,
planning parks and gardens and working on urban tree-planting
But in 1998 he took on responsibility for the design of the Ghibli
Museum, a theme park the studio was building in a rare splash of
green space in a Tokyo suburb. The museum showcases animated
characters from the studio's catalog of films and has a hands-on
exhibit of an animation studio. Miyazaki became the museum's
managing director in 2001, a job he gave up last year when he
started messing around in the real studio with the "Earthsea"
Hayao Miyazaki had wanted to make a film version of the "Earthsea"
book series more than 20 years ago but had been rebuffed by Ursula
K. Le Guin, the author. By the time she relented, the older Miyazaki
had announced his retirement from making films (a vow he has since
Instead, Ghibli's powerful producer Toshio Suzuki handed the project
to Goro, who had started to hang around animation study groups and
present ideas of his own.
There was great resistance to his arrival. First, other young
animators at the studio ironically saw it as a case of paternalism.
And Le Guin has complained that she was assured Hayao Miyazaki would
supervise the project and has sniped at Goro's finished version,
saying that it is too violent and lacks subtlety in its portrayal of
There was criticism too from Hayao Miyazaki, who made it clear
publicly that he didn't like Goro invading his turf.
"It was because I was completely inexperienced," Goro says, who
consistently refers to his father in formal terms as "Miyazaki
Hayao." "Not only had I never directed a film, I had never been in
the animation industry. Suddenly I was about to make a feature film,
and he was appalled."
Miyazaki says he wanted to make a human drama, different from his
father's films, which he says he finds "too simple." (Hayao
Miyazaki, who rarely speaks to the press, declined to be interviewed
for this story.) He was on his way to making a movie without dragons
or magic when Suzuki intervened and told him to "bring the dragons
"It's a Studio Ghibli movie," Miyazaki says with a shrug. "It's a
commercial film and it has to be entertaining."
Critics here have debated just how entertaining "Earthsea" is. Some
reviewers have called it "immature," and many have complained about
what the Japanese see as excessive dialogue for an animated movie.
But the movie has pulled in Hayao Miyazaki-like numbers at the box
office. It has buried this summer's animated rivals like "Cars" and
the Japanese horror flick "Brave Story."
The reason may lie with the power of the Miyazaki brand in Japan.
Sure, the elder Miyazaki's worlds are ravaged by the folly of adults
and the pestilence of war, and environmental degradation threatens
his beloved bucolic landscapes. But he always saw hope in the
innocent wisdom of children.
And, Goro Miyazaki is asked, does "Earthsea" not send a similar
message? Is it not a movie where parents abuse and abandon their
children, but the children rise to make the right moral choices in
the end? Where the happiest scenes are on the farm, an idyll where
the work is honest and the people are free?
Does "Earthsea" not share a vision, then, with the films of Hayao
"Yes," the son says quietly. "Yes, it does."