The closest I’ve been to Hayao Miyazaki was here, a few feet away from the great man who was inside the house (his personal office near the studio) at the time.
It was the summer of 2006. Takafumi from TBS asked me if there was anything I’d like to do for my first trip to Tokyo. I sheepishly asked, “Any chance I could visit Studio Ghibli?”
He went on to arrange a private tour (what a guy). It was rare privilege as the studio isn’t usually open to public visitors. I can’t remember the name of our guide on the day, except he was a senior technical director and a perfect gentleman.
The studio building is literally in the suburbs, surrounded by residential houses. Photo-taking wasn’t encouraged inside the studio although I was not told explicitly not to take pictures. Still, I restrained myself and paid more attention to what the guide was saying instead.
We visited the screening theatre (which also doubled as a recording studio). I sat down on a seat that the guide said Miyazaki had sat in that same morning, and immediately felt unworthy. Still, it was pretty comfy.
We then visited the photography room, where a giant 10-feet tall camera was the centre piece. Back then, backgrounds were still painted by hand and photographed rather than digitally scanned to retain the sense of depth in each painting.
We continued on to the art department. Most of the artists were away on their break. The guide pointed out Miyazaki’s desk in a corner – a non-assuming, tiny desk not much wider than 1 metre, with drawing tools organised neatly by one side. There wasn’t a computer in sight (even though digital painting was already very prevalent in 2006). It’s all paper, pencils, oils and water colours on every single desk.
The second floor was closed to visitors due to production going on for ‘Tales Of Earthsea’ – the first ‘Miyazaki film’ not to be directed by the man himself, but by his son, Goro. I learned from the guide that Miyazaki was in fact very against his son directing the film and having it be marketed as a ‘Miyazaki film’ – something about the son not being ready or there were more deserving directors to do it. Turned out he was probably right because ‘Tales Of Earthsea’, in my opinion, is the least impressive of the Ghibli films.
We then went down to the canteen for tea and cake. I remember the decor to be very European in taste; warm, cozy and homely. Miyazaki, of course, has always had an affinity for European aesthetics. Artwork and cels from Ghibli films adorned the walls. My regret is I should have risked it and taken some pictures.
Ghibli and Miyazaki’s films changed my life. That’s not an understatement. From a creative and storytelling standpoint they are unmatched, but what’s most impressive is that they came from a storyteller only concerned with telling very personal – even esoteric – stories for a certain audience, yet they speak to millions outside of Japan as though they were bedtime stories our parents told.
Frankly, I don’t need anymore Miyazaki films, because I am more than happy to keep re-watching the ones he made. Instead, I wish him the best of health and if he could mentor more directors or perhaps make a short film from time to time, that would be infinitely more than anything I, or any fan, could wish for.