Sunday, August 2, 2009

NOT SD09: Miyazaki at Cal-Berkeley

(cut and posted from BEAT)


During our high-powered breakfast (maybe brunch by the time Ace and FMB got there), The Beat requested that I try and write more for the site. So, here's the first article about the non-SDCC portion of my travels recently.
I had always planned on only doing one day of San Diego, but for a while, wasn't sure what to do for the weekend before coming back to the muggy Mid-Atlantic states. There were many possibilities: baseball games, futbol matches, even going to see Monument Valley. The deal was sealed when I found out that the legendary Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki was going to be in Berkeley doing a Q&A in conjunction with receiving an award from Cal's Center for Japanese Studies.
When I told friends at the Con that I was only staying for a day (plus Preview Night), most were dumbfounded that I would make the trip for so brief a trip. But when I said that I was going to see Miyazaki, almost everyone immediately said, "Oh, that's understandable" or "I wish I could go." One unnamed Eisner winner said they were jealous and wondered how they could pull strings to maybe meet Miyazaki while he was briefly at the Con Friday.
It was certainly worth the trip. I haven't watched his SDCC panel with Pixar's John Lassiter, but I presume it didn't have the coziness of his Berkeley talk. It was not in a small room, but a 1000-seat auditorium on a college campus likely beats trying to watch a cramped and sweaty panel in Room 20 or Hall H at the Con. And there was thankfully no one dressed as Ashitaka or Kiki. The closest we got was a number of people carrying Totoros in with them to the talk.
It's always intersting to go to a panel where a translator is involved, because often, Miyazaki would make a joke and about a quarter of the room would laugh and the rest of us would have to wait for the translation to understand what was so funny. And Miyazaki made plenty of jokes during his 90 or so minutes on stage.
Miyazaki, prompted by moderator Roland Kelts, talked in a mostly-playful manner about some of the elements most associated with his films, such as nature vs technology and the use of female protagonists. He expressed dismay for how disasters are seen as "evil," even though they are just part of nature and often have a cleansing aspect to them.
When asked about good and bad characters, Miyazaki he often doesn't have true villains in his pictures, since he did not like to make his animators draw evil people.
There was also discussion about Studio Ghibli's animation practices and Miyazaki's desire to continue making traditional animation films done with cels and not CGI, even though it was like "being in a raft in a sea full of speed boats."
The Q&A session, both the moderator's inquiries and the audience question portion, quickly sped by and Miyazaki was soon off the stage and a very satisfied audience poured out of the building, with a lot less pushing and shoving than one probably found in San Diego.
Considering this was likely a once-in-a-lifetime event (how often does Miyazaki appear in public in the US, now, if ever), it was certainly worth skipping out on SDCC.