Emru Townsend: Had you been exposed to Japanese animation at all before?
Yes, I've been a fan of Miyazaki's work for a long time, which is in part why I decided to participate in this project. I was familiar with Totoro
primarily, and then working on the film, the director who worked on the film also directed Kiki's Delivery Service
and gave me a copy of that, and I've become quite fond of that. I've always been a fan of animation, period. It's always been a big part of my life. My ex-husband used to work for ReBoot
and [works for] MainFrame.
What would you say are the things that attract you to Miyazaki's work in general?
His work is just so fascinating, because it's both two-dimensional and three-dimensional at the same time, and it also kind of takes you into other dimensions as well. There's something about his animation that contains so much emotion, and so much that is visceral that it really pulls you into the story in a whole different way than we're used to being pulled in in Western animation, I think. I'm not quite sure what contributes to that, whether it's the nature of the type of animation that he does, or the detail of the work, or the inherent beauty within the animation--I'm not quite sure, but it's very powerful visually and psychologically.
I also really respond to the messages that are inherent in his work, especially where young girls are concerned, and the strength that the characters have and the obstacles that they overcome. And also the reverence for nature that's in his movies. It's very different than what we're used to. I think that over the past few years Western animation has certainly increased their goal of having a message and also--you know, even with The Lion King
and animation like that--that there's certainly a respect for nature and for animals. But there's something different about the respect that's inherent within the Japanese culture, that we're not so used to. I think that it's very refreshing and very educational for us to see. Just the way that the Japanese respect trees and the Earth and what we call Mother Nature--there are gods in there, and that's something that we as a Western culture don't really talk about that much, or respond to that frequently.
You mentioned Miyazaki's using young women as protagonists, and of course you have young daughter. How old is she?
Does she respond to that as well?
Yeah, very much so. I don't think she knows why yet, but she gets very excited--you know, it's interesting because young kids are so impressionable, and I see the difference between how young girls respond to, say, The Little Mermaid
, and those more Western, very sexualized characters, and the difference between how she responds to Kiki
or the girls in Totoro
. There's an innocence to these characters, and a strength at the same time that has nothing to do with attraction or sexuality or objects whatsoever.
I've always felt that Miyazaki's children act more like real children.
Yeah! They do! And even in their voices, and the way they respond. At first when you see it, it's almost jarring because of the particular pitch of their voices, but it's realistic.
Going back to
Mononoke, I know that with Neil Gaiman they flew him in to see the movie on the big screen, to convince him to work on it. Did they do the same thing with you?
No, they didn't. I can't even remember if I actually saw a video of it before I started working on it or not. I'm not sure if I did. My interest was based more on the script.
Who approached you at that point? Did someone approach your agent, or did they approach you directly and say, We'd like for you to do a voice?
I think it may have come through my agent and then through my manager.
And then you looked at the script and on that basis--and Miyazaki's name--you said [you were] going to work on this?
Did you end up telling your daughter "I'm going to be working on a movie just like
Just like Totoro
Totoro, of course.
They sort of deal with the same kind of themes because they both deal with forest spirits, the difference being that in
Mononoke some of them are willing to be quite a bit more aggressive. Would you take your daughter to see it?
You know, before I saw it on the big screen, I kept saying no, that I wouldn't. But I had only seen the movie in bits and pieces as I worked on it. I don't think I was ever able to sit down and fully watch it from beginning to end. And after seeing the movie at the premiere, I was so moved by it and so impressed with the beauty of the film and its consciousness that I felt--I still feel--very strongly that that overrides any violence per se, or any of the scary parts or the parts that one might not consider appropriate for kids. I think that the overall message and just the power of the film as a whole is so much greater than those other aspects, that I would consider taking her to see it.
In many of the reviews of
Princess Mononoke in magazine and newspapers, one of the first things they mention is "Oh look, there's severed heads."
It's such a small aspect of the film, though.
Exactly. At the Toronto film festival, they had a journalists' round table, and someone asked Miyazaki about that--would he want children to see it? And he said, "Of course I want them to see it!" That's the whole point. He pointed out that the violence is contextual. It makes sense within the sense of the story
It is contextual, and it's so much more contextual than any of the other violence that they see in Saturday morning cartoons. To me, even Road Runner is inherently more violent than this film is. There's no context, there's no point to it. The Power Rangers
, for crying out loud--I mean, there's no substance there whatsoever. And also the animal animated shows. There's just so much aggression and anger and violence that has become acceptable, with no payoff, with no lessons to be learned. It's just ludicrous to me that it should need to be an issue with such a beautiful and profoundly important film, because there were so many other attributes to this film that I think are important for kids to see, whether they understand it or not, to seep into their consciousness.
It's interesting that you say that. That's the same thing he said in the interview as well, that it was something he wanted them to think about for the next ten years, to sort of keep in the backs of their minds.
Did you ever get to meet Miyazaki at any point?
No, no I didn't. It's too bad.