An Export Arrives From Japan - in Living Color

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An Export Arrives From Japan - in Living Color

With the current controversy over history textbooks in Japan and the general antagonistic feelings that many Koreans have against that country, it might not seem like the most auspicious time for Hayao Miyazaki, the director of many celebrated animated movies (also known as "Japanimation" or anime) to visit Korea. But that is just what he did recently, along with some staff members of his Studio Ghibli.

Mr. Miyazaki came to Korea to thank a Korean animation production company that took part in creating his latest animated film, "Spirited Away," and to hold a press conference for his 1988 classic film, "My Neighbor Totoro," released last week in Korea.

Even though it was one of Korea's typically humid summer afternoons, punctuated with ferocious rains, Mr. Miyazaki, 60, was dressed in a dapper grey suit for his press conference at the Shilla hotel. With his distinguished white hair and beard, and thick, dark-framed glasses, Mr. Miyazaki looked at ease in front of more than 100 Korean journalists and photographers.

Local journalists asked Mr. Miyazaki about his opinions on the controversial Japanese history textbooks, but his publicist had already prepared an answer for reporters: "Basically I am against what the Japanese government had done regarding history education, not to mention the textbook. National pride cannot override people's right to have objective and, most of all, true information." With the Korean journalists satisfied with that answer, the news conference shifted to Mr. Miyazaki's life as a director of some of the most acclaimed animated films.

Mr. Miyazaki was born in 1941 in Tokyo, where his family owned a munitions business. In spite of being around weaponry, Mr. Miyazaki, in such films as "Princess Mononoke" (1997) and "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" (1984), has emphasized the need for a peaceful harmony between human beings and nature. In fact, that same theme has run throughout his life.

In some ways, "My Neighbor Totoro" is a reaction to childhood memories. The movie tells the story of forest spirits made from the shapes of owls, racoons and bears, but the film is more than just a fairy tale. Mr. Miyazaki said: "'My Neighbor Totoro' is like a letter for the child in me, who hated Japan in his childhood. Especially I felt bad that my family prospered from war by running a munitions business."

It was not until he became a young man that Mr. Miyazaki was able to reconcile these feelings. "Around age 30, I suddenly acknowledged that human beings cannot live by themselves," he said, "We have to coexist with nature."

Age has not let Mr. Miyazaki lose his imagination. "The things that I dream of today are not different from the ones that I had 40 years ago." He shows no signs of slowing down. "Every film that I have worked on, I have always thought would be the last."

In spite of all his success, he remarked, "I've never enjoyed being an animation director. To create films is something totally painful for me." But he said he believes that, "everything that bothers you has to have an end."

Of the future of animation, Mr. Miyazaki said, "I think too many animated movies are being made these days. To overly commercialize animation is bad for the industry." Mr. Miyazaki, however, has been successful animating his visions. His previous film, "Princess Mononoke" (1997) broke box office records in Japan, drawing more than 14 million viewers. The English translation won fine reviews.

Because of his success in animation, some people call Mr. Miyazaki the Japanese version of Walt Disney; however, this label ignores Mr. Miyazaki's distinctly Japanese storytelling style and his concentration on Japanese folk tales and traditional beliefs.

It is unlikely, however, that films like "My Neighbor Totoro" will find such levels of success. Not because Koreans dislike Mr. Miyazaki's movies; rather, because his films are so popular that most people here have already seen them via black market videos.

When "My Neighbor Totoro" opened in Korea last week, the film immediately drew long lines. Did that fact please Mr. Miyazaki? "A film," he said, "does belong not to its director, but to its viewers."

by Chun Su-jin

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