And here is the last interview I’m posting from this summer’s conventions: a conversation with character designer and animator Akihiko Yamashita. He’s best known for serving as animation director on numerous Studio Ghibli projects, including Ponyo and The Cat Returns, as well as being one of the two character designers on Giant Robo. In this interview, we ask him about what being at Ghibli and working alongside Hayao Miyazaki is like, his outright worship of JJ Abrams, and why he likes middle-aged male characters so much!
Note: the woman sitting next to him in the video is another character designer, Miho Shimogasa, who’s done work on Cutey Honey Flash, Gravitation, and Powerpuff Girls Z. She is silent in this interview.
The people at Pixar are well-known admirers of Hayao Miyazaki and his works. Creative chief John Lasseter and his crew often watch Studio Ghibli movies for inspiration when they are stuck. He personally introduced Miyazaki at last year’s Comic Con. Totoro even appears in their latest work, Toy Story 3, and Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki are named in the “Special Thanks” credits.
Ponyo (崖の上のポニョ, Gake no ue no Ponyo) is not a date movie, but it has a lot to say about relationships.
Ponyo is about love. It’s not necessarily about the love of a man and a woman, which we tend to obsess over in Western media, but it’s about a childlike, innocent love. “Ponyo loves Sasuke,” which the title character says over and over, is in many ways the catchphrase of the movie, and it is in Sasuke’s love for Ponyo that we see the sublimation of the samurai ethic of bushido into a modern ideal of relationships.
Ponyo is Hayao Miyazaki’s most joyous film since Porco Rosso, and the purest evocation of childhood he’s done since My Neighbor Totoro. After flirting with darker and more surreal themes in the past several films since Princess Mononoke, he has returned to deliver a delightful film that entertained the young adult audience at the premiere and should please even the youngest children.