Interview with Producer Toshio Suzuki of “Ged War Journal” – Suzuki finally tells tells us: “Why Goro?”

I guess the official English title of this is “Wizard of Earthsea” but the title I’m using is a direct translation of the Japanese title, Gedo Senki. Anyway, here is the section of Yomiuri’s interview with Ghibli Studios producer Toshio Suzuki relevant to the issue I care about: why Hayao Miyazaki was against his son directing this film! (Interview is from 12/26/2005)

UPDATE: More info on the film in English at the Ghibli site by the book’s English translator. And apparently someone already posted a translation of this interview, but mine is much better.

Q. Why was Goro-san chosen as director?

Suzuki: The precondition of all this was the future of Ghibli. Isao Takahata is 70. Hayao Miyazaki is almost 65. Together they’re 135! Add my age in there and it gets close to 200 (lol) ! At this rate it will be the end of Ghibli. However, this company was created because they wanted to make movies as a pair, and I am also satisfied with this. There is a part of me that thinks “this might be enough” but we also have a responsibility to the young people who are a part of the studio, after all. However, Hayao may be a genius on the creation end, but he is not necessarily good at teaching. If you drive with him in the passenger side, you’ll understand. He keeps saying stuff on the side, so most people end up getting neurotic about it. I have seen it in the production stage many times, since different people were slated to direct “Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989) and “Howl’s Moving Castle,” but eventually Hayao took the helm. Of course there is no ill-will from Hayao. But there are actually people who ended up with ulcers (lol). That is why I thought of Goro. With him, I figured it might go well.

Q. But, he has no animation production experience…

Suzuki: That didn’t bother me. Even when he created the Ghibli Museum following Hayao’s drawings, he might have had landscaping experience, but he didn’t have any construction experience, did he? First of all, I think that if anyone can observe they can draw. That comes from when I was making the magazine “Animation Monthly.” I would have editors who normally did not draw do self portraits for their editor’s notes. They all said it was impossible at first, but once they started carefully observing their faces, they were able to finish drawing [the self portraits]. What’s more, there was enough appeal to have them work their hardest. Goro often drew caricatures during meetings, so I thought that he, as someone who can observe, could draw pictures.

Q. Did Goro always have an interest in animation?

Suzuki: I don’t know. Normally, people dislike working near their fathers, but there was probably an interest in his father’s work somewhere. I felt that when he accepted the job at the Ghibli Museum.

Q. Why did you single out Goro for the Ghibli Museum job?

Suzuki: I know him from when he was in middle school, but when I met him after not seeing him for a long time at his grandfather’s funeral, it was strangely impactful when he called to me, saying “It’s Goro.” He looked me straight in the eye, and did not turn his eyes away. When we started talking about the museum, his face slightly lit up. Then, when I talked to Hayao about having Goro run it, he answered, “If you’re OK with it, and he says he’ll do it, then there’s nothing I can do,” so I asked Goro to do it.

Q. And his answer was?

He said OK immediately. There were two reasons why I was thankful for him once he actually started the job. One was that he managed the place exceedingly well once it was finished. The other is that he firmly rejected any section that was vague in terms of the images made by his father. That I found extremely helpful. While observing his power to execute his ideas, I thought he might be able to do work on movies as well. Then, when talk of “Ged War Journal” came around, I asked him, “If you’re thinking of the future of the Ghibli Museum, then you can’t remain uninterested in Ghibli Studios’ future.” He immediately answered, “I’m already attached to the museum.” Then, to launch the project we gathered in a room with a few of us and Goro. This was October 2003.

Q. At that time he wasn’t the “director” was he?

Suzuki: Right. This was at a time when the project’s content had solidified somewhat, so in order to enter into serious preparation, I told Hayao, “I want Goro involved as an advisor.” At that point he was deadset against it. Even when I told everyone at the studio, there were various opinions about Goro being involved. Eventually someone asked whether he could draw, and during the confusion I had Goro draw some cels.

Q. How did he begin the drawing?

Suzuki: What I said first was to do it by example. I put cels drawn by his father in front of him, and if there was a cut he wanted then to use that as a reference. Then, to do that process in front of people. Also, he thought of several things by himself, and drew on a card based on the “Pixar Exhibit” that was put on at the Ghibli Museum, and found a way to make a shrunken copy and stick that on the card.

Q. What were the reactions after seeing the finished cel?

Suzuki: I think it’s better to tell you other people’s words rather than my own. The famous animator Yasuo Otsuka raved over them, saying “These would be beautiful as a film,” and asked who drew them. So, when I said it was Goro, he was truly surprised, saying that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Also, when I showed it to [Evangelion director] Hideaki Anno, he was astonished, and asked, “Why didn’t he start earlier?” Also, he said, “This is totally a Miyazaki animation.”

Q. And Hayao’s reaction?

I didn’t see it. That’s because Hayao expressed his opinion that “There’s something wrong with Suzuki” regarding the decision to hire Goro as director. He was angry, saying, “There’s no way he can be a director. He can’t draw, and he doesn’t know anything about animation!” So first, I showed him the picture for the posters of Alen and the dragon facing each other. Then, Hayao was quiet. That was because it was a camera angle from the side, which Hayao doesn’t draw. That is the kind of power one drawing can have. Then, I told him clearly, “I recommend him.” He was still dumbfounded for a while, though.

(Back to Adamu) And there you have it! Suzuki apparently believed in Goro because he thinks he can teach anyone to draw. And if he actually did teach Miyazaki Jr. to draw the awesome poster art (pictured above), then he’s right!