Fujimoto, and Ponyo in a bubble © Walt Disney Company

Born in 1941 in Tokyo, Hayao Miyazki co-founded Studio Ghibli in 1985 and has directed eight feature films since. His movie Spirited Away broke every box-office record in Japan. His new film Ponyo is inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Little Mermaid, and tells the story of a young and overeager goldfish named Ponyo and her quest to become human.

It was the top-grossing film in Japan in 2008, the eighth-highest grossing movie in Japanese history, and to date has made more than $165 million worldwide. Putting the English-language version of his movie in the capable hands of Pixar genius John Lasseter, Hayao Miyazaki spoke with the press about the film’s US début.

What was the original motivation for doing this movie?

Fujimoto, and Ponyo in a bubble © Walt Disney Company
Fujimoto, and Ponyo in a bubble © Walt Disney Company

I think John Lasseter knows as well, it’s really hard to explain what becomes the motivation or the instigation to do a film. I feel like I’m searching in my subconscious with a fishing net and I happened upon catching a goldfish in that net and that was the inspiration for starting to make this movie.

What changes had to be made in changing this film to English language?

I entrusted the English version to my friend [John Lasseter], so I didn’t worry about it at all, and I just stayed in Japan.

Ponyo started out as a frog and not a goldfish, why did you choose a frog and how did it change into a goldfish?

Lisa, Sosuke and Ponyo © Walt Disney Company
Lisa, Sosuke and Ponyo © Walt Disney Company

There was a children’s book that gave me a bit of a hint at the beginning and I was thinking of perhaps using that as the original story to work from, and that was the frog. But as I worked on the story it became something completely different from that original children’s book, so I didn’t pursue that direction.

In Japan you don’t do much press, but you went to Comic-Con in San Diego, what made you change your mind?

John Lassater pressured me to do it.

You received a standing ovation at Comic-Con, how did that feel?

I don’t really like those sorts of events, but I think that the people who gather at such events are the ones who really like my films, so I appreciate that.

The environment of all your films are so detailed and layered, do you sit down and write out things beforehand or does it just come to you as you’re doing your sketches?

I do all my work by storyboard, so as I draw the storyboard the world gets more and more complex. And as a result my north, south, east, west directions kind of shift and go off-base, but it seems like my staff as well as the audience don’t quite realize that this has happened.

Can you talk about how you use the ocean in the movie?

Ponyo © Walt Disney Company
Ponyo © Walt Disney Company

The ocean is a living presence. It’s a world where magic and alchemy are accepted as part of the ordinary. The sea below, like our subconscious mind, intersects with the wave-tossed surface above. By distorting normal space and contorting normal shape, the idea is animated not as a backdrop to the story, but as one of its principal characters.

I was struck by the very powerful message in the film of protecting and being concerned about pollution, and over fishing, two areas that Japan doesn’t have the greatest reputation for, how important is it to you to get elements like this into your film?

The most important thing I think is that even within such an environment children grow up, they learn to love, and they enjoy living in that environment.

Would you ever do a 3D film?

I don’t think I would make a 3D film, at least while I’m alive!


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.