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Noted Japanese animator lets his films do the talking

Saturday, November 02, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

TORONTO -- The twinkle in Hayao Miyazaki's eyes gives him away.


PG Movie Review

'Spirited Away'


The celebrated Japanese animator, whose latest film, "Spirited Away," opened yesterday at the Manor and Loews Waterfront theaters in Pittsburgh, gazes at you through dark-rimmed glasses capped by a pair of shaggy gray eyebrows. He has silver hair and a neatly trimmed beard and speaks through a translator, which could make him seem severe.

But his lips curve into a little smile, and he seems to be winking at you. If you've seen his wondrous animated films, you can't imagine how anyone rigid could possibly have made them.

"My Neighbor Totoro" is about two girls who move to the country and discover a delightful group of friendly spirits living in nature. "Kiki's Delivery Service" follows a teenage witch who starts a flying courier service. "Princess Mononoke" is an environmental fable set in the forest. And "Spirited Away" finds a 10-year-old girl trapped in a fantastic spirit world.

Most of them feature children but can be viewed with equal pleasure by adults. In fact, grown-ups may find themselves reverting as they watch, yielding to the riches of the imagination.

"I've had a fervent wish to be able to take one step into a place where no human has ever taken a step before on this Earth," Miyazaki said during an interview at the recent Toronto International Film Festival.

"I've heard from archaeologists that the Bay of Tokyo once was stocked with huge fish and beautiful clean water and waterfalls everywhere. I wish I could have seen that landscape. But if I couldn't see it, then at least maybe I could draw it."

He was inspired to create "Spirited Away" for a friend's 10-year-old daughter.

"Even as much as I watch my own children grow up and my friends' children grow up, you do forget. So I was really fortunate that I came up with this idea for a movie just as my friend's daughter was turning 10."

Not only was he using her as a conduit to his main character, but Miyazaki also found himself thinking ahead to what the world will be like when that girl and her friends grow up.

"It will not be an easy world to live in. But I wanted to reassure them that they will survive. Cherish your own name and your own identity, and you'll be able to survive -- just like in the movie."

The little protagonist, Chihiro, goes to work for the witch Yubaba until she can find a way to free her parents from an evil spell. Yubaba forces her to sign away her identity and changes her name to Sen. But she never forgets who she really is and why she is there.

But Miyazaki doesn't want to explain too much.

"We live in a world awash in words. We're sitting here talking, talking, talking. The truth is that the more words there are, the less they have power. Truly powerful words should be sparse.

"You ask me what the theme of the movie is and I make up some answer and then the movie loses some of its power. The truth is, I should just make my movies and shut up."

Just so he keeps making the movies, which speak volumes.

Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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