For a young person in an animation-based field, the opportunity to share new work with director Hayao Miyazaki must feel like a golden opportunity.

This may still hold true for Nobuo Kawakami, the chairman of Dwango, a Japanese telecommunications and media company, but not for the reasons he likely anticipated at the start of the above video.

The subject of their discussion is a computer generated animated model whose artificial intelligence causes it to move by squirming on its head. Its creators haven’t invested it with any particular personality traits or storyline, but its flayed appearance and tortuous movements suggest it’s unlikely to be boarding Miyazaki’s magical cat bus any time soon.




Even without an explicit narrative, the model’s potential should be evident to anyone who’s ever sat through the final-reel resurrection of a horribly maimed, presumed-dead terrorizer of scantily clad young ladies.

The model’s grotesque squirmings could also be an asset to zombie video games, as Kawakami excitedly points out.

Let us remember that Miyazaki’s films are rooted not in gross-out effects, but redemption, a reverence for nature, and respect for children and all living things.

The master watches the demonstration without comment, then dispenses with traditional Japanese etiquette in favor of some strongly worded medicine that leaves no doubt as to what he really thought of Dwango's artificially intelligent wretch:

“I am utterly disgusted… I strongly feel that this is an insult to life itself.”  

(At this point, you really should watch the video, to hear Miyazaki's opening statement, about a disabled friend for whom even a simple high-five is a painful physical exertion.)

Poor Kawakami-san! Unceremoniously shamed in front of his colleagues by a national treasure, he doesn’t push back. All he can offer is something along the lines of “We didn’t mean anything by it”---a statement that seems credible.

The American president may be into dehumanizing those with disabilities, but the Dwango crew’s heads were likely occupied with boyish visions of a thrillingly gruesome zombie apocalypse.

It’s a harsh, but important message for Miyazaki to have gotten across. Dwango is responsible for creating a lot of online games. In other words, they hold considerable sway over impressionable youth.

Studio Ghibli co-founder Toshio Suzuki grants Kawakami and his colleagues an opportunity to save face, asking what the team’s goals are.

“We’d like to build a machine that can draw pictures like humans do,” one shellshocked-looking young man responds.

What, like, Henri Maillardet's automaton from 1810? While I can imagine such a contraption showing up in one of Miyazaki’s steam-punk-flavored adventures, the hush that greets this statement all but screams “wrong answer!”

What will this encounter lead to?

The release of an online game in which one scores points by hideously dismembering the animated form of director Hayao Miyazaki?

Or a newfound sensitivity, in which cool technological advances are viewed through a lens of actual human experience?

Only time will tell.

Related Content:

The Essence of Hayao Miyazaki Films: A Short Documentary About the Humanity at the Heart of His Animation

Software Used by Hayao Miyazaki’s Animation Studio Becomes Open Source & Free to Download

Hayao Miyazaki Meets Akira Kurosawa: Watch the Titans of Japanese Film in Conversation (1993)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.


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  • Foomandoonian says:

    I actually lost a smidge of respect for Miyazaki when I saw this. What they discovered was fairly interesting and almost certainly created without the intent to be grotesque. Even if this kind of animation were only used in a typical zombie horror game, there is no harm there. Some of those games are great.

    Miyazaki seems to calculate his words to hurt the student’s feelings. He asks “So, what’s your goal” as if all research needs a goal. As an artist, he should know better.

    While Miyazaki’s films do focus on positive, life-affirming themes, there’s still no shortage of the grotesque in his work. From bubbling, misshapen demons to heroes who decapitate human enemies with arrows. I wonder if anyone in his life ever told him to ‘stop drawing those awful monsters’?

  • Regev Porat says:

    Poor guy, but I have a lot of respect for Miyazaki’s humanistic point of view in this matter. Overall, a very interesting incident – thanks for sharing.

  • Tibor Sallai says:

    Of course it needs a goal! Every step, every breath has goal. And a research doesn’t need one?! It sounds like you think an artist doesn’t need a goal in his work. Very,very wrong answer. As an artist, I can’t go on without my own personal goal. Every line, every shade of colour is a pointless masturbation if you don’t have a goal. I don’t know much about Miyazaki but I began to respect him. He didn’t want to hurt anyone, he was honest. You only hurt someone when you are not honest with that person. I didn’t find this animation fascinating, I felt myself like a kid who watches suffering animals or pulling out bugs legs and watch them trying to escape. Terribly disturbing. Artificial intelligence. These guys forgot about their responsibility.

  • Jamm says:

    Why would you want AI to create anime in the first place? Who gives a f*ck?

  • brad says:

    I can appreciate both points of view. But I feel kinship with Miyazaki. Not because the computers can only create monsters. But because the reason automation exists is so we have time to create, which is the essence of life. The idea of automating art seems even more monstrous than the creatures. The only reason to do this is to reduce labour costs. On that basis, we’re likely to automate life so we have more time for work. It seems perfect that monstrous, nonliving labour creates monsters.

  • Hanna Seo says:

    It’s pretty saddening to see Miyazaki doing this to an aspiring artist. I’ve heard some pretty bad rumors about him – his hate for “otakus” for instance. Seeing this only proved that rumor to be true. It’s sad because one of Japan’s best animator masterpieces is such a dick.

  • Hanna Seo says:

    In addition to my comment above, I do understand where Miyazaki is coming from – and his reasons are totally valid. That meeting was pretty intense.haha

  • Dave says:

    “We want to make a machine that can draw like humans so that future generations won’t be able to get jobs in the creative fields anymore because there will be intelligent apps that can instead do that work for free.”

  • Anon says:

    To be honest, at first I was baffled at Hayao Miyazaki’s statement, because I thought he’s disliking the concept of AI in itself.

    But after watching the video I can understand he’s simply coming from a very personal place, and he knows it. None of his words sound like an objective statement, and he doesn’t try to paint them as such.

    He didn’t put the creator down, he stated his personal opinion, which happened to be a very negative one, and that’s it.
    Even his tone of voice doesn’t sound like he’s bashing them, despite his strong words. He sounds more sad than anything else.

    He even said “If you wanna do creepy stuff, go ahead and do this, but this experiment makes me think of this, this, and that, and that’s the reason why I wouldn’t like to see it in my movies.” To which I could only say “It’s cool. I understand”, even if I’d debate him he feels like this only because the AI was put inside of a human model, and his uncanny valley instincts kicked in. Sure as hell mine did. If the AI would be put inside of a, let’s say, spider-like model, the impression would be completely different.

    And I speak this from a perspective of a person who actually finds this AI simulation interesting, and having in fact nothing to do with life, just coding. I don’t associate life with awareness (like plants and microbes are as legit lifeforms as humans to me), so why would I associate intelligence (even as primitive one as this AI) or even self-awareness with life. That’s dumb. The life as we know it is just a by-product of a dead matter -the samo one that formed rocks and stars – that happened to combine in miriad different ways.
    It’s special in it’s existence, but it’s nothing divine with exclusive rights.
    So I find it really cool this thing learned how to move by itself.

    So, tl;dr …I get both sides, and Hayao Miyazaki is still cool in my mind. All in all, he just seemed like a normal person to me here.

  • Bel says:

    I respect Miyazaki’s honest devolution. The student can agree or disagree with that, and if he disagrees he will have to find what arguments support his standpoint. I have had strict lecturers that didn’t say to me what I wanted to hear, however that made me stronger. Moreover, we know how Miyazaki thinks and perceives this world, he is a very genuine person, so it’s not odd that he reacted like that. Whenever he has shown something macabre in his work it has never been for amusement.

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