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

Note: Please scroll to the 6:52 mark where the con­ver­sa­tion begins.

The name Miyaza­ki defines Japan­ese ani­ma­tion not just in its own coun­try, but across the world. The name Kuro­sawa does the same for the rest of Japan­ese cin­e­ma. But giv­en their dif­fer­ences of not just spe­cif­ic art form but of gen­er­a­tion (Aki­ra Kuro­sawa was born in 1910, Hayao Miyaza­ki in 1941), one might won­der whether the men them­selves, were they to meet, would have much to talk about. Nip­pon TV put the idea to the test in 1993 by air­ing Miyaza­ki Meets Kuro­sawa, which sends the already renowned ani­ma­tor, whose sixth film Por­co Rosso had come out the pre­vi­ous year, to the home of the long-reign­ing “Emper­or” of Japan­ese film, whose thir­ti­eth and final film Mada­dayo (a title trans­lat­able as Not Yet!) had come out the pre­vi­ous month. Their con­ver­sa­tion starts at the 6:52 mark above.

After a bit of small talk, most­ly about the mag­nif­i­cent view of Mount Fuji from Kuro­sawa’s front porch, the mas­ters get down to shop talk. Kuro­sawa and Miyaza­ki dis­cuss the dif­fi­cul­ty of speak­ing about one’s own work, the sweet taste of sake at the end of a long shoot, the pain of sit­ting at a desk draw­ing day in and day out, what it took to build a slop­ing street for Mada­dayo or an entire cas­tle for Ran (just to burn it down), how to visu­al­ly and son­i­cal­ly evoke the var­i­ous dif­fer­ent eras of Japan­ese his­to­ry, Miyaza­k­i’s appre­ci­a­tion for Kuro­sawa’s sto­ry­boards, and Kuro­sawa’s appre­ci­a­tion for the cat bus in Miyaza­k­i’s My Neigh­bor Totoro — at which point the trans­lat­ed tran­script at fan site nausicaa.net indi­cates that “Miyaza­ki seems to be at a loss for words.” (You can read the tran­script at the bot­tom of the post.)

Though Japan­ese tra­di­tion, to say noth­ing of the cus­toms of one ded­i­cat­ed artist speak­ing to anoth­er, dic­tates that Miyaza­ki dis­play a cer­tain def­er­ence to Kuro­sawa (an atti­tude cer­tain­ly vis­i­ble in the seg­ments of the broad­cast avail­able on Youtube), the two have plen­ty of insight to offer one anoth­er. And how­ev­er dif­fer­ent their films, they all emerged from the same spir­it of painstak­ing ded­i­ca­tion. “If you let things slide think­ing ‘well, this won’t be in view of the cam­era,’ ” Kuro­sawa warns, “then there’s no end to how lazy you can get. You either give it your all, or don’t even both­er.”

Miyaza­ki, who has since risen to a Kuro­sawa-like promi­nence of his own, offers this clos­ing reflec­tion on his first meet­ing with the direc­tor of the likes of RashomonSev­en Samu­rai, and Ikiru: “Whether a work is a mas­ter­piece or… some­thing more mod­est, I real­ized that they all orig­i­nate at the same place — an envi­ron­ment where peo­ple are con­stant­ly think­ing and rethink­ing their own ideas,” rather than wait­ing around for inspi­ra­tion. Instead, they adopt the atti­tude of, “ ‘Regard­less of what they think… or whether or not they like the way I do things, I’m gonna do what has to be done!’ That’s what’s impor­tant.”

A big hat tip goes to Adri­an.

Tran­script, trans­lat­ed by Yuto Shi­na­gawa.

KUROSAWA — One of the set­tings for our movie — the “Oichi­ni [ah one two]” drug sales­man scene — if you recall, is a rec­tan­gu­lar room. What we’d do is use three cam­eras, all on one side of the room to film every­thing from start to fin­ish… after which we’d move the them to anoth­er side of the room, switch out the lens­es, and film the scene over. We’d do this three times…from all four direc­tions. So in the end, there’d be 36 cuts that we had to look through dur­ing editing…just for one scene.

MIYAZAKI — That’s what bog­gles my mind. How do you pick which cuts to use?

KUROSAWA — Pret­ty much on a first come first serve basis for me.

MIYAZAKI — Is that so?

KUROSAWA — You just skim through them real­ly quick…“toss…keep…toss,” so that all you have to do in the end is just string togeth­er what’s left. That’s all there is to it.

MIYAZAKI — Well yes, but…[Laughs]

KUROSAWA — So we might have one seg­ment that seems like it’s going to be a big hassle…perhaps take days to film…but ends up tak­ing only half a day — from morn­ing to 3 o’clock lat­er that day. The same goes with edit­ing — we’d be expect­ing a big mess, when in fact, we’d be fin­ished by 3 o’clock the same day, only to have every­one go, “what?!”

[Shows clip from Maada­dayo]

KUROSAWA — Bat­tle scenes too. When the cav­al­ry makes a charge or something…we film it three times with three dif­fer­ent cam­eras, each time with dif­fer­ent lens­es. So in the end, we’ll have 9 cuts, and all you have to do is string togeth­er the good ones. It’s not that hard. Aside from that…when some­one falls off a horse…gets shot and falls of a horse… we’ll do a spe­cial take after­wards for those types of scenes. And all you have to do is throw that clip in at the right moment, and that’s it. [Pause] And…if you run out of cuts, just flip the film over…

[Takes a while to get it; Big Laugh]

KUROSAWA — Yeah, just flip it over and now the guy is run­ning from that side to this side. Hey, you’ll nev­er notice the dif­fer­ence.

MIYAZAKI — [Laugh­ing] Even if they’re car­ry­ing their swords on the wrong side? [Usu­al­ly, the left so they can draw it with their right hand]

KUROSAWA — No you won’t notice…because…it’s only when the guy falls off the horse. It’s real­ly absurd if you’re pay­ing close attention…with the sword on the wrong side and all. You should notice it, but…well…[Pause] you just don’t.

MIYAZAKI — [Laughs]

KUROSAWA — You know how Mifu­ne’s fight scenes are real­ly intense. Well one time, we were edit­ing one of those scenes and had to stop the reel because some­one came in to ask a ques­tion. And that’s when I hap­pened to look down at the film and notice that… he’s not vis­i­ble on the film itself.


KUROSAWA — He’s noth­ing but a blur on each of those frames…and you can’t real­ly see his face either. Only when you play back the film do you actu­al­ly see Mifu­ne in com­bat. That’s how fast he’s mov­ing. That’s why those fight scenes are so intense. Also, when you spend a lot of time edit­ing those scenes, you get the impres­sion that it’s going to be very lengthy, but no…it’s real­ly real­ly short. I’d say the film itself is about 20 feet…no more than 20 feet. Even then, I feel as though I’ve seen plen­ty, and that’s because I’m so ner­vous­ly focused onto the screen.

MIYAZAKI — [Say’s some­thing about the audi­ence’s per­cep­tion, but I’m not sure what he meant]

KUROSAWA — Right, right.

[Shows clip from Tsub­a­ki San­juro (1962)]

MIYAZAKI — Do you make these [sto­ry­board] draw­ings after you fin­ish writ­ing the script?

KUROSAWA — Most of them, yes…but there are a few that I draw while I’m still writ­ing the script. I’ll some­times come across old sketch­es on the back of an enve­lope or some­thing.

MIYAZAKI — [Look­ing at the draw­ings] Real­ly good.


MIYAZAKI — You’re real­ly good


MIYAZAKI — You are real­ly good [Laughs]

KUROSAWA — Nawww, I real­ly don’t think…

MIYAZAKI — You don’t think so? I…

KUROSAWA — Well the fun­ny thing is… I was sup­posed to be an artist when I was young. My dream was Paris — to open my own art shop. Mr. Ume­hara would always walk up and com­pli­ment my draw­ings when­ev­er I’d be paint­ing out­side. It was with his and Mr. Cardin’s sup­port that I even­tu­al­ly got the chance to put some of my draw­ings on dis­play at an art exhi­bi­tion over­seas. And to my sur­prise, I was lat­er invit­ed to give a talk at the Lou­vre Muse­um. “But sir, I’m not an artist!” was my response. So odd­ly enough…my dreams did come true.

MIYAZAKI — It sure did!

KUROSAWA — “Your style is real­ly inter­est­ing,” is what Mr. Ume­hara used to always say, and we won­dered why. Well, after much dis­cus­sion, we fig­ured out it’s because they [the paint­ings] aren’t intend­ed to be very high qual­i­ty paint­ings when I draw them. They’re just meant to give my staff a feel­ing for the scene, and noth­ing more, so they tend to be a lit­tle reck­less in style. There might be some that are draw sen­si­bly. It depends; I’ll draw with what­ev­er I have on me at that moment.

MIYAZAKI — [Flip­ping through more draw­ings] From the sound of your sto­ries, the live-action busi­ness sounds like a lot of fun.


MIYAZAKI — Live-action sounds like a lot of fun. [Laughs]

KUROSAWA — It sure is. For exam­ple, if there’s going to be a film shoot the next day, I want to get out there as ear­ly as pos­si­ble. Though, my assis­tants prob­a­bly don’t like it when I come in ear­ly because they’d rather not have to deal with me. For them, a good day is one where I take my time com­ing into work. So a lot of the time, you’ll find me wait­ing impa­tient­ly at home.

MIYAZAKI — [Laughs]

KUROSAWA — Every­one has a lot of fun, real­ly. I always tell my peo­ple, “no mat­ter how gru­el­ing things may be at first, you’ll even­tu­al­ly start to enjoy it if you just keep at it. Once you reach that state, you’ll be putting in a lot of effort with­out evening know­ing it.” And it’s true. I might say “ok, that’s good enough,” but their response will be “just a second…one more thing” They’re that immersed in their work. Con­verse­ly, if you let things slide think­ing “well, this won’t be in view of the cam­era,” then there’s no end to how lazy you can get. You either give it your all, or don’t even both­er.

MIYAZAKI — [Laughs]

KUROSAWA — And some­times, ridicu­lous things hap­pen because of it. If you recall Hachi-gat­su no Rapu­so­di [Rhap­sody in August, 1991], there’s a field across the house. Well, long before any film­ing takes place, the first thing we do is ask the local farm­ers to plant the appro­pri­ate crops in each of the fields. You know, “pump­kin fields here…” and so forth. All this so that by the time we come back, all the crops will be ful­ly grown. You just can’t plant these things at the last moment and expect them to look nat­ur­al. Well one time, I look down on what was sup­posed to be a pump­kin patch and “wait a minute, these are gourds!”

MIYAZAKI — [Laughs] Mixed up the seeds did they?

KUROSAWA — “I told you, the gourd goes here on this shelf in the kitchen. The field out there is sup­posed to be pump­kin!” But in the end, we fig­ured that it would all get cov­ered with leaves, and that you would­n’t be able to tell the dif­fer­ence any­way. Peo­ple got the idea to claim their own gourd by writ­ing their name on it, so they could take one home after­wards, and make them into orna­ments or what­ev­er. They all grew up to be pret­ty big. So yeah, we had a big laugh over that — “what kind of fool plants gourds in a field?”

MIYAZAKI — When you’re recruit­ing your staff for a movie, do you just announce it and have peo­ple flock to you?

KUROSAWA — No… in my case, most of my staff mem­bers are peo­ple that I’ve worked with for a very long time. When I announce a new movie, it’s the usu­al gang that rush­es in to help. Oth­er­wise, I don’t think it would go so smooth­ly. “Man, have you lost a lot of hair.” That’s how long I’ve known some of the peo­ple. Like Takao Saito, our cam­era­man who I just refer to as Taka-bou (lit­tle Taka)…he’s already six­ty. It’s just that I’ve known him from when he was that lit­tle, and the name stuck through all these years.

MIYAZAKI — And the cam­era­man’s assistant…Taka-bou-san gets to pick?

KUROSAWA — Yes, he makes those deci­sions. So every­one works their way up the ranks. In that sense, peo­ple will gath­er around if I holler. You know, “we’re gonna start film­ing in how­ev­er many hours so have every­thing ready to go by then.” I’m pret­ty metic­u­lous when it comes to plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion, so I tend to spend more time than most. If the film­ing does­n’t go smooth­ly, it’s usu­al­ly because you did­n’t spend enough time get­ting every­thing ready. You do your home­work, and every­thing goes smooth­ly.

MIYAZAKI — In the old days when movie stu­dios were in much bet­ter shape, we could afford to put up a fight against movie com­pa­nies. That is, even if we went over-budget…even if we did­n’t get along at all, we could still man­age to squeeze the fund­ing out of them to make movies.

KUROSAWA — That was exact­ly what hap­pened when we were work­ing on Sev­en Samu­rai. It was tak­ing a whole lot longer than it was sup­posed to. So much so that we were expect­ing them to cut us off at any moment. In fact, we had­n’t filmed a sin­gle scene from the last bat­tle because of it. And just as we expect­ed, we had a few vis­i­tors come in from Toho: “We’d like to see what you have so far.” “But sir, we haven’t filmed the most impor­tant part of the movie.” “I don’t care; just show us what you have.” “Sir, it’s already Feb­ru­ary. If it starts snow­ing now, we’ll be in big trou­ble when it comes to film­ing the rest of the movie. Are you sure about this?” “Yes, let’s see it.” So we spent an entire week edit­ing what we had of the film so far. And we showed it to them, up towards the end, where Kikuchiyo runs up the roof where the flag is…you know, “ta ta ta tee ta ta ta…[flutter] [flut­ter]” right? “[Points] There they come there they come!” and then…blank, goes the screen.

MIYAZAKI — [Laugh­ing]

KUROSAWA — “[With a con­fused and impa­tient look] so what hap­pens next…?” “We told you, we don’t have a sin­gle scene filmed for the rest of the movie.” So they all gath­ered around…mumbled some­thing and then came back to us and said “Go ahead, film what­ev­er you need…please.”

MIYAZAKI — [Laughs]

KUROSAWA — And that’s when it start­ed snow­ing. We all yelled, “Told you so! That’s what you get!” and then pro­ceed­ed to have big binge back at my place lat­er that night.

MIYAZAKI — [Laughs]

KUROSAWA — As luck would have it, it snowed pret­ty heav­i­ly that night. We had to bring in the fire depart­ment and spend an entire week melt­ing all that snow. Melt­ing the snow over an area that used to be rice pad­dies to begin with… the muck was unbe­liev­able. That might be part of the rea­son why those scenes were so dynam­ic.

MIYAZAKI — Indeed! [Laughs]

[Shows clip from Sev­en Samu­rai]

KUROSAWA — You know, I real­ly liked that bus in Totoro.

MIYAZAKI — [Glee­ful­ly] Thank you.

[Miyaza­ki seems to be at a loss for words here]

KUROSAWA — Those are the kinds of things that peo­ple like me in this busi­ness can’t do, and that’s some­thing I’m real­ly envi­ous about.

MIYAZAKI — The thing is, I grew up in the city… in a time right after the war…when my only per­cep­tion of Japan was that it was an impov­er­ished and piti­ful­ly hope­less coun­try. [Laughs]. At least that’s what we were always told. It was only after I went over­seas for the first time that I start­ed appre­ci­at­ing Japan’s nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment. That being the case, it’s fun­ny that I keep want­i­ng to make movies with a for­eign [western/European] set­ting. I made Totoro because I felt the need to make a movie that takes place in Japan.

[Shows the Mei-bound Cat­bus scene from Tonari no Totoro (1988)]

MIYAZAKI — Late­ly, I’ve been want­i­ng to make a Jidai-geki [peri­od dra­mas]. Man is it hard! I don’t even know what to do!

KUROSAWA — What I think is real­ly inter­est­ing about the Sen­goku-era [1467–1567] is that…it’s per­ceived to be a time when, for exam­ple, one had to be loy­al to his lord and obey sim­i­lar moral and eth­i­cal codes. But in actu­al­i­ty, those only came into exis­tence dur­ing the Toku­gawa Shogu­nate [Edo-era; approx­i­mate­ly 1603–1867] as an attempt to main­tain some degree of order [and peace for the Toku­gawa fam­i­ly]. The Sen­goku-era, on the oth­er hand, was quite the oppo­site — peo­ple had a lot of free­dom then.

[The word KUROSAWA — uses next is ambigu­ous; “shu­jin” can either mean man of the house (hus­band) or land­lord; below are two plau­si­ble trans­la­tions based on these two dif­fer­ent def­i­n­i­tions]

KUROSAWA — (first trans­la­tion): “This hus­band of mine…he’s no good.” If that’s what she thought, then she would’ve, you know… [walked out on him]…without so much as a sec­ond thought.

KUROSAWA — (sec­ond trans­la­tion): “Our landlord…he’s no good.” If that’s what they thought, then they would’ve, you know…[revolted]…without so much as a sec­ond thought.

MIYAZAKI — [Laughs]

KUROSAWA — And that’s the kind of envi­ron­ment that spawned peo­ple like Hideyoshi [1536–1598]. They’re free-thinkers. “You must be loy­al to your hus­band” — that was­n’t the case then. If he was­n’t wor­thy, then you could just aban­don him. That’s what it was like. I think it would be real­ly inter­est­ing if you could por­tray that.


KUROSAWA — Shake­speare might be unique­ly British, but actually…Japan did have peo­ple like Mac­beth dur­ing that era. You’d be sur­prised how eas­i­ly you could make a Japan­ese sto­ry that par­al­lels some­thing out of Shake­speare. Yeah, why don’t you do a Japan­ese Shake­speare­an Jidai-geki? There are a lot of good sto­ries.

MIYAZAKI — [Pause, per­plexed laugh]


MIYAZAKI — Well, let’s start with what they ate…what they wore.

KUROSAWA — We do have records of those…like menus

MIYAZAKI — What about the Muro­machi-era [encom­pass­es the Sen­goku-era, also known as the Ashik­a­ga-era; 1333–1573]

KUROSAWA — Muro­machi is…a good peri­od.

MIYAZAKI — It gets a lit­tle fuzzy in the Nan­boku-cho [ear­ly years; 1336–1392]. That and the Tai­hei­ki [col­lec­tion of war tales]…everything becomes a big mess.

KUROSAWA — Yeah, it gets more dif­fi­cult the fur­ther back you go. If it’s the Tale of the Heike [Part of the Tai­hei­ki], then we have good records of those.

MIYAZAKI — The utter dev­as­ta­tion of Kyoto towards the end of the Heian-era [794‑1185], as depict­ed in the Hou­jou­ki [Tale of the Ten-Foot Square Hut] — earth­quakes, great fires, dead bod­ies everywhere…rushing back from Fukuhara [mod­ern day Kobe area] only to find your estate in com­plete ruins…

KUROSAWA — You mean Rashomon’s time peri­od. That’s inter­est­ing too.

MIYAZAKI — Watch­ing it as a kid, I remem­ber it being a real­ly scary movie! [Laughs]. For me, the movies that stay on my mind aren’t the uplift­ing ones, but rather the ones that depict the real­i­ties of sur­vival.

KUROSAWA — Aku­ta­gawa-san has a lot of nov­els [aside from Rashomon] that depict that time peri­od. Remem­ber that the Rashomon writ­ten by him is com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent from Yabu no Naka [from which the movie was orig­i­nal­ly adapt­ed] — remem­ber the old lady upstairs who’s steal­ing the hair from the corpse?

MIYAZAKI — Right, right.

MIYAZAKI — It seems as if movies these days don’t deal with as wide of a time frame as they used to.

KUROSAWA — Yes, and that’s because…well first of all, even if you want­ed to make a movie of that era, you’d have a lot of trou­ble find­ing a good film­ing loca­tion.

MIYAZAKI — That’s very true. Pow­er lines every­where! [Laughs].

KUROSAWA — Places like the Ikaru­ga no Miya Palace [7th cen­tu­ry] were built in the mid­dle of a cedar for­est. Those trees were huge [Ges­tures] and that’s why they could man­age to build such a wood­en struc­ture. Nowa­days, there’s not a sin­gle one left! That’s how much things have changed.

MIYAZAKI — [Nod­ding] Yes…yes.

KUROSAWA — For Maada­dayo (1993), we had access to many of the clothes from that era [1940s]…like suites. But if you and I try to wear them, they won’t fit at all; we’ve got­ten big­ger.

MIYAZAKI — Oh I see.

KUROSAWA — But if you look at the armor from the Bat­tle of Oke­haza­ma [1560], or some­thing, they’re notice­ably big­ger. Clothes from the Sen­goku-era are big.

MIYAZAKI — [Laughs] Are you say­ing that we got small­er dur­ing the Edo-era [1603–1867]?

KUROSAWA — [Nod] Our physique undoubt­ed­ly dete­ri­o­rat­ed dur­ing the 300 years under Toku­gawa. At first, I did­n’t think such a dras­tic change was rea­son­able, or even pos­si­ble. But when you look at the clothes from the ear­ly Showa-era [pre WWII] and com­pare it to those of today…in just 40 years, look at how much we’ve changed. They just don’t fit!

MIYAZAKI — [Laughs]

KUROSAWA — So we had to find fab­ric that matched the orig­i­nal and tai­lor new ones based on that. It was a big has­sle.

MIYAZAKI — When it comes to mak­ing a Jidai-geki, I just keep run­ning in circles…and nev­er actu­al­ly come close to real­iz­ing that goal. Peo­ple ask, “so what’s your next project?” to which I’ll respond, “Jidai-geki!” I’ve been say­ing that for the past 10 years! [Laughs]

KUROSAWA — In Sev­en Samu­rai, we were orig­i­nal­ly going to chron­i­cle the every­day life of a par­tic­u­lar samu­rai. And as you men­tioned earlier…he’ll wake up in the morn­ing, eat some­thing for break­fast, per­haps go to the Edo Castle…but what exact­ly would he do there, and what would he do for lunch? We don’t know any of the details. There’s no way we can write a script like that.

MIYAZAKI — Right…right.

KUROSAWA — It’s actu­al­ly eas­i­er to find ear­li­er writ­ten records than it is to find those of the Edo-era. We did a lot of research, and that’s when we came across an account of a vil­lage hir­ing samu­rais to become the only vil­lage spared from rebel attacks. “Hey, let’s do this.” And that’s how it start­ed. Of course, once we got to work on it, we just let our imag­i­na­tion run wild. Our pro­duc­er asked, “what about the title?” and I said, “well, it’s about sev­en samurai…hey, that’s per­fect!” “We’re going with this, no mat­ter what!”

MIYAZAKI — That’s true! Movies that don’t have a fit­ting title are no good. [Laughs]

KUROSAWA — That’s very true. Although… we had a lot of trou­ble nam­ing this one [Maada­dayo].

MIYAZAKI — Oh real­ly? [Laughs]

KUROSAWA — They were all too awk­ward sound­ing. Every day, I’d rack my brain over a title to the point where one day, I just blurt­ed out “Maada­dayo! [Not yet!]” My son said “hey, that works!” so we knew it was a keep­er.

[Shows clip from Maada­dayo]

[End chat]

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Aki­ra Kuro­sawa & Gabriel Gar­cía Márquez Talk About Film­mak­ing (and Nuclear Bombs) in Six Hour Inter­view

Aki­ra Kurosawa’s Advice to Aspir­ing Film­mak­ers: Write, Write, Write and Read

When Aki­ra Kuro­sawa Watched Solaris with Andrei Tarkovsky: I Was “Very Hap­py to Find Myself Liv­ing on Earth”

Watch Moe­bius and Miyaza­ki, Two of the Most Imag­i­na­tive Artists, in Con­ver­sa­tion (2004)

Watch Hayao Miyaza­ki Ani­mate the Final Shot of His Final Fea­ture Film, The Wind Ris­es

How to Make Instant Ramen Com­pli­ments of Japan­ese Ani­ma­tion Direc­tor Hayao Miyaza­ki

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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