Hayao Miyazaki Tells Video Game Makers What He Thinks of Their Characters Made with Artificial Intelligence: “I’m Utterly Disgusted. This Is an Insult to Life Itself”

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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Comments (12)
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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.

  • Theo says:

    It is so SO INAPPROPRIATE to pro­mote a “zom­bie sim­u­la­tor” to a man who’s life’s work is about the LIBERATION of the soul from the hor­rors of man’s nature.

    While I admire the inge­nu­ity, SO INAPPROPRIATE.

    This comes from a gamer.

  • Theo says:

    The nature of this pre­sen­ta­tion is even more offen­sive. An inhu­man ani­ma­tor pro­duc­ing inhu­man ani­ma­tions. It is a cel­e­bra­tion of the inhu­mane in the medi­um Myaza­ki uses to express the soul.


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