Studio Ghibli fans who’ve followed the in-and-out-of-retirement adventures of studio co-founder Hayao Miyazaki may be aware that back in 2016, he re-opened the studio to begin work on a new film, titled How Do You Live? Details about the movie’s subject and projected release date have been scarce, but Ghibli announcements have made it clear that it’s a “big fantastical story” focused on the importance of Genzaburō Yoshino’s 1937 novel How Do You Live? in a protagonist’s life.
Miyazaki has long cited How Do You Live? as his favorite childhood book and an important touchstone for his work on films like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Ponyo. The book, a classic of children’s literature, often part of school curricula, is an accessible but heady philosophical journey for young readers. The story follows as a teenage protagonist, “Koperu” in the original, begins to ponder the big questions of life, as his uncle tries to protect him from bullies and help him navigate his growing questions about the world. Algonquin Books will publish the first English translation of the novel in October 2021. A summary of the novel from the company’s press release:
How Do You Live? begins with fifteen-year-old Copper, who has recently suffered the loss of his father, gazing out over his hometown of Tokyo, watching the thousands of people below, and beginning to ponder life’s big questions. How many people are in the world? What do their lives look like? Are humans really made of molecules? The book moves between Copper’s story and his uncle’s journal entries, in which he gives advice and helps Copper learn pivotal truths about the way the world works.
Over the course of a year in his life, Copper, like his namesake Copernicus, embarks on a journey of philosophical enlightenment, and uses his discoveries about the heavens, earth and human nature to determine the best way to live. Yoshino perfectly captures the beauty and strangeness of pre-war Japan — the changing of the seasons, the fried tofu and taiyaki stands, and the lush landscapes, as Copper explores the city on his bike and learns from friends and family what really matters most in life.
Algonquin provided Polygon with a series of excerpts, which run a startling gamut: One features a rhapsodic, in-depth description of Copper’s neighborhood and the street food being cooked there, while another is full of heady thoughts about how the Copernican model of the universe reflects human maturity and the ability to step away from self-centered thinking. But of the excerpts provided, this one perhaps most clearly reflects the book’s influence on Miyazaki’s films. As Copper plays around with one of his best friends, Kitami, their creative, teasing, but close dynamic feels much like the sisters’ relationship in My Neighbor Totoro. Copper’s upbeat energy and playfulness seems familiar from most of Miyazaki’s child protagonists, who are renowned for their game and joyful spirits.
Here’s a sample from Algonquin’s translation of How Do You Live?
Once they had played all the usual indoor games, Copper spoke up: “Shall we listen to the Waseda-Keio baseball game?”
“College baseball? Do you have a recording of it?”
“No, on the radio. I’ll broadcast it.”
“Huh?” Copper unplugged the radio and set it on the desk.
Then he threw a large cloth over his head and squatted down. Soon enough the broadcast began.
“…The deep-blue sky clears, the wind falls, and the dust has settled in Meiji Jingu Stadium. The rising sun on the flag of Japan is just barely waving in the wind behind center field, and it’s an absolutely perfect day for a ball game. An absolutely perfect day…”
“Cool!” Kitami shouted.
“Waseda University, the champions of North Tokyo! Keio University, the champions of South Tokyo!” Copper continued in a grand voice.
“This battle between two great college teams said to be the jewels of our baseball world is now in its thirtieth year! Even now, millions of fans across the country go wild with excitement. The honor of the two schools, the hopes of alumni and students, and thirty years of tradition—just think, it all comes down to this one contest…”
Of course, it was pretty clever. Especially since Copper was saying it all himself.
“…Thirty minutes before the heated battle, Jingu Stadium is buzzing with anticipation and emotion. Tens of thousands of fans have been streaming into the great stadium around the field since early this morning, and at this point there’s barely room to stand. The cheering squads for each school have occupied their sections along the infield and outfield and jammed their seats to overflowing. With Keio on the third-base side and Waseda on the first-base side, each commanding their own brass band, they have been sounding off fiercely since before the match…”
“What about the players?” Mizutani broke in.
“I’m going to do them now,” the radio replied.
“Now the Waseda players are entering from the first base side. The Waseda players are entering. They are wearing their matching gray jerseys. The crowd is on its feet, standing as one! Just listen to that—the applause is thunderous. Waseda’s cheering section is on their feet. It’s the welcoming chant for the players.”
At that point, in a voice as loud as he could possibly get, Copper began to sing the Waseda fight song:
“Deep-blue sky, the golden sun above,
Shining brightly far and wide, that’s our history…”
Kitami quickly backed him up, and they sang:
“Brilliant and superior, our fighting spirit burns,
To the throne of victory…”
However, it’s not easy for two people to take the place of an entire cheering section.
So Kitami raised his voice to a fearsome bellow:
Victory to Waseda!”
“…And to continue, from the third-base side, Keio enters! Led by team manager Morita, the Keio players take the field. And to greet them, the Keio cheer section begins their fight song! Listen now. It’s a magnificent chorus.”
This time Copper changed his style and sang in a high voice.
“Youth with blood that burns so fierce,
We are shining, oh so bright.”
And then Mizutani joined in the chant with his clear voice.
“Eyes upon the star of hope—
As we march on to victory,
And our power ever new, Look!
Our finest gather now…”
The radio continued the broadcast.
“Both sides have begun their warm-up. The Waseda players spread out on the field. It’s time for batting practice. And now let’s review the history of this war of two teams, starting in the year 1905…”
“That’s enough of that!” Kitami said.
“But if I don’t say it like that, it won’t be like the Waseda-Keio game!” the radio protested in a grumbling tone.
“But that’s okay. It’s better if the game starts quickly.”
“You think so? Fine, we can do it that way…” The radio seemed to think it a shame to waste its hard-won knowledge but quickly followed Kitami’s orders.
“Already now both sides have completed their fielding practice, and it seems that they are just about ready to start the game. First up is Waseda. Keio is defending in the field. Keio’s pitcher is Kusumoto. He takes the mound with a confident smile. Waseda’s leadoff man, Satake, enters the batter’s box. Play ball!”
Suddenly Copper howled in a strange voice: “OO, OO, OOWOO!” This was meant to be the starting whistle for the game.
So the game started, but as it progressed, it eventually descended into chaos. At first, both sides had scoreless turns, but after Waseda scored a run during the fourth inning, each team had hits every inning, and every inning, there were runs scored. At any rate, whenever Keio scored, no matter whether it was one run or two, Kitami would say, “Hey! No way!”
So then Copper would give Waseda one or two runs, taking advantage of errors by Keio. But when he did that, Mizutani would lodge a protest: “Don’t have Keio make so many errors!”
Copper the Commentator took great pains to advance the game in such a way as to suit both of his friends. He had no choice but to make it a furious seesaw of a game. The closely fought back-and-forth battle continued, and at long last they came to the bottom of the ninth inning. Waseda was in the field, Keio at bat, and Waseda had the lead by one run.
“Runners on first and third! Keio’s batter is the team captain, Kachikawa. The fielders are on high alert, and number three, the great Kachikawa, has a heavy burden on his shoulders. There are already two outs, but with a runner on third, there’s the chance for a hit-and-run! With a single hit here, just like that, the game will be tied. The count is three and one. Perhaps the veteran pitcher Wakahara will throw a fourth ball for the intentional walk, in hopes of taking out the next batter.”
“No way! Make it a strikeout!” Kitami shouted.
“Wakahara addresses the plate. He goes into his stretch and puts the fifth ball in motion. The pitch. The swing. He makes contact! The ball rises, up, up, up, heading toward deep left field. The left fielder is backing up hard. Back… Back… Oh, it’s way past him! The ball flies over the left fielder’s head and lands beneath the grandstand bleachers. The lead runner scores! The other runner takes off from first like a rabbit.
“He’s rounding third base and heading for home. Oh, and he crosses the plate. Another score! Keio wins, Keio wins, Keio wins! Kachikawa hits a towering triple, Keioscores two runs, and just like that, the game is over. OO, OO, OOWOO!”
But the whistle couldn’t end the game. Because Kitami had jumped up and hurled himself at Copper the Radio.
“Hey! Radio! Can’t you shut up?”
As he said this, Kitami yanked down on the cloth that was covering Copper’s head.
“Ow! That’s rough! Help!” Copper yelled from inside the cloth. “And just now, a hooligan has appeared on the field.”
“Hey! Will you shut up, I said! Stop talking!”
“The hoo… the hoo… the hooligan is a Waseda supporter!”
Kitami, whose face had turned bright red with laughter, pushed down with all his might on Copper. Under attack, Copper continued all the same.
“The hooligan… has inter… interrupted the broadcast. The commentator is now in a life-or-death struggle!”
Kitami burst out laughing. Copper seized the moment to try to stand up, and the two of them toppled, tangled together, beside the desk. The radio was jostled and started to tumble off the desk, but Mizutani launched himself at it and tackled it.
Kitami let go, and Copper took the cloth off his head. The two of them sprawled on the tatami mat, still laughing. Copper’s head was on Kitami’s stomach, and every time Kitami laughed, the vibrations from his stomach shook Copper’s head with a little jolt.
“Ah, I’m beat.” Copper flopped on the floor in an exhausted pose. Kitami, too, stretched out his arms and took a breather. At this, Mizutani heaved a deep sigh and threw himself down next to them.
The three of them lay there quietly for a while. They already felt close enough that there was no need to speak. How nice it was just to lie there in silence.
Outside it was a perfect autumn day, crisp and clear. Framed by the trees in the garden, the roofs of the neighboring houses were just barely visible through the wide-open sliding shoji doors at the end of the hall, and over the fence was the bright-blue autumn sky. Across the sky, clouds as light as spun silk flowed slowly by, their shapes shifting as they went.
Copper lay there absentmindedly, while off in the distance a train rolled by, its sound playing dreamily in his ears.
From How Do You Live? © 2021 by Genzaburo Yoshino. Reprinted by permission of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. All rights reserved. How Do You Live? will be published on Oct. 26, 2021.