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Does Hayao Miyazaki hate ... anime fandom?

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How a meme was born

miyazaki in kingdom of dreams and madness Image: GKids

May 25 to 30 is Studio Ghibli Week at Polygon. To celebrate the arrival of the Japanese animation house’s library on digital and streaming services, we’re surveying the studio’s history, impact, and biggest themes. Follow along via our Ghibli Week page.

You may have seen the image. The white-haired visage of legendary Studio Ghibli animator Hayao Miyazaki, emblazoned with a bold quote: “Anime was a mistake.” And you may have asked, “Did he actually say that?”

The short answer is no. But the long answer is … kinda?

Miyazaki is a humanist artist, creator of some of the most touching, gentle, and hopeful films in the animated canon. He’s also a guy with no obvious inhibitions about expressing his opinion, and in a daily series for Ghibli Week, we’re going to highlight some of the things the reclusive director has famously disdained.

In 2014, Japanese news site the Golden Times posted a series of screenshots from a video interview with Miyazaki, in which he is talking while sketching a young girl, arms splayed out at her sides. The subtitles, subsequently translated into English by Sora News 24, read:

You see, whether you can draw like this or not, being able to think up this kind of design, it depends on whether or not you can say to yourself, “Oh, yeah, girls like this exist in real life.” If you don’t spend time watching real people, you can’t do this, because you’ve never seen it.

Some people spend their lives interested only in themselves. Almost all Japanese animation is produced with hardly any basis taken from observing real people, you know. It’s produced by humans who can’t stand looking at other humans. And that’s why the industry is full of otaku!

Miyazaki interviewed while sketching and smoking a cigarette
An original screencap from the Golden Times interview
Image: Golden Times

Otaku is a more loaded term in its native Japan than in the United States, not merely meaning “nerd with obsessive interests,” but sometimes including connotations of “destructively antisocial.” On the other hand, Miyazaki’s longtime friendship with Neon Genesis Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno certainly shows that he isn’t totally prejudiced against the fan mentality.

Nevertheless, the irresistible irony of a master of Japanese animation throwing shade on the social recluses who are drawn to it generated a lot of memes, many of which exaggerated the general thrust of his statement by simplifying it down with fake quotes.

So is Hayao Miyazaki disappointed with the state of modern anime and fandom? Yes. Does he think anime was a mistake? Only in some (frankly, very funny) memes.