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Internationally famed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki once sent a genuine katana to Miramax head Harvey Weinstein, implicitly threatening the consequences the producer might face if any edits were made to Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke for its American release.
At least, that’s the popular story.
Miyazaki is a humanist artist, creator of some of the most touching, gentle, and hopeful films in the animated canon. He’s also an outspoken idealist with no obvious inhibitions about expressing his opinion, and in a daily series for Ghibli Week, we’re highlighting some of the things the reclusive director has famously disdained.
So did Miyazaki really send an entire sword to the now-convicted sexual abuser as a threat? Well, no. But his producer totally did.
In a 2005 interview, timed with the release of the English dub of Howl’s Moving Castle, Miyazaki first confirmed the story.
There is a rumour that when Harvey Weinstein was charged with handling the US release of Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki sent him a samurai sword in the post. Attached to the blade was a stark message: “No cuts.”
The director chortles. “Actually, my producer did that. Although I did go to New York to meet this man, this Harvey Weinstein, and I was bombarded with this aggressive attack, all these demands for cuts.” He smiles. “I defeated him.”
Miyazaki had reason to be wary about cuts to his less-Disney-like films. The first stateside release of his first original film, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, was heavily edited.
22 minutes of the original film were cut in an attempt to make it into a family-friendly action-adventure, diminishing its heroine’s role in the story, and removing parts that established the peaceful side of the insect enemies. The film was renamed Warriors of the Wind for its 1985 release, and promoted with a poster featuring a quartet of Masters of the Universe-esque male characters who do not appear in the movie — one of them is literally a robot with a ray gun, another is a machine-gun-toting commando on a flying horse. And they’re triumphantly riding the horrifying God Warrior weapon.
Ten years after Warriors of the Wind, an American studio was once again interested in bringing a Ghibli film stateside. But Princess Mononoke was nothing like what Miramax’s own parent corporation, Disney, had primed American audiences to expect from an animated movie about a princess.
Like Nausicaä, Princess Mononoke is a dark, pro-environmentalist story with a violently angry female lead — not to mention loads of (beautifully realized, emotionally effective) gore and body horror. Miyazaki was not about to see it be dumbed down and softened for the palates of a young audience. So maybe he didn’t send the katana himself. But when Mononoke hit the states with no cuts, a juiced-up screenplay from Neil Gaiman, and an all-star voice cast, he got his way.