I wanted to draw a character that feels real.
Interviewer: What were you thinking of doing as the animation director for this film?
Ando: I wanted to draw characters that feel real. When we started making this film, Mr. Miyazaki told me that he wanted to depict an ordinary ten-year-old girl that you can find anywhere. The protagonists of Mr. Miyazaki’s previous works were usually ideal heroes or heroines, so it was the first time I felt that Mr. Miyazaki was starting the film from a point closer to us. Within me, there was also a desire to create a work with such a flesh-and-blood character, so I invited animators who could consciously depict that liveliness. Together with those people, I wanted to show on the surface what a ten-year-old girl looks like while also conveying her inner world. If we could achieve that, we could create a film that resonates with both Mr. Miyazaki’s works and ourselves. With that in mind, we began the work.
Interviewer: What was the focus when depicting an ordinary ten-year-old?
Ando: When we started making the film, Mr. Miyazaki also mentioned that the main character shouldn’t change much, and the world surrounding her shouldn’t change much either. I interpreted ‘not changing’ as referring to the fact that ten years old is a fleeting moment before entering adolescence, a point where nothing changes. I thought that at that transitional point, one should be able to feel what needs to be felt when facing the world. So, at the beginning of the film, we see Chihiro with a puffy face. It’s not about an initially unattractive girl gradually becoming cute as the story progresses. It’s about her appearing cute through the subtle richness of her expressions. I considered that to be an important aspect of this film, and I consciously worked towards that. Specifically, I tried to maintain the round face, low nose, and not overly large eyes until the end (laughs).
When I set out to depict the character of Chihiro, I had a feeling of hesitation, but I believed that her growth within this film would come from how far she could step forward with the thoughts within myself that said it should be this way. I thought that if her expression of trying her best to do something looked cute, that would be enough. She must do something, but she feels helpless within herself. She’s helpless, but she can’t just stand there. So she decides to go somewhere. I thought that was the kind of internal conflict that a ten-year-old girl would face when confronting the world. If that’s the case, I felt it was necessary to depict it and that there was meaning in doing so. Only then did I think that Chihiro would become a character with whom the audience can truly empathize.”
Interviewer: When it comes to characters like Yubaba, what kind of image were you aiming for?
Ando: Mr. Miyazaki’s depiction of old women typically features a hooked nose. Whether it’s Dola, the pirate in ‘Castle in the Sky,’ or Lady Eboshi in ‘Princess Mononoke,’ I think you can see that pattern. When they were young, they had a slender and prominent nose, but as they age and become grandmothers, their noses sag and become hooked. I believe this is actually a Western characteristic. I wanted to change that distinctive nose a bit, so instead of a vertically elongated hooked nose, I made it wider and spread horizontally. As I worked on it, it gradually returned to the usual nose shape laughs. Another thing is, yes, for Yubaba, her large face becomes a defining feature. There were many elements to draw, such as the wrinkles on her face, eyeshadow, rings, and the frills on her clothes. It was quite challenging. However, I wanted to make Yubaba appear somewhat vivid. I was certain that making her look too much like a manga character would be detrimental. The same goes for No-Face. If I were to depict characters like them in a cartoonish way, it would be like reducing the height and deforming an ordinary person to make them cute, which would diminish their character. So, with Yubaba, I tried to draw her in a way that made it clear that such people with large faces exist.
Interviewer: What about Chihiro’s parents?
Ando: I had quite a struggle with their designs. I didn’t want them to be the typical parents that appear in Mr. Miyazaki’s works. For Chihiro’s father, I envisioned him as carefree and somewhat insensitive, always boldly moving forward. At the same time, he dotes on his daughter. As I developed his character, he gradually became more typical of a jock-like person. On the other hand, Chihiro’s mother is cool and isn’t present when the family harmony is disrupted. She follows her husband while saying, ‘Be serious,’ and has a bun hairstyle, earrings, and wears makeup with a sense of self. I think that kind of depiction hadn’t been seen in Mr. Miyazaki’s previous works.”
Interviewer: How about Lin?
Ando: In a way, she’s a typical character that often appears in Mr. Miyazaki’s works laughs. She plays the role of guiding the protagonist, just like Ursula in ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service.’ These characters depicted by Mr. Miyazaki are usually female, but they have a strong sense of masculinity. This time, that aspect was reflected in her physical appearance, and there were revisions made to reduce her chest size laughs. So, I consciously tried to give her as much chest as possible laughs. I thought that a more feminine figure would be interesting for her assertive personality, even though she is small laughs.”
Interviewer: What about Haku?
Ando: Haku is, in a sense, a typical slender and beautiful boy, but I didn’t really want to depict him that way. I actually wanted him to be more mysterious. However, character-wise, there was no choice but to follow the typical pattern of a transparent and beautiful boy. But I made sure not to make Haku look like a beautiful boy from a girls’ manga. I was mindful of that.”
Interviewer: And what about Kamaji?
Ando: Kamaji is also one of the characters that frequently appear in Mr. Miyazaki’s works. It’s similar to Yubaba in that sense. So, like with Yubaba, I wanted to avoid making him look like a deformed, cartoonish character. His beard, mouth, chin, and sunglasses serve as substitutes for eyes, but I focused on drawing the eyes, the structure of his head, and the muscles in his neck, especially for his face, to make him appear as much like a real old man as possible.
Interviewer: Now that you have completed your role as the animation director for this film, can you share your thoughts?
Ando: I believe that when Mr. Miyazaki’s works emphasize his distinctive style, they become more straightforward and easier to understand both visually and in terms of content. I think that was the case with this film as well. However, I didn’t want to participate with the sole intention of imitating what Mr. Miyazaki had done. Instead, I wanted to feel something on my own, make my own choices, and let what remained within me be something Miyazaki-esque or Takahata-esque. I believe that by doing so, I can become a staff member capable of creating works that truly carry on the spirit of Studio Ghibli. But to create works in that manner, I felt that I needed to break everything down first. I wanted to take the first step of that process with this film. I’m not sure if I was able to take that step firmly. Perhaps what I attempted this time was simply introducing foreign elements into Mr. Miyazaki’s world. In that sense, it was a process that involved various conflicts within myself. The result and its implications are ultimately the director’s and the audience’s domain, as a film is. However, it has provided me with an opportunity to contemplate many things and has given me significant challenges to carry forward in the future.
Masashi Ando: Born in Hiroshima Prefecture in 1969. Joined Studio Ghibli as a second-term trainee in 1990. Served as the animation
director for “Princess Mononoke” and “Spirited Away” before becoming a freelancer. Worked as an animation director for films such as
“Tokyo Godfathers,” “Paprika,” and “A Letter to Momo,” among others. In Studio Ghibli’s latest film, “When Marnie Was There,” he took
on the roles of screenwriter and animation director.