Why I Appointed Yonebayashi as Director
There was no one else available. Another reason was intuition. We expected ambitious individuals, eager to create new things, to emerge from our studio, but none did. And when looking in other places, not many seemed to rise up. So, faced with the possibility of having to shut shop, someone had to be found. That’s when I noticed Yonebayashi and decided, “You do it” (laughs). Without that situation, I don’t think Yonebayashi would have ever thought of becoming a director. That’s the real story. We can glorify it by calling it a major challenge, but in truth, it was like a dice game, a 50-50 chance. Speaking candidly, maybe it wasn’t the best choice (laughs). But that’s the honest truth.
He truly showcased his talent in interpreting and adapting scenes given to him. However, when you give a scene to someone and don’t correct the drawings yourself, there’s a risk they might take away everything from you. That risk still clearly exists today. And if you ask if one can fix every drawing by themselves, it’s not possible because one isn’t that fast. Both he and this studio face this challenge.
If you think you’ve grasped the core of the artwork with just a clothespin (metaphorically speaking), that’s naive. You never know where it’s coming from, and the film might never be released. So, making final judgments now is premature. Just because you attached a clothespin doesn’t mean the film will succeed (laughs). Nothing is decided yet. Once the film is made, things change based on its outcome. Once someone has taken the role of a director, they can’t easily go back to the laid-back role of an animator. While I support them, constantly giving minute directions is like trying to kill a bull by grinding away at its horns. So, interfering is something one must refrain from. Although it might seem easy to intervene, it never results in anything good. I’m eagerly and anxiously waiting to see where it will end up, trying as much as possible not to interfere.
There’s no such thing as a gentle mentor-disciple relationship here. I don’t recall ever taking such a person as my disciple. I’ve shouted, “Go back to your hometown!” but he stayed anyway. He’s not the kind of person you want to showcase. You’d want to keep him hidden. But I wouldn’t let someone I disliked take the helm. Indeed, he’s a good guy. But being nice doesn’t make good films, which is problematic. He lives without pretense, which is why everyone likes Yonebayashi. This kind of personal charm plays a role too. There’s a sentiment of “If Yonebayashi is doing it, we can’t help but support and assist,” which is crucial.
About “The Little People Under the Floor”
I had conversations with Director Takahata in our twenties. Back then, the animation industry we were part of was largely focused on well-known masterpieces, and essentially rejected anything original. It was common sense in the industry that any project should be familiar to parents and approved for their children to watch. When thinking about breaking this norm, we wondered if we couldn’t make animations from children’s literature or anything else. That’s when I felt the freshness of Norton’s “The Borrowers” and wondered if such content could become a film. But I believed such a proposal would never get accepted. That time was the catalyst.
The Reason for Setting it in Modern Japan
If we don’t set the stage in current-day Japan, the audience won’t come. While the original work is from the UK, today’s audience, including Maro, has far less fascination and curiosity towards foreign cultures than we did in our younger days. What they know is limited to their own living environment, what appears on the screen, and what comes in mail-order catalogs. The world has become that narrow. So once again, we should look with curiosity at the various old houses in this country we live in, their interiors, under the floorboards, inside the walls.
However, I think there’s something fundamentally lacking in the curiosity of today’s Japan. Not just gossip about celebrities’ private lives, but about the history of how people lived, making things, using them, eating. About a lot of things, including the lives of our ancestors or the kind of life that’s still being led in remote parts of Japan today, I believe we’ve truly lost our curiosity. It’s like we’re narrowing the ring in which we make movies.
The reason I brought “The Borrowers” to Japan is because it might be easier to make it here. No one knows the work, so suddenly going to the UK for a month-long location scout without understanding anything wouldn’t make sense. Instead, think about the life you’ve lived. People aren’t seeing it, which frustrates me. But the opportunity to see is there. So discover it yourselves. The little people under the floor, living off of humans like they’re burdened by loans. They are people who, rather than producing, choose a life of consumption. Look at these little people, who live their lives more by using than producing, and relate it to your own feelings. Living as if they’re on the verge of extinction is exactly like us. They’re just like us. That’s the mindset I had when I thought about making this film. When you look at it this way, even though “The Borrowers” is an old work, I felt it could be a hint for today’s times.