When Miyazaki says Totoro isn’t cute, you don’t have to agree with him.
Studio Ghibli director and co-founder Hayao Miyazaki is as famous for his accomplished repertoire of world-famous anime films as he is for his outspoken opinions on the anime industry.
And with the acclaimed animation studio now hiring for Miyazaki’s upcoming feature-length film, the director is making news for his remarks yet again, specifically those he once made when interviewing applicants for a position with the company.
The comments were revealed during an event at the Embassy of Finland in Tokyo on 10 June, when anime director Kenji Itoso unveiled his new Santa Company x Coluboccoro movie project.
Itoso, who worked for Miyazaki at Studio Ghibli, recalled the time when he first applied for the job and attended an interview for the company, back when he was just 19 years old. Miyazaki and Ghibli producer and co-founder Toshio Suzuki were present at the group interview, and given that Itoso had only ever seen them on TV before, it made him incredibly nervous.
To help ease the tension in the room, Miyazaki asked one of the female applicants which movie she’d seen recently, and when she told him she’d seen My Neighbour Totoro, and had been collecting Totoro goods for a long time, Miyazaki said, “I’m happy to hear you say that, but personally, I don’t think Totoro is a cute creature.”
According to Itoso, Miyazaki then went on to say: “He’s a horrible creature. He’s a carnivore and the only reason why he didn’t eat Mei and Satsuki was because he wasn’t hungry.”
After the interviewee said she was shocked to hear that, Miyazaki went on to ask the other applicants what they thought about his revelation.
As they answered one by one, the interviewees replied positively, saying things like “How interesting!” Itoso, however, had rewatched My Neighbour Totoro on VHS before the interview, and when it was finally his turn to answer, he suddenly remembered that he’d seen molars inside Totoro’s mouth during one of the scenes.
Molars are large, flat teeth at the back of the mouth, present in herbivores, as opposed to carnivores, to grind vegetation during chewing. This means Totoro wouldn’t be a carnivore, so he simply said to Miyazaki: “He’s a herbivore, isn’t he?”
Upon hearing this, Miyazaki smiled, and after the interview Itoso was the sole successful applicant who landed a job with the studio.
When Itoso later asked the director why he put such a sneaky trick question into the interview, Miyazaki apparently said, “People who create entertainment shouldn’t just swallow whatever people are saying. The thinking process is important.”
This sage advice stayed with Itoso as he worked his way up in the entertainment industry to where he is today. The 41-year-old Hiroshima-born anime director has now established his own studio, Kenji Studio, which will be releasing an extended film version of their Santa Company anime short in cinemas around Japan this December.