John Lasseter Hails Hayao Miyazaki, Japan and the Joy of Juxtaposition

TOKYO — Invited to speak in Tokyo as part of the ‘Cool Japan’ cultural promotion drive, animator John Lasseter delivered a heart-felt and deeply personal tribute to Japan, Japanese film culture, and fellow animation icon Hayao Miyazaki.

“Thank you, Japan for making me who I am,” he said by way of conclusion in front of a packed theatre at the Tokyo International Film Festival on Friday.

The speech was carefully written and enthusiastically presented by a Lasseter who clearly intended to educate as much as he was there to promote. Lasseter is chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studio, and DisneyToon Studios.

He included early photographs of himself and fellow student animators at California Institute of the Arts, showed a clip of Miyazaki’s “Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro,” which he described as “clever and economical” animation, but with depth. And then described how he wooed his wife Nancy with the same clip.

Other photos showed Lasseter visiting Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli, discovering a fantastical ‘cat-bus’ which was to feature in Miyazaki’s later “My Neighbor Totoro,” more family photographs and even adorn the wall of Lasseter’s office at Pixar.

Lasseter explained how he was inspired by “Star Wars” to see animation as more than children’s entertainment, and then his passing disappointment at Disney, which in the 1980s was trending that way.

The films of Miyazaki, he said were for audiences of all ages. “This man and these films were my greatest inspiration,” Lasseter said.

He described showing “Toy Story” to Miyazaki and being cheered by Miyazaki’s enthusiastic response. “He is supposedly not a fan of computer animation, but he looked beyond the medium and could see the story,” Lasseter said.

“Totoro” Lasseter described as having a profound effect on the old and the young alike. “It celebrates the quiet moments in film, all of Miyazaki’s films have five or six of these, it is so the opposite of Hollywood. Those moments set things up, like the arrival of the Cat Bus,” said Lasseter.

Above all, Lasseter said that he appreciates Japan’s unique juxtaposition of modern and traditional, such as super modern cityscapes punctuated by quiet gardens, or vending machines with video displays that sit next to bamboo fountains.

He closed with footage from “Big Hero 6,” Walt Disney Animation Studios’ latest feature, which premiered Thursday as the festival’s opening film, and a peek at the next “Cars,” complete with a discreet “Lupin III” tribute in the shape of an old Citroen 2CV.

“When I went to computer animation I never forgot the traditional,” he said. “It is one of the secrets of Pixar.”

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