Where is the Premiere Miyasaki Interview?

This video got me thinking about an aging controvery…

I saw Spirited Away in the theater and was deeply disturbed by it. I was encouraged to see it based on reviews that promised me something akin to Alice in Wonderland, but what I got was a much more obvious sexual allegory. I’d been studying Japanese in college, I’d read a lot of books about the country’s history and I knew what a red light on a bathhouse meant. A few minutes of searching the internet revealed the full original Premir article translated from the French interview with Hayao Miyazaki and his producer, Toshio Suzuki. That was back in 2001.

Apparently the idea that Spirited Away is an allegorical condemnation of parents in Japan who sell their children into prostitution (and my recollection is that Miyasaki mentioned it as a problem in many other Asian countries as well) has become an urban legend. My guess is that’s because the original source of this information is no longer available online in its entirety; Premir.fr has removed it from their archives, at least my old link is broken and I can’t find it in a search of their site or in their profile of the director. There are two quotes that continue to get passed around from the article but they’re rarely seen together. So this quote sounds like a denial:

Why? I think it’s because of “Kaonashi” (Faceless), the customer/monster who desires Chihiro. Though we don’t know what he wants Chihiro, Kaonashi offers money to her. 

“Kaonashi is Miyazaki himself,” says Toshio Suzuki, producer of Sen to Chihiro, in the PREMIRE interview but Miyazaki fervently denies his partner’s interpretation.

“No!” he says. “Kaonashi is a metaphor, the libido that everybody secretly harbors.”

And this quote has been explained away as a mistranslation:

In an interview for the Japanese edition of Premiere magazine, he confesses that Spirited Away is about the sex industry. He said “Traditionally, Japanese morality about sex has been more open and free before Western culture pushed the importance of virtue upon us. Though I don’t mean I want go back to advocate the old Japanese freedom of sex in my new film, I just think that the sex industry is the best thing to represent the reality of today’s Japanese society. Now, the sex industry is everywhere in Japan. And the number of young girls who look like whores is increasing.”

But what I remember about the full English translation available in 2001 was that Miyasaki was very clear about his intentions and his disgust with the prostitution industry.  This quote, sometimes passed around, came from an article commenting on the French interview, also no longer online:

‘… the character of Kaonashi (Faceless), the customer/monster who madly desires Chihiro. He offers her money though she declines. “Kaonashi is Miyazaki himself,” says Toshio Suzuki, the producer of “Sen to Chihiro”, in the Premiere interview. Miyazaki quickly denied in a panic, “No! Not me! Kaonashi is a metaphor for the libido that everybody has secretly has.”‘

I don’t remember Miyasaki denying anything in a panic. What I remember is a sheepish response.

I would really like a link to the original interview again. If anyone can find it for me I would love to clarify in my mind what I actually read.

What really confuses me is why in the years since the film and interview came out so many people get so defensive when this subtext is brought up. This isn’t taking a story meant for children and making it all about sex, it’s a discussion about author intent and underlying social commentary. Maybe the problem is the social concern itself is such a disturbing subject, but when I see horrified reactions to the idea that criticism of child prostitution might show up in a children’s fantasy story it looks like a western perspective on what’s acceptable in family film and not an eastern one. Here’s a recent indignant comment. I don’t see anything forced and I know I didn’t get the idea from a poorly-worded Tumblr post. I got it from watching the film in the theater and reading the subsequent interview. Which I would really like to read again.

If anyone can point me to the original interview I would greatly appreciate it!

Author of Strawberry Shortcake: Return of the Purple Pie Man, Disney’s Frozen Comic Collection, Transformers: Robots in Disguise Animated and Littlest Pet Shop: Open for Business. She’s written for IDW Publishing, Hasbro, Lion Forge, American Greetings and Scholastic, and her work has been discussed in Comics Beat and The Washington Post. Subscribe to the newsletter

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12 thoughts on “Where is the Premiere Miyasaki Interview?

    1. I haven’t yet but someone else suggested that to me as well. I’m going to try it as soon as I can set some time aside.

  1. Did you ever find it? If so, I would really appreciate if you could share a link – be it in Japanese, French, English or whatever. I am planning to write a research paper on Spirited Away and have been searching desperately for this interview! Please let me know!
    Thank you!

    1. I haven’t been able to find it but I have used Anton’s Wayback idea and found film critic Tomohiro Machiyama’s original reference to it, which is at least something.

      These are the sections he quotes:

      In his interview for the Japanese edition of PREMIRE magazine, Miyazaki explained that his wonderland is not just a fantasy, but represents the real world of today’s Japan. “The sex industry is everywhere now in Japan,” he said. “And the number of young girls who look like whores is growing.”

      In this interview, Miyazaki worries about the circumstance surrounds today’s Japanese girls. Girls who grow up in Japan have to live surrounded by obscenity which is spread by media, no matter how much their parents try to cover their eyes. Furthermore, with the Japanese economy having gone downhill for more than a decade now, the unemployment rate is as high as it’s ever beenófor women, getting a decent job is extremely difficult, because of these reasons compounded by sex discrimination. Japanese girl have got to have the guts to do anythingóeven if it’s work at a place like Super Loose. They’re paying the price of the indulgences of their parents’ generation: in the eighties, Chihiro’s mom and dad enjoyed the bubble economy’s hedonism without conscienceólike pigs.

      And this section:

      “Kaonashi is Miyazaki himself,” says Toshio Suzuki, producer of Sen to Chihiro, in the PREMIRE interview but Miyazaki fervently denies his partner’s interpretation.

      “No!” he says. “Kaonashi is a metaphor, the libido that everybody secretly harbors.”

      Machiyama also offers some of his own information and experience on the Japanese sex industry which might be useful coming from a Japanese film critic.

      I believe the full article in the Japanese edition of Premire may have existed online at one point but has been removed. You might be able to find it with the archiver and its release would have been sometime before September 2001 when Machiyama’s article was released.

      1. Is that so? That’s too bad that it’s gone, but thank you sooo much for sending me this reference! This is at least credible enough to use in an academic paper! I really appreciate it!

    1. Thanks – But the article I’m looking for was published in the French version of Premiere Magazine in 2001. This article you’re directing me to came out in 2004 after ‘Howl’s Moving Castle.’

    1. Thanks but no, still looking for the original French interview for Premir. The interview at that link was from a press conference.

  2. For discussion purposes I can see importance of the interview you’re talking about. To bring awareness and to educate. But after moviepilot released that article, people were quick to judge and said they would prefer their kids not to watch the movie. So honestly I hope the interview is lost. People are too judgmental and ignorant to talk about things like this. All they care about is the flashy headline and quick judgment without proof.

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