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Andrew Osmond on the oddest casting decision in recent memory… or is it…?
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This May, anime fans were started by what seemed like a late April Fool – the announcement that Hideaki Anno, creator of Evangelion, would take the lead voice role in this summer’s Miyazaki movie, Kaze Tachinu (The Wind is Rising). Let’s emphasise, that’s the lead voice-role. Anno will play Jiro Horiskoshi, a real-life fighter plane engineer during World War II, whose story is told in Miyazaki’s film. That Miyazaki, long associated with fantasy, is making a historical drama in animation is startling too, but that’s another story. (As is the question of how a film about a man who designed Japanese war planes will play in America…)

So, what on earth gives? It sometimes happens that animation professionals turn up in voice roles. Anno himself guested in Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, a TV show, and in FLCL. It’s not just anime. In Pixar movies, directors do voices in test versions of their films, and sometimes the voice stays in the final product. Brad Bird voiced the domineering super-suit designer Edna Mole in The Incredibles (stealing his own film), and Andrew Stanton was surfer turtle Crush in Finding Nemo. And who do you think voiced Mickey Mouse in Disney’s early days?

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But it’s quite a jump from a guest role to a movie lead! A Ghibli film starring the creator of a huge rival franchise… Do we smell a publicity stunt? Ghibli is the studio that put the inexperienced son of Miyazaki in the director’s chair for Tales from Earthsea, then publicised his bust-ups with his dad. Goro Miyazaki himself said the situation was ‘engineered’ by the studio’s then president, Toshio Suzuki, a former journalist creating news.

According to the “Anime Anime” website, Suzuki was indeed involved with choosing Anno for the role, although the same story claims Miyazaki wanted someone “who could deliver his lines fast and smoothly and with a dignified reserve.” In his early films, Miyazaki often used anime voice professionals, including legends like Mayumi Tanaka – she was Pazu in Laputa, and now Luffy in One Piece – and Minami Takayama, who voiced Kiki and is now Detective Conan. Today, though, Miyazaki tends to look elsewhere for voice talent, perhaps feeling that “anime voices” sound over-engineered.

Whatever the truth, Miyazaki and Anno have quite a history together. Let’s join the dots..

Very early in his career, young Anno worked for Miyazaki on his 1984 film Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind. Specifically, Anno created its best animation – the astonishing God Warrior that appears at the climax. It’s a massive melting giant with great green eyes, blasting the world with explosive laser-beams, as its flesh pours off its bones. You can glimpse it in action at the very beginning of this Korean trailer, and again a minute in. See if it reminds you of any other Anno anime…(Warning – the trailer is very spoilerish if you haven’t seen the film.)

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Arguably, though, Anno’s relationship with Miyazaki – at least as a fan – even preceded Nausicaa. Already a pro, having cut his teeth as a key animator on the 1982 Macross, he had helped animate a pair of brilliant fan films, made for the “Daicon” anime convention in Japan. The film’s bunny-suited heroine looks Miyazaki-ish, and may have been partly modelled on Clarisse, the princess in Miyazaki’s Castle of Cagliostro. (Clarisse was hugely popular with anime fans, and is retrospectively counted as anime’s first “moe” star, though don’t tell Miyazaki that!)

Here’s the second Daicon film, made in 1983. Nausicaa, already popular as a manga character, can be glimpsed – see if you can spot her!

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In October 1983, Anno saw an advertisement in the magazine Animage. The anime film of Nausicaa was falling behind schedule, and animators were needed. On the Nausicaa DVD, Toshio Suzuki recalled Anno’s appearance: “One day he just showed up. Afterwards I realised how much guts it must have taken to walk right in and hand Miyazaki samples of his work.”

Anno was hired, and set to animating the God Warrior. According to Suzuki, “Miyazaki wanted something with impact, very detailed, with a unique sense of movement.” Among the stories of Anno’s time on Nausicaa, it’s said that he suffered from terrible diarrhea, which his colleagues joked was the God Warrior’s curse. Miyazaki sent him a memo saying, “Use two colours for the smoke. If you use three colors, I kill you!” The director also forced Anno to restrict the number of frames in the God Warrior sequence. Anno wanted to die when he saw the final result. That the terrific scene didn’t satisfy him speaks volumes about Anno’s drive, his obsession with bringing titanic images to anime.

Anno’s feelings on Ghibli and Miyazaki are revealed in an essay for the Japanese Studio Ghibli box set; it’s unofficially translated by Mark Neidengard here. It’s no fannish hagiography. Anno accuses Ghibli of playing safe and avoiding dark emotions (though you could argue that Seita, the boy character in Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies, isn’t far from Eva’s Shinji). Subversively, Anno notes Ghibli’s tendency to separate itself from anime – the studio hates its work being classed as such – and suggests it lost a vital creative spark as a result.

Yet Anno also thanks Miyazaki as one of his two great teachers, together with Ichiro Itano, the legendary “mecha animation” director of Macross (credited on Anno’s new Evangelion movie for “CG Supervision” and “Animation Materials”). Anno seems less interested in Miyazaki’s anime than his manga – namely his epic, thousand-page Nausicaa strip that Miyazaki continued writing a decade after the film.

In an English-language interview with Miyazaki for the Japanese magazine Comic Box, we learn that Anno wanted to write a story starring Nausicaa’s warrior princess, Kushana. Miyazaki scoffs at the idea: “He just wants to play war games.” Intriguingly, Kushana’s manga backstory includes a visit to her mother, who’s been driven mad and clutches a doll she insists is her daughter. Evangelion fans (at least those who’ve seen the TV version) should find that familiar…

Other Evangelion fans have made an even more subversive suggestion – that Shinji’s heartless dad Gendo is really Miyazaki! (After all, everyone knows Shinji is really Anno, and who is Anno’s father figure?) The rival brands clashed in summer 1997, when Princess Mononoke played in Japanese cinemas against Anno’s End of Evangelion. Princess Mononoke was advertised with the tagline, “Live!” End of Evangelion had “I wish everyone would die!”

After that, you might think that Anno and Miyazaki would part for good. Then last year, Anno mounted a nostalgic exhibition in Tokyo of old-school special effects, covered in this blog. Studio Ghibli produced the exhibition’s centrepiece – a brand-new mini monster-movie, featuring Nausicaa’s God Warrior, set loose on present-day Tokyo. As we said at the time, “The film is a weird but impressive experience, with many deliberately stylised (or “bad”) effect shots, and no real human characters… What’s most impressive is less the Cthulhu-like monster, but the destruction it wreaks. Offices burst in goopy gouts of lava; city districts flame in lovely lines of fireworks.”

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The credited director was Shinji Higuchi (who’d revived the Gamera monster turtle franchise), but the film seemed practically designed to get anime fans thinking of the link between Anno and Miyazaki. A revised version was double-billed with the cinema release of Evangelion 3.0 – You Can (Not) Redo, bringing the brands closer still. And now, with Kaze Tachinu, the two anime deities are finally coming together again.

If this was anime, it would surely herald the Third Impact. In the real world… well, now Anno is a Ghibli voice-actor. Is it too far-fetched to wonder that he might be the next Ghibli director as well?

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