Special interview

Resolution can open up a path to the future.

MONOZUKURI (Craftsmanship and Manufacturing) is
something that needs to be handed down to the next generation.
Hayao Miyazaki, a filmmaker who has played a very important role in the development of
the animated film sector in Japan, is in discussion with Takeshi Uchiyamada, who oversaw
the development of the Toyota Prius, the world’s first mass production hybrid car.

Both men have sought to address social issues through a commitment to MONOZUKURI craftsmanship. In this dialogue, they discuss the importance of resolution in relation to work, how to cultivate human resources, and how to approach technology.

A resolute commitment to

Uchiyamada: As a teenager, I was very MONOZUKURI-oriented; I enjoyed making model planes and boats out of wood, and I used to make model trains, etc. When I was in junior high school, I learned how Ferdinand Porsche, who was famous as a designer of sports cars, developed the Volkswagen Beetle, with the aim of creating a car that ordinary people could afford to buy and use. I thought to myself: “That’s the kind of work I want to do!” Although I subsequently went to work in an automotive manufacturer, I never got the chance to take a car that I had designed through to production. Just when I was starting to resign myself to this, in my late 40s I was given the task of developing the Toyota Prius. This was my first chance, and I realized that it would also be my last chance!

Miyazaki: I think you really were very lucky there. While it’s true that it takes hard work to turn opportunities into real good fortune, that is the sort of opportunity that doesn’t come up very often. And in the end, it was a very impressive achievement.

Uchiyamada: I think the important thing was that I had never given up on my ambition. In your case, Mr. Miyazaki, you always wanted to create dreams for children, didn’t you?

Miyazaki: No, actually that isn’t really true. The period when the global animation industry was at its most creative was in the early days of Disney, in the 1930s and 1940s, when craftsmen produced truly beautiful animated films working entirely by hand. The light effects were all done by hand-painting. Today, these kinds of effects can be done by computer, but it’s a fundamentally different kind of light. When I saw these masterpieces of animation that were created in the old days, I thought to myself: “I want to be able to create something like this.” I felt that it would be really embarrassing if we couldn’t create something of even higher quality, and I think that is what encouraged me to keep working.

Uchiyamada: That reminds me that, recently, there was something on TV about you using computer graphics in one of your films for the first time.

Miyazaki: That would be Boro the Caterpillar. We needed to have images of lots of caterpillars together, so I thought that if we used computer graphics we would be able to create the large masses of caterpillars required. In the end, it turned out to be quicker drawing them by hand, and we created a lot of them that way

Uchiyamada: It was quicker drawing them by hand?

Miyazaki: It was quicker that way, and also, because we were able to draw them with greater freedom and more imaginatively, we were able to create a more natural-looking, more “spontaneous” image with more going on in it. When they say that using computers enables you to generate the shapes you need, that’s not really true. That was really brought home to me by working on this project.

Boro the Caterpillar © 2018 Studio Ghibli
This animated film is shown only in the Saturn Theater in the Ghibli Museum, Mitaka(admission to the Museum is by advance reservation only). For details of the film showing schedule, please visit the Ghibli Museum website.

Uchiyamada: You get the same thing with car design. Nowadays, car design is all done using computer graphics, but you find that, when it comes to making the curved surfaces of the car form a coherent whole, and deciding where lines should converge, people who can’t draw properly by hand can’t do a good job with computer graphics neither. If you can’t do it properly by hand, then it doesn’t matter how good the tools available to you are, you will only be able to create something the appeal of which is just superficial. I would image that is the case in your world, too, Mr. Miyazaki?

Miyazaki: Well, we don’t need to achieve the same level of precision that you do! (laughs)

Uchiyamada: Yes, but wouldn’t you say that, when people are focused on just producing something satisfactory, most of the time what they produce ends up being rejected?

Miyazaki: When something is rejected, you often find that you can use it for another purpose later on, so it’s not really “rejection” as such; it’s just that it’s not suited to this particular purpose. What I find is more common is that, while becoming an animator would seem to require a resolute commitment to the art of animation, you get angry with yourself because the work that you are producing doesn’t live up to your ambitions. Nevertheless, in the end we still keep drawing away. There have been several times when I wanted to quit, but in the end, although I was still unhappy and kept grumbling about it, I found myself thinking “I’m going to have another go at it.” In fact, on the most recent occasion when we restarted production, we recruited 11 new staff.

©Studio Ghibli
The statue of Totoro at the entrance to the atelier. This statue was made by Toyota’s Prototype Production Division, using the sheet metal forming technique.

The future creating with the younger generation.

Uchiyamada: When it comes to recruiting new staff, presumably the question of how to cultivate people who can draw well by hand is a big issue?

Miyazaki: What I’ve found interesting is that getting existing staff members to teach new employees helps the existing staff members to realize their full potential. In some cases these were veteran employees who were teaching others for the first time. I think that teaching others is vitally important. As soon as someone takes on the role of teacher, they become more mature, and you get a kind of miniature hierarchy developing. In the future, we will need to expand our production division even more, which is a very challenging task; teaching people has a very important role to play here.

Uchiyamada: But presumably, all the people that come to work at Studio Ghibli are people who have a passionate interest in animation?

Miyazaki: There comes a point when being interested in something isn’t enough anymore, and you need to move on beyond that. I think what enables you to keep going is when you are discovering something new every day, and when you feel that you are challenging yourself.

Uchiyamada: In the past, new employees could learn by watching what their more experienced colleagues did. Today, with the increased importance of overseas production and our company’s rapid growth, that doesn’t really work anymore. By putting in place an employee education system, we have been able to ensure that skills and knowhow are transmitted effectively to new employees, but transmitting the right mindset is a different matter.

Miyazaki: Yes, it’s very difficult to do that. The skill of being able to teach people effectively is something that some people have and some people don’t. And if someone doesn’t have that skill, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend trying to cultivate it in them, they still won’t have it. That has been my experience.

Uchiyamada:And if a particular task is very time-consuming, then you may end up in a situation where people are saying that “It would be better to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) for that.” We have done research into that, and what we have found is that AI has no logic to it.

Miyazaki: No logic?

Uchiyamada: It collects together a lot of data, and from that data it chooses an answer that seems appropriate. It’s very hard for us to have any real faith in that answer generated in this way. Technology is starting to develop in ways that require us to think about ethics. For example, if you are faced with the choice between running over a pedestrian and driving off a cliff, can you really entrust that decision to an automatic driving system? It is really difficult.

What is this technology intended to achieve?

Miyazaki: It’s a real binary choice, isn’t it? So what can be done about that?

Uchiyamada: So far, there is no real solution to this kind of problem, but I firmly believe that the value of technology depends upon how people use it. The question of intention, in terms of “What is this technology intended to achieve?” is very important; technology should be something that helps to make the world a better place. One very important thing for an engineer to remember is “You shouldn’t become obsessed with technology for its own sake.” I once pointed out to our company’s safety manager that “It should actually be possible to reduce the number of traffic accidents to zero.” My grounds for saying that were the example provided by Japan’s Shinkansen high-speed rail lines, which have eliminated level crossings—a frequent cause of accidents. The conventional wisdom was that railway lines had to have level crossings; the Shinkansen turned that conventional wisdom on its head. In Europe, recently, they have started to design roads so that people, bicycles and cars are all kept separate from one another. It’s an extreme example, but if you build dedicated roads that only cars can use, then that makes it easier to realize automated driving, and you won’t have any accidents.

Miyazaki: But once you start doing that kind of thing, then how will human society change as a result? There are some significant philosophical issues that we would need to think about. I feel that way because I’m the kind of person that views roads as things that people should be able to saunter along at their own pace. The road that I live on is a winding road that sort of meanders from place to place! (laughs)

Uchiyamada: Another thing that we have been thinking about recently is whether we need to be more communication between the driver and the vehicle.

Miyazaki: I suspect if I was driving, I would keep getting complaints along the lines of “Can’t you look after me a bit better?” and “It’s time to clean me!” (laughs)

Uchiyamada: I feel that the only industrial product that consumers genuinely love is their car. I expect it would be true to say that you love your Citroën 2CV, don’t you, Mr. Miyazaki?

(Photo taken) In front of “Nibariki” Hayao Miyazaki‘s atelier. This dialogue took place there. “Nibariki” (“two horsepower”) is nickname of Miyazaki’s beloved Citroën 2CV car. Miyazaki drives this car to work every day.

Miyazaki: I’ve always driven a 2CV, but there are some things about it… The indicator doesn’t self-cancel, and in the summer it’s so hot inside that I have to fan myself while I’m driving; nothing is automated! Actually, I think that’s a good thing, though. It’s true that I’ve more or less given up trying to drive long distances in it. I suppose that, by driving a Citroën 2CV, I am “going against the flow” to some extent, in terms of what the general trend is in society today. I feel that this is “good enough for me,” and I can sense a real disparity between my attitude and that of the people who are always thinking about how to improve things for the future. A car is a car, but we are looking at it in a completely different way, which is interesting.

Uchiyamada: When it was first decided that we would try to build a hybrid car, I wasn’t really sure that the project would succeed. The technology wasn’t mature, the costs were high, and senior management had given us a very tight deadline within which to complete development. On the other hand, given the problems that the world was facing in terms of the environment and energy needs, it was clear that this was something that would need to be done eventually. If the project was a failure and the car wasn’t launched commercially, all that we would have lost would have been the time spent on that one cycle of R&D work. I thought that, since we could afford to take the risk, we might as well get started as soon as possible. In the event, the young members of the development team all took the attitude that “If I don’t do my utmost, this project won’t be a success,” and worked really hard on it. It reminded me that I had been working hard myself ever since I was young. I would think that you and your staff must have a similar attitude, one of being wholly dedicated to your work, Mr. Miyazaki?

Miyazaki: In the past, the dedication derived from a sense of responsibility, and also from the fact that the work was inherently interesting. It was quite common for people to come into the studio to work on Sundays on their own to get some work done, even though the air conditioning wasn’t on. Nowadays, at 8:00 p.m. everyone stops work for the day, the lights are turned off and everyone goes home.

Uchiyamada: People in our generation all had more or less the same value scheme; today, there is more diversity in people’s values, isn’t there?

Miyazaki: I think probably it’s because in those days, everyone was working to rebuild the country.

Uchiyamada: Today, still there are people who are focused entirely on their work, like in the old days, but also there are people who manage their time carefully so that can do other things besides work. I think that these two types of people need to recognize the validity of each other’s preferences.

Miyazaki: Leaving work as early as 8:00 p.m. was a new experience for me, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. Finishing work at this time means that you have more time free in the evenings, and it also means that I can go on working, even at my age! I wonder if they are actually doing it for my benefit? (laughs)

  • Animated film director
    Hayao Miyazaki

    Hayao Miyazaki was born in Tokyo in 1941. He co-founded Studio Ghibli, a leading animation studio, with director Isao Takahata in 1985. Miyazaki is the creator of many classic animated films, including Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Spirited Away

  • Toyota Motor Corporation
    Chairman of the Board of Directors
    Takeshi Uchiyamada

    Takeshi Uchiyamada was born in Aichi Prefecture in 1946. He joined Toyota immediately after graduating from university. In 1994, he led the development of the Toyota Prius as Toyota’s chief engineer; he was appointed to the position of Chairman in 2013.

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