Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Oshii are two of the most successful and influential anime directors in the history of the medium, but their films couldn’t be more different in tone and appearance. The soft-edged natural environments of Miyazaki’s anime are bathed in a nostalgic glow, while Oshii’s animation, such as Ghost in the Shell and The Sky Crawlers, is filled with shadowy ruinscapes and turns its sharpest focus inwards to the human mind and consciousness.

Miyazaki and Oshii are such fundamentally different people that they even communicate with their production teams in completely opposite styles. But that’s not to say that one can’t find things to admire in the works of the other, as Oshii has shared his favorite film and even scene in a Miyazaki anime.

While Oshii has never been involved in a Studio Ghibli project, the director periodically sits down with Toshio Suzuki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli and producer for most of Miyazaki’s theatrical hits, to discuss anime. With Howl’s Moving Castle being shown on Japanese TV last Friday, Ghibli fans dug up a transcript of a conversation that took place three years ago between Oshii, Suzuki, and Nico Nico Douga founder Nobuo Kawakami.

When asked what his favorite Ghibli movie was, Oshii first gave his pick as Castle in the Sky Laputa before changing his answer to Howl’s Moving Castle.

Suzuki seemed a little surprised at Oshii’s choice. In Japan, Nausicaa, Totoro, and Spirited Away are all treated like national treasures, and Princess Mononoke’s somber mood is closest to Oshii’s own creations. “You like Howl?” Suzuki asked.

“I love it,” Oshii stated, adding that he picked up a copy of the film at the supermarket, making it the only Ghibli film he’s ever purchased. Still, “love” seems like it might be a bit strong of a word, considering what Oshii next had to say about Miyazaki’s 2004 adaptation of original author Diana Wynne Jones’ novel. “The reviews for it were pretty bad, and the way the movie is put together is pretty messy.”

So what makes Howl Oshii’s favorite?

The scenes with the dial are great. For the first time, I thought ‘Ah, Miyazaki really made a good point.’”

The dial that Oshii is referring to is found near the door of the titular castle. By turning it to one of four differently colored sections, the portal opens up to a different location.

Oshii continued:

“One part of the disc is pitch black. When you turn the dial to that and open the door, there’s a war going on. In the battlefield burning with hellfire, Howl has transformed into a monster and is flying around the sky. Then he comes home covered in blood, and the fire spirit tells him, “You shouldn’t go overboard,” and “You won’t be able to change back to your old form.”

Given his cerebral nature, it’s no surprise that Oshii was able to look at this scene and draw a parallel to the human psyche, and in his opinion the dial represents the inner workings of a man’s mind.

“Men have about four worlds…One is something they can’t even show their families or wives. They have a dark side that they couldn’t even show their own daughter. That dark side makes up about one fourth of who they are. Well, for some people it’s half of them. Miyazaki understands that, just like you’d expect him to. I was impressed by that part of the film.”

“If you go to that dark place, you might turn into a monster and die that way. When you come home, you’ll be staggering. Men have something like that. I think it’s probably the same for women, but it’s definitely something any man can sympathize with.”

The dial, however, isn’t something Miyazaki came up with on his own, as it’s also present in Jones’ original novel. However, in the book the black section of the dial simply opens a portal to Wales circa 1986, when the novel was published. It was Miyazaki who instead chose to make it lead to a nighttime bombing run and aerial battle.

Cagey industry veteran that he is, Suzuki neither officially confirmed not outright denied Oshii’s deep-thinking analysis, but did insist that the theme of darkness lurking in the hearts of men is a recurring theme in Miyazaki’s anime. “That was the first time he showed it so explicitly, though” said Oshii, and he does make a pretty convincing argument.

▼ Although we’re going to pass on imagining what Totoro’s dark side is.

Sources: Ghibli no Sekai, The Readventurer
Top image: Studio Ghibli 
Insert images: Studio Ghibli