Japan's top filmmaker takes swipe at comic-mad PM

TOKYO Thu Nov 20, 2008 3:40am EST

Japan's animation movie director Hayao Miyazaki speaks at a news conference in Tokyo November 20, 2008. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Japan's animation movie director Hayao Miyazaki speaks at a news conference in Tokyo November 20, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Oscar-winning filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki criticized Prime Minister Taro Aso's penchant for "manga" comic books Thursday and said children should spend more time experiencing nature than getting engrossed in video games and TV.

The 67-year-old director of a string of animated blockbusters including this year's "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea" was asked what he thought about 68-year-old Aso's much-touted penchant for reading comics, which has gained the premier a following among fellow manga fans.

"It's an embarrassment," Miyazaki said in a rare news conference. "That's something that should be done in private."

A maverick who has stuck to hand-drawn artwork despite the burgeoning digital animation industry, Miyazaki harks back to a more natural, pre-industrial Japan in works such as "Spirited Away," for which he won an Academy Award in 2003.

Miyazaki distanced himself from the "soft power" of video, game and manga content that Aso and other Japanese politicians have tried to harness to boost the country's image.

Aso even launched an international manga award to promote the genre -- a 500 billion yen ($5.2 billion) industry in Japan alone -- around the world.

"This environment surrounding our children is full of virtual reality: television, video games, e-mail, mobile phones and manga," the white-haired Miyazaki said.

"I think this saps children of their strength," he said, adding that he realized his viewpoint was paradoxical, given his choice of vocation.

Miyazaki said he advocated having children learn practical skills such as lighting fires and using knives before they learn to read or count.

"Instead of thinking about how to stimulate demand by creating bridges or roads, we should have the proper environment in place for future generations," he said.

He also spoke of his efforts to train a new generation of young animators. He has chosen 20 young people to start work next year in a training studio away from Tokyo, he said.

But Miyazaki had little to say about his own son. Goro Miyazaki, who has publicly criticized his father, scored a box office hit with the animation "Tales of Earthsea" in 2006.

"It's a difficult problem," he said, when asked what he expected of Goro. "I don't favor him just because he is my son. I think he will face testing times in the future. That's all."

(Reporting by Isabel Reynolds; Editing by Hugh Lawson)