It’s 3 p.m.! Let The A.V. Club briefly make use of the waning hours of your productivity with some pop culture ephemera pulled from the depths of YouTube.
Even when they feature moments of violence, Hayao Miyazaki’s works are profoundly human; the Studio Ghibli founder has made a career out of the beauty and sweetness of nature, childhood, and kindness. Which is part of what makes this reaction he had to a gruesome display of A.I.-powered animation from a few years back so cutting; when Totoro’s dad tells you you’ve created “an insult to life itself,” you can be sure he probably means it.
The clip in question comes from a 2016 TV documentary on Miyazaki, titled NHK Special: Hayao Miyazaki — The One Who Never Ends. In this sequence, animators from Japanese firm Dwango are showing off for the Ghibli team, displaying the A.I.-generated movements of a model of a human body, which—because it lacks any sense of pain or self-preservation—simply drags itself along using its head as a big round foot. Miyazaki watches, stone-faced, as executive Nobuo Kawakami and his team excitedly crow about how creepy the movements are, and how they could be used for stuff like zombie films. Then they turn to the animation legend, waiting for his feedback.
It doesn’t go great.
Miyazaki starts with an anecdote about a disabled friend who struggles to move his body, which leads into the first real jab, when he tells the assembled crowd that, “Whoever made this has no idea what pain is whatsoever.” (You can start to see the faces in the room begin to fall.) He continues by expressing his disgust and disinterest in Dwango’s work, ending by telling them “I strongly feel that this is an insult to life itself.” We weren’t necessarily expecting to make this particular comparison today, but it’s as close to the “wrong answer” speech from Billy Madison as you’re ever likely to see in real life.
For their part, the Dwango employees do their best to explain that this is a demo, not necessarily an end product; it doesn’t stop at least one of them from having to apparently wipe away a tear after being torn apart by his hero. (Their later assertion that they want to create A.I. that can draw as well as a human being probably doesn’t help in easing the master’s frustrations.) Later, we get a glimpse of how badly this incident has shaken or annoyed Miyazaki, as he ruefully does some drawing of his own, noting that, “I feel like we are nearing to the end of times.” Pretty harsh stuff from the guy who brought Ponyo into the world.