“An insult to life itself”: Hayao Miyazaki critiques an animation made by artificial intelligence

Miyazaki does not like AI animation. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Miyazaki does not like AI animation. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
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When shown an animation generated by artificial intelligence, famed animator Hayao Miyazaki was not impressed.

“I strongly feel that this is an insult to life itself,” said the man behind movies like Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, who was shown an AI-generated animation of a human-like being “walking on his head” using creepy movements that might be applied to, say, zombies in a video game.

Referring to his experiences with a disabled friend, Miyazaki noted how difficult it was for him to execute something as simple as a high-five. “Now, thinking of him, I can’t watch this stuff and think it’s interesting,” he said. “Whoever creates this stuff has no idea what pain is whatsoever. I am utterly disgusted. If you really want to make creepy stuff you can go ahead and do it. [But] I would never wish to incorporate this technology into my work at all.” 

Miyazaki’s reaction appears in NHK Special: Hayao Miyazaki — The One Who Never Ends, a documentary that aired on Japan’s NHK on Nov. 13. He was shown the demo by Nobuo Kawakami, a producer-in-training at Studio Ghibli and head of the CGI team at Dwango Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, according to the Tokyo Reporter.

Kawakami’s team is visibly stunned by Miyazaki’s reaction. Kawakami tells him that the AI model aims to generate images that “humans cannot imagine,” while another member of the team adds that they hope to “make a machine that can draw like humans do.”

But Miyazaki’s criticism shouldn’t come as a surprise. Known for delivering multidimensional characters with emotional depth and intricate details—often based on progressive themes like war, environmental issues and feminism—he long resisted using CGI or 3D technology in his productions. It was only in July 2015 that Miyazaki announced plans to come out of retirement to produce his first CGI short.

“I feel like we are nearing to the end of times,” Miyazaki says later. “We humans are losing faith in ourselves.”