The Edo Culture Complex’s (Edocco) exhibit highlighting the work of Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki ran from April 20 to May 12. This exhibit is the same as the previous “Studio Ghibli Toshio Suzuki Magical Exhibition of Words” that was held in Hiroshima in 2017 and in Ishikawa and Aichi last year. It is well worth going to if you’re interested in learning more about what kind of person Suzuki is and the influence he had as a producer.
The exhibit has a recurring theme: “Hayao Miyazaki drew pictures, while Toshio Suzuki wrote words.” At first glance, it may seem like Suzuki was not an artist, but the exhibit gets you to think about the relationship between art and words, and the sort of impact Suzuki had on the films, both indirectly and directly.
The exhibit opens with dozens of examples of Suzuki’s calligraphy work, surely the most straightforward example of words as art. You get a glimpse of Suzuki’s philosophies through his words, like when he writes: “In this world, there are good idiots and bad idiots, and then there are malicious idiots.”
You also see a recreation of Suzuki’s room as a child, which gives the indication that he had a quintessential post-war Showa childhood. As Suzuki mentions, his was the first generation that didn’t grow out of manga. Suzuki stayed true to his love for manga and films, and when eventually he started working for the publisher Tokuma Shoten, he was assigned as an editor on its then new anime magazine, Animage. It was through Animage that Suzuki met Hayao Mayazaki and Isao Takahata, and together they founded Studio Ghibli. The rest is history.
Suzuki’s role was technically a “producer,” but the materials on display at the exhibit make it clear that his role was much broader than that. Of course, he handled things like writing up pitches and gathering funds, as many anime producers do, but even in that capacity he went above and beyond, writing up detailed schedules for each project by hand and rewriting them whenever things got delayed (which happened often). Takahata told him: “You’re the first producer who’s done this for me.”
From Kiki’s Delivery Service and Only Yesterday onward, Suzuki took an active hand in marketing. Suzuki would write up detailed plans for the commercials, even storyboarding some of them himself. In order to ensure that every company dealing with Ghibli works was on the same page, he wrote extensive explanatory materials. Sometimes, he even wrote the copy and the catchy taglines on the movie posters. Most of the text in the pamphlets was written by him. He even designed the title logos for all the films, as well as the logo for Studio Ghibli itself.
Although he’s mostly known as a words person, Suzuki’s capacity for art was considerable. A designer praised his storyboards for the commercials, saying, “I thought an animator drew these.” In the beginning, his logo designs were redrawn by a professional designer, but as time went on, Suzuki’s designs were considered good enough to use as they were. His designs were on display at the exhibit, and visitors could judge his skill for themselves.
As for me, I went into this exhibit as a skeptic, thinking, “How can you make an art exhibit out of Suzuki when he didn’t animate or direct any films?” but I came out of it convinced that Suzuki really should be considered an artist in his own right.
The end of the exhibit had some more examples of Suzuki’s calligraphy. He drew his own take on the Japanese characters for “Reiwa,” the term for the new Japanese era. It made me feel emotional to see this, because Suzuki retired as a producer in 2014, so it brought home the idea that all of his work is the product of another era, which can already be considered “bygone.”
On a lighter note, the end of the exhibit also had a really neat model of Yubaba from Spirited Away, which would give out fortunes while verbally abusing visitors. There was also a model of the castle from Spirited Away, surrounded with more of Suzuki’s calligraphy. I don’t think the models had anything to do with Suzuki’s words or art, but it was a memorable way to cap off a surprisingly enlightening exhibit.