Toy Story 3 Art Director Married to Hayao Miyazaki's Niece
posted on by Egan Loo
In an interview posted on Friday for his Sketchtravel art book project, Toy Story 3 art director Daisuke "Dice" Tsutsumi revealed that his wife is Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki's niece — and she happened to be the inspiration for the character Mei in Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro film. Moreover, Tsutsumi and his wife met each other again and got married in part thanks to Tsutsumi's charity efforts for "Totoro's Forest," a pet cause for Miyazaki. The Totoro Forest Project was an effort, co-sponsored by Pixar, to save one of the forests that inspired My Neighbor Totoro.
Tsutsumi and French illustrator Gerald Guerlais launched the Sketchtravel art book project to benefit the international literacy non-profit organization Room to Read. 71 illustrators, animators, and comic book artists from around the world contributed artwork to the book. After explaining why he and Guerlais devoted the final page in the book to Miyazaki's contribution, Tsutsumi added the following:
Tsutumi: And, one more thing …
Interviewer Shigesato Itoi: Go on.
Tsutsumi: My wife is "Mei."
Itoi: She is?
Tsutsumi: Well, my wife is director Hayao Miyazaki's niece, and she was the model for [the character] Mei-chan in My Neighbor Totoro.
Itoi: Huh, was that a coincidence?
Tsutsumi: She and I went to grade school together. Of course, I knew that she was director Hayao Miyazaki's niece back then, but we fell out of touch for 18 years when I was 15 years old.
Itoi: Ah… I see. And then?
Tsutsumi: I graduated high school and entered the animation industry, but I was already a huge fan of director Miyazaki. But I had already fallen out of touch with his niece Mei-chan by then.
Tsutsumi: So I actually wasn't that close to Miyazaki thanks to me knowing Mei-chan … I mean, my wife.
Tsutsumi then explained how he and his wife-to-be reconnected:
Itoi: … How come you got married?
Tsutsumi: When I was in first grade, she was my first love.
Itoi: Mei-chan was? Wow….
Tsutsumi: So, when I'm asked who my first love was, I say, "Mei, as in "Satsuki and Mei" [from My Neighbor Totoro]."
Tsutsumi: As I mentioned before, I wanted to do an auction for the Totoro Forest Project, so I returned to Japan in 2007 to receive permission from Studio Ghibli.
Itoi: So this was recent.
Tsutsumi: I only met director Miyazaki once before then.
Itoi: I see.
Tsutsumi: When I met him before, I wanted to say … "I...Your niece Mei-chan was my first love," but I was nervous and I couldn't say anything.
Itoi: I can sympathize with that.
Tsutsumi: I regretted that for a few years afterwards, but in 2007, when I got to meet him a second time, I confessed, "Director, I actually was a childhood friend of Mei-chan, and she was my first love." He was completely surprised.
During this 2007 trip for the Totoro Forest Project charity — his first trip back to Japan in a long while — Tsutsumi went out to eat with some old childhood friends, and one of them got in touch with Tsutsumi's first love. Eventually, after 18 years, the two had a reunion. One thing led to another, and the two married in October of 2009, with Miyazaki in attendance.
Toy Story 3 happens to include an extended cameo of a plush Totoro. Plus, Tsutsumi's interviewer, Shigesato Itoi, played Satsuki and Mei's father in My Neighbor Totoro.