Hayao Miyazaki is single-handedly responsible for the legacy of Studio Ghibli and the creation of a range of heart-warming and thought-provoking films from Nausicaä and Spirited Away to the adorable Ponyo. And while it’s no secret that Miyazaki embedds his films with symbolism and underlying themes on topics like religion and the environment, Miyazaki himself has laregely avoided the active debate by maintaining a carefully calculated grey line between entertainment and activism (his tendency to evade interviews has also assisted him on that front).

However, in 1995 his studio created a music video for the popular duo Chage and Aska titled “On Your Mark” (watch it below). The MV was shown that year as an opening to the duo’s concert, as well as in theaters, before the showing of their feature film Whisper of the Heart. Running for about 6.5 minutes without any dialogue, the short film depicts a post-apocalyptic city in which radiation and disease have forced the population to seek life underground.

In an interview in Animage magazine (August 1995 Vol. 206) Miyazaki talks about his short film and the images of nuclear contamination, freedom and revolt that, in the light of a real nuclear disaster in Fukushima, reads as an eerie prophecy.

(translation by S&T. Japanese transcript can be found here.)

[the film] is based on an intentional distortion of the lyrics

Animage: the “police officer” and the “angel” – it reminds me a lot of the work of Mamoru Oshii
Miyazaki: Oshii would keep us hanging on whether an angel would be born or not, so I went ahead and created one (laughing). But with that said, no one ever stated it was an angel. It could be a bird person. But that’s beside the point.

Animage: It felt like an entire movie stuffed into just 6 min. 40 sec.
Miyazaki: I did fill it with a with cryptic symbolism. But it is a music video so I don’t mind if the viewer interprets it however they choose.

Animage: What is that grotesque structure we see towering over the peaceful countryside in the opening?
Miyazaki: It’s open to interpretation. But I would hope that the truck with the radiation warning symbol on it that appears in the following scene would provide a hint. It sets the stage for a world that has become overrun by radiation and no longer livable. And yet nature lives on – much like the surrounding areas of chernobyl after the incident. It’s become a natural sanctuary where people are forced to pursue life underground. However, in reality people would likely accept disease and continue to live above ground.

I actually believe a time like this will someday come

Animage: Tell us a little about “On Your Mark” as a music video.
Miyazaki: The title means ichi ni tsuite (on your mark)  and it’s based on an intentional distortion of the lyrics. It’s set in a post-apocolyptic world where radiation is teeming and disease is rampant. I actually believe a time like this will someday come and I made this film imagining what it would be like to live through such a time. I would imagine widespread anarchy but also an increase in conservatism and a crackdown on criticism towards the establishment. But that’s because they believe there is still something to lose. Once you have nothing to lose is when the anarchy sets in and people begin dropping like flies. As a counterbalance we have things like drugs, professional sports and religion to help create an illusion, right? So naturally those experience a surge. Thinking about a time like that, this song itself becomes a cryptic message that hides its true meaning from the establishment. The film has a very dark side (laughing).

Animage: One of the lyrics, for example, is “wherever I go the latest cold gets me.” Is “the latest cold” code for a world enveloped with radiation or disease?
Miyazaki: (without affirming or denying) if you look at our planet’s history, all of mankind’s problems are nothing more than the common cold.

Animage: To me the 2 officers who rescue the angel appear to be a thread of hope in this chaotic world. The lyrics, “and yet we refuse to give up…,” seem to be consistent with the repetition of the scene in which they rescue the angel. After many failures the last thread of hope rescues the girl, who flies to blue skies leaving the officers behind…
Miyazaki: The girls is not a savior. And the act of rescuing her does not become some sort of channel for communion. If you have hope, or something that you hold on to dearly, but then are faced with circumstances in which you must let it go, you unclasp your hand and let it go into a place where no one else will ever find it. That is all. When the officer lets go, perhaps for a split second there is some form of communication that takes place. And that’s fine. I suppose the two will return to the jobs as police officers. Although I don’t know if they will be able to (laughing).

Animage: And the world they return to is the world enveloped in “the latest cold.”
Miyazaki: In the end, everything must start from there. Even in chaotic times, good things happen, or things that make your heart beat faster. It was said best in Nausicaä: “We cough up blood and yet we persist, over and over, until the sun rises and we fly off into the morning like birds.”

source: Masato Abe