Is the tide turning on our celeb obsession? plus, Studio Ghibli 101 : It's Been a Minute Brittany feels like we've entered a new phase of celebrity oligarchy; new celebrity business enterprises are popping up daily, and we can't seem to get away from it all. But is this new? Brittany invites culture journalists Bobby Finger and Lindsey Weber to discuss how the notion of celebrity is changing, and what it means for us.

Then, we turn to Hayao Miyazaki, the legendary animator-director whose latest film, The Boy and the Heron, is a frontrunner at this year's Academy Awards. Brittany is joined by Jessica Neibel, Senior Exhibitions Curator at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, to unpack the life lessons Miyazaki's films offer, from the unreliability of adults to the messages of resilience rooted in Miyazaki's own postwar childhood.

If you have 10 minutes, please do the team at It's Been a Minute a huge favor by taking a short, anonymous survey about the show at npr.org/ibamsurvey. Tell us what you like and how we could improve the show!

Have we hit celebrity overload? Plus, Miyazaki's movie magic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1197955820/1233596379" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BRITTANY LUSE, HOST:

Hello, hello. I'm Brittany Luse, and you're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR, a show about what's going on in culture and why it doesn't happen by accident.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: Last year, we thought that monoculture might be over, but then we had the billion-girl summer of Barbie, Taylor and Beyonce - and then this year, sports girl Sunday. OK, just kidding. That is a horrible name for the Super Bowl. But jokes aside, according to my NPR colleague Eric Deggans, this year's game made history.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: In terms of the modern measurement of television, it was the most-watched episode of television in the U.S.

LUSE: And I'm not going to lie, I was one of those millions of people watching. Namely for the Usher halftime show and also the ads, which, according to Eric, have been a fixture ever since Apple's Macintosh announcement in 1984.

DEGGANS: It was considered the first big splash where the event of the ad lived on beyond the game and advertisers realized, hey, our ads could be events, too.

LUSE: And who doesn't love a good Budweiser wassup (ph) moment? But this year, oh, my gosh, the ads were taking me down. They weren't just events, they were celebrity events. And the amount of celeb-driven ads during this year's Super Bowl was just a continuation of a trend from last year, when over 40% of Super Bowl ads featured multiple stars, a six-fold increase from 2010. And this year, we had everyone from Michael Cera with CeraVe...

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

MICHAEL CERA: I'm Michael Cera, and human skin is my passion.

LUSE: ...To J. Lo all boo'd (ph) up for Dunkin' Donuts...

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

TOM BRADY: Are we going to be on the album?

J LO: We talked about this.

BEN AFFLECK: Let's go.

LUSE: ...And that very surprising Beyonce-Verizon drop crossover.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

BEYONCE: OK. They ready. Drop the new music.

LUSE: And as exciting as that was, I was overwhelmed. And to my exhaustion, many of the celebrities that made headlines at the Super Bowl - in the ads or in the stands - have stayed in the spotlight. Turns out, the Super Bowl was just their kickoff. Beyonce has not left my feed, Taylor is still making headlines and J. Lo is on her rom-com fantasy loop. And I am tired. Now, most of these celebrities being shoved down my eye sockets right now have been with me since high school and they are taking up all the cultural real estate. It's almost like there's a little celebrity oligopoly, and I am tired of them in a whole new way, which makes me wonder if we've reached the impossible oversaturation with celebrities.

So I called up two people who I knew could help me figure out what's going on - Bobby Finger and Lindsey Weber, hosts of the popular "Who? Weekly" podcast. They are the go-to people in the celebrity gossip business but also critical thinkers when it comes to systems around the stars. And they're going to give me the scoop on what era of celebrity we're currently in and if there's any possibility of a refund.

Lindsey. Bobby. Welcome to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE.

LINDSEY WEBER: Hi.

BOBBY FINGER: Hi. Thanks for having us.

LUSE: Absolutely my pleasure. Y'all talk about celebrities. You've been covering them for years, and we're going to talk about celebrities themselves and also celebrity as, like, a noun and where it is today. And so my first question - what era of celebrity are we in right now?

WEBER: I think we are in the post-Kardashian, capitalism frenzy come down. Like, the reign of the Kardashians is slowly but surely falling. But I think what that means is we're in this glut of celebrity informed entrepreneurship, which is also contributing to the overwhelming sense of celebrities being everywhere because they're now not only just part of culture, they're a part of business. They're a part of where you buy your stuff in a bigger way. And partially thanks to the Kardashians, who I think turned their celebrity into just a lot of businesses.

FINGER: I think they normalized that kind of behavior from celebrities, that sort of total, full-throated embrace of, like, capitalism and monetizing every aspect of yourself and turning yourself into a brand. And now you see every celebrity from the kind of try-hard, least-famous who-lebrities (ph), like we like to call them, to the most famous people on the planet, just sort of openly accepting a check whenever they can accept a check and kind of seeming to not care about what that does to public opinion of them.

LUSE: It's wild 'cause, like, I remember - maybe this was 15, 20 years ago or something like that - when it was discovered in sort of pre-social media time that George Clooney and Julia Roberts and stars of that ilk were doing these Nescafe commercials or something like that in, like, Italy, where they thought no one would see it. Where they could, like, just nakedly be in a commercial and collect all the checks presented before them. It feels like after this period where major celebrities benefited from keeping their distance from the public, especially celebrities like Beyonce or Taylor Swift. But now I feel like the biggest celebrities are virtually inescapable. I feel like everywhere I turn, I can't escape them. Is this new?

WEBER: I think we're coming back around to celebrities being like, I'll just do the ad for the car commercial. I'm not going to invent cars. That's too complicated. If it gets messed up, if the car explodes, I'm going to have to deal with that. What if I just, like, put my name on Nissan, collect the check and go? I think we're actually coming back around where celebrities do want to do ads for stuff that's really big and take the check but not actually have to launch their own business. And they don't care that they don't get a bigger chunk of the pay. They get less risk of having to deal with this company. And I think brands are realizing that the only way we're going to get celebrities to hop on board is if we just pay up and say no risk here. You don't have to deal with anything.

LUSE: I feel like we're returning to the true blue-chip celebrity, like somebody with real talent and a lengthy resume. Like, newer Hollywood stars who are really talented or are really interesting are having a harder and harder time breaking through. And yet, these huge, like, millennial and Gen X stars like Taylor, Usher, Beyonce, I should note, these are the exact same people that were famous - super famous already when I was in elementary, middle, high school and college...

WEBER: Right.

LUSE: ...And once again, all of those people are everywhere again. I don't know, it just feels like the chokehold that that strata of celebrity has on us is, like, it's tight.

FINGER: I think it's also related to the monoculture, but I think there is a kind of thirst for that. And it's not necessarily loving the same thing but it's being able to have an opinion on something like it was thrilling whether or not you liked "Oppenheimer" and "Barbie"...

LUSE: Yes.

FINGER: ...To join the discourse, because everything is so splintered now. It's exciting. It's something we haven't had in a long time. There is a hunger for big, broad discourse and big, broad stuff.

LUSE: I totally agree with that.

WEBER: I was saying to him before, as the streamers - now that we now splintered everything, everything is going - getting pushed back together. Like, have you noticed, it's like Paramount and Peacock might be getting squished together. We're basically going to be watching cable again. Are we in the post-splintering of media? We're losing a lot of small newspapers and magazines, we're losing all these different places where we used to find culture writing, information, whatever, and we're only going to have a few channels. And then if you only have a few channels, that creates monoculture. So it is an interesting thing where maybe we're coming back around.

LUSE: No, that's a really good point. I wonder, do you all think that, like, celebrity playbooks have shifted? Like, how are they able to capture our attention the way that they have as of recent or to force themselves on us to a certain degree? Like, have they kind of shifted the way that they play the game?

WEBER: I think this is really interesting because I think the last time that celebrities got a new playbook was when Instagram appeared. We're hitting 10 plus years of Instagram. Now it's like you don't have that place to surprise your audience with. Like, you know, everyone's got their own feed. So it's like, how are celebrities getting attention?

FINGER: I feel like there was an era kind of in the middle of the pandemic towards, like, the middle stage where the pap walk came back. Like, over the past couple years, the pap walk has kind of returned...

LUSE: Oh, yeah.

FINGER: ...Where it's like...

WEBER: Yeah.

FINGER: ...If you don't want to Instagram your new partner, like, call up Splash News and have them photograph you going to...

LUSE: Backgrid or whoever.

FINGER: ...Ralphs somewhere in, you know, whatever - I'm trying to think of LA geography.

LUSE: So true.

FINGER: And I can't.

LUSE: So true.

FINGER: I'm, like, somewhere...

WEBER: LA things, yeah.

FINGER: ...On the West Side.

LUSE: Erewhon.

FINGER: I don't know. That's sort of the weird, I don't know, irony of it, because in this time when the press is being destroyed left and right...

WEBER: Where are those pictures going to go?

FINGER: Right. You have the celebrities I feel like wanting to utilize the media in a way that they tried to avoid or tried to shun over the past 10 years, and now they're like, I want to get the lie detector test in Vanity Fair. I want to go...

WEBER: True.

FINGER: ...Do "Chicken Shop Date" with that girlie in the U.K. I want to do "Hot Ones" with that guy on YouTube. It just kind of blows my mind that when you're laying off journalists left and right, celebrities are also trying really hard to get that press attention from legacy brands, you know?

LUSE: It's very interesting that we are in this place where the press is disappearing, to a certain degree, and obviously, that's affecting people like us. I'm even thinking about, like, how if there are fewer and fewer people that everyone's familiar with, and sometimes what's newsworthy has to be surprising or something that people have some familiarity with 'cause they'll care about it. That kind of leaves you with the Taylor Swifts and the J. Los and the Beyonces to cover. Those are huge figures that even as newsrooms are shuttering, we all have seen in the past year how positions for Taylor Swift reporter or Beyonce reporter were posted. And, I mean, in my opinion, that's not great for a news ecosystem. It also kind of, like, continues to keep out newer celebrities or interesting creators and also puts fewer and fewer people in a position to kind of question the celebrity.

WEBER: Which is why, as a elder millennial often saying, like, TikTok - like, I can't - not for me. Like, everything is so unsourced. That really is a place where people are finding new celebrities, new talent. It is one of those things where the - as much as you groan about TikTok, it really is, like, a local news source (laughter) - you know, the internet local...

LUSE: Yeah.

WEBER: ...Right?

FINGER: Or just artistic discovery. I mean...

WEBER: Right.

FINGER: ...Even at the Grammys, people brought up the fact that - was it Universal that removed their artists from TikTok? So it's - like, who did that matter to most? - the people with the fewest followers. The actual, like, up-and-coming artists were upset...

LUSE: Exactly.

FINGER: ...Because they were like, how am I supposed to get a foot in the door...

WEBER: Right.

FINGER: ...Without having my music discoverable on this, like, humongous platform?

LUSE: It's a huge problem for a lot of celebrities, but I'm thinking about one person in particular who's not having these problems (laughter). I want to talk about Taylor Swift. I have found myself, in the past six months, like - I feel like she's under my bed right now. I cannot run from this woman. She is everywhere. I wonder, what do you think she has learned and adapted in the past few years about how to make an impact...

WEBER: God.

LUSE: ...In our current era of celebrity?

WEBER: I think it's continuous output - her music being kind of taken from her, and her having this plan to release all of these albums again. And what that meant is for the past whatever years, which is the buildup to you finding her under your bed, is that she now is releasing, you know, old music but new music, too, and having these events almost every single month.

LUSE: Yes.

WEBER: It just feels nonstop. And so when you pair that with having one of the biggest live tours that has ever existed that is also building off of those old albums getting re-released and you have the energy of her having a new relationship with a high-profile athlete, it's like she's hitting every single quadrant of, like, where people are discussing culture and where people are discussing media. And I'm not even - I haven't even brought up the fact that she has a very specific rabid fandom. They're spreading her good gospel. They go from young to old. They're on TikTok. It's a combination of all things, but I would say the No. 1 thing is output, is content.

FINGER: It's such a fascinating line that she toes because, especially since "Folklore," "Evermore" came out in the pandemic, which - "Folklore" and "Evermore" don't exist without "Beyonce," self-titled, and "Lemonade." But then after that stage...

WEBER: True.

FINGER: ...It was just like Lindsey said, output above everything. Output, output, output, output, output - I'm not going to stop - which, again, was all formed from the I'm being bullied by Scooter Braun. I'm being victimized...

LUSE: Right, right, right.

FINGER: ...By these powerful men who are taking advantage of me.

LUSE: He's taking money out of my pocket. I've got to re-record these songs. Sure.

FINGER: And so, please, all of my legions of fans, put so much more money into my pocket, right? Like, make it up to me by giving me so much of your money, and buy every single version of my vinyl. I mean, it's shameless. It's unbelievable. But I also think the success of that gave everyone else who's kind of in her tier the permission to do it, too. Like, I think Beyonce probably saw that...

LUSE: Wow.

FINGER: ...And was like - OK, I'm obviously speculating. Who knows what Beyonce thinks about anything? But she probably looked at that and said, are you kidding me? And then she saw it continually work and said, well, why not me?

LUSE: That's a very, very, very interesting theory 'cause I think I'd seen a theory around that, like, maybe perhaps Beyonce was in - trying to be in competition with Taylor Swift or so on and so forth. But the idea of permission, seeing someone else shamelessly promote themselves and that giving you permission, is very interesting.

I want to talk about some people that have also been very much in the news lately. I want to talk about my girl "Jenny From The Block," Jennifer Lopez, J. Lo. She is on a tear right now. Miss Thing is on a tear. She had the Super Bowl commercial with Ben and Matt and Dunkin' Donuts. She had a new album, "This Is Me... Now," and then "This Is Me... Now: A Love Story," which was her new hourlong movie musical that paired with the album, an upcoming documentary about the making of the movie musical, and she just announced a tour.

What Jennifer Lopez is doing right now - it is too much. But I also feel like the reception to her has been very different. Like, the public and me - I'm also in the public in this one. We're loving the mess, and we're kind of loving her blatant plea for our attention. Like, why is that?

FINGER: I mean, the difference, I really do think, is simple. And I love J. Lo. That music isn't very memorable or good. If J. Lo had released her version of "Renaissance," something as, like, artistically, like, phenomenal as that...

LUSE: I think she thinks she did, but it's OK (laughter).

WEBER: It doesn't matter, which is why she has to release a documentary.

LUSE: The thing is, though - is I'm eating them up.

WEBER: ...A movie 'cause...

LUSE: I love it.

WEBER: ...You have to see her move.

FINGER: Right. We - because we like her. She's so easy to like. Like, it all goes back to a romance that we love, and we've loved it for 25 years or whatever - 24 years.

LUSE: So I mean - OK, I can't help but think that all of this feels like a bunch of already very rich people competing for all of our attention so that we can give them more money. I don't know. Like, do you think that our attention has a zero-sum game? One of the theories that I've heard floating around is that they are trying to find ways to cut through the noise. And it's interesting 'cause, I mean, I could see that for someone like an up-and-coming actor, musician. I imagine Normani is trying to cut through the noise right now. Apparently, she's releasing new music. That's the sort of person I would imagine, oh, they need to cut through the noise. What do Beyonce and Taylor Swift and Jennifer - like, what do they - what does that mean, they need to cut through the noise?

WEBER: I think they consider all the up-and-comers the noise, when meanwhile, they are the noise. You know, Beyonce and Taylor Swift are the noise to be cut through. Like, how are you supposed to get written about if every article is about Taylor Swift? That's the problem. Or are we just in an industry where you don't even need to cut through the noise, you just need to find your audience and they come to you directly, and then you don't need to play in that realm. I don't know.

FINGER: Beyonce and Taylor are not worried about breaking through the noise.

WEBER: They are the noise.

FINGER: I think that's - they're worried about the noise dying down. I don't want to use the word greed, but there's something very corporate greedy about it. It's like when profits go up, profits go up. But who actually gets it? Only the people...

LUSE: Right.

FINGER: ...Up at the top. You know, like, that's sort of in a sense what's happening here.

LUSE: I feel like we're in an era of hypercelebrity, and it's intense and people are exhausted. I wonder, like, does this era of hypercelebrity have staying power?

WEBER: I do think if we lose the media, we do lose celebrities. Like, I do think that, like, if it does all come crashing down, if all these tabloid magazines and entertainment culture places go out of business, then we do lose celebrities.

LUSE: Do you think celebrity culture as we know it now is coming to an end?

WEBER: I mean, I hope not, for our sakes...

LUSE: (Laughter).

WEBER: ...For our jobs.

LUSE: So there's bias involved.

FINGER: I think we've seen celebrity change and the ways you can become famous change and the ways that you get attention change. But what hasn't changed is...

WEBER: The hunger?

FINGER: ...The hunger for it. And that's both from the fans, from the audience, and from just ordinary people who want to be famous. Like, people still want to be famous.

WEBER: Right.

FINGER: And people who don't want to be famous really enjoy people who are famous. And I haven't seen that change at all, and I just don't think that is ever going to change.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: Lindsey, Bobby, thank you so much. This was so much fun.

FINGER: Thank you.

WEBER: Thanks for chatting with us.

LUSE: Thanks again to Lindsey Weber and Bobby Finger. You can listen to "Who? Weekly" wherever you get your podcasts. Coming up - how one director changed the game in both animation and how we see childhood.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: The race for the Academy Award for best animated feature has some stiff competition, but my money and my heart are on master director Hayao Miyazaki's "The Boy And The Heron."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BOY AND THE HERON")

ROBERT PATTINSON: (As the Grey Heron) Your mother - she's awaiting your rescue.

LUSE: It's set in a world impacted by war and follows the story of a boy grieving for his mother. And as always, with Miyazaki comes magic. And this time, we've got a talking bird.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BOY AND THE HERON")

PATTINSON: (As the Grey Heron) I'll be your guide.

LUSE: It's a beautiful film and one of my favorites of the year, but I have to come clean. I wasn't always such a Miyazaki stan. Until recently, I was unconvinced that animated films, even by international icons, could capture the complexity of the human experience. I know, I know - I was wrong. But my mind was changed when I watched Miyazaki's Academy Award-winning 2001 classic "Spirited Away."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIRITED AWAY")

JASON MARSDEN: (As Haku) Tell him you want to work here. Even if he refuses, you must insist. If you don't get a job, Yubaba will turn you into an animal.

DAVEIGH CHASE: (As Chihiro) Yubaba, huh?

MARSDEN: (As Haku) You'll see. She's the witch who rules the bathhouse.

LUSE: And y'all, when I tell you I paused this film several times to full-body sob - it was that life-changingly beautiful. Miyazaki didn't just shift the way I thought about animated storytelling. He showed me new possibilities for filmmaking as a medium.

JESSICA NIEBEL: Oh, my goodness. Have you seen the morning light or the evening sun? You could almost feel it. His films are of the highest quality you can imagine artistically, but also from a content point of view.

LUSE: That's Jessica Niebel, senior exhibitions curator at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. She worked up close and personal with Miyazaki's famed animation company, Studio Ghibli, to bring a 2021 exhibit on Miyazaki's work to life.

NIEBEL: He really wants to make films that are complex, multilayered, that are serious films that are entertaining, yes, but also really meaningful to an audience.

LUSE: Miyazaki's movies are emotionally sophisticated, but they're also notable for the way they put children on the hero's journey. These kids are forced to stand tall against terrifying worlds, and I think that is what has resonated with fans of all ages for decades. So today Jessica and I are digging into Miyazaki's very grown-up themes and what they reveal about how he thinks about childhood and why that might resonate with all of us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: Jessica, welcome to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE.

NIEBEL: Thank you so much, Brittany. I'm looking forward to this conversation.

LUSE: So we're talking about Miyazaki. I never really liked animated films and TV shows, but, like, Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli films completely shifted the way I think about what kind of storytelling is possible through animation. And now I'm, like, a totally dedicated stan, obviously.

NIEBEL: Well, first of all, I have to say, Brittany, congratulations, and welcome on the Miyazaki journey because once you're on it, you're on it.

LUSE: Yes, I'm on it. To start off the conversation, though, it's so interesting to me thinking about Hayao Miyazaki as somebody who has, you know, at this point, become known for making some of the most beautiful and realistic, to a certain degree, especially emotionally realistic movies about children because he's a man whose childhood was shaped by war, shaped by the Hiroshima bombing. Like, you know, he's said that some of his earliest memories are of bombed-out cities. I wonder, how did that influence the way that he explores childhood in his films?

NIEBEL: I think in many ways, maybe the most profound way is the idea of suffering, seeing destruction and still going on with living. I think what's important to him is that children learn how to stand up to a little bit of adversity, I think he calls it, and that they're not necessarily overprotected. But they have to make experiences that can be painful and expose themselves to danger is, in his mind, really important because it helps them on their way to independence. So I think that's a very different way of seeing childhood.

LUSE: Yes.

NIEBEL: And I think that's rooted in his own personal experience.

LUSE: One of the things that I have been thinking about with Miyazaki is that, like him, living through war and strife is actually the reality for many children. And still our ideals around childhood center around safety, purity and innocence, especially in the West. In some ways, I find that his films are closer to the truth of what childhood really feels like but also how dangerous childhood can be.

NIEBEL: You used a term here that, in my mind, is an absolute cliche - is that of innocence, for example, and purity.

LUSE: Yeah.

NIEBEL: And I think he does not agree with that at all. Neither do I. I just feel like, as children, we're closest to what it means to be human. And rather than simplifying that and saying, like, children are innocent, he really looks like, what is our human experience in this world? I think he would even think to just say, like, oh, no, we just want these positive emotions; like, we want to feel happy and lucky and optimistic all the time - that's not a realistic human experience. We also feel down. We also feel sad. We also feel lonely. And Miyazaki says this is not a bad thing. This is part of who you are.

LUSE: That is so beautiful. But to get a little clinical about it, what consistent themes do you see across Miyazaki's films?

NIEBEL: War is certainly one. Loneliness is definitely one. A lot of his younger protagonists leave or lose their parents, or their parents are absent, so they have to deal by themselves. They have to take on responsibilities early on in life. Quite often they have to find work. So Kiki, very early in her life, has to make a living by herself. She's starting a business, right? She has to support herself.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE")

TRESS MACNEILLE: (As Osono) Ooh, a delivery business.

KIRSTEN DUNST: (As Kiki) Well, I really only have one skill, and that's flying. So I thought a delivery service wouldn't be a bad idea.

MACNEILLE: (As Osono) It's a great idea - Kiki's flying delivery service.

LUSE: Yeah. I mean, for those who haven't seen "Kiki's Delivery Service," it's about a young witch who - you know, when she turns 13, the witches have to basically go out on, like, a gap year. They've got to go out and, like, go somewhere and set up their little, like you said, almost, like, their little business. They have to figure out in what way they're going to use their witchcraft or their magic to help other people and to sustain themselves. I'm like, I mean, I started - I did start babysitting at 11, but I don't know if I could have been flying on a broomstick and living on my own and cooking breakfast at 13 the way Kiki does in that film.

NIEBEL: Yes. It's about gaining independence and finding some self-confidence in the process, and that doesn't come easy. So Miyazaki challenges his characters, his younger characters. He's confronting them with the realities of life, and he doesn't shy away from that. And then, of course, the theme of environment, destruction of our environment, pollution - these are also recurring themes in his films. And a really big one's also food and eating.

(LAUGHTER)

LUSE: Yes, so many food scenes throughout all his movies - like, that, and, like, the idyllic nature scene.

NIEBEL: Nature and the beauty of nature is also really important to him. For example, sunsets or just lying down in the grass and seeing the clouds pass by are unforgettable moments, moments of beauty he really wants to show. With all the challenges that his characters are presented with, the hardships of life, so to say, it's still worth living because there's beauty in this world. There's moments to enjoy. There's moments of friendship, of being close to other characters and moments of just being in nature.

LUSE: Yeah. There're so many quiet, meditative moments that really are meant to focus on just the natural beauty that we can find in the world around us.

NIEBEL: And maybe what it's also important to mention - that in Japan, there's a certain belief that all things are alive. It's called animism. So everything has a life on its own. And he, himself, really believes that all the components that we see in his films are truly a life. A river is a life. It has a spirit, like we saw in "Spirited Away." But at the same time, he is not a preacher or a teacher or anything like this. He just feels that you and I, or any of his characters, as an individual, are part of a bigger something, and we are all connected.

For example, if we believe that a tree is fully alive and has a spirit on its own, it's harder for us to cut it down, isn't it? If we think that a river has a spirit, it's harder for us to throw trash into that river. So that's one way of showing it. But he's also not telling us, oh, my God, you can't ever cut down a tree ever again, right? It's, like, that's unrealistic.

LUSE: Yeah. We've been talking about these themes in Miyazaki's movies, like environmentalism and anti-war sentiments, and he makes very blatant and serious critique, which I think could be pretty taboo for kids' programming in the U.S. But it's not just his message that's different. It's also his craft. You said that Miyazaki has a special approach when it comes to creating characters and how he understands their developmental stages.

NIEBEL: I think in every way, he is trying to be truthful to the character's age. "My Neighbor Totoro" is a really beautiful film about...

LUSE: Yeah.

NIEBEL: ...Two sisters also moving to a new place, also with an absent mother.

LUSE: Yeah, the mother, who's, like, very sick with illness.

NIEBEL: Also kind of an absent father, in that sense.

LUSE: Yeah.

NIEBEL: So they really have to sort of grow up or find their way on their own. And the younger sister, Mei, finds this forest spirit, which she named Totoro.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO")

ELLE FANNING: (As Mei Kusakabe) No. I saw Totoro.

DAKOTA FANNING: (As Satsuki Kusakabe) Totoro? You mean a troll, like the one in your storybook?

E FANNING: (As Mei Kusakabe) Mmm hmm. But he called himself Totoro. He was furry with a great big mouth.

NIEBEL: And it's no coincidence that she's the one to see those forest spirits first, 'cause she's still a child, right? She hasn't lost this ability yet to see spirits. The older sister, Satsuki, she has to take on a lot of responsibility. She's sort of responsible of making food around the house, like feeding her family, including her father, all of these things. And sometimes that really weighs on her. And she certainly feels lonely. And that brings up another interesting point, is that in most of his films, there's a cross-generational connection between the child generation and the grandparents' generation quite often.

LUSE: Right.

NIEBEL: This is my personal interpretation of this, that, you know, adults in our age are too preoccupied with working, being rational, managing life, organizing things, and we're really preoccupied with that. We do not have the time and have lost the ability, maybe, to believe in the fantasies of childhood or that idea of magic. But when they're older, they again maybe have the time to embrace the idea of magic existing in our lives again and perhaps remembering, you know, the fantasies and the imagination of childhood and thinking, no, this is part of our lives. This is also real. So this may have to do with a certain idea of spirituality that becomes more into the forefront again when we're a little older.

LUSE: That, to me, it feels like it's representing a certain wisdom. Like, in some ways, it can seem childish to have belief in things that you can't see. But in other ways, as you get later into your life or toward the end of your life, you begin to understand that there's, like, some sort of ultimate wisdom in that, accepting the things that you don't understand.

NIEBEL: Absolutely. So this component of magic as a possibility is also really important in all of his films.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: You have found words for a feeling I have been trying to capture ever since I have had my first dance with Miyazaki a couple of years ago. So I really, really appreciate this conversation so much, Jessica. It has been great to talk with you.

NIEBEL: Likewise, I thoroughly enjoyed that conversation, Brittany. It's so nice to meet you. Stay on that Miyazaki journey.

(LAUGHTER)

LUSE: I'm going to stay on my Miyazaki journey.

That was Jessica Neibel, senior exhibitions curator at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIALING PHONE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hey, Brittany.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Hey, Brittany.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Hey, Brittany.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KYLA: Hey, Brittany. It's Kyla (ph). I was wondering, what do you know about the Reesa Teesa TikTok? I'm a little lost. OK, thanks. Bye.

LUSE: Kyla, thank you so much for calling in with this question. I'm not going to lie. You actually called the right person. You maybe called, perhaps, the best person to discuss the recent Reesa Teesa 50-part TikTok who the bleep did I marry spectacular because I happen to have seen all 50 parts. Boy, oh, boy, was it something. So for those of you who don't know the Reesa Teesa or 50-part who the bleep did I marry spectacular that has unfolded on TikTok over the past week is in reference to a literal 50-part retelling of a horrible marriage to a pathological liar.

So this woman, who goes by the name of Reesa Teesa on TikTok - she basically details how she met this guy. They really liked each other. They decided to move in together. And after that, chaos ensues. There was cheating. There was, you know, lying about how much money he was making. But there was some stuff that was completely out of left field. I mean, this is a man - when I say pathological liar, OK, he would get on the phone every morning, 45 minutes, carrying out full plotlines for multiple family members who he either doesn't speak to or are completely made up. This man lied about having a stepchild from his previous marriage pass away.

And, I mean, that story in and of itself is pretty compelling. But I have to admit, even for someone like me - right? - somebody who works with words, her recall, her storytelling skills were so strong. And I have to say that that, to me, is kind of the real triumph. You know, in this era of AI and reboot franchises and multi-multi-multimillion-dollar commercials featuring a celebrity saying six words that have absolutely nothing to do with the brand they're there to represent, it's kind of nice to know that the very human skill of storytelling is still alive and well. This, to me, feels like a pop culture win for this week.

So, Kyla, maybe not all 50 parts are for you, but if you really want to get the juice, I would say between part 20 and about part 45, you're going to get the most bang for your buck. It's definitely worth checking out. So to Kyla, Reesa Teesa and everybody out there, I hope you have a wonderful weekend. For those of you who listen to the story, stay away from Legion and men like him in the club.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: Hey, everybody. Brittany Luse here, and thank you so much again for listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. Before you leave, I have one small ask. If you have a spare 10 minutes, you can help us out by completing a short, anonymous survey about how we've been doing with this show. Tell us what you like and how we can improve at npr.org/ibamsurvey. You'll be doing all of us here at IBAM a huge favor. That's npr.org/ibamsurvey. Thank you so much.

This episode of IT'S BEEN A MINUTE was produced by...

BARTON GIRDWOOD, BYLINE: Barton Girdwood.

ALEXIS WILLIAMS, BYLINE: Alexis Williams.

LIAM MCBAIN, BYLINE: Liam McBain.

COREY ANTONIO ROSE, BYLINE: Corey Antonio Rose.

LUSE: This episode was edited by...

JESSICA PLACZEK, BYLINE: Jessica Placzek.

LUSE: Engineering support came from...

PHIL EDFORS, BYLINE: Phil Edfors.

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ, BYLINE: Robert Rodriguez.

LUSE: Our executive producer is...

VERALYN WILLIAMS, BYLINE: Veralyn Williams.

LUSE: Our VP of programming is...

YOLANDA SANGWENI, BYLINE: Yolanda Sangweni.

LUSE: All right. That's all for this episode of IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Brittany Luse. Talk soon.

Copyright © 2024 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.