The great Hayao Miyazaki-san & the men of Disney/Pixar in 2009. Immediately to the right of Miyazaki is Pixar founder John Lasseter. (Photo: Michael Cavna/The Washington Post)
The hall sat hushed just moments after a thunderous ovation. Fans didn't want to miss a single precise word, whether it was in Japanese or the eventual English translation. Hayao Miyazaki, in his first-ever visit to San Diego Comic-Con, was speaking.
The scene was Hall H in 2009, as Pixar founder John Lasseter introduced Miyazaki and his latest film, "Ponyo," to the reverent anime fans. Lasseter had asked Miyazaki about his creative process. Now, Miyazaki, speaking through a translator, was about to reply:
"My process is thinking...thinking...and thinking.
"If you have a better way," he said, pausing for effect, "please let me know."
The hall laughed in unison, like an ocean wave. One of the most important filmmakers in the world (as Lasseter himself underscored), the man who has given us such feats of animation as Studio Ghibli's "Spirited Away" and "Princess Mononoke," was also a master of humility. In his self-deprecation, the genius was utterly approachable.
I spoke with Miyazaki later that day at a round-table interview session, where he exhibited one other trait that transcended language: As he spoke, the Oscar-winning filmmaker had a playful gleam in his eye, the glint of boyishness you would hope an animator of fantasy would retain, no matter his age.
Today, Mr. Miyazaki turns 70 -- a birthday so notable to his fans, it is trending on Twitter. In person as in his films, though, he remains to us both boyish and ageless.
Happy birthday, Miyazaki-san.