I told Miyazaki I love the “gratuitous motion” in his films; instead of every movement being dictated by the story, sometimes people will just sit for a moment, or they will sigh, or look in a running stream, or do something extra, not to advance the story but only to give the sense of time and place and who they are.
"We have a word for that in Japanese," he said. "It’s called ma. Emptiness. It’s there intentionally.”
Is that like the “pillow words” that separate phrases in Japanese poetry?
"I don’t think it’s like the pillow word." He clapped his hands three or four times. "The time in between my clapping is ma. If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it’s just busyness. But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension. If you just have constant tension at 80 degrees all the time you just get numb.
My husband, photographer Michael Nye, once photographed in a West Bank Palestinian refugee camp for days, and was followed around by a little girl who wanted to photograph her. FInally, he did — and she held up a stone with a poem etched into it. (This picture appears on the cover of my collection of poems, 19 Varieties of Gazelle — Poems of the Middle East). Through a translator, Michael understood that the poem was “her poem” — that’s what she called it. We urged my dad to translate the verse, which sounded vaguely familiar, but without checking roundly enough, we quoted the translation on the book flap and said she had written the verse. Quickly, angry scholars wrote to me pointing out that the verse was from a famous Darwish poem. I felt terrible.
I was meeting him for the first and last time the next week. Handing over the copy of the book sheepishly, I said: “Please forgive our mistake. If this book ever gets reprinted, I promise we will give the proper credit for the verse.” He stared closely at the picture. Tears ran down his cheeks. “Don’t correct it,” he said. “It is the goal of my life to write poems that are claimed by children.”