In the garden of his Venice hotel, Hayao Miyazaki proves quite the celebrity. He signs autographs with a flourish, poses gamely before a barrage of photographers and excuses himself only briefly for a call of nature. "You have been called the god of anime," an Italian journalist shouts at his retreating form. "How does it feel to be a god?" He visibly flinches on his way to the loo.
In the opinion of Pixar's John Lasseter, Miyazaki is "the world's greatest living animator". According to the numbers, he is Japan's most successful film-maker, with his 2001 fable Spirited Away breaking the domestic box-office record set by Titanic. But away from the limelight this white-haired little professor leads a monastic existence (all work, no play, TV or internet). His publicist tells me that this is the first interview he has agreed to in 10 years.