Photo/IllutrationFilm director Hayao Miyazaki talks about the painting "Puromin no Hikari" (The light of promin), which he donated to the National Hansen's Disease Museum in Higashi-Murayama, western Tokyo, on Jan. 27. (Jin Nishioka)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Acclaimed filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki spoke about his friendship with a man afflicted with leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, in a rare lecture on Jan. 27.

While living near the National Hansen's Disease Sanatorium Tama Zenshoen, Miyazaki befriended Osamu Sagawa, the chairman of its residents' association.

The director choked up occasionally as he recalled moments with Sagawa, during his lecture dedicated to his friend's persistent efforts to establish the National Hansen's Disease Museum in Tokyo's Higashi-Murayama, where the talk was held.

Miyazaki said his first visit to the museum was a life-changing event.

"There was a huge amount of documents that served as living proof of what Hansen's disease patients went through," Miyazaki said. "I was simply overwhelmed and became determined that I should not live without a purpose."

He also explained why he included Hansen's disease patients in his 1997 hit movie "Princess Mononoke."

Miyazaki said he wanted to freely create a period piece "so I drew not only samurai warriors and peasants, but people who had disappeared from history or had been discriminated against."

Sagawa died in January 2018 and Miyazaki donated a painting to the museum in his memory titled "Puromin no Hikari" (The light of promin).

The drug promin was introduced to Japan after World War II. The anime master said he learned from Sagawa how promin was used to treat Hansen's disease, which until then was considered incurable.

Noboru Yoshida, the art director at Studio Ghibli, the anime production company that Miyazaki established along with the late Isao Takahata, created the painting, which depicts a ray of hope emanating from the medicine held between two hands. The light is so bright it reaches a town depicted in the far distance.

Miyazaki's lecture generated huge interest, with 461 individuals indicating a desire to attend, about four times the capacity of the hall.

A lucky 116 people chosen by lottery heard Miyazaki directly, while another 50 listened to the lecture in a separate room.