Animation master Miyazaki to retire; fans in disbelief

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Sunday’s abrupt announcement that noted film director Hayao Miyazaki, 72, will retire drew quick and widespread public attention, with some paying tribute to the decades-long master of animation while others were in disbelief over his decision.

“Miyazaki has decided that ‘Kaze Tachinu’ (‘The Wind Rises’) will be his last film and he will now retire,” Koji Hoshino, head of Studio Ghibli, co-founded by Miyazaki, told reporters at the Venice film festival Sunday.

“The Wind Rises” features the real-life story of the young aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi. Set in the 1930s, the film depicts an expansionist Japan as it recovered from the devastating 1923 Kanto Earthquake and marched blindly toward war. Horikoshi designed the famed Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighter.

No other animated movie by Miyazaki was ever based on a real person. In what the media speculate as a prelude to his decision, Miyazaki reportedly shed tears for the first time while watching his own film during the “Kaze Tachinu” screening in June.

Miyazaki started his career as an animator in the 1960s before establishing Studio Ghibli Inc. in Koganei in 1985. His most acclaimed works include “Princess Mononoke” in 1997, and “Spirited Away” in 2001, the latter of which earned him an Oscar for the best animated feature. “Spirited Away” generated the highest box office revenue in Japanese history, at about ¥30.4 billion.

The blockbuster won him a Golden Bear award during the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival. Miyazaki later told reporters, in what many saw as a testament to his dedicated professionalism, that he “won’t get carried away by the award,” as his mission solely boils down to “making children happy.”

When contacted by The Japan Times, film critic Ryota Fujitsu described the news of Miyazaki’s retirement as “totally understandable,” given the filmmaker’s unflinching commitment to the grueling task of animation-making over the years. It is believed Miyazaki created most of his works by drawing them.

Of all the anime makers in Japan, Miyazaki is perhaps one of the most fastidious, Fujitsu said, citing his determined involvement in illustration tasks even after finishing the storyboards. Once done with the storyboards, most directors leave subsequent illustration procedures to animators. But in Miyazaki’s case, he “not only scrutinized their work, but also corrected them, and even drew on his own,” Fujitsu said. “Few worldwide have actually managed to direct feature-length animated movies as long as Miyazaki did.That’s quite something.”

Asked about the possible impact of Miyazaki’s exit, Fujitsu said his retirement risks dealing a huge financial blow to the Japanese film industry, which observes “a slight rise in annual box office revenues whenever new Ghibli animations are released.”

“So that means significant public attention is now on how Ghibli Studio members will do their job without Miyazaki.”

U.S.-based film critic Tomohiro Machiyama said he highly doubts Miyazaki will actually retire, noting his official announcement isn’t until Friday, when he will give an official press conference.

Machiyama said “The Wind Rises” is full of new tacks by Miyazaki, including depictions of lovemaking and other “everyday-life” scenes, and signals a surprising break from the master’s previous fantasy-oriented style.

“I don’t think a person who just started to experiment with new things would retire just like that. Nobody tries their first things in their last works,” he said, adding Miyazaki “probably just blurted out he wanted to retire because he was tired.” Machiyama said Miyazaki might stay on as general manager.

  • phil

    sad to hear but he’s definitely earned the right to retire. Thanks so much for all the joy you’ve brought us
    cheers from oz
    Phil :>)

  • http://thehopefulmonster.wordpress.com/ Sublight

    Disbelief? He’s 72, and has been at this job for 50 years. Let him relax!