Asian animators drawing inspiration from Miyazaki


As Oscar-winning animator Hayao Miyazaki heads into retirement, industry watchers say the next generation of Asian filmmakers stepping out of his shadow will struggle to match the master’s box-office domination.

“The view here is that there will be no ‘second Miyazaki,’ ” Tokyo-based author and film critic Mark Schilling said.

The market for Asian animation is dominated by children’s films, Schilling said, and not the more adult-themed productions Miyazaki became famous for, such as his Oscar-winning “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi” (“Spirited Away”) in 2002.

The 72-year-old director shocked the industry and his legions of fans when he announced he was walking away from directing.

The decision was made even as Miyazaki’s latest production, “Kaze Tachinu” (“The Wind Rises”) — a look at the life of the man who invented the famed Zero fighter airplane — continues to dominate the box office in Japan. It has taken in more than ¥11 billion since its July release.

That success follows impressive global totals from “Spirited Away” at $274.9 million, 2004’s “Hauru no ugoku shiro” (“Howl’s Moving Castle”) at $235.2 million and 2008’s “Gake no ue no Ponyo” at $201.8 million.

“The Wind Rises” is scheduled to begin hitting screens in Europe and the U.S. in January.

Schilling, who translated the Miyazaki-themed book “Princess Mononoke: The Art and Making of Japan’s Most Popular Film of All Time,” said audience figures for many animators working in a similar hand-drawn style will inevitably fade.

“None of their films have scaled the Miyazaki-like box-office heights and it’s hard to see how they can in the future,” he said.

The small marketplace has not deterred Yeon Sang-ho, whose, 35, second feature, “The Fake,” was a hit with critics at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea in October.

“Animated films for adults are actually rare,” he said. “So even when a film gets money invested in it, it’s still difficult to get it released.

“Animators like me will just have to make people become more familiar with animation by making more films.”

Despite being lauded by critics — and picking up three awards at Busan in 2011 — Yeon’s debut “The King of Pigs” did not recoup its $150,000 budget from box-office takings.

Undeterred, Yeon has infused his latest production with a similar brand of savage and profane social comment as he explores the story of a man locked into battle with an unscrupulous church leader.

The director, while acknowledging that the market for more mature-themed animation in Asia is small, said the reaction to his first feature and the inspiration he drew from the likes of Miyazaki and manga artist Minoru Furuya (“Himizu”) had made him fiercely determined to continue developing his own style.

His films are noted for their ultra-realistic mix of computer-generated and hand-drawn images.

Also capturing the attention of both critics and the audience in Busan was 23-year-old Han Yeo-ul, whose “The Child Who Draws an Octopus” was the only piece of animation in the running for the festival’s major prize for Korean short films.

Han’s production uses a very childlike cut-out style that belies the weighty issues it conveys.

“Animation allows me to capture the innocence of childhood,” she said. “You can capture how the world looks through a child’s eyes but still look at serious issues.”

While Han also admitted the market is small, she said it gives her freedom to communicate more directly with her audience.