Fans of the animated films of revered director Mr. Hayao Miyazaki were stunned last week to read of his retirement. At the age of 72, with popular and acclaimed films dating back to 1979, nobody will dispute that Mr. Miyazaki has earned a good rest. Most fans, though, will feel sad and disappointed that after his most recently directed film, “The Wind Rises,” released this year, another will not be forthcoming.
Mr. Miyazaki’s career is one that made Japan’s animated films a worldwide phenomenon. Not only did his films do well at the box office but also they received critical accolades. They were the kind of films that kids watched over and over, all over the world. More than a few students coming to study abroad in Japan first learned about Japan through his films, not to mention the constant crowds at the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo, a highlight for many foreigners’ visits to Japan.
Mr. Miyazaki started working in animation in 1963 and later cofounded Studio Ghibli to produce his films. Among the 11 films he directed were “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988), “Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989), “Princess Mononoke” (1997), “Spirited Away” (2001), and “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004), among others. Each of the films was a work of great artistry, on which Mr. Miyazaki worked meticulously, often redrawing many of frames himself.
Like many popular directors and writers, Mr. Miyazaki had the knack of presenting stories that drew on universal themes — the importance of relationships, the need for acceptance and the deeper currents and meanings of life. He created marvelous worlds where the main characters, almost always children, fished, ran, explored or flew through the air with wild, colorful creatures whose words and actions were often deeply symbolic. He managed to be both extremely realistic and highly imaginative.
Mr. Miyazaki’s films seemed to have a direct line into the unconscious minds of children, where their desires, needs and fears could be brought out, put on the screen and given comfort and acceptance. His films’ criticisms of society’s problems, such as war, alienation and power, were always couched in the warmth of human experience, and appealed to adults as much as to children.
The Ghibli Studio will continue to make more films in the style he developed, but his absence will leave a large hole in the world of animation film. The one consolation is his films will continue to reach millions of viewers around the world and be watched by generations into the future. After all his excellent work, Mr. Miyazaki’s retirement is well-earned. But he will be sorely missed.