Hayao Miyazaki lends his creativity despite retiring

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Hayao Miyazaki from the documentary "10 years with Hayao Miyazaki." Photo Courtesy of Gkids.

One would think an 82-year-old with fame and a heavily awarded career that spans nearly five decades would retire. Hayao Miyazaki tried many times but never seems to be able to stay away from the pull of the pencil and paper. 

Hayao Miyazaki is a famed Japanese writer, animator, and filmmaker known for his notorious work and co-founding the animation studio, Studio Ghibli. From humble beginnings, his career as an animator started in 1963, as he was an artist at Toei Animation, switching between projects. He continued to work in various roles, becoming involved in many early classics of Japanese animation. However, after founding Studio Ghibli, he had the creative freedom to shape the world of animation.

Some of his most notable and awarded films are “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Howl’s Moving Castle,” “Princess Mononoke,” and “Spirited Away.” The myriad of films he created remain beloved by people around the world; however, after spending so much time curating these masterpieces, he has tried to retire multiple times. 

First, in 1997, Miyazaki announced plans to retire after the release of “Princess Mononoke,” a film that broke the box office, becoming the highest-grossing film in Japan. Then, in 2001, after the release of “Spirited Away,” a film that also became the highest-grossing film in Japan during its time and won an Academy Award for Animated Feature (the only film outside the West ever to do so), Miyazaki announced plans to retire again, claiming that he can no longer work on feature-length animated films. In 2013, after the release of “The Wind Rises,” Miyazaki announced plans to retire again. However, in 2013, after producing 11 features he was taken seriously and Studio Ghibli shut down its production department. As he stated in 2013, according to The Verge, “I have caused a stir in the past by saying I was saying I was quitting. But I am serious this time. There are things that I have always wanted to do, but it does not involve animation.”

Yet in 2018, he came out of retirement again to make his recently released 12th feature, “The Boy and The Heron.” When asked why he came out of retirement for the fourth time to produce another feature, he simply stated, “Because I wanted to,” in an interview with The New York Times

This feature was rumored to be Miyazaki’s last definite film. “The Boy and The Heron” took longer than all his other films to produce; it took five years compared to his other films like “My Neighbor Totoro,” which took eight months to produce. “We are still hand-drawing everything, but it takes us more time to complete a film because we’re drawing more frames,” producer Toshio Suzuki told Entertainment Weekly. “So, there are more drawings to draw than before. Back when we were making [1988’s] ‘My Neighbor Totoro,’ we only had eight animators. Totoro we made in eight months. [For] the current film that Hayao Miyazaki is working on, we have 60 animators, but we are only able to come up with one minute of animation in a month,” Suzuki said.

Although Miyazaki has spoken about his worsening eyesight making it difficult to create animation in a Kotaku interview, Miyazaki’s hunger for creativity brought him back to the rigorous demands of his hand-drawn process for what could’ve been his last film. On Sept. 8, In an interview with CBC at the premiere of “The Boy and The Heron” executive Junichi Nishioka said that the animation veteran doesn’t want to rest.

“Other people say this might be his last film, but he doesn’t feel that way at all, “ said Nishioka. “He is currently working on ideas for a new film. He comes into the office every day and does that. This time, he’s not going to announce his retirement at all. He’s continuing working just as he has always done.” 

“The Boy and the Heron” was released in Japan on July 14, 2023. This film was one of Miyazaki’s most secretive films. In the years, months, weeks, and days leading up to its release, there has been little to no information given about the film. Studio Ghibli decided to forgo marketing the film altogether, as Suzuki explained to Bungei Shunju, “Deep down, I think this is what moviegoers latently desire.” The only promotion leading up to the release of the film was a single poster that was posted on the Gkids’ social media platforms. 

With limited promotional attempts, this approach seemed fraught for a movie of this scale that is Miyazaki’s first film after 10 years. But it seems that the production of this movie was made with more personal and intimate motives. 

The film is based on a 1937 Japanese novel written by Genzaburo Yoshino called, “How Do You Live?” Yoshino’s novel is a coming-of-age story about a young boy who is learning how to navigate the world after his father’s death, and it is said it was a childhood favorite of Miyazaki’s. According to CNET, Suzuki described the film as an original story with “fantasy on a grand scale.” It is also confirmed that longtime famed collaborator Joe Hisaishi will be returning in this movie to compose another iconic soundtrack.The running time of the film is 124 minutes and will be Studio Ghibli’s release in IMAX. “The Boy and the Heron” is scheduled for a Dec. 8, 2023 release in North American theaters.

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