Japan’s Top Anime Director Hayao Miyazaki Retires

While Japan in general may be rejoicing from the announcement that they will be hosting the 2020 Olympic Games, fans worldwide are mourning the retirement of beloved director/animator Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki announced his retirement from directing this last week, although he states that he will continue working with the film company that he helped create Studio Ghibli. Many have speculated that this may not be a permanent decision, as Miyazaki has previously made similar announcements following several of his successful films only to quickly return to the director’s chair. However, Miyazaki himself has cut such hopeful speculation short, noting that his most recent film The Wind Rises took almost five years to complete and, as Miyazaki is now nearly 73 years old and has no desire to dedicate the next five years of his life to a new production, he feels that he should take a less active role in the company.

Miyazaki is one of the most important directors not only in Japan, but worldwide. While Miyazaki initially worked as a television animator for the major film studio Toei during the 1960’s and 1970’s, his first major motion film domestically was the movie adaption of the popular detective series Lupin the III, The Castle of Cagliostro, in 1979. This film demonstrated both his talent as a filmmaker and his ability to connect to a broad audience. This may not be a surprise for modern movie goers, who are aware that his films are inevitably the darlings of film critics as well as box office hits, however during this period animation had yet to gain massive critical appeal. It was his following film, 1984’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which not only cemented his career but also launched Japanese animation into serious filmmaking.

Miyazaki’s star continued to rise in the following decade, with the release of the immensely popular films My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service, culminating in the creation of his own animation company Studio Ghibli. This Tokyo-based studio has also become a major tourist location, as fans come from around the world to make a pilgrimage to the Studio Ghibli Museum. After the founding of this studio, Miyazaki focused his attention on the film Princess Mononoke. It was this film that marked Studio Ghibli and the Disney’s cinematic alliance, as Disney not only bought the rights to Miyazaki’s previous releases but also re-dubbed Princess Mononoke, and every Miyazaki film made since, for national theatrical release. While this film put Miyazaki on the map internationally, with its 1997 box office gross only superseded by James Cameron’s Titanic, he announced shortly thereafter that he was retiring from filmmaking due to the exhaustion of hand checking, and often re-drawing, each frame of animation.

This retirement did not last, as he almost immediately began to work on his next major film Spirited Away. This film not only won an Academy Award, in both the United States and Japan, but also broke the box office records set by Princess Mononoke. However it was at this point that trouble hit Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki’s family. While Hayao Miyazaki worked on yet another success, Howl’s Moving Castle, his son Goro Miyazaki worked on the film Tales from Earthsea, which opened to low-ticket sales and little acclaim. This friction was exacerbated by Hayao Miyazaki’s relatively open assertion during production that Goro was not ready to become a director, especially after he had avoided following in his father’s footsteps for years by becoming a landscape architect before taking a director’s chair. However, Hayao Miyazaki was one of the few to praise his son’s film and they have since worked together on last year’s From Up on Poppy Hill.

If this announcement is final and Miyazaki is not tempted away from a life of relaxation by another project, his last film is this year’s The Wind Rises. This film, based on the life of the Zero fighter designer Jiro Horikoshi, will be released nationwide by Disney on November 8th.

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