Few filmmakers can lay claim to such a vast and astounding body of work as one Hayao Miyazaki. Best known for films like My Neighbour Totoro (1988) and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away (2001), Miyazaki managed to transcend national boarders by bringing Japanese animation to the world’s attention with the formation of Studio Ghibli in 1985.
In a career spanning a jaw-dropping 50 years, the animator has moved millions across the globe with his unique artistic style and an ability to make his animated characters emote as sincerely as any human being. It is perhaps unsurprising that, at 72-years-old, the man called Walt Disney of the East has decided to retire for good.
Not that he will be coming to a complete standstill. Old age won’t stop Miyazaki from doing what he loves. In Tokyo, on September 6th, following Studio Ghibli’s initial announcement, Miyazaki claimed that the reasons behind his retirement are practical. He acknowledged that he had claimed to be retiring in the past, but insisted that, “I’m really serious this time… my era of animation is over.
“Those physical issues that occur with age, there’s nothing you can do about them, and hating them doesn’t make a difference.” He said, but making peace with the inevitability of old age did not impinge on the reality of running a successful animation studio.
As the intervals between his feature length films grew longer in length, Miyazaki realised the trend could not continue as “the studio can’t survive.” His passion for animation, however, has not been in any way diminished.
Born in Tokyo in 1941, to Katsuji Miyazaki and his wife Dola, the chaos of the Second World War and his father’s occupation as a designer of battle aircrafts would prove to have a profound impact on the young soon-to-be animator. As he grew up, Miyazaki displayed a talent for drawing, with a particular fondness for Manga, the emerging art style in a post-war Japan.
It was not until his final year in Gakushuin University, Tokyo, however, that he would realise his love of animation. Despite graduating in 1963 with degrees in political science and economics, Miyazaki decided to follow his passion and was hired as an in-between animator for Toei Animation.
He was assigned to work on various projects, such as the 1965 production of Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon. It was a small, but important step towards forming the individual artistic style that would later make him a world renowned animator.
Over the next few years, Miyazaki’s reputation as a story-teller began to grow with the release of successes such as Hols: Prince of the Sun (1968), on which he was appointed chief animator. The film also marked the directorial debut of Isao Takahata, who was destined to collaborate with Miyazaki over the next three decades and to be a co-founder of Studio Ghibli.
In 1971 both Miyazaki and Takahata left Toei Animation. For a while, it seemed the pair were destined to make their mark on television, directing widely acclaimed anime series like Lupin III (1977-1980) and Future Boy Conan (1978). It is in this anime that we can see the motifs of love, friendship and fantasy that would later define Miyazaki’s feature length works begin to form.
By the early eighties, Miyazaki had begun directing anime features, but it would be 1984’s adaption of the series Nausica of the Valley of the Wind that proved to be a game changer in Miyazaki’s career. The film was a refreshingly unique blend of fairy-tale, with a strong anti-war and environmental message, paired with stunning animation.
Its success would ensure Miyazaki’s fame in his native Japan and win him multiple national awards, spurring him to create his own animation studio in the summer of 1985. Studio Ghibli was born.
Studio Ghibli is a testament to the seemingly never ending limits of Miyazaki’s imagination. The late eighties and early nineties would mark a string of successes for Miyazaki, including Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) and Porco Rosso (1992).
Miyazaki claimed that Princess Mononoke (1995) was to be his last feature length film but, in reality, his greatest works were yet to come. Spirited Away was to be the animator’s biggest commercial and critical success, sky-rocketing him to international fame and winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. The film proved to be an introduction for millions across the world to the untapped wonder of Japanese animation.
Though produced primarily for children, the films of Miyazaki contained much darker themes and reach emotional depths beyond western animated features. Miyazaki’s power seems to lie in his ability to provoke a feeling of childlike wonder in his audience, while, at the same, time forcing them to realise the darker aspects of humankind. Miyazaki’s works in the 2000’s solidified him as one of the world’s top animation directors.
His last feature length film, The Wind Rises, due for international release in February 2014, tells the fictionalised biography of real-life aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi. Remembering Miyazaki’s early beginnings as a child drawing airplanes and admiring his aeronautical engineer father, it seems that the animator’s career has come full circle.
Miyazaki admits that he still gains his greatest happiness from his first love: animation. “Being an animator, animating a cut that barely even matters, drawing the wind well, doing the water well, and making sure the light shines right; just from that you can be happy for two or three days.”
It is easy to see from Miyazaki’s films that every frame was created with dedication and love. Hayao Miyazaki is a man who has paid his dues to the profession he helped define and Otwo gratefully wishes to thank him for the works he has given the world.