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‘I know I’ve mentioned I’m retiring many times in the past, so I know that many of you might think, oh again. This time is for real,’ declared legendary Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki in 2013 shortly after his latest picture Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises) had opened in his native country. Having spent over three decades creating groundbreaking animation through his Tokyo-based company Studio Ghibli, the burden and pressure of creating the movies from scratch had begun to take their toll on Miyazaki who at the time was seventy-two. ‘You may wonder what we animation directors do but I’m an animator first and I have to draw….I have to put the pencil down and just go home. You just can’t do anything about those problems resulting from ageing. There’s an end to everything. It’s best not to wait to retire when one is already in a decline.’ He then went on to add, ‘This will never happen again. I feel that my days in feature film are done…I will be free. I would like to do something else that’s not animation. Maybe, I’ll be exhibited in the museum.’
News of Miyazaki’s retirement hardly came as a surprise to long-time fans as the director had previously declared on six other occasions that he was withdrawing from the film industry, only to revoke his decision soon afterwards. By the New Year, less than six months after his latest announcement, producer Toshio Suzuki insinuated to a Japanese radio show that Miyazaki would continue to create in one capacity or another. In September 2015, exactly two years after his retirement, it was announced that Miyazaki would collaborate with animator Yuhei Sakuragi and production company Steve N’ Steven on a short film, his first to be developed using CGI instead of traditional animation. The project was initialy to have been around ten minutes long and was being developed with the purpose of being screened exclusively at the Ghibli Museum in in Mitaka, Tokyo.
Miyazaki formed his studio in 1985 alongside fellow director Isao Takahata, their first feature under this banner being the following year’s critically acclaimed Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta (Castle in the Sky, also known as Laputa).’Its detailed fantasy world, including a dark turn-of-the-century mining town and candy-colored futuristic space bikes, is as alluring as any live-action film,’ declared the New York Times in their glowing review. ‘It’s full of Star Wars-style confrontation, but it’s also nice to see it handled on equal terms by male and female protagonists,’ enthused the Washington Post. ‘Laputa should appeal to both children and adults; neither group is likely to mind its two-hour length.’ Over the next fifteen years Studio Ghibli continued to enjoy moderate success outside of Japan with such underrated classics as Kurenai no Buta (Porco Rosso) and Mononoke-hime (Princess Mononoke) but it would be his first picture of the new millennium that would be hailed as his masterpiece.
‘I wanted to retire, but life isn’t that easy. I wanted to make a movie especially for the daughters of my friends. I opened all the drawers in my head they were all empty. So I realised I had to make a movie just for ten-year -olds and Spirited Away is my answer,’ Miyazaki told Roger Ebert in 2002. Based around the story of a young girl who, upon discovering a lost magical realm, is forced to confront an evil witch in order to rescue her parents who have been transformed into pigs. Eventually becoming the most successful motion picture in Japanese history, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away) won an Acadmey Award and received unanimous praise from critics around the world, particularly for the hand-drawn animation that Studio Ghibli had painstakingly created. ‘We take handmade cell animation and digitise it in order to enrich the visual look, but everything starts with the human hand drawing,’ he explained to Ebert. ‘And the colour standard is dictated by the background. We don’t make up a color on the computer. Without creating those rigid standards we’ll just be caught up In the whirlpool of computerisation.’Following the international success of Spirited Away Miyazaki remained prolific as both an animator and storyteller, addressing his anti-war stance with 2004’s Hauru no Ugoku Shiro (Howl’s Moving Castle) and paying homage to the life of aircraft engineer Jiro Horikoshi with The Wind Rises. By the time the movie had made its way overseas the director had already announced his retirement. ‘The Wind Rises is said to be the ‘farewell’ animated feature from the Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki, who is now in his 70s. It is one of his most beautiful but puzzling films,’ declared Geoffrey Macnab in his review for the Independent. ‘If The Wind Rises is Miyazaki’s final feature, it marks a suitably rich and strange exit for one of the giants of Japanese cinema.’ But after almost forty years in the industry and a prestigious body of work behind him, the long-cited retirement of Hayao Miyazaki finally seemed to arrive in 2013.
But recently that has all seemed to change once again. In a television interview on Sunday 13 November in his home country the director revealed that he was intending on extending his CGI short Kemushi no Boro (Boro the Caterpillar) into a feature length film with the hope of having it ready for release in 2019, by which point he will be seventy-nine. ‘In the schedule listed in his proposal, Miyazaki suggested that the film could be done by 2019, before the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki commented that Miyazaki will draw storyboards until he dies and another staffer dryly noted that this would make the movie a huge hit,’ reported the Anime News Network in a recent article. ‘Despite not officially receiving a green-light for the feature film, Miyazaki decided to start animation work on the project anyway. He plans on creating storyboards for about a hundred cuts of footage.’