Friday, September 6, 2013

Miyazaki-sama (aka "Japan's Walt Disney") Announces Retirement

Miyazaki made out of his movies - portrait by ~C3nmt
Although Miyazaki is indeed known as "Japan's Walt Disney" for reasons of his animated features and whimsical, fantastical and family-friendly storytelling, he is very much his own person and visionary. The news of his retirement from feature films is, though, as big a deal worldwide as if Walt were alive and announced a similar retirement of his own.

As such, I don't really know how best to present this news:
  • sadness that Hayao Miyazaki is retiring from feature film directing?
  • hopefulness for other projects he will no have time to give his attention to?
  • gladness that he'll be able to enjoy some of his retirement and family without the pressure of giant films?
  • gratefulness that I was as aware of his Mastery as I was and took note of the films he made after Princess Mononoke onward?
  • honored to have shared the planet with such a visionary of both filmmaking and fairy/folk tales?
I have to choose all of the above. And I would add that I feel we are privileged in this age to have the technology we do to share his work worldwide right now. (Remember when we had to wait 7 years for a Disney feature to come back to the theater to see it?!)
Totoro with his Dad

Update: Hayao Miyazaki's Official Retirement Press Conference to be Streamed in English (as well as Japanese) today, Friday Sep 6th, at 2pm JST, on Niconico HERE.

Here's a summary of the initial brief announcement by Studio Ghibli head, Hoshino, on Sunday September 1st, 2013:
✒ ✒ ✒  ✒ (click the "Read more" link below this line) ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ 
Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese director known for animated films like the Oscar-winning "Spirited Away", plans to retire from film-making after a five-decade career, his production company said on Sunday at the Venice Film Festival."Next week Miyazaki will have a press conference held in Tokyo to announce his withdrawal from active working," Koji Hoshino, head of Studio Ghibli, which was co-founded by Miyazaki, said at a festival news conference. 
Hoshino gave no further explanation for the decision by the director who is sometimes described as the Walt Disney of Japan. 
"I cannot accept any questions on this because there will be an official press conference on this. He wants to say goodbye to all of you from the bottom of his heart," Hoshino said. (Source)
Some of the worlds created by Miyazaki during his career to date
It should be noted that although Miyazaki will no longer write or direct feature-length films, that doesn't mean we won't be seeing smaller (or other media) projects he will be involved with in the future.
Of course, the 72-year-old helmer also said such things at various points in his career, including over sixteen years ago with Princess Mononoke, but considering the formal announcement, this seems official. If feature-length films are out of the question, this still opens the door for short works and other forms of entertainment, but it’s certainly sad to see him rule long-form works out of the equation. (Source)
This is one individual I remain in awe of - both as an artist and visionary. Here's a quick summary of his storytelling philosophy, from the pen of the Master himself:

While I do hope we will see more from him in some other medium, I also wish him a well deserved (albeit late-coming and incomplete) retirement.
At Pixar, when we have a problem and we can’t seem to solve it, we often take a laser disc of one of Mr. Miyazaki’s films and look at a scene in our screening room for a shot of inspiration. And it always works! We come away amazed and inspired. ‘Toy Story’ owes a huge debt of gratitude to the films of Mr. Miyazaki.
That’s Pixar head honcho John Lasseter raving about one of his own animation idols, Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. Lasseter’s not alone. Imaginative storytellers like Guillermo del Toro show obvious love for Miyazaki’s mystical creations with their own features. Watch ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ after binging on Miyazaki films, and you’ll think the magna master co-wrote del Toro’s script. 
Miyazaki’s boundlessly stimulating animated films – produced under the Studio Ghibli banner – have influenced television shows, video games, comics and more. And yet, it’s very possible that casual animation audiences might not even know his name, his films or the power he has exerted on the colorful movies that they watch. (Screencrush)
I am overwhelmed at the idea of trying to sum up Miyazaki's contribution to film and fairy tales to date so I'm not even going to try. I'll just list his best known films (those that were both his vision and his work - and boy did he work!), noting that most, if not all, of these have roots in fairy and folk tales (or reference them) both specifically Japanese tales as well as those from other cultures.

My Neighbor Totoro

Spirited Away

Princess Mononoke

Kiki's Delivery Service
(live action adaptation currently in production)

Castle in the Sky

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Porco Rosso

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea

Howl's Moving Castle

The Secret World of Arrietty

You can get a brief introduction to these better known features HERE at Screencrush but I'm going to include a trailer for the only film to get an Academy Award, Spirited Away, back in 2003. One of the beauties of Miyazaki's films is that you can watch them in Japanese WITHOUT any translation - text or audio - whatsoever and know almost exactly what's going on. This is my preferred - and recommended - way to view the films (or with text translation only) and how I introduce his work to people, including my son.

(Note: While the Academy Awards are supposed to be international, we know they're very Hollywood driven and biased so it took quite a while for Miyazaki's work to even hit the Oscar radar. In many people's opinion - both internationally and in the US - it's believed that Miyazaki should have been better acknowledged by the Academy. Although other festivals, awards and countries have acknowledged his status as a Master of film and animation, and he's received the very prestigious Golden Lion Award, hopefully he will also be given a lifetime achievement award in the US within his lifetime as well.)

You can see more trailers and learn more about Miyazaki's current film on Ain't It Cool News HERE.

Miyazaki's final feature film The Wind Rises was just released in Japan this last month, It was also recently acquired by Disney so there's a good chance US audiences and beyond will also see it in theaters before the end of the year is out. While it's not a fairy tale film it is a very personal one for Miyazaki. It deals with the nature of flight and takes a bold anti-war stance as well. Miyazaki is well known for incorporating pro-environmental messages in his features and The Wind Rises includes that sensibility as well. Never one to bow to popular demand, marketing pressure or Disney's influence (even when Disney paired up with Ghibli for distribution rights), his films are refreshing, individual and always a little unexpected.

I hope Miyazaki-sama is able to now take time to look back on his life and know that he truly made the world a better place. And that he's as well loved for that as for his stories.


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