In commemoration of the recently announced retirement of legendary director Miyazaki Hayao, we thought it would be apt to look back and reflect on his life and work. No amount of words could do justice to the impact and influence of his productive presence in the industry over the last decades. We do not claim to have any definitive insight, as we are sure that many other worthy commentators and the director himself will have much to say on this regard. But we do offer some food for thought, for you to mull over and perhaps join in the discussion that will undoubtedly follow.
It’s just a matter of believing.
A Fitting Farewell (Why Miyazaki Hayao’s Retirement May Be A Good Thing)
When asked once if he believed in all the imaginary worlds and fantastical realities that he created, Miyazaki Hayao had this to say:
“Of course I believe that other worlds exist. If they didn’t, life wouldn’t be interesting.
It’s like love. You can’t see it but it exists – simply because you believe it. It’s just a matter of believing.”
It is hard to believe that we exist in a world where the reality of Miyazaki Hayao’s retirement has come to pass.
As the old saying goes, “All good things must come to an end”. While we may try to deny it, time and tide wait for no one. Eventually, those who have seemingly been around forever, and we could never imagine being without, must inevitably exit the stage and make room for those that follow after. And while it is ever our prerogative to pay homage to the luminaries that have come before, there comes a time when we must eventually learn to stand in our own right. So while we must first sit on the shoulders of such giants, in time, we will each grow to our own true stature.
Life is all about goodbyes. They are inevitable. But while it is human nature to lament endings, there is also much good that can come from them. So it is, that we humbly submit our reasons.
1) He has already contributed so much over the decades (he deserves his rest)
Miyazaki Hayao stands as one of the undisputed greats of Japanese animation. A legend in his own time, his contributions to the art form have made him a household name the world over and culminated in his Oscar win for Spirited Away at the 2003 Academy awards, helping legitimize the genre on the international stage. No one would have faulted him for stepping down then and there, even a decade earlier, but he continued to dream, produce and push the genre forward. Known equally for his strong female characters, fully realized worlds and deep storytelling, his life and work are a testimony to his creative drive, boundless imagination and generous spirit, and pay fitting tribute to him not only as an artist, but as a true human being.
When you look back at Miyazaki’s oeuvre, it reads like the top ten list of the greatest animated films of all time. Serving as director, writer and even producer for many of his works, his singular vision has done much to shape the direction of Japanese – and indeed world – animation. True, Disney and Pixar set the benchmark to which much of the west aspires, but what discerning list would not include the likes of Princess Mononke, Spirited Away or My Neighbour Totoro? While such things are very much subject to personal tastes and preferences, it is almost universally accepted that at least one (and often more) Miyazaki film would make the cut.
2) Miyazaki hit his peak long ago (so we can stop waiting for his next Princess Mononoke)
With such a formidable oeuvre over a lengthy and storied career, there are bound to be greater and lesser works liberally sprinkled into the mix. And as with any great director, Miyazaki was inevitably compared more often than not, to himself, and judged on the strength or weakness of each successive work. After early successes that cemented Studio Ghibli’s place in the industry, it became a kingdom in and of itself.
But if we are honest with ourselves, I think we can agree that many of Studio Ghibli’s later productions have been lacking something indefinable that Miyazaki’s earlier works seemed imbued with almost effortlessly. The innocence of Totoro, the sweeping scale of Princess Mononoke, the magic of Spirited Away. Taking it all in his stride, he crafted world after world and swept from one grand narrative to the next, hardly missing a beat.
But then things started to lose their shine. True, Studio Ghibli still produced some of the most outstanding examples of Japanese animation and Miyazaki remained very much at the forefront, yet there was something decidedly lacking. While there were worthy successes in the likes of Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, fans still waited with bated breath for his next epic fantasy to sweep them off their feet entirely. And because of this, some might say that the studio and the industry was left treading water, with one eye to the past, that may have stifled it from embracing its future. However, with Miyazaki’s departure, the studio and the industry can start from a clean slate and explore new possibilities, free from the shadow of established expectations.