For more than a decade, Hayao Miyazaki has existed in both a state of retirement and working feverishly toward what we’ve been assured is his “final” film. The Boy and The Heron, the fourth movie that has been marketed as Miyazaki’s last, has finally hit US cinemas and the director is already back in the offices of Studio Ghibli, working on yet another feature-length animated film.
The first time that Miyazaki announced his retirement was in 1997, when Princess Mononoke was released, becoming one of the biggest box office hits in Japanese history. Then again in 2001, when Spirited Away became the highest-grossing animated film of all time until Disney’s Frozen came out more than a decade later, he said he could no longer work on feature-length films. 2013 rolls around and Miyazaki is once again out of retirement as The Wind Rises is released. Then, Miyazaki was quoted as saying “If I said I wanted to [make another feature film], I would sound like an old man saying something foolish.”
Two questions pop to mind as we reflect on the more than 16 years that he has been trying to retire – why won’t Miyazaki stay retired and why do we still believe him when he says he’s doing so? On the surface, it makes sense that we expect him to retire from filmmaking eventually. He’s 82 years old now and has built a reputation as the greatest living animation director, rivaling the likes of Walt Disney himself for influence and success. What more could he hope to accomplish with the medium that he hasn’t with films like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away?
No matter how often we're proven wrong, we always believe he will retire because that seems like a logical thing to do, but more than that, we can’t imagine that someone who has changed the world of animation, both in Japan and around the world, still has more to give. Surely, he is tapped by now. This time, he must walk away and spend the rest of his life sipping tea and reflecting on the impact he has had on all of us. He certainly deserves the rest by now.
As to why he won’t – or can’t – stay away from the animation studio is a tougher question. Hayao Miyazaki is clearly a driven man with a passion for animation that defies logic and age. For years, it was rumored that he wouldn’t retire until a suitable successor at Studio Ghibli was found, but none, including his son Goro, has seemed to measure up to his lofty standards, but the purchase of Ghibli by Nippon Television earlier this year has ensured that Ghibli won’t close its doors the moment he passes.
The more likely reason that Hayao Miyazaki refuses to put down the pen and brush is that he still feels like he has more stories to tell. Creativity isn’t something that fades as you age, so there will still be images and ideas that keep him awake at night, driving him to get back into the studio in the morning. The creativity that made him a legend in his own time is probably also the thing that won’t let him rest.
Will we get another masterpiece from Hayao Miyazaki? He has reportedly slowed down his animation process due to age, which means he may pass before whatever idea pulled him out of retirement yet again is completed. We all just have to wait and hope that we get to see one more bit of magic from the man before time finally takes him, at which time he’ll probably walk back into the doors of Studio Ghibli with yet another idea.
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