Those who were disappointed when Hayao Miyazaki officially announced his retirement back in September thought they saw a ray of hope when rumors circulated that the 73-year-old Studio Ghibli director of Oscar-nominated animated feature “The Wind Rises” might be willing to helm another movie. It all started when The Guardian reported that Miyazaki was working on a manga series, and Ghibli director Isao Takahata suggested that Miyazaki might pull back from retirement: ‘I think there is a decent chance that may change. I think so, since I’ve known him a long time. Don’t be at all surprised if that happens.”
Miyazaki had also called it quits after “Princess Mononoke” in 1997, vowing to never make a film again, only to release “Spirited Away” in 2001, which won him his Best Animated Feature Oscar.
Well, I hate to break it to you, but during my satellite interview at Team Disney last week, Miyazaki confirmed that he will not direct another movie.
“The Wind Rises” (Disney) played a one-week Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles and New York in its Japanese subtitled version. “The Wind Rises” is not aimed at young kids. It’s a gorgeously drawn historical true story of the brilliant designer behind the Zero fighter plane that wrecked havoc in World War II. Disney is opening the dubbed English-language version starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski and Emily Blunt on February 21 (see both trailers below).
Miyazaki and Disney/Pixar animation czar John Lasseter share something rare: they are filmmakers in charge of animation giants in their respective countries, Studio Ghibli and Disney Animation/Pixar, respectively. (TOH! ranks the top ten Studio Ghibli films, and interviews Studio Ghibli executive Geoffrey Wexler.) The two men are mutual fans and friends, going back to Miyazaki’s visit in the 80s to the U.S. at the time of the now classic “My Neighbor Totoro” (recently made available on Blu-ray, along with “Howl’s Moving Castle”). Where Lasseter has developed a strong collaborative ethic at Pixar, he reveres Miyazaki for dreaming up his stories and drawing much of the storyboards and characters himself.
At Comic-Con in 2009, Miyazaki told the crowd the secret behind his artistry: “My process is thinking, thinking and thinking, thinking about my stories for a long time,” he said with a smile. “If you have a better way, let me know.” When Lasseter interviewed Miyazaki in front of 6000 fans in Hall H, the Disney/Pixar chief praised him for running a “filmmaker-led studio dedicated to making great movies. That’s what it’s all about.” Backstage, Lasseter said that you could watch the films in Japanese with no subtitles and still figure out what was going on. The language only adds subtlety and depth. “I love the positive messages in all the films,” he said. “Miyazaki is inspirational. He celebrates quiet moments.”
At Lasseter’s Academy tribute to Miyazaki, the Disney/Pixar animation chief provided commentary on his favorite Miyazaki clips: a rousing helicopter rescue operation in “Castle in the Sky,” a bar scene with pig-faced aviator “Porco Rosso,” the scary magic of “Spirited Away,” and the dreamlike catbus scene from “Totoro,” as the giant furry creature waits with two little girls in the dark rain at a bus stop. Miyazaki, who studied politics and worked his way up as an animator while always wanting to write manga comics, admits that he never wanted to make Totoro’s origins or powers crystal clear. He was thinking about the images in that film for ten years, he said. He doesn’t like spending time drawing villains, so he doesn’t do it much.
As in “From Up on Poppy Hill,” written by Miyazaki and directed by his son Goro, “The Wind Rises” whisks you into another stylized, hand-drawn 2-D look at Japan’s past. Miyazaki has always been able to capture, like no other animator, the forces of nature and the great outdoors. And if the critics were handing out the Oscars, he’d probably win it–the film played Telluride, Venice, Toronto and New York film festivals, won the best writing award at the Annies and best animated feature from the National Board of Review. And “The Wind Rises” won best animated feature from critics groups in Boston, Central Ohio, Chicago, New York, San Diego, and Toronto.
Anne Thompson: When you decided to make this film did you think it was going to be your last?
Hayao Miyazaki: No, I didn’t think that this would be my last film when we started production. It was only when the film was accomplished, completed, that I thought of making this my last film. Of course, we have different ideas still left on the table, but it will take much more time, so it’s not really realistic at this time and I have not so much time left in my life. So.
So you won’t make another film then?
I probably won’t do another film.
This film was a real departure for you, you often concentrate your film in a short period of time, have a little girl heroine, why such a big change in your approach to the film storytelling?
To be honest with you, we actually only had this project on the table at the time. The original, the first idea came from a manga I had drawn for a hobby. And all of the characters in this manga, all the men had the face of a boar or a pig. Then the producer told me ‘why don’t you make THIS a film?’ And I said ‘no, this is not possible.’ And then we continued the conversation and we found out finally that we could make a film.
But I was very anxious that we would need to leave the kids in a way, a part of the audience. But one of the members of our studio mentioned that even if the kids don’t understand what they see, one day they will come to understand the film. When we started the project this project as a film it was like we digging a tomb for ourselves and our studio. The result fortunately was good, but we were working with that sense.
Did you identify with the young engineer in the film, was he speaking for you as an artist in some way?
The similarity may be that when we work very hard on one thing we are concentrating on one thing, I’m that type of person/ The protagonist is a blend of the engineer Jiro Horikoshi and the author Hori Tatsuo who lived in the period when my parents lived in Japan, actually. Both are very quiet people and very sincere in their lives.
You are celebrating the kind of innovation and freedom in creativity that you practiced making this film.
Well, my way of living is not so smart as the protagonist. Maybe we look alike when we smoke. There’s a lot of smoking.
Do you think when you make your films about the audience outside of Japan, or are you giving films to Japan first and foremost?
When I make a movie I usually think about one or two persons very close to me. For ‘Wind Rises’ it was one boy. I can’t tell you who, because he himself does not know that I made the film for him. But he said he really liked it after seeing it. He’s fourteen years old.
In terms of the animation, was there anything you had to do that was difficult and challenging?
First of all to recreate the atmosphere of this period, the history in Japan. The challenge was, we were afraid that the movie would stand well when recreating that atmosphere. And also if this type of theme would fit as an animation film. The challenging part was drawing the scenes when see a lot of people in one scene, we needed to keep the respect of each person that appears on the screen.
Did you expect the controversy and objections to the film in Japan?
I actually knew it would raise controversy, I knew that some people would be against these kind of protagonists, engineers making fighter planes. In another way I’m surprised and grateful to the people of the US –we once fought the second world war, but the people in the US generously accepted the film.
True. How do you feel about the support John Lasseter and Disney have given your films over the years? Were they definitely going to release this non-family film? (Shrugs)
After looking at ‘The Wind Rises’ John Lasseter said it was like ‘Doctor Zhivago.’ Actually I thought the same when I was in the production, so it was funny to see him mention the comparison as well.
Who do you admire among animators in other countries?
How much involved in supervising Studio Ghibli’s output will you be?
I’m pretty much apart from everything going on at the studio, I always try to stay a bit aside from what’s happening inside the studio. I think the relationship will continue pretty much the same, when I have free time I will go, if I have anything to do at the studio, of course I will go. And if you have the chance to come I will give you some coffee.
I will come! Are you still writing movies?
I’m actually working hard on exhibition projects at the Ghibli museum.
Then I’ll also come to the Ghibli Museum.