In 2017, Hayao Miyazaki Rises Again

By  · Published on December 30th, 2016


Miyazaki-san returns with Boro The Caterpillar.

Image by shycatgirl.

The new year promises lots of excitement for Studio Ghibli fans: the beginning of the year sees the re-release of Princess Mononoke by distributor GKIDS, in honour of the film’s 20th anniversary. The 1993 Ghibli film Ocean Waves will be coming to the U.S. for the first time, being released for home-viewing in a 4k restoration.

Most exciting, however, is the return of Miyazaki after his ‘retirement’. The ‘godfather of animation’ has returned to what he is best at after two years since the release of what was supposed to be his final feature film, The Wind Rises. Using a mixture of both CG and hand-drawn animation, Boro the Caterpillar is expected to be a 12-minute short film, with little detail being released about the story other than Miyazaki’s own words: “it’s a story of a tiny, hairy caterpillar, so tiny that it may be easily squished between your fingers.” According to Miyazaki’s long-time producer Toshio Suzuki, the film aims to be completed by spring 2017 and released at the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo, Japan in June/July 2017. The director began production on the film in the summer of 2015, but he has been playing with the idea since the late 90s.

It’s no surprise, then, that since Miyazaki has had the story of Boro with him for so long, the director felt unsatisfied with the short. According to Anime News Network, the recently aired NHK television documentary The Man Who Is Not Done: Hayao Miyazaki showed the director announcing he wants to make another animated feature film. Miyazaki proposed the idea for the feature of Boro the Caterpillar in the documentary, with the release of the film expected for 2019, before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Miyazaki also hinted at his immortality in the documentary, noting how he would be 80 once the film was finished, and that he would rather die in the middle of making an animation than pass away doing nothing. Yet, while Miyazaki makes dark jokes about his life-span and has semi-retired and fully-retired 5 times and counting, it’s clear the rules of retirement do not apply to Miyazaki. Nor the rules of human nature itself, since, like the title character of Howl’s Moving Castle is able to shapeshift and move through time, Miyazaki’s art – his fate – enables him to transcend limitations most humans face. In interviews succeeding his retirement, the animation director talks about how in his retirment he still works “very hard,” the only difference being he comes “to the studio 30 minutes later than I used to and go home 30 minutes earlier.” To Miyazaki, retirement is working 5 days a week.

In the Mami Sunada-directed documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, Miyazaki does not really direct or address the camera, instead going about his daily routines as if the camera was not there. However, near the end of the documentary – right before the director is about to announce his retirement – Miyazaki calls Sunada over to a window. The camera shows what he sees: an average town, nothing seemingly special about it. However, for Miyazaki, this town contains magic. First he points out a man watering his plants, noting how he doesn’t know we are watching him. The director draws on this by pointing to a house with ivy on it, imagining being able to leap on its rooftops, climb up pipes, walk on cables and look down from above like a bird in the sky. In animation these ideas go beyond imagination and become a part of reality, and with Sunada placing images from Kiki’s Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky, Ponyo and many more of Miyazaki’s art over his description, she shows us that he has the ability to transcend the liminalities of everyday life through his magical animation.

And for Miyazaki, these possibilities (that seem impossible to everyone else) in animation also carry through to possibilities within the director. The opening line of Miyazaki’s official retirement statement was “I plan to work for ten more years,” and in interviews the director has stated how he intends to work until he dies; he “retired from feature-length films but not from animation.”

While Miyazaki’s next feature length animation may really be his last, and he’ll probably announce another retirement, it does not mean the end of Miyazaki’s magic. Through his films and through the artwork his millions of fans create in honour and inspiration of him and his animation, the director can never really retire, and there are two many reasons for this. The first, that animation is not a simple job for him but instead Miyazaki’s future, and you “don’t have to know the future.” The second, his work is always existing and renewing through the new discoveries and re-discoveries of his work.

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Freelance writer based in the UK.