Will Japan’s master of animation, Hayao Miyazaki, ever retire?

The 83-year-old’s ability to put down his pencil has come under scrutiny following his Oscar triumph for The Boy and the Heron.

It would have been the ideal farewell: acknowledging Japan’s legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki’s artistic talent at the Academy Awards.

When The Boy and the Heron won the best animated feature award in Los Angeles last weekend, Japan had an opportunity to consider the immense impact of Hayao Miyazaki and whether the 83-year-old director is genuinely done with movies.

Talk about Miyazaki’s future emerged just as Studio Ghibli, the place where he has been practicing his alchemy since the mid-1980s, was about to get its second Oscar. His absence from the 2003 ceremony was allegedly intended as a protest against the US-led war in Iraq; however, his recent lack of attendance was explained as his reluctance to travel, most likely because of his elderly age.

Miyazaki became the oldest filmmaker to ever receive an Oscar nomination for best animated picture with the success of The Boy and the Heron, his most intimate depiction of the horrors of war. Spirited Away, which won Miyazaki his first Oscar in 2003, was the first hand-drawn animation to win in this category, making this one the second.


Toshio Suzuki, the producer of Studio Ghibli and an old friend of Miyazaki’s, was not present for the ceremony. During a Tokyo press appearance, Suzuki said he was deliriously thrilled. Although his partner was not there, Suzuki conveyed the auteur’s customarily reserved reaction, characterizing the honor as “good”.

To his hordes of followers in Japan, where 95% of those between the ages of 16 and 69 claim to have seen at least one of his films, the idea of taking a whole sabbatical from the firm he co-founded in 1985 seems as unpalatable as it does to the man himself.

To date, Miyazaki has made at least three announcements of his retirement, only to later retract them when his body and mind have healed from the strain of meticulously planning and hand-drawing the majority of the frames in a feature-length movie.

There are rumors circulating that he will work again, presumably on a brief cartoon. Susan Napier, the author of Miyazakiworld: a Life in Art and a professor of Japanese studies at Tufts University in the US, stated, “I think he’ll retire when he can no longer hold a pencil.” “The man was not built to be a retiree. The most significant aspect of his life is his work.

When Miyazaki’s age eventually catches up with him, Japan stands to lose a lot. Without Ghibli’s contributions, Japan would have had difficulty projecting its own cultural assets while the rest of the globe rode the Hallyu wave of South Korean popular culture. Napier remarked, “Miyazaki is a national treasure, but he’s also an international treasure.” “He is a true auteur, and because of how singular and original his work is, he is sadly irreplaceable.”

Will Japan's master of animation, Hayao Miyazaki, ever retire?
Credit /Google Source

His legacy will include 2D adventures into fantastical realms inhabited by odd animals and breathtaking scenery, as well as a perspective shaped by his experiences surviving war and post-World War II hardship. Miyazaki is a pacifist who opposes moves by conservative lawmakers to amend the nation’s war-renouncing constitution, as are many other Japanese of his generation. For instance, the first scene in The Boy and the Heron shows 12-year-old protagonist Mahito Maki losing his mother during the aerial bombardment of Tokyo in March 1945, which is thought to have killed 100,000 people.

Though he has faced criticism for his left-wing ideas, Miyazaki is not always treated with the same respect that he and his works generate outside. Miyazaki’s 2015 response to a speech in which the conservative politician stated that Japan should not have to keep apologizing for its wartime conduct in Asia infuriated supporters of the then-prime leader, Shinzo Abe. His 2013 anti-war film The Wind Rises was widely criticized by the far-right internet group known as the “netto uyoku” for being “anti-Japanese.”

Author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the US Roland Kelts thinks Miyazaki’s meticulousness and work ethic will return him to using a pencil.

“He’s the best at the one thing he knows how to do, and he literally doesn’t know how to do anything else,” Kelts added, characterizing Miyazaki as Japan’s “undisputed emissary of manga” to audiences outside of Japan who would otherwise have no interest in the country. Even though he would never admit it in public, Miyazaki obviously values the praise and box office greatly. Ghibli hasn’t been able or willing to develop a successor, in part because he is a very competitive man.

Will Japan's master of animation, Hayao Miyazaki, ever retire?
Credit / Google Source

According to Kelts, Miyazaki was motivated by a desire to outperform his rivals, particularly in light of the popularity of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba and Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name. “He is putting on an impressive return,” he continued.

Citing the challenge of meeting his own extraordinarily high standards, Miyazaki said in 2013 that he would no longer be producing feature-length movies. One American critic compared this revelation to “an unexpected death notice.” However, Ghibli announced four years later that its co-founder would be leaving retirement to work on “his final film, considering his age.”

The Boy and the Heron was the outcome, serving as a reminder of Miyazaki’s position as Japan’s ambassador of soft power. Based on interviews and writings by the author and translator Frederik L. Schodt, “I have no doubt that Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have played an outsized role in helping Japan project a positive image around the world.”

“While there may be other artists that follow in his footsteps, he hasn’t been able to develop a genuine successor for whatever reason.

In a new documentary that NHK, the state broadcaster, showed, Miyazaki sounded nothing like a guy facing his own career death. He stated, clearly moved by the passing of his Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata in 2018, that “life isn’t shiny or righteous.” It has everything in it, including the macabre. It’s time to dig deep inside me and pull things out to produce a piece.

Even though The Boy and the Heron might have been Miyazaki’s final feature-length project, he doesn’t seem to be ready to leave his Tokyo suburbia studio just yet. The great animator himself may be more relieved than anyone, given his tendency to persuade himself out of retirement.

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