Who Is Hayao Miyazaki – The Genius Behind Studio Ghibli And The Best Anime
This past Wednesday was Hayao Miyazaki’s birthday. The acclaimed filmmaker and co-founder of Studio Ghibli turned 81 and he doesn’t have any plans to slow down, as he recently announced he was coming out of retirement last year to make one more movie (it’s the third time he’s come back from retirement). But who is Hayao Miyazaki and how did he get his start? What is the history of Studio Ghibli, which has introduced audiences around the world to some of the most beloved films of the 20th and 21st centuries? In honor of his recent birthday and unretirement, we’re going to look at this animation heavyweight.
Who Is Hayao Miyazaki?
Image via NHK
Hayao Miyazaki is one of the most beloved animator filmmakers of our time. His films have delighted audiences for almost 40 years and critics praise his films for their message of environmentalism, love, and friendship. They also tend to touch on difficult topics (war, disease, dying) in a gentle and heartfelt way. Miyazaki was born on January 5, 1941, in the town of Akebono-cho in Bunkyō, Tokyo. Throughout his youth, he experienced a lot of violence and bombings as World War II raged on, and he’s said that many of his earliest memories are of “bombed out cities,” which explains why a lot of his films have images of war. Growing up, Miyazaki was also quite close with his mother, who he described as someone who regularly questioned “socially accepted norms” and served as inspiration for many of the characters seen in his movies. He became interested in animation in high school after seeing Panda and the Magic Serpent (1958), Japan’s first feature-length animated film in color, and after graduating college, he started work at Toei Animation, where he got steady work illustrating. He ended up at Telecom Animation Film in 1979, where he made important friendships and also directed his first feature anime film, The Castle of Cagliostro.
Miyazaki Has “Retired” Several Times Already
He’s retired (or I should say “retired”) and then come back again to create more masterpieces because he loves what he does. In the late 1990s, he said he was done, but then he returned to animation in 2002 and directed Spirited Away, which won an Academy Award for “Best Animated Feature.” He announced that he was really retiring in 2013, but then he got interested in CGI and created Earwig and the Witch with his son Goro, which was Studio Ghibli’s first CGI film. His most recent announcement of retirement was in 2018, but now Miyazaki is back again, saying he’s coming back “because I want to.” He’s going to work on a feature-length animated film, telling the New York Times that it’ll be based on Genzaburo Yoshino’s 1937 book, How Do You Live?, which Miyazaki reportedly has a soft spot for. The story is set in 1930s Tokyo and follows a teenage boy and his mother who move in with an uncle after his father dies.
The History Of Studio Ghibli And Its Films
Image via Studio Ghibli
Studio Ghibli was founded by Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, Toshio Suzuki, and Yasuyoshi Tokuma. Miyazaki had met Takahata at Toei Animation; Suzuki and Tokuma met Miyazaki during his time at Telecom Animation Film. Miyazaki first found major success with his manga, titled Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which is about a princess living on a post-apocalyptic Earth with a toxic ecosystem. She becomes involved in a war between kingdoms while an environmental disaster threatens humankind. Tokuma encouraged Miyazaki to turn Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind into a film and it eventually was released on March 11, 1984. It grossed ¥1.48 billion at the box office and made an additional ¥742 million in distribution income. Most people say that Nausicaä was Miyazaki’s pivotal work that cemented his reputation as an animator and as a creator of films that portrayed important societal themes. The next year (1985), Studio Ghibli was created.
The history of Studio Ghibli is one of a team that works hard to bring gorgeous and thoughtful films to the world. In the documentary, Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki, we see the filmmaker giving 110% of his all to perfection. He’s always pushing himself to grasp more, which is perfectly seen as he learns about CGI and works with a younger team of animators who help him on his short about a caterpillar named Boro. At one point, he says:
“That song ‘Let It Go’ is popular now. It’s all about being yourself. But that’s terrible. Self-satisfied people are boring. We have to push hard and surpass ourselves.”
Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are also focused on creating realistic portrayals of human beings and promote messages of peace, environmentalism, feminism, love, and family. The animator has said that the anime industry is very unrealistic when it comes to drawing people and that it’s “produced by humans who can’t stand looking at other humans… that’s why the industry is full of otaku! (a person who is obsessed with computers or particular aspects of popular culture to the detriment of their social skills).”
Studio Ghibli Continues To Grow With the Times
While Studio Ghibli films are still mainly drawn by hand, the studio’s producer, Toshio Suzuki, said that it’s nearly impossible to “stop CGI from taking over animated films,” which made for some of the most interesting scenes in Never-Ending Man. There’s one scene where Miyazaki is seen observing an actual caterpillar with a magnifying glass and he makes some rough sketches for the CGI team because he wants to make sure they get it just right.
I went to a Japanese immersion preschool and remember watching many Miyazaki films when I was young. While I have my personal favorites (Totoro forever!), here are the films that Studio Ghibli has released:
- The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
- Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
- Castle in the Sky (1986)
- My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
- Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
- Porco Rosso (1992)
- Princess Mononoke (1997)
- Spirited Away (2001)
- Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
- Ponyo (2008)
- The Wind Rises (2013)
- Earwig and the Witch (2020)
- How Do You Live? (TBA)
Now that Miyazaki is out of retirement, I’m excited to see what he has to come up with next. How Do You Live? sounds like it will be beautiful and I hope he doesn’t “retire” again. In all honesty though, even if he says he’s giving up animating again, I always take it with a grain of salt. As Suzuki says in Never-Ending Man, Miyazaki is always going to be part of the animation world. He so succinctly says, “He wants to keep creating until he dies.”
You can watch all of the Studio Ghibli films as well as Neverending Man: Hayao Miyazaki on HBO Max.
Are you familiar with Hayao Miyazaki’s works? Which is your favorite Studio Ghibli film? Was there anything in the history of Studio Ghibli that I missed? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured image via Bago Games
Keilin Huang is a freelance writer that likes the Oxford comma, reading from her neverending pile of books from the library, and Reeses peanut butter cups. She thanks her Dad for introducing her to his Superman comics and probably majored in Journalism because of Lois Lane. Contact her at [email protected]