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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli Taking A Break

This one is for Caroline, the biggest fan of Miyazaki Hayao (surname first) animation I know.

As some of us are aware, famed Japanese writer/director Miyazaki has decided to retire from the anime business… a real drag as Miyazaki was responsible for some of the most beloved animation films ever, regardless of country of origin.

Miyazaki Hayao, born January 5, 1941, along with Takahata Isaao (surname first), founded Studio Ghibli, a film and animation studio, that was formed after Miyazaki's successful Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind animated film in 1984.

After that, Miyazaki created a who's who of classic animation films that generations of movie-goers have enjoyed: Castle in the Sky (1987); My Neighbor Totoro (1989) - my personal favorite; Kiki's Delivery Service (1990); Porco Rosso (1993); Princess Mononoke (1997); Spirited Away (2002); Howl's Moving Castle (2004); Ponyo (2008); and The Wind Rises (2013).

So… when Ghibli Studio's main man decided to retire in the autumn of 2013, many assumed it would be the end of the studio.

But, according to Studio Ghibli producer Suzuki Toshio (surname first), who appeared on a TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) documentary “Jonetsu Tairiku” on August 3, 2014, he says the studio isn't closing, but that there would indeed be “big changes in all aspects of our operations.”

Suzuki adds that while nothing has been decided, the studio might actually take a hiatus in the production department.

Hiatus aside, Suzuki seemed to think that taking a short break to determine the future of the studio would lead it to continue making animation films forever.

The world of animated film-making is a difficult one. Teams can work for years creating a film, and once it is over, there may not be new work for it to produce. As such, in Japan, its animation studios often go on hiatus, but will maintain a skeleton staff.

I would assume that this would cause quite an incestuous relationship within all such animation studios, with such employees moving nomadically from one company to another, going wherever the jobs were available.

Until this announcement by Suzuki—admittedly only 'suggesting' that it will take a break, Studio Ghibli never had one before, usually maintaining a large percentage of its employees after each film/job… something that would cost it about US$20-million a year in employee expenses.

The last film that Studio Ghibli created, was When Marnie Was There, known as Omoide no Marnie (思い出のマーニー, lit. "Marnie of My Memories"), a 2014 Japanese anime film written and directed by Yonebayashi Hiromasa (surname first), and was based on the novel "When Marnie Was There" by Joan G. Robinson.

This film follows the 2013 disappointment of The Tale of Princess Kaguya (かぐや姫の物語 Kaguya-hime no Monogatari) produced by Studio Ghibli, and directed and co-written by Takahata Isao. It is based on the Japanese folk story "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter", and was Takahata's fifth film for Studio Ghibli, and his first in 14 years since his 1999 feature, My Neighbors the Yamadas.

Basically, the lesson learned here is that Studio Ghibli is no sure thing unless it has the Miyazaki name attached to it.

When Marnie Was There should pull in a total of $36-million, which Variety magazine calls "a solid hit", but anything with Miyazaki's name on it would easily top $100-million.

Miyazaki's last film, “The Wind Rises,” finished just shy of $120-million.

I have dated a Marnie, and being a man, I also know something about rising wind, but I also suspect that Studio Ghibli needs to either stop producing extravagant animation features or find itself the next wunderkid writer or hint-hint - and untapped older gaijin talented writer. Me.

The key thing for Ghibli Studios to determine is why people didn't want to see the other non-Miyazaki movies - was it the story, the animation, or simply the fact that Miyazaki's name wasn't attached to it?

Maybe it should stop making such thought-provoking movies that only girls would like, or at the very least include a few action-packed scenes that might make a boy/man want to see it without needing to mutate a vagina.

Yes, I said that. The very fact that few of these movies could entice my eight-year-old son to watch them speaks volumes to me.

Look… I think these films are beautiful to look at and think the plot(s) are great, but often the slow pacing makes me want to put a nail gun to my head.

It would appear as though lots of other would-be movie-goers agree with me—at least as far as wanting to see other animated film features from Studio Ghibli—and it appears as though the studio realizes that now.

Beautiful fantasy is fine, but I like a bit of action with my fantasy. Maybe there could be some sort of a lopping of with one's head? I've always like that.

Andrew Joseph

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