Reflecting on Hayao Miyazaki’s Retirement

Hayao Miyazaki has created some of the most charming films of the last three decades. He’s earned his retirement.
Hayao Miyazaki

I suppose we all knew it was coming. After all, he had promised/threatened it following the production of Princess Mononoke, during which the master personally redrew 80,000 frames of animation by hand. But now it’s official: during a press conference on Friday, September 6, Hayao Miyazaki announced that he was finally retiring from filmmaking, saying “My time for creating feature-length animation movies has come to an end.”

As for the reasons why, it all comes down to time: it now simply takes too long (as in several years) to make a film. And at the age of 72, he finds it too difficult to work the long hours and have the concentration necessary to make films. Or, at least, necessary to make films that measure up to his nigh-legendary standards. (Again, remember that this is the man who once redrew 80,000 frames by hand to make sure they were right.)

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Miyazaki is leaving Studio Ghibli behind for good. He plans to help update the studio’s charming museum, and will still be a presence at the studio. But concerning Studio Ghibli’s future output, he doesn’t plan to be involved but rather, is leaving the studio’s future in the hands of a new generation. Or, as he put it:

Since a heavy load will be lifted from the top, I hope that younger staff members will come up with various ideas for what they want to do. The future will depend on the ambition, hope and abilities of various people.

During the press conference, Miyazaki stated the vision that existed behind all of his films: “I wanted to convey the message to children that this life is worth living. This message has not changed.” Which reminds me of something Miyazaki said during a 2005 interview with The Guardian:

“Personally I am very pessimistic,” Miyazaki says. “But when, for instance, one of my staff has a baby you can’t help but bless them for a good future. Because I can’t tell that child, Oh, you shouldn’t have come into this life.’ And yet I know the world is heading in a bad direction. So with those conflicting thoughts in mind, I think about what kind of films I should be making.”
[T]hen, inexplicably, Miyazaki’s mood lightens. Perhaps it’s the sunshine, or the cigarette, or the fact that the interview is almost over. “Of course,” he relents, “if, as artists, we try to tap into that soul level — if we say that life is worth living and the world is worth living in — then something good might come of it.” He shrugs. “Maybe that’s what these films are doing. They are my way of blessing the child.”

The result of this conflict between a deep pessimism and a desire to bless children? Some of the most charming, imaginative, and affecting films of the last three decades. At least, as far as I’m concerned (read my Hayao Miyazaki reviews). And though I didn’t see my first Miyazaki film until well after my childhood was over (I was in my mid-twenties), I have nevertheless been deeply blessed by his films. Though it’s sad to see him leave the world of film, he has without a doubt earned his retirement… and then some.