Hayao Miyazaki is retiring. Yes, the beloved creator who brought us Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and My Neighbor Totoro among many others is finally stepping down. His latest film, Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises) is his last.
Or is it?
Will Hayao stay retired, or will he make a stunning return to film years later? With the way people have been receiving his son’s films so far (not so great to mixed), your guess is as good as mine. But more importantly, will Hayao’s final film leave us with fond memories of the man? Or will he be leaving us with a sour taste in our mouths?
“Am I retiring? No… Yes I am! Oh ho ho~”
Okay, so Hayao “retired” a handful of times already, actually. Some people say he’s “retired” five times already, others say he just “retires” once every three years. But all of these weren’t actually official and some were just rumor or speculation.
Except for one time.
After the international success of Princess Mononoke (a great film to end your legacy on, by the way), Hayao officially left Ghibli and “retired”. Apparently the amount of work he did on Princess Mononoke was insane. He oversaw 144,000 animation cells and personally redrew about 80,000 of them. Holy crap. I can understand someone being worn out after something like that.
Anyway, after he officially left, he created another studio called Butaya/Nibariki. It was located very close to his old studio and was known as his “retirement place”. While there, he created a manga based on the exploits of Otto Carius, held weekly classes to teach young animators, hosted other activities, and made some animated short films.
In my opinion, this is a pretty awesome and respectable thing to do after retiring. Working on little side projects and teaching others all the great animation knowledge and know-how he possessed? Fantastic. However, he returned to film a mere four years later to direct Spirited Away.
Spirited Away was awesome too, so he probably could have re-retired again and it would have been a great bittersweet moment. But Hayao soldiered on and stepped in to take over Howl’s Moving Castle when the original director left the project. This film wasn’t as amazing as the previous two, but it was still pretty solid.
But this latest retirement announcement sounds like it could actually be legitimate. It seems that Hayao has been “training” his son Goro to take over the family business, but his son (in my eyes) is currently having one hell of a struggle to fill his father’s gigantic shoes. From Up On Poppy Hill was painfully boring. Even if Hayao doesn’t make a second return to film, hopefully he’ll be working with his son behind the scenes to improve the quality of his work.
“I have no idea what I’m doing.”
At 72 years old, Hayao is one of the most celebrated figures in animation. The Wind Rises is his 11th feature length film. Together with Isao Takahata, he founded Studio Ghibli in 1985 which has produced 18 feature films to date, so Hayao’s had a pretty fulfilling career. Studio Ghibli films are loved by many and several of them have topped the Japanese box office. Spirited Away even won an Academy Award for best animated feature over in the good ol’ US of A.
Hayao’s latest film does have the makings of a director’s swan song. The Wind Rises is described as Hayao’s first film made specifically for adults. It’s a very personal film, and it’s also stirring up a bit of debate among the political circles of Japan. Let’s get into that.
The Wind Rises
Hayao’s final film, The Wind Rises, tells the tale of a man named Jiro during World War II. Jiro is a brilliant but naïve engineer, and his character is based on the real designer of Japan’s Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane, Jiro Horikoshi. The story looks to explore love, responsibility, and death.
From what I can tell, it’s certainly not going to be as lighthearted as what we’ve come to expect from Hayao’s films. This one looks to be more akin to the likes of Ghibli’s most famous heart-string puller, Grave of the Fireflies.
Even so, the film still seems to maintain a bit of that classic Ghibli whimsical feel. This should add a nice contrast to all of the terrible sorrowful feelings that look to be so prevalent in this film. The sad things will probably be made even more sad and striking due to the dichotomy between them and the occasional fantastical whimsy.
The film takes us along on Jiro’s journey from a child fascinated by planes to a man creating one of the most feared aircrafts of the war. Jiro’s love for planes and flight is depicted as simple and pure. Jiro doesn’t care about the war effort, he just wants to make a great plane that he can be proud of. But by the end of the film, Jiro starts to question everything.
The Reception Thus Far
Hayao has traditionally been somewhat of a pacifist, so some fans were a bit confused as to why he would choose a film like this to go out on. Some people think that it was strange for Hayao to choose the manufacturer of a vehicle of destruction as the star for his film, but Hayao doesn’t see it that way.
Hayao was drawn to the story because it featured one of Japan’s eccentric geniuses and this appealed to him. Plus Hayao has always been fascinated with planes and flight himself. In an interview, he stated that “It was wrong from the beginning to go to war, but it’s useless to blame Jiro for it.”
“Pipe down, Hayao.”
The film has also sparked some political debate. Hayao recently published an article saying that he was disgusted by the government’s plans to expand Japan’s army. He was also taken aback by the government’s apparent ignorance of history. Though not mentioned specifically by name, most believe these statements were directed at Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe.
Japanese conservatives have pretty much told Hayao to keep his opinions to himself and stay out of politics.
“I’m watching you.”
As for the film itself, some feel that its slow moving style and lack of visual flair make it boring. Overall, though, it’s received favorable reviews and is a box office success. I can understand the slow moving complaints though. I feel that way about a decent amount of Japanese movies, but if Japanese critics are the ones calling this movie slow moving, it must be really slow moving.
I wouldn’t say I’m getting my hopes up too high for this film though. My two favorite films of his were Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, and I don’t think he (or Ghibli for that matter) have come close to matching them since. I do really hope my expectations are exceeded though.
Now I’m not saying that I’m not looking forward to The Wind Rises. I just don’t want to set my expectations too high only to be disappointed. I feel like the film will be a good one, I’m just not sure if it’ll be blowing me out of the water with how good it is. But I really want this film to surprise me and make me glad that it’s the last film he left us with. The trailer makes it seem like the film could be really moving and powerful, and I sincerely hope that it is.
I think it would be absolutely fantastic if Hayao returns to Butaya and does what he was doing the last time he retired. His son could still use a lot of training and improvement and I’m sure many other animators could benefit from his vast pool of animation knowledge too.
And just because he’s retiring from film doesn’t mean that he won’t be creating anything. Last time he made a manga and some animated shorts. Who knows what he’ll come up with this time? I know I’m certainly looking forward to finding out.
So, do you think The Wind Rises will be a good one to end his career on (if he really does retire for good)? What do you think he’ll get into over at Butaya? Think he’ll stay retired for good this time? Either way, Hayao Miyazaki has had a brilliant career and he certainly deserves all the respect in the world.