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Miyazaki Week: The End of Studio Ghibli

by on February 23, 2010

For quite some time, Studio Ghibli has been known for its great animated movies. The movies they make are not only beautifully animated, but contain great storylines that fully engage the viewer. However, I believe that this trend may come to a swift end once Hayao Miyazaki is done making films for the studio, and once that event occurs, Studio Ghibli will be left struggling to stay on top. You may be thinking that this is a bit presumptuous and Studio Ghibli could do just fine without Hayao Miyazaki, but reality simply points in the other direction. Nine times out of ten, if you asked an individual about Ghibli, Miyazaki would be the first name that came to mind.

Ironically, Hayao Miyazaki’s contribution to the animation community has unfortunately and unintentionally painted Studio Ghibli into a corner. His success has cast a long shadow over all the other filmmakers within the studio. Miyazaki has left the viewers with such high expectations that it will be impossible to find anyone that can compare. Really, Ghibli needed to begin grooming another strong director when Miyazaki was still rising up, but who knew Miyazaki’s star would rise so high? Ghibli seemingly missed this memo and now will pay the price when the time comes. The studio would have done well to take note from Pixar, who have a stable of directors that rotate in for for their films. Instead of just having one strong director, they have several  (John Lasseter, Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton, and Pete Docter to name a few), all able to turn out good movies.

Whatever the circumstances, there will be a time when Miyazaki will not be directing for Ghibli any more. There will also be a time when Isao Takahata, the studio’s other prominent director, will stop directing as well. This is a rather obvious fact. Neither is very young anymore and can’t be expected to crank out a lot of films at once. Even if they were both to stay on board for a lengthy span of time, an individual only has so much creativity. While both Ponyo and Howl’s Moving Castle did well critically and at the box office, for some fans they just weren’t up to par with movies such as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. Am I saying that the studio will fall within the next five years? Absolutely not. However, I’d bet that within the next ten years they will begin to find themselves under pressure if no credible candidate comes forward as “the next Hayao Miyazaki.”

The obvious solution for Ghibli would be to find or groom a director to become a hit with both the fans and critics, but this is far easier said than actually done. I wouldn’t claim that the studio’s other directors are terrible, but none of them have Hayao Miyazaki’s stature and presence in the animation community. Miyazaki’s colleague Isao Takahata is a rather accomplished film maker, but is largely known only for Grave of Fireflies. Miyazaki’s son Goro had all of the potential to be that person, but while his first film, Tales From Earthsea, was a box-office success, it also earned Goro the “Worst Director” award from a panel of 32 Japanese movie critics from the ‘Bunshun Kiichigo Awards’. Thus, it remains to be seen whether or not his next movie will do well. For whatever reason, Goro was expected to do everything on his own when it was his first time directing. Everyone needs guidance, and in this Ghibli really dropped the ball. Being a Miyazaki won’t account for much if his films continually lack the story that makes his father’s work so memorable and enduring.

Ghibli has also placed the reins for its next film, Karigurashi no Arrietty, into the hands of Hiromasa Yonebayashi, perhaps with an eye toward grooming new talent. The fact that Miyazaki himself is involved in the new film with Yonebayashi would support this theory. So, let’s say that Arriety is a hit both with the fans and the critics. Will Ghibli make the same mistake and let him become the major star of the studio? If they are smart they will continue to pull in new directors to create multiple pillars of support for the studio. Not every director they bring in has to be a huge success, but they will definitely need more major names if they don’t want to be in a situation where they are again struggling to find a competent successor. Granted, I think Hayao Miyazaki has also been built up too high for anyone to possibly reach him. He has perhaps set the standard too high for anyone to possibly imagine reaching.

We, the audience, have become far too accustomed to believing that anything with the name ‘Hayao Miyazaki’ attached to it has to be seen at least once. What will happen when his name is no longer attached to the projects put out by Ghibli? What will happen when he no longer gives guidance to new directors within the studio? The studio isn’t entirely to blame for their situation. There will never be a time when Hayao Miyazaki can be replaced; it just isn’t realistically possible. They could have, however, better prepared the audience for this incredible loss to the studio. They seem to be realizing this with the introduction of Yonebayashi and the announcement of another young director stepping up for a Ghibli film to be released in 2011. Did the studio wait too long to introduce new talent? I personally think so, but only time will tell whether or not Studio Ghibli can truly survive without Hayao Miyazaki. 

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