I took Labor Day to heart, and did absolutely no writing over the entire long weekend. There won’t be an F:AT article this week, though I may write a game entry anyway, and Potterville will wait until tomorrow night.
It was announced this weekend that Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki is retiring from feature films, after his newest release, The Wind Rises, has debuted this summer. He’s been directing for nearly forty years, and several of his projects are considered among the greatest animated movies of all time. Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, and Spirited Away could all make a good case for being the best animated anything ever.
I remember very clearly seeing Spirited Away in college. I’m not normally given to what Americans would call anime, but the movie got such a groundswell of support from American critics and from the Academy Awards that my friends and I couldn’t help but be curious. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a wonderful movie. It’s filled with such beauty and passion, and so visually remarkable that I still haven’t seen anything quite like it. So in a frenzy I devoured a couple more Miyazaki movies. I think they were Totoro and Princess Mononoke. They were both good, but they left me feeling curiously underwhelmed, like I was missing something that made them truly remarkable. So I decided that it might be something that I would enjoy at a distance, with Spirited Away as a remarkable exception. I kept up with his work, generally saw new releases, but never really felt like it was something that resonated with me.
But for whatever reason, earlier this year I borrowed a copy of Princess Mononoke from a friend of mine and watched it for the first time in about ten years. Either it plays better when I’m older or it’s better the second time, because I was blown away by what I saw. Miyazaki always had a gift for finding images that were truly things of otherworldly beauty, as well as mastering the look of childhood nightmares. Besides that, I’m generally more sensitive about environmental topics today than I was in college, and those themes hit right at my core.
So I was inspired to dive into everything he directed, at least what I could find through my local library system. That included everything Miyazaki directed (with the unfortunate omission of his first movie, The Castle of Cagliostro), as well as numerous movies directed by others in Studio Ghibli, the animation studio he founded. It was a little frightening how consistent his work is. There really isn’t a dud in the bunch, and they cover an astonishing array of genres. There’s swashbuckling adventure (Porco Rosso and Castle in the Sky), coming of age stories (Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away), and even a couple that might be boring if they weren’t so visually remarkable (Howl’s Moving Castle and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind).
All that to say, Miyazaki’s retirement is an enormous loss to the filmmaking world, although he evidently still plans on working on shorter subjects. He’ll go down in filmmaking history as one of the great directors of all time, up there with the likes of Stanley Kubrick and David Lean. I know he’s not dying or anything, but a world where there isn’t another Miyazaki movie to look forward to seems just a little more drab.