Who is Hayao Miyazaki – A genius behind Studio Ghibli and the best anime

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Last Wednesday was Hayao Miyazaki’s birthday. The famous filmmaker and Studio Ghibli co-founder has turned 81 and he has no plans to slow down, as he recently announced that he was coming out of retirement last year to make another film (it is the third time he has returned from retirement). But who is Hayao Miyazaki and how did he get started? What is the history of Studio Ghibli, which introduced audiences around the world to some of the most beloved films of the 20th and 21st centuries? In honor of his recent birthday and retirement, we’re going to take a look at this animation heavyweight.

Who is Hayao Miyazaki?

Image via NHK

Hayao Miyazaki is one of the most beloved animation filmmakers of our time. His films have delighted audiences for nearly 40 years, and critics praise his films for their message of ecology, love and friendship. They also tend to approach difficult topics (war, disease, death) in a gentle and sincere manner. Miyazaki was born on January 5, 1941 in the town of Akebono-cho in Bunkyō, Tokyo. Throughout his youth he experienced a lot of violence and bombings during WWII, and he said that many of his earliest memories are of “bombed cities,” which is why many his films have images of war. Growing up, Miyazaki was also quite close to his mother, whom he described as someone who regularly questioned “socially accepted norms” and who inspired many characters seen in his films. He became interested in animation in high school after seeing Panda and the magic snake (1958), the first full-color Japanese animated feature film, and after graduating from college he began working at Toei Animation, where he got regular illustration work. He ended up at Telecom Animation Film in 1979, where he made important friendships and also directed his first animated feature film, Cagliostro Castle.

Miyazaki has already “retired” several times

He’s retired (or should I say “retired”) and then comes back to create other masterpieces because he loves what he does. In the late 1990s he said he was done, but then returned to animation in 2002 and directed Abducted as if by magic, which won the Oscar for “Best Animated Feature”. He announced that he was really to retire in 2013, but then became interested in CGI and created Earwig and the witch with his son Goro, which was Studio Ghibli’s first CGI film. His most recent retirement announcement was in 2018, but Miyazaki is now back, saying he’s coming back “because I want him.” He will be working on an animated feature film, say the New York Times that it will be based on the 1937 book by Genzaburo Yoshino, How do you live?, for which Miyazaki would have a soft spot. The story is set in 1930s Tokyo and follows a teenage boy and his mother who move in with an uncle after his father’s death.

The history of Studio Ghibli and its films

studio ghibli story Image via Studio Ghibli

Studio Ghibli was founded by Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, Toshio Suzuki and Yasuyoshi Tokuma. Miyazaki had met Takahata at Toei Animation; Suzuki and Tokuma met Miyazaki during his time at Telecom Animation Film. Miyazaki first found great success with his manga, titled Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which is about a princess living on a post-apocalyptic Earth with a toxic ecosystem. she gets involved in a war between kingdoms as an environmental catastrophe threatens humanity. Tokuma encouraged Miyazaki to turn around Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind in a movie and it eventually came out on March 11, 1984. It grossed 1.48 billion yen at the box office and generated an additional 742 million yen in distribution revenue. Most people say that Nausicaä was Miyazaki’s pivotal work that cemented his reputation as an animator and creator of films depicting important societal themes. The following year (1985), Studio Ghibli was created.

The story of Studio Ghibli is that of a team that works hard to bring beautiful and thoughtful films to the world. In the documentary, Endless Man: Hayao Miyazaki, we see the filmmaker giving 110% of his everything to perfection. He always pushes himself to grab more, which is perfectly visible when he finds CGI and works with a young team of animators who help him in his short film about a caterpillar named Boro. At one point he said:

“This song ‘Let It Go’ is popular now. It’s about being yourself. But it is horrible. Self-satisfied people are boring. We have to push hard and surpass ourselves.

Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli also focus on creating realistic representations of human beings and promoting messages of peace, environmentalism, feminism, love and family. The host said that the anime industry is very unrealistic when it comes to drawing people and is “produced by humans who can’t stand watching other humans … that’s why the industry is full of otaku! (someone obsessed with computers or particular aspects of popular culture at the expense of their social skills).

Studio Ghibli continues to grow over time

While Studio Ghibli films are still mostly hand drawn, studio producer Toshio Suzuki said it was almost impossible to “stop CGI from repossessing animated films,” which made some most interesting scenes from Endless man. There’s a scene where Miyazaki is seen observing a real caterpillar with a magnifying glass and he’s doing some rough sketches for the CGI team because he wants to make sure they’re doing it right.

I went to a Japanese immersion preschool and remember watching a lot of Miyazaki movies when I was young. While I have my personal favorites (Totoro forever!), Here are the movies Studio Ghibli has released:

  • Cagliostro Castle (1979)
  • Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
  • Castle in the sky (1986)
  • My neighbor Totoro (1988)
  • Kiki’s delivery service (1989)
  • Porco Rosso (1992)
  • Princess mononoke (1997)
  • Abducted as if by magic (2001)
  • Howl’s moving castle (2004)
  • Ponyo (2008)
  • The wind picks up (2013)
  • Earwig and the witch (2020)
  • How do you live? (to confirm)

Now that Miyazaki is out of retirement, I can’t wait to see what he has to come up with next. How do you live? it seems to be beautiful and I hope he will not “withdraw” any more. In all fairness though, even if he says he’s giving up on animating, I still take him with a grain of salt. As Suzuki says in Endless man, Miyazaki will always be part of the animation world. He says so succinctly: “He wants to continue creating until his death.”

You can watch all Studio Ghibli movies as well as The Endless Man: Hayao Miyazaki on HBO Max.

Do you know the works of Hayao Miyazaki? What is your favorite Studio Ghibli movie? Is there something in the history of Studio Ghibli that I missed? Let us know in the comments below!

Featured Image via Bago Games

Keilin Huang is a freelance writer who enjoys the Oxford comma, reading her endless stack of library books, and Reeses’ cups of peanut butter. She thanks her father for introducing her to his Superman comics and probably specialized in journalism thanks to Lois Lane. Contact her at [email protected]


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