You’d think that after announcing his retirement from the feature film biz last year, 73-year-old Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, never one to seek out press, would be welcoming a time of quietude.
But with a third Oscar nomination in his pocket for “The Wind Rises,” which has earned $112 million in Japan, and with an English-language version to be released in the U.S. by Disney on Feb. 21, Miyazaki’s days are far from innocuous.
“The Wind Rises” tells the story of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the A6M fighter plane, known in WWII as the Zero, and is a celebration of engineering as art, hewing close to the themes of Miyazaki’s previous Academy-friendly works: “Spirited Away” (2002), which won the Oscar for animated feature, cautions current generations to remember the mistakes of earlier ones; “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2005), which earned a nomination, promotes calm and reason in the face of aggression.
“Wind Rises,” though, includes a more specific concern to Miyazaki, who remembers the deprivation of postwar Japan, and he has not been silent in opposing the attempts of Prime Minster Shinzo Abe to remilitarize Japan.
“I think Japan is facing a crisis situation right now,” he said via a video linkup from Disney’s Tokyo offices on Feb. 4. “We need to learn from history and protect peace in the Asian area. If we leave the situation as it is right now, I think the old kind of nationalism will prevail, and the country will go in the wrong direction.”
Thanks to his films, Miyazaki is so highly regarded in his home country that anything he says is national news (he’s also active on Twitter) — and global acclaim has furthered his reach. So his position has not gone unnoticed by high-ranking political opponents, who have criticized his stance.
Yet “Wind Rises” features Miyazaki’s typically light touch. “I did not portray pacifism as an ideology in my film,” he said. “I wanted to portray young people who strived to live through the difficult times of the 1920s in Japan.”
Miyazaki said the film depicts the era in which his parents lived, and added that the people he chose to highlight from that time were Horikoshi and writer and poet Tatsuo Hori (noted for his work within Japan’s Proletarian Literary Movement). “One is an engineer, one is an author, so those two people became one in my film,” he noted.
The filmmaker credits Studio Ghibli, which he co-founded with Isao Takahata in 1985 with funding from Tokuma Shoten, as his creative sanctuary. The studio, an animation powerhouse, produces 2D animated films, TV series, games and other media content, including Miyazaki’s nine feature films, which have earned nearly $1 billion globally.
Miyazaki got his start in the biz in 1963 at Toei Animation. He was first drawn to film work when, as a young man, he saw Lev Atamanov’s 1957 Russian toon “The Snow Queen,” and was captivated by the character of the young girl in the film. “That character taught me how animation could deeply depict inner feelings,” he said.
While he maintained he hasn’t gone back on his vow to retire, he noted he visits the kindergarten on the studio grounds daily. He’s also fired up about projects he is working on at the Ghibli Museum, located in Inokashira Park in suburban Mitaka, and open to the public.
“I might make something short,” he said, after a bit of rumination. “So nothing has changed really.”