Hayao Miyazaki, who turns 80 years old today, has announced his retirement on more than one occasion, but like so many great artists — from Steven Soderbergh to Cher — he can’t help himself from practicing his gift. At the time of this writing, Miyazaki is deep at work on the movie “How Do You Live?” at Studio Ghibli, the independent animation company he co-founded with fellow animation legend Isao Takahata, who died in 2018.
When HBO Max launched last year, one of the platform’s most exciting offerings was the (near) complete catalog of Studio Ghibli films — which include several of Japan’s top-grossing movies, among them “Princess Mononoke,” “Howl’s Moving Castle” and Oscar winner “Spirited Away” — available for the first time via streaming in the U.S.
Last May, Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki spoke with Variety, explaining that the studio, which had let most of its talented animators go after the completion of “When Marnie Was Here” in 2014, was up and running again.
“Studio Ghibli had always been the studio that would create films for Hayao Miyazaki, so when he retired, it made sense that we stopped and shut down the studio,” Suzuki said. “However, as you know, Hayao Miyazaki came back. He said he wanted to do another film, so we had to get our employees back. What we decided was that this time, with his new hand-drawn animation film, we are going to approach it with smaller numbers of animators over a longer-term period.”
Whereas Ghibli films typically employ around 200 animators, Miyazaki’s latest project calls for just 60, who will work at a slower pace in order for the legendary director to achieve his vision. In the meantime, Studio Ghibli produced another feature, the computer-generated made-for-TV special “Earwig and the Witch,” overseen by Miyazaki’s son Goro (who also helmed the features “Tales from Earthsea” and “From Up on Poppy Hill”). Nearly 50 animators worked on that film, though Ghibli hired them from all over the world — America, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and France.
According to Suzuki, he and Miyazaki have discussed the idea that another director might carry on the company’s legacy in the future. “It’s a secret,” Suzuki said. “Miyazaki came back, and he’s working on this film, but he’s already thinking of the next project, but we’re not saying who’s going to direct that film.”