Made as a Japanese TV movie back in 2016, taking 3 years before getting a commercial release at the TIFF Lightbox, one can understand the limited attraction of this documentary. Though Studio Ghibli films are the bread and butter of Japanese animation features, still the studio’s film and director’s names are still unknown to many Americans who will never see anything not North American. Unless one is a Studio Ghibli fan, fascinated by the films and an admirer of Hayao Miyazaki, the studio’s founder and the Academy Award winning director (for PRINCESS MONONOKE) of more than a dozen world wide successes, the target audience is limited.
The film begins with the camera panning an empty animation studio following Miyazaki’s announcement to the press and staff of his retirement. But he soon begins work on a short film, BORO THE CATERPILLAR (in 2018) using CGI for the first time and then contemplating the main of a full length feature, which he jokingly claims could be completed after his death.
The film is clear to point out Miyazaki’s successes with a collage of his hits including SPIRITED AWAY (my favourite), MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO, PONYO, HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE and his last feature THE WIND RISES.
The doc clearly narrow the scope to the director’s work and his daily routines. It clearly omits anything of his past, his childhood or his influences. Nothing is revealed of his family either. In one scene, Miyazaki mentions his wife, but the film has not a single shot of her. He is also shown making his own meals (often having ramen from pack of instant noodles) and walking around what seems an empty typical Japanese house.
Miyazaki the man is shown to be a simple one, but an over-obsessed animator that strives for his vision 100% totally driving those that have a different view crazy if not out of the picture. He has a cigarette in hand most of the time and obviously smokes too much. Miyazaki is also shown to be a kind man. When shown a CGI animated segment of a zombie like creature writhing in pain, he astounds all present that he says he wants nothing to do with it. “You have no idea of pain.” He relates a story of meeting a man who suffers pain that he could not lift up his hand to ‘high five’. He insists on the importance of being sympathetic to pain, which again is illustrated in the emotion-like characteristics in all his animated characters and figures.
Besides being a film about Miyazaki, the film also reveals the difficult task of CGI and how much work goes into producing CGI effects. One CGI animator even claims: “Perhaps it is easier to do hand-drawn”. The film also questions the issue of retirement among the old. Miyazaki says he’d rather work than do nothing, a philosophy many seniors who have all their faculties share.
The doc turns out to tackle more issues than expected which audiences hopefully will get to learn more of this legendary director.