Portrait of the Artists - Miyazaki and Takahata
This photograph of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata was taken for the August, 2010 issue of Brutus Magazine in Japan, as part of their featured coverage of Arrietty the Borrower. It's a rare chance to see the two greatest living filmmakers together. Despite their long friendship, now dating back 45 years, Miya-san and Paku-san do not work together at Ghibli, and haven't for many years.
I've yet to understand precisely why this is so; most likely it is just the case of two very driven and strong-willed geniuses learning to respect one another's space. But I think Mononoke Hime heralded a radical change in Studio Ghibli, from humble anime studio to blockbuster powerhouse. Miyazaki was always made for sweeping epics, while Takahata preferred quiet, personal stories. The Japanese public crave lavish escapist spectacles, movies like Star Wars and Titanic and Harry Potter and Avatar. One director can deliver those roller coaster rides; the other cannot.
Notice how Miya-san's Princess Mononoke is followed by Paku-san's My Neighbors the Yamadas. Are these two movies not polar opposites of one another? Could Yamadas be seen as a rebuke, a counterpoint to the sweeping blockbuster epic? Even the taglines are competing: "Ikiro!" says Miyazaki. "Don't Overdo It!" responds Takahata. You can see the friendship and, yes, the rivalry in those lines, and soon time will tell who has fell, and who's been left behind.
Ghibli's Blockbuster Era is a fascinating topic for discussion, and it's one that deserves to be examined because it brings us right to the crossroads we are facing today. Hayao Miyazaki is almost certainly entering his final decade as a filmmaker, and given the length of time needed to plan, prepare, and produce feature films, he only has enough time for one or two more. This is why we are hearing so much talk about his moving to short films for the Ghibli Museum, while the younger generation at Ghibli prepares to take the reins. This could also be the reason why Toshio Suzuki talks about opening the museum shorts to the world, via Youtube or digital distribution or even Blu-Ray.
And meanwhile, we sit in hopeful anticipation for Takahata to finally return for one last movie, one more work of genius. If only there were still room for another Gauche the Cellist, another Omohide Poro Poro, another Grave of the Fireflies. Those are not movies that can earn 10 Billion Yen at the box office, and this is an age where 10 Billion is the bare minimum for success.
So, as always, success is fleeting, danger lurks behind every corner, and each new movie could be the last. It has always been thus for Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. The story has now been told for 45 years. The story will continue.