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.


Heinz said...

Awesome post. Great picture.

J.R.D.S. said...

My wish is for the shorts not to end up on YouTube, nor, idealistically, on home video, from whence they would quickly make the leap to the former, but to compete on the festival circuit as other short films do. Firstly so as to get more people seeing short films and seeing them in cinemas; also out of interest as to how they'd fare on it and the perspective such relatively traditional, studio-made, high-frame rate cartoons side-by-side with independent films would give to each other. How this could be made to reach Suzuki as a suggestion or why it might have been rejected or not thought of already I'm far from sure of.

Cory Gross said...

I'm surprised that releasing the museum shorts wold be considered, given that they are such a financial draw for the instiution.

I don't believe for one second that these shorts are some kind of rebuff to the captialism of the movie industry. They are one more means of increasing visitation to the museum. I work in a museum and I wish we had a draw as potent as a rotating series of short films made by a world-reknowned auteur that can only be seen in our theatre.

The inverse is why I'm all for seeing them released on the home market: I can't afford a trip to Japan every couple months to see the next short. Of course that doesn't solve the distribution problem, in that Disney is already refusing to supplement the feature films with bonus material that is available (i.e.: Imaginary Flying Machines as a bonus on Castle in the Sky or Porco Rosso, Iblard Jikan as a bonus on Whisper of the Heart). I wouldn't hold my breath to see them anyways.

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