By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood February 14, 2014 at 8:11PM
Those who were disappointed when Hayao Miyazaki officially announced his retirement back in September thought they saw a ray of hope when rumors circulated that the 73-year-old Studio Ghibli director of Oscar-nominated animated feature "The Wind Rises" might be willing to helm another movie. It all started when The Guardian reported that Miyazaki was working on a manga series, and Ghibli director Isao Takahata suggested that Miyazaki might pull back from retirement: 'I think there is a decent chance that may change. I think so, since I've known him a long time. Don't be at all surprised if that happens."
Miyazaki had also called it quits after "Princess Mononoke" in 1997, vowing to never make a film again, only to release "Spirited Away" in 2001, which won him his Best Animated Feature Oscar.
Well, I hate to break it to you, but during my satellite interview at Team Disney last week, Miyazaki confirmed that he will not direct another movie.
"The Wind Rises" (Disney) played a one-week Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles and New York in its Japanese subtitled version. "The Wind Rises" is not aimed at young kids. It's a gorgeously drawn historical true story of the brilliant designer behind the Zero fighter plane that wrecked havoc in World War II. Disney is opening the dubbed English-language version starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski and Emily Blunt on February 21 (see both trailers below).
Miyazaki and Disney/Pixar animation czar John Lasseter share something rare: they are filmmakers in charge of animation giants in their respective countries, Studio Ghibli and Disney Animation/Pixar, respectively. (TOH! ranks the top ten Studio Ghibli films, and interviews Studio Ghibli executive Geoffrey Wexler.) The two men are mutual fans and friends, going back to Miyazaki's visit in the 80s to the U.S. at the time of the now classic "My Neighbor Totoro" (recently made available on Blu-ray, along with "Howl's Moving Castle"). Where Lasseter has developed a strong collaborative ethic at Pixar, he reveres Miyazaki for dreaming up his stories and drawing much of the storyboards and characters himself.
At Comic-Con in 2009, Miyazaki told the crowd the secret behind his artistry: "My process is thinking, thinking and thinking, thinking about my stories for a long time," he said with a smile. "If you have a better way, let me know." When Lasseter interviewed Miyazaki in front of 6000 fans in Hall H, the Disney/Pixar chief praised him for running a "filmmaker-led studio dedicated to making great movies. That's what it's all about." Backstage, Lasseter said that you could watch the films in Japanese with no subtitles and still figure out what was going on. The language only adds subtlety and depth. "I love the positive messages in all the films," he said. "Miyazaki is inspirational. He celebrates quiet moments."
At Lasseter's Academy tribute to Miyazaki, the Disney/Pixar animation chief provided commentary on his favorite Miyazaki clips: a rousing helicopter rescue operation in "Castle in the Sky," a bar scene with pig-faced aviator "Porco Rosso," the scary magic of "Spirited Away," and the dreamlike catbus scene from "Totoro," as the giant furry creature waits with two little girls in the dark rain at a bus stop. Miyazaki, who studied politics and worked his way up as an animator while always wanting to write manga comics, admits that he never wanted to make Totoro's origins or powers crystal clear. He was thinking about the images in that film for ten years, he said. He doesn't like spending time drawing villains, so he doesn't do it much.
As in "From Up on Poppy Hill," written by Miyazaki and directed by his son Goro, "The Wind Rises" whisks you into another stylized, hand-drawn 2-D look at Japan's past. Miyazaki has always been able to capture, like no other animator, the forces of nature and the great outdoors. And if the critics were handing out the Oscars, he'd probably win it--the film played Telluride, Venice, Toronto and New York film festivals, won the best writing award at the Annies and best animated feature from the National Board of Review. And "The Wind Rises" won best animated feature from critics groups in Boston, Central Ohio, Chicago, New York, San Diego, and Toronto.
Anne Thompson: When you decided to make this film did you think it was going to be your last?