Chief executive officer, Studio Ghibli
Born: January 5, 1941, in Tokyo, Japan.
Education: Gakushuin University, BA, 1963.
Family: Son of Katsuji Miyazaki (aircraft-parts manufacturer); married Akemi Ota (animator); children: two.
Career: Toei Animation, 1963–1971, animator; A Pro, 1971–1973, animator and director; Zuiyo Pictures, 1973–1978, animator and director; Tokyo Movie Shinsha, 1979–1982, director; Tokuma, 1982–1998, director; Studio Ghibli, 1985–1998, director and producer; 1999–, CEO.
Address: Studio Ghibli, 1-4-25, Kajino-cho, Koganei-shi, 184, Japan; http://www.ntv.co.jp/ghibli.
■ The director, producer, animator, and storyteller Hayao Miyazaki was the leader of one of the most successful animated motion picture studios in the world, Studio Ghibli. The studio arose out of his success with the motion picture Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind , and its continued success was wholly dependent on the motion pictures that he wrote and directed. In the 1990s he created the most successful films in the history of Japan, setting numerous box-office records. While his films were already popular among anime enthusiasts worldwide, a distribution deal with Disney Studios in 1996 brought several of Miyazaki's works to broader audiences; he had established himself as an innovator and artist at least equal in stature to Walt Disney himself. As a leader Miyazaki attracted to his productions some of Japan's finest writers, artists, directors, and producers, as well as the outstanding composer Joe Hisaishi, whose scores for Miyazaki's films became classics themselves.
Miyazaki was born on January 5, 1941, in Tokyo. He was one of four sons of Katsuji Miyazaki, who worked in the family business Miyazaki Airplanes, which manufactured parts for warplanes. Miyazaki indicated later in life that he felt guilty that his family had profited from Japan's efforts in World War II. His dislike of militarism would be reflected in such films as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Porco Rosso . Partly to escape the American bombing of Tokyo and partly to be closer to the Miyazaki Airplanes factory in Kanuma City, Katsuji Miyazaki moved his family to Utsunomiya City, where they lived from 1944 to 1946. During this period the young Hayao may have become familiar with the forest that would figure prominently in My Neighbor Totoro . His mother was sick with spinal tuberculosis from 1947 to 1955, staying in a hospital for three of those years; this state of affairs prefigured the family situation presented in My Neighbor Totoro .
In 1958 Miyazaki became interested in animated movies, his imagination having been stirred by Hakujaden (Legend of the White Snake), a motion picture that was produced by Toei Animation and was Japan's first color feature-length anime. At that time, however, Miyazaki wanted to be not an animator but a comic-book artist. He majored in economics and political science at Gakushuin University, graduating in 1963, but his heart was in the arts, especially as they appealed to children; he pursued his interest in comic books as a member of the university's children's literature club.
In April 1963 Miyazaki became an animator for Toei Animation, which produced both theatrical motion pictures and television series. He was taught the basics of animation and began at the bottom of the artistic hierarchy, laboriously filling in the cel-by-cel movements of characters and objects; he found the work enjoyable and therein probably learned to accurately draw characters. He impressed many of his coworkers with his fertile imagination and proposed numerous story ideas to the studio; he quickly became a leader in the animators' union. In 1964 he met the animator Akemi Ota, who would become his wife in 1968. That year the first motion picture in which he played a major role was released: Prince of the Sun , a collaboration with the chief animator Yasuo Otsuka and the director Isao Takahata. Takahata would later serve as the producer for some of Miyazaki's own movies.
In 1971 Miyazaki joined Takahata at A Pro, where he became involved in a failed effort to make an animated feature of Pippi Longstockings . In June 1973 he moved to Zuiyo Pictures, where he designed the scenes for Heidi: Girl of the Alps . By then he had established himself as an outstanding background-scene artist for both motion pictures and television animation. During the 1970s in addition to motion pictures he worked on manga , or graphic novels. The year 1979 saw the release of the first important picture directed by Miyazaki, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro . In the early 1980s he began one of his most popular manga series, based on the character Nausicaä, a princess living in a future where humanity is in peril of extinction.
In 1982 the Tokuma production company asked Miyazaki, who was by then an instructor for beginning animators and a very experienced director of television cartoons, to make the Nausicaä stories into an animated feature. Miyazaki brought in Takahata to produce the film, while he wrote the screenplay, created the story board, and painted the scenes and the characters that would be used by his animation team. Work began in 1983; Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was released in 1984. The film was not a smash hit, but it proved profitable at the box office, and out of its success Tokuma created Studio Ghibli—which Miyazaki pronounced "jee-blee," after the Italian word for a dry Saharan wind as well as the name for a World War I aircraft. Nausicaä later proved to be a landmark achievement, as it had set a precedent for much of the Japanese anime that would follow, introducing realistically drawn characters and grim themes.
While Studio Ghibli produced motion pictures by people other than Miyazaki, for the most part the studio's reputation rested on what he accomplished. He directed Laputa: Castle in the Sky , which was released in 1986. (When later released by Disney, the word Laputa was dropped because of offensive connotations for Spanish speakers.) The film exhibited Miyazaki's love of all things flying—featuring an airborne castle—and included two of his recurring preoccupations: an interest in caring for nature and a mistrust of military organizations. The year 1988 saw the release of one of the greatest children's motion pictures ever made, My Neighbor Totoro , which ironically almost brought about the death of Studio Ghibli. The picture was released as a cofeature with Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies , a story of misery, hopelessness, and prolonged, agonizing deaths. The pairing was a terrible mismatch, and Japanese audiences stayed away from both films. Miyazaki saved My Neighbor Totoro with a canny marketing campaign for stuffed toys based on figures in the movie; the figures caught on and were popular well into the 2000s. With its depiction of the real forest near where Miyazaki had lived while a boy, the film inspired an environmentalist movement in Japan. Characters from the movie became part of Studio Ghibli's logo as well as symbols of the studio's motion pictures.
Next came 1989's Witch's Delivery Service (renamed Kiki's Delivery Service in America), which gained an international following. Miyazaki remarked that he set the picture in a world where World War II never happened; the seaside city where Kiki settles down appears to be French, but it is populated by a variety of ethnic groups. The motion picture was a box-office hit, setting records in Japan. In 1992 Porco Rosso (sometimes called The Crimson Pig ) was released, wherein Miyazaki indulged his passion for aircraft by depicting strange and wonderful airplanes based on actual planes from the 1920s. In his drawings Miyazaki sometimes depicted himself as a large pig; Porco Rosso featured a World War I ace who was turned into a pig. Whispers of the Heart of 1995 was a charmer that appealed more to teenage girls than to boys; the film introduced the Baron, a cat that would reappear in 2002.
Miyazaki then wrote the screenplay, drew the complete story board (as he usually did), and directed Princess Mononoke . He was criticized in the Japanese press for under-taking something that presumably no animated motion picture could accomplish: the telling of a grand epic on a massive scale. When released in Japan in 1997, Princess Mononoke was a smash hit, surpassing the success of E.T. and setting a record in grossing over $150 million. The film was a major achievement by an artist and leader at the height of his powers—but in the making of the film Miyazaki may have already been losing his eyesight; he used computer animation extensively in the movie's production, even though he very much preferred each cel to be hand-drawn. Princess Mononoke was the first of Miyazaki's movies to attract a large American audience. In 2001 Miyazaki topped that film with Spirited Away , perhaps the greatest animated motion picture ever made and widely deemed one of the best motion pictures of any kind. Therein Miyazaki united brilliant painted backgrounds with cogent characterization, all while making a fantasy world seem more real than the real world. The movie featured Miyazaki's love for children as well as his environmentalist concerns but above all his wonderful storytelling. Spirited Away broke all Japanese box-office records and was a popular success around the globe.
In the mid-1990s, Studio Ghibli's parent company, Tokuma, hit hard times. Fortunately the big box-office success in Japan of Kiki's Delivery Service had attracted the attention of Disney; Disney offered a deal that would relieve Tokuma of its financial burdens in exchange for the distribution rights worldwide—save in Southeast Asia—for motion pictures produced by Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki's approval was required to complete the deal; he gave it, explaining that he already had more money than he could possibly spend in one lifetime and that Tokuma had helped him out when he had needed it. The deal was formalized in 1996 and underwent revisions thereafter, such as the later addition of DVD distribution rights for Disney.
The motion pictures distributed by Disney would be released under the Buena Vista and Miramax labels. Although Disney had declared that it wanted to bring Miyazaki's genius to the world without tampering with the movies, it did not keep its promise. The ending of Spirited Away was slightly altered, and Kiki's Delivery Service dropped a background appearance of Miyazaki himself while adding dialogue not in the Japanese original. Meanwhile for some reason the Disney Store refused to sell Studio Ghibli movies in its shops.
On January 14, 1998, Miyazaki had announced that he would be leaving Studio Ghibli. His eyesight was failing, and he believed that he could not guarantee as high a quality of art in his motion pictures as he wished. He intended to make small films for the Studio Ghibli Museum—insisting that the museum should be full of children being noisy—and to train young animators. Yet on January 16, 1999, he returned as the shocho , or leader, of Studio Ghibli, taking a strong role in asserting organizational discipline and focusing employees on their tasks. Using computer animation to help maintain artistic control of his creations, he directed the fine The Cat Returns (2002), which featured the Baron from Whispers of the Heart , and Lord Howl's Castle (2004), based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones.
Feldman, Steven, "Hayao Miyazaki Biography, Revision 2," Nausicaa.net, June 6, 1994, http://www.nausicaa.net/miyazaki/miyazaki/miyazaki_biography.txt .
Momoe, Mizukubo, "It's Child's Play for Studio Ghibli," Look Japan , June 2002, pp. 34–36.
—Kirk H. Beetz