Some thoughts on the whole “Studio Ghibli” fiasco

I call it a fiasco, because it totally mislead a large number of people.

I had been getting hearsay about this whole thing for a long time: “Studio Ghibli is going to close” and whatnot. I had been told by someone that “Studio Ghibli is stopping animation of animated feature films.”

At this point, that was pretty much all I knew. I had no concrete details. I knew some rumors, and I also knew that Hayao Miyazaki was looking to retire soon. I have also heard rumors that Isao Takahata, co-founder of Ghibli and longtime friend and collaborator with Miyazaki, is looking to retire. Another co-founder, Toshio Suzuki, announced earlier this year his intention to retire from producing but he remains the Studio’s representative director.

I did kinda know that this would happen eventually. And so does Hayao Miyazaki himself. That image had been circulating around the internet, and it supposedly comes from a documentary called The Kingdom of Dreams & Mandess. I myself cannot verify this, nor the subtitles, because the documentary is not released in the United States (yet).

My perception of the situation was basically, Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki are retiring, if not already retired, and Studio Ghibli will become a license management company.

Here are my thoughts as of then:

  • Studio Ghibli closing is regrettable, but inevitable; nothing lasts forever. Look no further than the opening passage of The Tale of the Heike for an insight into impermanence:

The sound of the Gion Shōja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sāla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind.

Translation was done by Helen Craig McCullough. Impermanence is an important concept in Buddhism (in fact it forms the basis of its entire metaphysics), so I am not surprised that Hayao Miyazaki would be quite comfortable with Ghibli closing.

  • While it is regrettable, it needs to happen: Ghibli is far too reliant on Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. I have not cared for anything this studio has made in the past 15 years. Ghibli is also a large studio with a lot of young talent, and that young talent needs to either be given a chance to create their own work, or they have to move onto other things. In my opinion, Ghibli is a studio resting on its laurels.

I continue to believe those two points, however, things have changed. As it turns out, the closing of Ghibli’s animation department was not the entire story. Yes, it is closing, but no one said that it was closing forever.

Essentially, what is going on is, Studio Ghibli is restructuring. The general manager of Ghibli, Toshio Suzuki, made it clear what they want to do when he retired in March from producing. As was said in an article by Anime News Network, “Instead, he hoped to step aside and boost the new era of Ghibli with “young strength” such as 36-year-old Nishimura and 40-year-old Yonebayashi.” They are closing the animation department for now, possibly so they can save money while they figure how to adapt to changing conditions. This, by the way, is not uncommon; businesses will shut down temporarily all the time, either because of economic conditions or so they can plan.

They have realized that they will not have the financial resources to continue operating the same way; instead of releasing a movie every year that breaks $100 million in revenue, they will have to make due with half or a third of that. These “young strength” cannot bring in the same money as Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. One plan they talked about was switching how they produce movies: instead of keeping full-time animators on-hand all the time, they might have to change to freelance workers or temporary hire; that is, animators will only be there when the department is working on a project. It also worth mentioning that changing the structure of a business is not something that can done overnight.

What about Ghibli becoming a license management company? Well, that is more like a plan B. If Ghibli cannot remain financially solvent, then they will go with that.

Of course, anything is possible, but the point is that nothing is really set in stone right now. They do plan to continue making movies, but they have to figure out how to keep making them with less money and with new talent. Keep in mind that Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki, and Toshio Suzuki are all retirement age; they are the ones that have been running the show, but now they have to hand that job over to young talent. Unfortunately, that young talent cannot make movies that sell as well as their predecessors.

One last thing, and this concerns the retirement of Isao Takahata: I have not found anything that makes me believe this. The closest I can find is speculation. Is he retiring? Well, eventually. But I do not know when, and I highly doubt anyone outside of Ghibli knows either.

UPDATE: Oh I do not pin the blame on Studio Ghibli themselves, just bad translations and baseless rumors. Check your sources, kids.


3 thoughts on “Some thoughts on the whole “Studio Ghibli” fiasco

  1. tamerlane

    I think Takahata is basically retired. His recent film took over a decade to complete, and I don’t think he has another decade of life in him. Although I would love another film from him I think he’s too much of a perfectionist to finish one in time.

    Otherwise, I agree with the article. The overreaction to the news was likely nostalgia for Ghibli films mixed with a lack of knowledge about their current status. Ghibli needs to be restructured.

    1. optimalexplosion Post author

      I think bad translations and stuff taken way, way, way out of context were bigger factors. Nobody has even seen The Kingdom of Dreams & Madness, but I guess they’ll believe whatever they read on the internet.

  2. Pingback: Opinion: Toshi Suzuki’s comments about Hideaki Anno’s role as the “next-Miyazaki” | An Honest Look

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