Release Date: April 30, 2019
* Spoiler Alert
Hayao Miyazaki is the Never-Ending Man. This documentary about his attempt at retirement is finally arriving on home video, and it shows he’s not ready for that quieter life just yet. He loves art and he loves creating. In his spare time, he’s working on illustrations for display at the Ghibli Museum and his home life is not the focus. His relationship with the Studio is more important. This work directed by Kaku Arakawa simply follows the day-to-day life of this filmmaker and stays unobtrusive as we see him make magic.
This studio was formed to allow him to express all his creative visions. Whether that’s to explore spirituality and reveal the essence of being, to see the production process is a rare look in a world not often discussed. Without him, the little prefecture of Koganei in Tokyo, Japan would seem like another quiet neighbourhood.
This film is quite exquisite with the brief insights offered by colleagues. Had more of them survived (it’s sad to learn many passed on), I’m sure more interviews would have been done to offer glimpses to who Miyazaki-san was during his prime. Anyone who does not know him may see him as a simple shopkeeper who is not only hard on himself but also with others. The apron he wears only affirms this idea.
When he’s in deep thought, there’s a sparkle in his eye. Although he complains about being old, it’s amazing to see the vigor return when the project he is working on comes alive in pre-visualization. Filming occurred while he was working on Boro the Caterpillar and to see him embrace the digital medium to animate was not without criticism.
Miyazaki provided a lot of hand-drawn storyboards and stills. It’s surprising he did not say to his team that we should just make it traditional midway in production, but he wanted to see what computers can do. Wireframe animation can speed up some processes, and details in cutting edge works (from the likes of DreamWorks and Pixar) with texture mapping and rendering hair can aid in giving the animated work a sense of realism. To deal with that in the cel animation would take a lot of work!
Another topic explored is in how artificial intelligence can replace the workforce. this discourse makes for an important subtext for new and current animators to discuss. It’s the highlight of this documentary, and I mention this detail because MTV style computer animated cartoons rarely look perfect. It’s a new age style which takes time getting used to. This discourse is best saved for scholarly study than in what Miyazaki-San believes is an affront to humanity. A segment showed engineers looking stupefied as they wanted to push the envelope of what computers can do with emulating human motion and this respected filmmaker had harsh words to say.
Two different versions of the same documentary are offered in Shout Factory’s release. Toshio Suzuki is the general manager of the studio and is perhaps the only person who understands Hayao more than others. The shorter version includes narration in English for those needing context with the moments happening on screen. Both tell the same story, and I favour the longer version since it lets me decide for myself what this master craftsman is like. He’s simply driven once when he has a goal to achieve.
4½ Stars out of 5