Anyone whose children grew up with Studio Ghibli will mourn the news that lead animator and founder Hayao Miyazaki, now 73, is to retire. His final film, The Wind Rises , was released in Japan at the end of last year and will open in London on 9 May; and to celebrate his life and work, the BFI are running a season of Studio Ghibli features, opening on 2 April with 'Studio Ghibli, Masters of Anime'.
If you’re not familiar with his oeuvre, banish from your mind thoughts of saucer-eyed heroines with oversized boobs and pre-pubescent faces, and Saturday morning children’s television featuring incomprehensible Pokémon beasties. Miyasaki’s exquisite hand-drawn animation is visually ravishing, lyrical and deeply humane. Steeped in the Shinto animist mythology of natural spirits, his work also tackles environmental degradation and Japan’s bloody 20th century, and has adapted the work of Western children’s writers like Diana Wynne-Jones, Ursula Le Guin and Mary Norton. And his influences have been hugely varied – the villages of Castle in the Sky (1984), for example, were apparently inspired by a visit to Wales during the miners’ strike of 1984-5.
While Disney’s animated output was stuck in the creative doldrums (anyone remember the cheap and nasty-looking Oliver and Company or The Great Mouse Detective ?) Miyasaki was animating and directing his first feature, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984). This epic romantic adventure featured his visual and thematic trademarks – lovingly rendered landscapes and (especially) skyscapes, a courageous female heroine, and an impassioned environmental warning. It’s no coincidence that by 1989, Disney had got its mojo back with The Little Mermaid , a film clearly influenced by Miyasaki’s reverence for the natural world.
By 1985, Studio Ghibli proper had been founded in Tokyo with Miyaski’s co-director Isao Takahata and producer Toshio Suzuki. Over the next 30 years, highlights of the studio’s production included Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbour Totoro, Whisper of the Heart, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle , and most famously, Spirited Away . This 2001 animated feature tells the story of ten-year-old Chihiro, whose parents are turned into pigs by a wicked witch and who must enter the spirit world to rescue them. It dislodged Titanic from the top of the Japanese box office and is the only traditionally-animated winner to date of an Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
For his final film, The Wind Rises , Miyaski has chosen an unexpected subject – the life of Second World War fighter plane designer Jiro Horikoshi. ‘Visually,’ writes Ann Hornaday in the Guardian, ‘The Wind Rises is a thing of sensual, contemplative poetry, from the pearlescent cloudscapes and verdant countryside of Horikoshi's youth to the hulking grey factories he visits in pre-War Germany as a young man. Of Miyazaki's many gifts as a film-maker, perhaps the most subtle is the way he honours time and silence and stillness, values that are in lamentably short supply in most modern-day productions. The Wind Rises possesses an almost courtly sense of innocence, even as Horikoshi's purity of purpose gives way to historical forces outside his control, and beautiful dreams give way to nightmares.’
For details of the BFI’s complete Studio Ghibli feature film retrospective, visit the website .
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|What||Studio Ghibli Season, BFI|
|Where||BFI Southbank, Belvedere Road, Southbank, London, SE1 8XT | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
02 Apr 14 – 31 May 14, 12:00 AM
|Website||Click here to book via the BFI|