Following the initial success of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Japanese animation Studio Ghibli was founded in 1985 by Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzu. Since then, the small studio has released twenty feature films, and the passion behind its productions has found its way into the hearts of both the young and old, with titles such as My Neighbour Totoro, and the internationally acclaimed Spirited Away.
The past few days have seen statements and rumours regarding the future of the studio gone viral, instantly resulting in a lot of confusion and misunderstandings. So what is really going on? Is the studio shutting down? A bit of context might be in order to explain the situation as it stands right now.
Despite being cherished by fans all over the world, it has been an established fact for a few years that the studio has been struggling to turn their movies into financial profit in order to cover the substantial expenses of bringing their magical stories to life. Following his final project for the studio, The Wind Rises, Studio Ghibli’s main director and creative genius Hayao Miyazaki announced his definite retirement from feature films in September last year. Miyazaki joyfully announced that despite leaving animation behind, he would like to continue working on other projects, and that his retirement from Studio Ghibli offered a long sought for freedom to do other things unrelated to anime.
The main reason for Miyazaki stepping down was related to the toll it takes to make feature films, and the 72-year old legend explained that he was no longer able to devote the time and effort that a feature film requires. Miyazaki’s involvement in the films associated with his name has been paramount to the studio’s success, having insisted on being in charge of scripts, storyboards and drawings in order to create movies in line with his original vision. Having tried to delegate responsibility, 1995’s release of Whisper of the Heart saw Miyazaki dismayed at director Yoshifumi Kondo’s interpretation of the initial script and storyboards. He therefore felt it necessary to maintain complete creative control from this point onwards, a task that he now feels he can no longer adhere to.
Since Miyazaki relinquished creative control, Studio Ghibli has released two feature length movies; The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and the company’s most recent production, When Marnie Was There, which was released last month. Unfortunately, The Tale of Princess Kaguya generated a huge loss for the studio due to box office sales being nowhere near the production’s price tag of 5 billion yen. The legendary studio’s co-founder Toshio Suzuki also retired as producer this year, albeit not leaving the company, but assuming the role as general manager. Suzuki claimed that his decision was not related to Miyazaki leaving the company but that he wanted to pave way for a new generation of studio executives.
It was Suzuki’s appearance on TBS television program Jōnetsu Tairiku, which aired this past Sunday, that made the internet blow up: a Tumblr user allegedly translated a news article stating that the studio was closing down. Coupled with Miyazaki’s reflection about Studio Ghibli’s inevitable demise in the documentary A Kingdom of Madness and Dreams released last year, fans and news sites alike immediately assumed that the news was true and that the studio was indeed shutting down.
As it turns out, the devastating news was not entirely true, as the same news giants soon reported back. Japanese media has not yet reported anything about the studio closing down, and a closer look at the Jōnetsu Tairiku program conveys that Suzuki emphasizes that the studio is looking to restructure as it takes a break in production, not necessarily meaning that Studio Ghibli will shut down on a permanent basis. Suzuki also says that the studio might be disbanding the production department as it reassesses a future without Miyazaki. Alongside this, rumours regarding Japanese media company Dwango being involved in a possible purchase of Studio Ghibli have surfaced online, but no official source has confirmed a possible buyout.
Dwango is already collaborating with NHK, Polygon Pictures and Swedish company Saltkråkan, alongside Studio Ghibli in regards to the upcoming TV series Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, which is being produced by Hayao Miyazaki’s son Goro Miyazaki. Ronia the Robber’s Daughter is departing from the studio’s usual animation as it is a CGI production made in 3D, making it similar in style to that seen in the PS3 release of Ni No Kuni, Studio Ghibli’s first video game, released last year in collaboration with independent games studio Level-5.
Studio Ghibli has become an iconic and integral part of anime and Japanese culture, both in the east and west. The studio has released movies that have found their way into the hearts of millions of people all over the world, with their vast range of delightful characters and settings ranging from nostalgically charming to the beautifully eerie. It is clear that the studio is in a state of flux at the moment, but with projects like Ronia the Robber’s Daughter and no confirmed press release regarding the company’s closure, fans will hopefully be able to enjoy several more feature films from the legendary studio.