He's been threatening to retire for years, but even at 70, Hayao Miyazaki can't seem to slow down. While he carries on developing films for other directors, he's also lately been toying with the idea of making his first sequel, Porco Rosso: The Last Sortie.
As for the original, "How to describe Miyazaki's wonderful 1992 animation, Porco Rosso?" asks Time Out London's David Jenkins. "Porco is a WWI fighter pilot who spends his days getting in to intricate dogfights with air pirates in and around the Adriatic Sea area. The twist is that he unable to bask in his many great military victories, or indeed court the girl of his dreams, as, due to a foul curse, he has assumed the appearance of a pig. As usual with Miyazaki, the plot fits, starts and digresses at will, taking in the textures of pre-fascist Italy, details on the history of aviation and a lucid discussion on gender equality and physical beauty."
To back up a bit, a snippet from Wikipedia: "Following the success of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind , Miyazaki co-founded the animation production company Studio Ghibli with [Isao] Takahata in 1985, and has produced nearly all of his subsequent work through it. Miyazaki continued to gain recognition with his next three films. Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986) recounts the adventure of two orphans seeking a magical castle-island that floats in the sky; My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro, 1988) tells of the adventure of two girls and their interaction with forest spirits; and Kiki's Delivery Service (1989), adapted from a novel by Eiko Kadono, tells the story of a small-town girl who leaves home to begin life as a witch in a big city."
"The true star of Princess Mononoke  is its creator, Hayao Miyazaki," wrote David Ng in Images in 1999. "He takes animation a step further than anyone else by creating images we can't imagine imagining."
As we're still in the season of lists, let's turn to Dave Kehr's for the New York Times in 2002. His #1: "At a moment when traditional hand-drawn animation is disappearing in favor of the computer-aided, 3D variety, Hayao Miyazaki's anime masterpiece flutters on the scene like the last of the snowy egrets. The tale of a little girl who finds herself working in a bathhouse for Japan's Shinto gods, Spirited Away has the emotional resonance of classic Disney and the expressive elegance of a woodblock print." Ayumi Suzuki has argued in Jump Cut that Spirited Away is "the film that most firmly depicts Miyazaki's denunciation of a capitalist mentality, especially in relation to issues we see in post-modern Japan, namely the loss of spiritual value and identity." In October, Killian Fox noted in a write-up for the Guardian's list of the best sci-fi and fantasy films of all time (Spirited Away ranks #8) that this "marvellous film deservedly won the Oscar for best animated feature in 2003, and it remains the highest-grossing film in Japanese history." Here's one of my own favorite scenes.
In 2005, Slant's Ed Gonzalez found Howl's Moving Castle "inundated with spellbinding set pieces (the best may be a race between Sophie and the Witch of the Waste up a staircase) and intricate details, none more impressive than the castle itself, which suggests a Sino Epcot Center whose front door opens randomly to different corners of the world, a concept that allows Miyazaki to revisit old haunts, from the dreamy wastelands of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind to the seaside ports of Porco Rosso.... [W]hat the film lacks in backstory, subtext, even logic and emotion, it more than makes up in sheer force of invention — it's a frustrating mobius strip, but it's impossible to take your eyes off of it as it repeatedly falls back and caves in on itself."
Manohla Dargis in the NYT in 2009: "To watch the image of a young girl burbling with laughter as she runs atop cresting waves in Ponyo is to be reminded of how infrequently the movies seem to express joy now, how rarely they sweep us up in ecstatic reverie. It's a giddy, touchingly resonant image of freedom — the animated girl is as liberated from shoes as from the laws of nature — one that the director Hayao Miyazaki lingers on only as long as it takes your eyes and mind to hold it close, love it deeply and immediately regret its impermanence."
Last month, Stephen Sarrazin reviewed the relatively new and unreleased short screening at the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo, Chu-Zumo.
Midnight Eye's Tom Mes interviewed Miyazaki in 2002; the Guardian's Xan Brooks spoke with him in 2009; the Telegraph's David Gritten in 2009. Pittsburgh's ToonSeum is celebrating the 70th with a series of screenings this month. Salutes in the German-language press today: Fritz Göttler (Süddeutsche Zeitung), Daniel Kothenschulte (Berliner Zeitung) and Susanne Ostwald (Neue Zürcher Zeitung).
Update: Cartoon Brew's Amid Amidi points us to Margaret Talbot's 2005 profile for the New Yorker.
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