The Wind Rises will be the last feature length movie directed by the living legend, Hayao Miyazaki, a man who has enjoyed a rich, full and long career, famous for his complex and engaging animated universes, we thought it best to honor the works of this amazing man, by looking at his pre-Ghibli life.
Miyazaki was born in Tokyo on January 5th, 1941, his father was the president of Miyazaki Airplane, a company which made components for Japanese WWII fighter planes. In 1944, at the height of the war, the Miyazaki family moved to Utsunomiya in the Tochigi Prefecture, north of Tokyo, taking them away from the devastating attacks befalling Tokyo, and closer to the main plant of his father’s company. Even at this young age, it is apparent that Miyazaki was soaking up inspiration, as flight and flying machines is a staple in almost all of his films.
After the war, as Miyazaki was attending Elementary school, his mother was diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis, which saw her bed-ridden between 1947-1955. It was only from 1950 that she was allowed to leave hospital and be cared for at home. Again, the sickly mother is another trope that often recurs in Miyazaki’s projects, from the hospitalized mother in “My Neighbor Totoro” to the long list of orphans that often stand in as Miyazaki’s protagonists.
From an early age, Miyazaki dreamed of being a manga artist, inspired by the works of the amazing Osamu Tezuka. But during his third year at high school, he watched “The Tale of the White Serpent” in 1958, which was the first full color anime feature film. Taken aback by the film’s beauty, he focused his attention on becoming an animator.
Although he went to Gakushuin University to study Political Science and Economics, he was a prominent member of the “Children’s Literature Research Club,” which kept him drawing and interested in animations. Soon after graduation, he joined Toei Animation in 1963, where he was employed as an in-between artist. But he soon set himself apart, as just a year later he became the labor union leader and in 1965, he pitched an ending to the project “Guillver’s Travels Beyond the Moon” which replaced the original.
His first big break came in 1968, when he was employed as the chief animator, scene designer and concept artist for “Hols: Prince of the Sun,” where he worked alongside Isao Takahata. The two became close friends and would enjoy a fruitful relationship, which saw them co-create some amazing projects, as well as the legendary Studio Ghibli. Takahata is perhaps best known for his light-hearted “Pompoko” and the heart-breaking “Grave of the Fireflies.”
In 1971, the pair left Toei and co-directed a number of projects at several production companies, including Osamu Tezuka’s Mushi Production. But perhaps their most notable and memorable collaboration of that time was co-directing the Lupin III series for TMS Entertainment.
Miyazaki’s first solo-directorial role came in 1978, with his adaptation of Alexander Key’s novel, The Incredible Tide, which took the form of a TV anime series known as “Future Boy Conan.” Although a child’s TV show, it had many of the complexities found in Miyazaki’s more mature films, such as relatable villains, pacifism vs aggression, strong female characters, technology as both an aid and a hindrance and the importance of ecological preservation. All of these themes were absent from many other shows of the time aimed at such a young audience, but as they were wrapped up in a bright, exciting and inviting world, they were somehow digestible on a subconscious level.
In 1979, Miyazaki directed his first feature film, “The Castle of Cagliostro” a Lupin movie that saw the ever confident thief battered, bruised and at one time, beaten. A very “Miyazaki” version of Lupin, his obsessive ogling of Fumiko is clearly absent, and having to turn to Interpol for help is seemingly out of character. The film also has themes of flight, and missing parents, as well as technology being used for less than righteous reasons (in this case, a money press).
During this time, he also went back to directing TV shows, namely TMS Entertainment’s “Sherlock Hound” of which Miyazaki directed 6 episodes. His next project however launched him into the zeitgeist of Japanese animation, a film that still feels fresh and relevant to this day, the 1984 “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.” The film was so popular, it allowed Miyazaki and Takahata to break away and form their very own production company, Studio Ghibli, which came into being in 1985.
Since then, Studio Ghibli has made 18 feature films, all of which vary in content, narrative and genre, but are tied with an instantly recognizable style. The Wind Rises will by no means be the last Studio Ghibli movie, but it will be the last film to be directed by Miyazaki. Check out the trailer below, and let us know if you are excited or indifferent about Hayao Miyazaki’s swan song.