Ghibli: Miyazaki’s New Film Halfway Complete, Another Movie in the Offing

Ghibli: Miyazaki’s New Film Halfway Complete, Another Movie in the Offing

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Studio Ghibli New Movie
While Earwig and the Witch seemed to be a flop, Studio Ghibli is making another movie, and this one is almost half way done.

Miyazaki’s New Film is 50% Complete, Additional Film Announced! – Ghibli News Roundup

It’s a strange but exciting time to be a fan of Japan’s most prestigious anime studio. We take a look at all the recent Ghibli news – Miyazaki’s new film How…

Watch our video version of this article on YouTube.

It’s an exciting, if not a little strange, time to be a fan of Japan’s most acclaimed animation studio. Studio Ghibli, creators of innumerable classics of world animation, from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind to Grave of the Fireflies to Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, is officially back in the movie business.

The recent release of Earwig and the Witch (アーヤと魔女, directed by Miyazaki Goro, son of Ghibli founder Hayao) has ended a six-year drought of new films from the studio, which formerly produced approximately a film a year for the first three decades of its existence. Miyazaki Hayao, easily one of the most beloved creators in the world, has come out of another retirement to animate a brand-new film. News on the Ghibli front, from films, to Netflix/HBO Max streaming deals, to a fully-fledged theme park, to a major exhibit in Hollywood, seems to be coming out at an impressive click – like small seeds suddenly blossoming into a huge camphor tree. It’s a far cry from the six years in the wilderness that preceded 2020.

Not everything is coming up roses for the studio, however. Earwig, already controversial for its eschewing of traditional hand-drawn animation for CG, hasn’t exactly met with a rousing reception. As a studio for which almost every film ranges in quality from great to masterpiece, even mediocre reviews and audience reactions would seem a bit of a misstep. More shocking, however, is the glut of negative reviews coming the film’s way. Earwig has a near-abysmal Rotten Tomatoes score of 34%. The website’s consensus for the film reads “With a story as uninspired as its animation, Earwig and the Witch is a surprising — and near-total — misfire for Studio Ghibli.” (Comparatively, Spirited Away was the best-reviewed film of 2002 on the same website.) Not a great way to re-enter the theatrical landscape.

Review: Ghibli’s Earwig and the Witch (Aya to Majo)

There’s a lot to love with Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki Goro’s foray into 3D animation – but also a lingering sense of incompleteness.Our main site: www.unseen…

Watch out review of Earwig and the Witch.

Liminal Ghibli Landscape

The studio seems to be in a bit of liminal space. Takahata Isao, co-founder and creator of five Ghibli masterpieces, has passed on. Miyazaki Sr. is a spry 80 years old. Of the younger generation, Yonebayashi Hiromasa, director of Arrietty and Marnie, has moved on to form another studio. Goro is back, but Earwig is unpopular, and not helping his (somewhat unfairly) negative reputation. (His From Up on Poppy Hill is a great film, folks.) Goro seems to be at Ghibli to stay, but will likely continue making CG movies; He says he feels less pressure from the computer-illiterate old guard this way.

And then there’s Demon Slayer. The sequel movie to the hit action anime series has smashed all expectations; not only is it the biggest film in Japan for the year, but thanks to COVID, it has a serious chance of being the biggest film worldwide for 2020. Demon Slayer mania has finally taken the Japanese all-time box office crown from Ghibli; after nearly twenty years at the top, Spirited Away has been dethroned. Future Ghibli films will likely do well, but it’s hard to see Ghibli reclaiming that particular monetary top-spot any time soon. Ghibli movies used to be consistent record-breakers and biggest-films-of-the-years in Japan; is that era over?

All this feels a bit strange for Ghibli – it’s back, but is it the same? Thankfully, Earwig is just a single film. And, as recent news shows, there’s more on the way – at least one of which will be in the classic vein so many fans are clamoring for. There’s some very cool news brewing at Studio Ghibli.

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Watch our video on Demon Slayer‘s meteoric rise, and Miyazaki’s response.

Halfway to How Do You Live?

Easily the most anticipated production happening at Ghibli is Miyazaki Hayao’s 12th film, entitled How Do You Live? (君たちはどう生きるか。) The movie, about which little is known, is reported to be a return to the epic filmmaking of Ghibli’s past. A combination of its 2D animation, Miyazaki’s direction, and its fantastical subject matter signal that this may be a movie somewhat akin to the beloved Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle; however, with no art nor major plot elements revealed, the film remains a cipher. All that we know is that it takes its title from the 1937 novel written by Yoshino Genzaburo, and that book figures into the plot; however, the movie is not an adaptation.


Mysterious, too, is its release date. How Do You Live? has been in production since 2016; its animation has been moving at a snail’s pace. Miyazaki has stated that he used to be able to animate 10 minutes of film in a month. Now, he says, he can only manage about a single minute in that timeframe. In 2019, Ghibli producer Suzuki Toshio stated that the movie was only a mere 15% complete.

So the news that How Do You Live? is now 50% animated is a source for some major excitement. In a recent interview with Sight & Sound magazine, Suzuki revealed that the pace of animation had greatly expanded during the COVID crisis. The idea that we’re halfway to a full-fledged Miyazaki epic is enough to hold out some real hope for Ghibli. Indeed, Suzuki previously told EW that “…the film that Hayao Miyazaki’s working on at the moment is a big, fantastical story.” Music to many fans’ ears, surely. But that’s not all the news on the filmic front.

Learn about Miyazaki’s intriguing history with the Academy of Motion Pictures in our video.

The Makings of a Mystery Movie

Rather than putting out press releases, Suzuki often let’s slip major announcements in ordinary interviews. This was the case back in December, when he implied that Ghibli has yet another film in production. The interview in Sight & Sound continued on this theme; the interviewer discusses the new film and a potential “changing of the guard.” The new film is a complete and utter mystery, much as Earwig was only months before its release; with Miyazaki Sr. still focused on How Do You Live?, the obvious assumption would be that this is another Goro film. (Although, interestingly, the interview also revealed that Miyazaki Sr. had originally wanted to direct Earwig himself.)

So, if the movie is by Goro, will it be another CG creation? Suzuki says he believes the Studio should move forward with making films in both mediums. Goro also seems more comfortable with CG. In his recent biography, Goro stated the following. “If there’s potential in the use of CG animation, it has less to do with the fancy camerawork that’s usually mentioned; rather, I came to understand the potential for persistently bringing forth a sort of acting from the CG models.” CG Ghibli, sadly, doesn’t seem to be what most fans want. Many found Earwig‘s animation detailed but stilted, and a far cry from the wonderous nature of Ghibli’s 2D animation. But perhaps Goro can make his 2nd time a charm with the animation style.

The third option is that an unknown director is helming the mystery film. If there is indeed to be a changing of the guard (and how couldn’t there be?), Ghibli needs more directors than just Goro. Ghibli has been home any number of incredible talents, and has previously rolled the dice on untested directors; this could be the perfect time to seat someone new in the director’s chair. We’ll have to wait and see.

But That’s Not All!

There’s a bit more of interest happening over at Ghibli. One concerns Earwig, which will be receiving a theatrical release in Japan. The movie, originally made for television, will be making its way to the silver screen in slightly expanded form; with some new minutes of animation, the movie might just be able to feel a bit more complete. Considering the main complaint about the movie is its extremely abrupt ending, a bit more content will be a welcome addition. (For those who enjoyed the film but felt let down by its lack of a conclusion, it might be even better if the mystery film in production is actually a sequel – as unlikely as this would be for Ghibli.)

Another interesting development is the announcement of a major adaptation of Spirited Away for the stage. Ghibli films have been reworked into plays in the past; there was a kabuki version of Nausicaa performed in Tokyo, and an experimental take on Princess Mononoke in London. However, this will be the first time one of the films is adapted into such a major production. John Caird, original director of the English version of Les Misérables, is helming the play; no stranger to large Japanese productions, he says he’s already put 1000 hours into the ensemble. His version of Spirited Away will open in Tokyo before touring Japan; eventually, it should make its way to major theatrical spaces worldwide.

It may be hard to imagine the scale of the world of the spirits as portrayed in Spirited Away fitting on a darkened proscenium. However, with the right budget and creative will behind it, this could make for something special. It’s certainly something to look out for – and something which again shows how active the Ghibli brand currently is around the world.

Passing of a Legend

There is, however, some sad news to report from the Ghibli-adjacent universe. Legendary animator Otsuka Yasuo, a 60-year veteran of the anime industry and one of the most important mentors for both Miyazaki and Takahata, sadly passed away earlier this month. A Shimane native, Otsuka’s career began in 1958, when he worked on Japan’s first full-length color animation, Hakujaden (known as Panda and the Magic Serpent in English). The movie had an outsized impact on a high-school aged Miyazaki. He would later write “I was hooked when I saw Hakujaden and I wound up choosing to become an animator because of it.”

Otsuka took both Takahata and Miyazaki under his wing when they entered the industry. It was Otsuka who convinced studio Toei Douga to produce Takahata’s first directorial outing, 1968’s Horus: Prince of the Sun. Otsuka would go on to be animation director for any number of projects alongside the eventual Ghibli co-founders; his animation style was noted for its groundedness, and often features a smoothness lacking in modern anime.

Miyazaki’s Reflections

In 1982, Miyazaki wrote the following about Otsuka.

“It has been nearly twenty years since I first met Otsuka. For me, he is an excellent mentor. We did some foolish things together, but we’ve also talked passionately about the future of animation. It was Otsuka who taught me the fun of working. He was always willing to exchange opinions on an equal basis with those younger than he. Otsuka also showed me how important it is to choose your work and select people carefully – by himself engaging in heated arguments with the studio for three years, refusing to be the animation director unless Paku-san [Takahata] directed. He finally realized this with Horus.

When you associate with someone for twenty years, you get to know his strengths and weaknesses. Otsuka-san and I sometimes lose all restraint, and sometimes we clash. But, even now, I recall with great fondness those days when, preparing for Horus, we used to gather at Paku-san’s house and talk through the night. We were all young and overflowing with ambition and hope. Those days were truly our time of youth, when we set out on this path.”

A “Slanderous” Portrait. 1982, featured in Starting Point: 1979-1996. Translation from Beth Cary and Frederik L. Schodt.

With Takahata and now Otsuka gone, much of the world Miyazaki occupied in his youth has now vanished. It’s been four decades since Miyazaki wrote this tribute to Otsuka; surely, as he works towards the completion of what may be his last film, such memories weigh on his heart more than ever.

It’s Still Ghibli’s World; We Just Live in It

Things are indeed changing – the era of old Ghibli is passing. And yet, there’s much to be excited about.

A new Miyazaki film, a mystery movie, an extended cut, global streaming, a theme park, a major exhibition, and a high-budget stage adaptation: Ghibli is indeed roaring back to life. While the exact future of the studio is still in flux, there’s no question that Ghibli is very much a part of the international zeitgeist. Soon to be approaching its fourth decade, Studio Ghibli is more beloved than ever, with adult fans worldwide sharing the films they loved in their youths to their own children. Despite a misstep or two, it’s still momentarily Ghibli’s world – and many of us remain happy to live in it, excitedly waiting for more.

Want to dive into some more Ghibli content? Check out our Ultimate Ranking of the Studio Ghibli Universe. Every film, short, music video, direct-to-DVD feature, pre-Ghibli Film, and spin-off ranked.

Noah Oskow

Serving as current UJ Editor-in-Chief, Noah Oskow is a professional Japanese translator and interpreter who holds a BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures. He has lived, studied, and worked in Japan for nearly seven years, including two years studying at Sophia University in Tokyo and four years teaching English on the JET Program in rural Fukushima Prefecture. His experiences with language learning and historical and cultural studies as well as his extensive experience in world travel have led to appearances at speaking events, popular podcasts, and in the mass media. Noah most recently completed his Master's Degree in Global Studies at the University of Vienna in Austria.

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