Today has brought big news for Japan’s most internationally beloved animation house. Studio Ghibli, creators of such filmic staples as My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Grave of the Fireflies, is now set to become a subsidiary of domestic television company Nippon TV . The broadcast corporation has a long, fruitful history with Ghibli. Nonetheless, this marks a major change for Ghibli, which has functioned as an independent company for nearly two decades.
Observers of Studio Ghibli may have expected that changes were afoot at the company. After all, the past decade has seen Ghibli in a state of flux; from 2014, the studio ceased film production for the first time since its foundation in 1985. This followed a period from the 1990s in which Ghibli films could reliably become the biggest box office hit in Japan nearly every year one released.
From there, in a shocking move, Ghibli excised its famed production department. Soon, however, the company was again working on new projects, mostly with a team of contracted animators. 2020 saw the release of Miyazaki Goro’s CG-animated TV film Earwig and the Witch. The first in-house film for Ghibli in six years, Earwig was met with poor critical reaction; however, the recent theatrical release of studio co-founder Miyazaki Hayao’s The Boy and the Heron has achieved greater success.
All in all, this has been a bumpy decade for Ghibli, with issues of company succession still unresolved. Questions have been raised about the financing for The Boy and the Heron, thought to be a very expensive undertaking. While the movie has taken in over 8.16 billion yen ($55.25 million) , even this amount pales in comparison to what previous Miyazaki films have made. With Ghibli remaining a valuable and respected brand, this sort of shakeup is perhaps understandable.
Ghibli, Subsidiary of Nippon TV
The announcement of Nippon TV’s purchase of Studio Ghibli came today, September 21st, 2023. This followed a board of directors meeting, in which it was resolved that NTV would come to own 42.3% of Ghibli’s stock. This is enough to grant the TV broadcast company a controlling interest in the animation studio.
A joint declaration by the two companies, published on Ghibli’s official website , explained some of the backgrounds of the acquisition. After expressing satisfaction over The Boy and the Heron‘s reception, the declaration states that:
“Director Miyazaki Hayao is 82 years old, and producer Suzuki is 75. Studio Ghibli has long worried over the issue of succession.”
The document next reveals some intriguing information regarding Miyazaki Hayao’s son, Miyazaki Goro.
“Until now, animation director Director Miyazaki Goro, the eldest son of our founder director Miyazaki Hayao, has been the subject of numerous nominations for succeeding Studio Ghibli. However, Goro’s personal response has been: ‘It would be difficult to shoulder leadership of Ghibli all on my own. It would be better to leave the future of the company in the hands of others.’ This represents a firm refusal.”
There were many years when it was assumed that Goro would succeed his father as company figurehead. However, his presence within the company has become less pronounced. For a time, director Yoneyabashi Hiromasa (Arrietty, When Marnie Was There) seemed another potential successor. However, Yonebayashi departed Ghibli following the dissolution of the production department. (Yonebayashi went on to found Ghibli’s “successor” Studio Ponoc.)
An Issue of Succession
So, no successor revealed themselves. Meanwhile, Miyazaki Sr. announced multiple retirements, only to come back for “one last film.” Now, with the release of The Boy and the Heron, it seemed as though Ghibli might simply shutter as an active film company following that supposed swan wong. As an independent, creatively-minded company, it might simply have continued chugging along until financials and age took their toll.
However, the Nippon TV acquisition announcement reveals that succession has remained a problem dogging the studio.
“[With Goro’s refusal,] Ghibli investigated a number of candidates to potentially leave the running of Studio Ghibli. This sequence of events recently led Studio Ghibli into discussions with Nippon TV, with whom they have had a close relationship spanning many years.”
The document goes on to explain how Ghibli president Suzuki Toshio and Nippon TV chairman Sugiyama Yoshikuni spent a relaxed time in discussion at a certain onsen (hot springs). Suzuki used this opportunity to ask the following: “Would Nippon TV assist us with business administration, so that Ghibli can continue to focus on creating movies into the future?” Sugiyama replied that he would like to be able to foster an environment in which Ghibli could continue making films.
A Long Relationship
Ghibli’s relationship with Nippon TV goes back to the earliest days of the studio. It started in 1985, when NTV hosted the first-ever TV broadcast of Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984), the Tokuma Shoten-produced film that birthed Studio Ghibli. The broadcast was part of the channel’s “Friday Roadshow,” in which movies are shown on Friday evenings. A success, the program has continued to show Ghibli films at regular intervals. These showings have produced a huge cultural impact for Ghibli, continually netting high viewership. That Studio Ghibli films, characters, music, and more have so embedded themselves in the Japanese consciousness is in part thanks to the Friday Roadshows.
(Famously, the record for most simultaneous Tweets was held more than once by viewers of Friday Roadshow broadcasts of Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky. Huge numbers of viewers took to Twitter to tweet the words that mark the film’s climax. )
Nippon TV also invested in the production of most Ghibli films, starting with 1989’s Kiki’s Delivery Service. The company also backed the construction of the popular Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo.
The document states that it is this close relationship and the understanding NTV has for Ghibli’s corporate culture and “craftsmanship” that allowed Ghibli to feel confident in this acquisition.
What Does the Future Hold for Ghibli?
What exactly a loss of corporate independence will mean for Ghibli remains to be seen. The document states that Nippon TV will dispatch executives to Ghibli to assist in company management. As the largest shareholder, NTV will also be able to make executive decisions regarding Ghibli’s future operations.
However, the document states that Nippon TV will continue to respect Ghibli’s sense of independence. The company “…is of the opinion that Ghibli should continue to give its undivided attention to film creation and the running of the Ghibli Museum and Ghibli Park.” The text closes by asking for its readership to continue to “support Ghibli’s rebirth.”
Of great interest are the multiple references to future film productions. While Miyazaki is apparently already brainstorming yet another film, and there have been hints of another mystery film in production, there haven’t been any hard announcements of anything new following The Boy and the Heron. That both Ghibli and its new parent company seem set on continuing to make films may be considered heartening news. It would seem, after all, that the goal really is to find a successor for Studio Ghibli. What remains to be seen is if this will be a new, more corporatized Ghibli, or one that can truly lay claim to stewardship of Japan’s most beloved film studio.
 (09/21/23). “日本テレビによるスタジオジブリの株式取得に関するお知らせ“. Official Studio Ghibli website.
 Cayanan, Joanna. (09/19/23). Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron Film Earns Over 8.16 Billion Yen. Anime News Network.
 Choney, Suzanne. (08/13/13). Classic anime movie showing leads to Twitter record. NBC News.