What Happened to Studio Ghibli?


Animated movies are something we can all appreciate. Most of us grew up watching them and they hold a special place in our hearts and childhoods, though they can still be appreciated by older audiences, no doubt. From Pixar to Walt Disney to Dreamworks, there’s a magic we find in these studio feature films that’s something truly special.

But what about another studio; one that’s been upheld by so many avid animation lovers as perhaps the greatest of all time? I’m talking about Studio Ghibli, of course.

If you’ve never heard of the legendary company, here’s a brief rundown: Ghibli is a Japanese animation studio founded in 1985 by Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, and Toshio Suzuki. They’ve created beloved films such as My Neighbor Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and many others. If you didn’t recognize the studio’s name, chances are you know these titles-maybe you’ve even watched one or two of them yourself. Spirited Away, their most successful movie, is even the highest grossing film of all time in Japan, earning 30.80 billion yen (almost 292 million USD) at the box office.

Unfortunately, Ghibli hasn’t been very active lately. Since their last feature film, When Marnie was There, came to US shores in 2015, they’ve gone almost silent. Fans have been anticipating a new release for five years now, and through those years the question has been asked repeatedly: Whatever happened to Studio Ghibli?

Answering this question can be traced to one person: Hayao Miyazaki himself. One of the three co-founders of the studio, and the man responsible for directing ten of Ghibli’s 22 movies. His works are often seen as the greatest of Ghibli-he was the director of Spirited Away, which should give you an idea of his accomplishment.

However, Miyazaki eventually put his work to a close. He retired in 2013, with The Wind Rises being his last film, as well as a direct tribute to his career.

After his retirement, Ghibli understandably could not sustain what was once there; they’d lost their most valuable member. After The Wind Rises, only two more Ghibli films would be released: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya in 2013 (released in the US in 2014) and When Marnie Was There in 2014 (released in the US in 2015).

So was this to be the company’s end? Thankfully, the answer is no.

On January 1st, 2020, Ghibli posted a special message to their website, wishing everyone a happy New Year and thanking them for their continued support. In addition, the studio officially announced that two new features were in the works. Not only that, but Miyazaki would be directing one of them, as he had come out of retirement in 2016.

Little is known about these films, other than Miyazaki’s being called Kimi-tachi wa Dō Ikiru ka(How Do You Live?), with the other film unnamed. Although How Do You Live was originally planned for a 2020 release in Japan, it was reported to only have been completed a small amount. Even without the pandemic-related struggles of working, it’s certain the film(s) will not be completed before the end of this year.

In the meantime, many Ghibli artists have found a new calling with a new company called Studio Ponoc: founded in 2015 by Yoshiaki Nishimura, director of Ghibli’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. Currently only two releases have come out of Ponoc: Mary and the Witch’s Flower, and Modest Heroes (a collection of four animated shorts), but the company promises a return to some of the Ghibli magic that fans crave.

So in the end, there is hope for a Studio Ghibli revival after all. But in the worst case scenario, even if another one of their films never sees the light of day again, Ghibli will always be cherished by millions: for the high level of craft their works have achieved, the countless childhoods and adulthoods they’ve filled with wonder, and the legacy they left on animation.

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