You knew Hayao Miyazaki would never stay "retired" for long.
On Sunday, Japan's NHK network aired their latest program on Studio Ghibli, Owaranai Hito Miyazaki Hayao (Hayao Miyazaki: The Man Who is Not Done). The program followed Miyazaki at Studio Ghibli as he worked tirelessly on his latest animation progress, a CG short film titled Kemushi no Boro (Boro the Caterpiller). This project is scheduled to be completed in another year, and will screen exclusively at the Ghibli Museum in Japan.
The surprise announcement by NHK, however, is that Miyazaki is now in the pre-production stages of a new feature animated film. Miyazaki reportedly grew unsatisfied with only working on a short film, and began creating storyboards for a full-length movie. Snippets of these storyboards are teased in the program (a longtime Ghibli and NHK tradition), and boards for 100 cuts are promised by the director.
This is in keeping with Miyazaki's filmmaking style, in which he creates the first act (of five) before production officially begins. The rest of the script and storyboards are created during the production itself, in a crazed, seat-of-the-pants style that somehow, miraculously, works.
The project has yet to be officially announced or even green-lighted. In his proposal, Hayao Miyazaki names Summer 2019 as a possible release date, or perhaps the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
As always, time is the most pressing issue for Studio Ghibli. The strain on staffing during the twin productions of The Wind Rises and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya proved too much for Miyazaki, who was forced to work clean-up animation on many cuts himself. It was this strain that finally convinced him to retire from feature film directing, although it had been planned as part of the studio's long-term strategy (where the baton was being passed to the new generation of directors, including Goro Miyazaki and Hiromasa Yonebayashi).
That physical toll, combined with the exploding production costs (even The Wind Rises failed to turn a profit), resulted in Studio Ghibli dismissing their full-time animation staff and continuing with a skeleton crew. The studio insists they are only taking a break, but their future remains questionable. Could a new Hayao Miyazaki movie turn Ghibli's fortunes around? Or is the Miyazaki brand name no longer bankable? Would audiences turn out for another "final" film?
Will the new Miyazaki movie become a reality? I certainly hope so, but I am also realistic. Time and budgets may be running out. The studio needs a reliable revenue stream to survive. Perhaps they outsource much of the animation work? Perhaps they hire staff on a contract basis, as they did in their early years? Perhaps Goro-san and Yonebayashi-san become reliable successes at the box office? Perhaps other media ventures (television, music videos, videogames) will become viable again? Questions abound from all directions, with few answers and no direction home.
Despite what you may have heard, kids, the long, strange trip is not yet finished. Stay tuned.