VENICE – If I wasn’t surprised by the news today of Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement, it’s not just because he’s made several preliminary remarks to this end over the last few years. Rather, as I noted in my review last night of the Japanese animator’s apparent swansong “The Wind Rises,” it seemed to me that he indirectly made the announcement in the film itself.
Miyazaki wasn’t at the Venice Film Festival today to present the visually spectacular aviation epic, which had its world premiere in Competition earlier this evening. Instead, it was Studio Ghibli president Koju Hoshino who broke the news at the film’s press conference this afternoon with this simple statement: “Miyazaki has decided that ‘The Wind Rises’ will be his last film, and he will now retire.” He added that the 72-year-old Oscar winner will make a more formal farewell statement in person at a Tokyo press conference next week.
I think he already made his intentions subtly clear in “The Wind Rises,” in which a spiritual guide to the protagonist issues the advice, “Artists are only creative for 10 years.” As I wrote: “It’s a mantra repeated often enough that one has to wonder if Miyazaki, whose brilliant career dates back considerably farther than 10 years, means anything personal by its inclusion. Is “The Wind Rises” a spirited gesture of continued defiance, or a belated sign-off?”
Turns out it’s the latter. It’s already been over 11 years since “Spirited Away” became Miyazaki’s biggest crossover hit to date (and won him the Oscar, to boot), so I’d be curious to know at what point, if any, he thinks he hit his 10-year expiry date. In any event, the ravishing, heartfelt “Rises” is far from a minor career-closer.
If anything, I think this news considerably boosts his chances of a Golden Lion win on the Lido — it hasn’t been the strongest Competition so far this year, and “Rises” is one of its more grandiose auteur statements. In their own way, festival juries can be a sentimentally inclined as Academy voters; I’d be very surprised to see it leave Venice empty-handed. Furthermore, the film will have ample opportunity to build its buzz at other festivals: Toronto, of course, and New York, while it was the final title confirmed for Telluride. It screens there today.
Across the pond, meanwhile, Miyazaki’s purported retirement — combined with the enthusiastic reception for “The Wind Rises” — stands him in good stead for the Best Animated Feature Oscar race. It’s been a year of sequels, retreads and formulaic family fare in the animated realm, with no single title having captured the imaginations of both critics and audiences to the degree of, say, prime Pixar.
He’s only been nominated once (for 2005’s “Howl’s Moving Castle”) since taking the award in just its second year of existence for “Spirited Away.” It’s easy to imagine Miyazaki’s peers in the Academy’s animation branch thrilling to the film’s technical execution. Meanwhile, with his imminent retirement pressing upon them the fact that this is his last chance to be nominated (or even to win a second statuette), he could be the chief beneficiary of a weak slate.