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Just a few weeks ago, When Marnie Was There, the newest anime movie from Studio Ghibli, hit Japanese theatres. Marnie is actually the second Ghibli release since legendary director Hayao Miyazaki retired from the company, but the first with a general, mainstream target market, as 2013’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya was a much more experimental, avant-garde film in visual style and tone.

Just as Miyazaki has stepped away from feature films, Ghibli producer and co-founder Toshio Suzuki is easing into retirement, and so many anime fans have been watching Marnie while looking for clues as to where Ghibli’s films would be going from here. Judging from statements made by Suzuki, though, the better question isn’t what kind of movies Ghibli will be making in the future, but whether the studio will be making any at all, as he feels that maybe it’s time for the Ghibli production team to close up shop.

In a series of screen captures from Japanese television, Suzuki can be seated at a table conversing with a group of men, none of whom look particularly happy.

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Looking concerned and more than a little tired, Suzuki turns to the other and says:

“My choice of words might be a little harsh, but I’m wondering if we shouldn’t dismantle the production division.

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“Maybe I should say “restructure” or “reconstruct.”

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“When I stop and think about it, Miyazaki retiring is just something we can’t ignore.”

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“This might be a point where we should take a hiatus for a while, and think about what we’re going to do from now.”

In one way of looking at things, it’s a kind of shocking to see Studio Ghibli, which in the wake of Disney’s continuing shift to CG visuals has become arguably the most respected 2-D animation house in the world, ready to throw in the towel so soon after Miyazaki’s departure. Visionary though he may be, he wasn’t drawing every frame of Ghibli’s hits by himself. It’s also not like Miyazaki only graced the studio with his presence for a few shorts years, either. In the almost three decades Miyazaki was with Studio Ghibli, it seems like the old guard should have been able to find and nurture at least some younger talent that could carry on the sensibilities and techniques pioneered by Miyazaki, Suzuki, and Isao Takahata, the remaining Ghibli co-founder.

On the other hand, one could also take the tack that Studio Ghibli has always been, in essence, the Hayao Miyazaki Show. The studio’s film catalogue contains only seven films in which Miyazaki didn’t serve as either director or writer: Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday, Pom Poko, My Neighbors the Yamadas, The Cat Returns, Tales from Earthsea, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya. Excepting the well-respected Grave of the Fireflies, that list reads very much like the second string lineup of Ghibli films.

▼ This isn’t the first thing many people think of when they hear the words “Studio Ghibli.”

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▼ This, however, is.

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In contrast, what are essentially the studio’s greatest hits came from times when Miyazaki handled both directing and writing duties: Castle in the Sky Laputa, Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away. With this in mind, maybe Suzuki’s suggested dissolution of the production division isn’t so drastic, considering that the one common element in the majority of Ghibli’s critically and commercially successful theatrical anime says he’s done with making them.

It’s also worth noting that Suzuki is talking specifically about the production division, therein implying that Ghibli itself would continue to exist in some capacity, most likely licensing, merchandising, and other associated management activities for its intellectual properties. It would be impossible for Ghibli to absorb all of its animators into those divisions, though, nor is it likely all of the studio’s artists have an aptitude for such administrative work, anyway.

So if Ghibli decides to follow the course Suzuki is suggesting, the question arises of what will happen to its animation staff during the period of “think about what (it’s) going to do from now.” While some veterans may be able to wait out the Ghibli identity crises (which some still believe will only come to an end if and when Miyazaki comes out of retirement once again), the base pay for animators in Japan is notoriously low. Simply taking a sabbatical won’t a viable economic option for most of Ghibli’s animators. Even if Ghibli, at some point down the road, should decide to get back into making movies and put out the call for its old production team members to assemble, many would have since signed on with other studios.

In other words, even a temporary dissolution would translate into a permanent loss of certain Ghibli animators, and yet another break with the traditions the studio established which led it to its exalted position in the industry.

As part of the media blitz surrounding the release of Marnie, Suzuki was asked for his opinion of the film. “It feels very young,” he replied, elaborating that he was including the positive and negative implications of the description. Part of growing up is learning to make your own way in the world, whether that means birds flying away from the nest, children moving out of their parents’ house, or, as may be the case for Ghibli’s anime makers, leaving the studio they called home.

Source: Jin
Top image: 情熱大陸(Jounetu Tairiku)
Insert images: 情熱大陸(Jounetu Tairiku), Movie Mail, Drama Fever