Studio Ghibli director appears in video message while receiving award from European film festival.

Last Friday, anime director Hayao Miyazaki’s latest movie, The Boy and the Heron, made its European debut as part of the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain. It was a doubly special night for fans of the Studio Ghibli co-founder, as not only did they get to see his first new feature-length anime in 10 years, the festival also presented Miyazaki with its honorary Donostia Award, which this year was also given to Spanish actor Javier Bardem and Spanish film director Víctor Erice.

The famously work travel-averse Miyazaki did not attend the ceremony in person, but he did appear in a video message recorded in Tokyo which was shown as part of the ceremony preceding The Boy and the Heron’s screening. “Thank you to the San Sebastian Festival for this prestigious award. Right now, I am in the studio every day creating exhibitions for the Ghibli Park. I hope you enjoy the film. Thank you very much,” Miyazaki says in the video, seated at a tidy table in a tastefully understated room with a view of a green-leaf covered tree. But while the video’s setting looks very much like what you’d expect from the interior of Studio Ghibli, or perhaps Miyazaki’s personal atelier, the animator himself looked very different from how people are used to seeing him.

Yes, Miyazaki is wearing the same dark-rimmed eyeglasses and off-white apron that we’re accustomed to seeing him in. What’s missing is the third part of his visual trademark: his silver beard and mustache.

Miyazaki doesn’t make a ton of public or video appearances, especially when production work really starts ramping up on one of his anime films, and so the exact timing of his shift to his current clean-shaven look can’t be determined. During his visit to the Ghibli Museum’s revamped cafe in 2020, though, to try their cream soda, he still had his beard.

Miyazaki’s beard is so cemented as part of his image that it’s a bit of a shock for people to see him without it, prompting social media reactions such as:

“He shaved the beard?”
“At first I was like ‘Who is that?’”
“It’s surprising how much it changes the visual shape of his face.”
“He gives off a really different impression now.”
“Without the beard, he looks like he suddenly aged a whole bunch.”
“Seeing him without the beard really makes you realize how old he is.”
“I can’t remember exactly when the last time I saw him without a beard was, but it was at least before he made Princess Mononoke.”

Obviously Miyazaki wasn’t born with a beard, but as alluded to by that last comment, he’s had one for a long time. For many younger fans, and even some older ones, such as those overseas who only became familiar with Miyazaki’s films in the later parts of his decades-long career after Spirited Away’s profile-raising Oscar win, this is their first time to see the director without a beard, though there is photo evidence of a smooth-faced Miyazaki in his younger days.

▼ Miyazaki in 1985

▼ 1986

▼ Miyazaki in 1988, the year of My Neighbor Totoro’s release

▼ Miyazaki being interviewed for the television program Nighter, circa 1989 or 1990

Whether Miyazaki looks aesthetically better with a beard or without is, of course, a matter of personal preference. What’s more concerning, as several commenters pointed out, is that in the San Sebastian Film Festival he looks thinner and frailer than many are used to seeing him. This could partly be because shaving your beard will give you a visibly slimmer jawline, and it wouldn’t be a shock if there’s still some lingering fatigue from putting the finishing touches on The Boy and the Heron ahead of its Japanese theater release this past summer. There’s also the simple fact that Miyazaki is now 82 years old, so it’d probably be even more unusual for him to have a heavy frame at his age. His statement that he’s spending every day at the studio is a hopeful one in the sense that he’s apparently in good enough condition to be working vigorously doing what he loves, though, so here’s hoping he’s in good health.

Source: YouTube/sansebastianfestival, Twitter
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