New documentary ends with scene of Miyazaki painting scene of not-yet-adapted source material from his manga masterpiece.

Anime director Hayao Miyazaki has, famously, “retired” twice, first after the release of Princess Mononoke in 1997, and then again following The Wind Rises in 2013. So with Studio Ghibli’s latest movie, The Boy and the Heron, now playing in U.S. theaters, there’s been some tongue-in-cheek comments from fans and critics about how this is Miyazaki’s third “final” film.

Here’s the thing though: back in 1997 and 2013, it was Miyazaki himself saying that he was done with making feature-length theatrical animation. This time, though, Miyazaki hasn’t made any explicit public statement to that effect, and the final scene in a new documentary about the legendary director has some fans excited for what they think may be a hint at his next project…which, if their speculation pans out, would also be an old one.

Last Saturday, Japanese public broadcaster NHK aired the latest episode of its Professional-Shigoto no Ryugi (“Professional-Work Style”) series which highlights leading figures in the art, music, sports, and entertainment worlds. The new episode followed Miyazaki over the course of nearly six years, chronicling the development of The Boy and the Heron and touching on Miyazaki’s thoughts on getting older, his complex relationship with late fellow Ghibli director Isao Takahata, and other topics.

The episode included a quote from Takeshi Honda, The Boy and the Heron’s animation director and character designer, regarding Miyazaki’s creative drive. “[Miyazaki] can’t stand being bored. He’s saying ‘I’m not doing another [project],’ but he probably will, won’t he?”

That alone probably gave fans hoping for more Miyazaki anime a ray of hope to latch onto, and that ray only got brighter with the very last scene of the episode, which shows Miyazaki sitting at his desk, brush in hand, working on a watercolor painting. The picture shows a brown-haired woman in a blue dress with a long-eared, squirrel-like creature perched on her shoulder, and she herself standing on the shoulder of a large skeletal/robotic-looking creature. As he paints, Miyazaki, in his customarily curmudgeonly way, grumbles:

“It’s a pain, coming back to this world.”

▼ Screenshots posted online of the scene’s painting

It’s obvious that the painting is of Nausicaa, the titular heroine of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, the first original anime film that Miyazaki directed, produced with the team of animators who would found Studio Ghibli shortly after the movie’s release in 1984.

▼ Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

▼ Miyazaki’s watercolor shown in the documentary

Though Nausicaa is widely recognized as a landmark anime work, what’s often overlooked or forgotten is that it’s actually an adaptation of a manga of the same name, which Miyazaki began writing/drawing in 1982. What’s more, the Nausicaa anime is an incomplete adaptation, as Miyazaki didn’t bring the manga’s story to a close until 1994, a full decade after the anime’s theatrical release. This isn’t a case of the manga simply moving at a slow pace, either, as the manga contains characters and story developments that don’t appear until after the events depicted in the anime, such as Nausicaa serenely standing on the shoulder of a God Warrior.

So why has Studio Ghibli been leaving Nausicaa source material on the adaptation table? A number of reasons, most likely. For the most part, Ghibli doesn’t do sequels (the Totoro follow-up short and Whisper of the Heart spin-off The Cat Returns notwithstanding), and Miyazaki’s sensibilities in particular seem more oriented towards creating something new than revisiting the characters and settings of finished films, hence his “It’s a pain” grumble while painting Nausicaa. It wasn’t like Ghibli was hunting for ideas or hits in the years after Nausicaa’s 1984 release either, as the studio brought Laputa/Castle in the Sky to theatres in 1986, Totoro in 1988, and Kiki’s Delivery Service in 1989.

Even if Miyazaki hasn’t formally re-announced his retirement, though, he will be 83 years old in just a few weeks, and that advanced age may place limits on his ability to helm a Nausicaa anime continuation, what with his intensely perfectionist, hands-on, and time-and-energy-consuming directorial style. However, Miyazaki has shown he isn’t averse to someone else adapting the as-yet-not-animated parts of the story, as the 2019 Nausicaa kabuki play was billed as the first complete adaptation of the manga’s plot.

▼ Miyazaki also commented that Spirited Away doesn’t belong to me” when the Oscar-winning anime was adapted into a stage play, further showing that he’s not dead-set against other artists interpreting his creations.

And if Miyazaki isn’t in a position/of a mind to direct a Nausicaa continuation himself, there’s an obvious alternate with proven talents and an outspoken affection for the source material: Hideaki Anno, creator/director of Evangelion. Not only did Anno animate the God Warrior scene in the 1984 Nausicaa anime, he and Miyazaki have formed a personal friendship (no small feat for two master animators who aren’t exactly known for their outgoing personalities) and have occasionally collaborated in the years since Nausicaa’s release, most famously with Anno voicing the protagonist in The Wind Rises despite having no previous voice acting credits. Studio Ghibli even provided a piece of now-rare movie-making equipment that Anno needed for the production of the final Rebuild of Evangelion movie.

Anno has been particularly vocal about how much respect he has for Miyazaki’s e-konte, as the anime industry’s extra-detailed annotated animation storyboards are called. Taking that into consideration with all of the other above-discussed aspects, directing an anime adaptation of the remaining Nausicaa manga source material, or at least the next chunk of it, based on storyboards and concept paintings from Miyazaki, seems like the sort of project Anno would enthusiastically accept.

Of course, at the moment this is all just speculation, and at no point in the documentary does Miyazaki explicitly say “Get ready for Nausicaa Part II!” Still, with Professional-Shigoto no Ryugi having spent, by the program’s count, 2,399 days filming for the episode, it seems like they wouldn’t have chosen the footage where Miyazaki is talking about returning to the Nausicaa world if they didn’t think it had some significance.

Source: Sponichi Annex via Livedoor News via Jin
Top image: Studio Ghibli
Insert images: Studio Ghibli (1, 2)
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