End of an Era: Studio Ghibli Says They're Taking a Break from Movies
No, no… no! Say it ain't so! Someone please tell me I'm just dreaming, and this news isn't real. Word from Japan is that the famed, acclaimed, legendary animation house Studio Ghibli is shutting down after 29 years. Various Ghibli fan sites are reporting that "just moments ago, Toshio Suzuki, Studio Ghibli producer, announced on [the MBS Jounetsu Tairiku TV show that] Studio Ghibli will close, [which will leave itself] only as a company that will manage its trademarks." Apparently the "production department of anime will be dismantled" though details are still coming in, considering this was mentioned in a business report on TV - seen here. It all seems to indicate - Ghibli will no longer be making animated movies any more. Sad news.
Note: please read the updates at the bottom, they're not shutting down just taking a break from movies.
This news comes only one year after one of Studio Ghibli's co-founders and filmmakers, Hayao Miyazaki, announced he would be retiring from making animated movies after finishing work on The Wind Rises. That film was released in the US last year by Disney, and earned a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination, but eventually lost to Disney's Frozen. While skeptics have been saying that Miyazaki may end up coming back to work on some kind of animation, this news seems to indicate that this is the end of Ghibli after all. One translation of the closure news via Catsuka states: "they will keep a small staff for Hayao Miyazaki projects."
Studio Ghibli still has a beautiful museum located outside of Tokyo (which I visited in March this year - it is absolutely wonderful) that often gets tweaks and updates from Miyazaki, as well as the occasional short film that plays in their small theater. Catsuka's translation indicates that Ghibli will continue to run mostly with a focus on their past brands and the museum. "Now they will focus on licensing, and Ghibli Museum. And wait for new viable projects." Was it any failure that made them shut down? Not really, but it sounds like the times have changed, and with Miyazaki retiring and moving on, Ghibli can't afford to keep a full-time staff to make the kind of (very successful) films they used to make. "It’s a restart, like Hoshino and Suzuki said."
So what happened? Why are they shutting down? First things first, to be clear - Ghibli only mentioned that they will stop producing new animated features. That doesn't mean the entire studio is shutting down, so much as shifting their focus from features to managing the brand, for the time being. Catsuka explains more of the behind-the-scenes that lead to this: "Most of Studio Ghibli staff today are employees, with long term contracts. Studio Ghibli can’t pay this staff if there’s no more Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata (expensive but profitable) movies on the way. Ghibli cost too much today, so they’re just stopping the current system. Before Porco Rosso, Studio Ghibli staff was freelance. [Now] they're [going] back to this previous system."
Ghibli was originally founded in June 1985 by directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata and producer Toshio Suzuki. Their first feature was actually Castle in the Sky (my favorite Ghibli film), released back in 1986. Miyazaki's other early film, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, was actually made for Topcraft and distributed by Toei Company, but its success lead directly to the creation of Ghibli. Over the last 29 years they have made 20 animated features including classics like My Neighbor Totoro, Porco Rosso, Kiki's Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, Ponyo, From Up on Poppy Hill, The Wind Rises, most recently, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and When Marnie Was There, which just opened in Japan a few weeks ago. You can watch the Japanese Marnie trailer here.
As a die-hard Ghibli/Miyazaki fan, this news really weighs heavily on my heart. Ghibli is such a wonderful, magical place built around the creativity and beauty of hand-drawn animation. And it really hurts to learn that they will no longer be making movies. I just visited the museum earlier this year, and watched the new documentary about making The Wind Rises a few weeks ago. This is a very tragic day for cinema, and many fans are grieving hearing about this. @somebadideas wrote on Twitter: "Like many I've been in denial but truly, Hayao Miyazaki the world's greatest living filmmaker, has retired." That may be true, but at the least he leaves a remarkable legacy of so many wonderful films that will be cherished even more than ever before.
Update! While the original reports were quick to say it was a total shutdown, some are hinting that it may just be a "temporary break" from making new movies. "Suzuki's statement might have been mistranslated; he's actually saying that Ghibli is 'taking a rest' based on a twitter post." Hence the idea of retooling and rebooting. The main quote says he will "dismantle the production department" which connects with the idea that it's a "restart" and they will "wait for new viable projects". We're waiting for any more official reports, as there are only a few translations from Tumblr at the moment, along with this Kotaku rumor a weeks ago.
Update #2! Anime News Network sort of confirms the news, adding these quotes from producer Toshio Suzuki: "While there has been talk among some about dissolving the studio outright, Suzuki emphasized that the truth is that the studio is considering 'housecleaning' or restructuring for now. The end result would be 'rebuilding' the studio and creating an environment for the next generation." They add that "Suzuki did not downplay the significance of Miyazaki's retirement. Still, he added, 'On what to do with Studio Ghibli's future, it is by no means impossible to keep producing [movies] forever. However, we will take a brief pause to consider where to go from here.'" Sounds about right with taking a break from features for now.
Update #3! Kotaku has followed-up with better translation of the quotes from Tumblr and constructs a narrative from Suzuki: "We're thinking about disbanding the production department and making a big change to the larger view of Studio Ghibli." He again uses a word like "restructure" or "reconstruction" of Ghibli, before adding: "Obviously, Miyazaki's retiring was quite significant. After that, what should Ghibli do? With that, continuing to endlessly create like this is not impossible, but… once, right about now, we will take a short rest and think about what's next." More confirmation for taking a break from features for now.