Thursday, 24 July 2014

[Opinion] The Uncertain Future of Studio Ghibli

It would seem that sad times are afoot at the legendary Studio Ghibli. As the company is in the throes of releasing its latest film -- When Marnie Was There -- amongst the Japanese Public, a dark cloud looms over the Studio with regards to its future.

Last year saw the retirement of one of the company's key figure's, Director Hayao Miyazaki. Further harshening the blow is a persistent rumour that fellow Ghibli Director, Isao Takahata, followed suit and entered retirement as well. Meanwhile, at the beginning of this year, Toshio Suzuki (long-time producer to Miyazaki and Takahata) also announced his own retirement. As such, Studio Ghibli now finds itself in an uneasy transition period as the company's future remains uncertain.

Earlier this week, Kotaku ran an interesting piece regarding the uncertain future of Studio Ghibli. According to Kotaku, a purported insider told News Cafe that When Marnie Was There "seems like it could be the last film from Studio Ghibli." The article was then picked up by a major Japanese outlet and started to make the rounds.

With that said, there is indeed a reason to fret over the uncertain future of Ghibli. As of this date, their upcoming production schedule is a blank slate. The only notable production lurking in their immediate future is the upcoming Television Series Ronja The Robber spearheaded by Goro Miyazaki.

Meanwhile, this past weekend's Japanese Theatrical Debut of When Marnie Was There was met with disappointing box office figures. Debuting with an intake of 379,000,000 yen (roughly $4 Million USD), around half of what The Secret World of Arrietty took in its debut weekend. Coupled with the disappointing box office numbers of Isao Takahata's The Tale of Princess Kaguya and the persisting rumours that Toshio Suzuki is looking to dissolve the in-house production studio, and it doesn't paint the best of pictures for the future of the company.

So what is the future of Ghibli? The persisting rumour (going way back to 2010) is that the Company could survive as a copyright management company. Considering the wealth of their beloved pre-existing intellectual property, they could in theory survive of off merchandising rights alone. As sad as it would be to see the in-house production studio gutted and dissolved, it is a possible lucrative future for the company.

One of the key problems that Ghibli has faced for the past few years has been its lack of future-proofing. The problem with running a studio that is so centered around one personality (in this case Hayao Miyazaki) is that it leaves little room for those operating underneath the personality to grow. As I've always said, Studio Ghibli is more than just Hayao Miyazaki, and it is a shame to see the hard work of talented individuals such as Isao Takahata or Hiromasa Yonebashi taken for granted. But alas, Miyazaki has become so engrained as the face of Ghibli that perhaps his departure from the company was always destined to be the final blow.

Such a public mindset can be seen reflected in Box Office Numbers. For example, Miyazaki's The Wind Rises took in a total of 11.6 Billion Yen. Becoming the highest grossing film of 2013 in Japan. Meanwhile, Isao Takahata's equally impressive The Tale of Princess Kaguya took in a paltry 2.2 Billion Yen making it a considerable disappointment, if not box office flop. Was this financial result the cause of Miyazaki's earlier retirement announcement overshadowing or is it because of a waning lack of interest in everything Ghibli amongst the Japanese Public?

One can't help but think in hindsight that certain measures could have been taken to prevent such a mindset from developing. Perhaps the company should have taken further steps to groom its younger talent and to shine a spotlight in their direction as being the future of Ghibli. Thus making the transition process a little easier for the company once its founding fathers did choose to retire. But alas, that hasn't been the case. Leaving Ghibli seemingly to die under the sword of one of its key founding fathers.

With that said, there is always the chance that Miyazaki could come out of retirement. After all, in the past, Miyazaki has flirted with retirement only to make three or four films afterwards. However, upon watching his supposed final opus The Wind Rises, it did seem as if there was a sobering finality fully realised. But, as they say, in the world of show business, anything is possible.

As most of you probably know by now, I am a fan of Studio Ghibli. So how do I feel about the possible dissolvement of Studio Ghibli? I'm of two minds about the situation. On one hand, it would be incredibly sad to see this company go the way of the dodo bird.

As it stands, it would be a major blow to the already dying art of traditional cell-based animation. Furthermore, it would be the end of an era. The end of a company who I've treasured dearly for many years. The end of a company that I one day had hoped would still be producing films for my hypothetically unborn children to see and treasure, just as I did.

However, in an artistic sense of speaking, perhaps it's not a bad thing for the Studio to go out on a relatively high note. Studio Ghibli has a consistent track record that its talented staff can and should be proud-of. We're talking about a company that has produced it fair share of timeless classics, including the likes of the charming family film My Neighbor Totoro or the harrowing and devastating adult-themed drama Grave of the Fireflies. In its vault, the company has had more success than it has had failure (Spirited Away remains as the top grossing film of all time in Japan), and to live comfortably from that vault is not necessarily a terrible thing.

Perhaps the Golden Era is over for Studio Ghibli and perhaps its key staff are fully aware of this and thus ready to let it go. As sad as it is for us fans to swallow and as big of a blow as it could be to traditional cell based animation, perhaps it is the right move. With the dwindling box office receipts, the lucrative means to keep the in-house production studios afloat are increasingly difficult to justify.

Put yourself in the mindset of an artist and ask yourself which one you would rather have. A legacy of considerably praised and beloved artwork that stands the test of time or a legacy potentially tainted by excess for the sake of merely turning a profit? I think I know which one I would prefer. Much like The Beatles, Studio Ghibli and its vault of beloved films will live on as timeless classics as time rolls forward no matter what happens.

But again, this is all permeated with a big "If this is the end of Ghibli as we know it." Right now, all we have to work with is speculation and conjuncture. The truth of the matter is that we are still uncertain as to what the future has in store for Studio Ghibli, and only time will tell as to what that future is. But if this just so happens to be the end of an era, then what an era of exceptional creativity it was.

Thank you for Reading. Please Let Us Know Your Thoughts on the Potential Closing of Studio Ghibli in the Comments Box Below. And feel free to join in on the Discussion.

-Daniel M



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