DEVELOPING: Studio Ghibli, long home to the now-retired Oscar winner whom the Walt Disney Corp. has called the Walt Disney of Japanese animation, may shut its animation-production facilities because of the challenges of financing new features, according to an interview of an unnamed company insider posted on Japanese news sites.
The rumbles about the studio’s future have gotten louder in recent months after the latest retirement of Hayao Miyazaki, the 73-year-old director and animator whose Spirited Away won the 2003 Oscar for Best Animated feature. Miyazaki said he was stepping out of animation for good after his latest film, The Wind Rises, debuted last year, and went on to become his third Oscar nominee. When Disney took over distribution of Miyazaki’s films in the United States, it billed him as “the Walt Disney of Japanese animation.” Miyazaki’s many ardent fans famously include Pixar co-founder (and now head of Disney Animation) John Lasseter, who exec-produced the English-language translations of Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle.
The studio’s other prominent behind-the-camera leaders are also nearing retirement. Director Isao Takahata‘s last film, 2013’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya, is considered by close observers to almost certainly be his last, and he is older than Miyazaki. The studio’s co-founder and long-time producer Toshio Suzuki also stepped away last year from making films, but remains as the company’s general manager.
Other directors in the Ghibli fold haven’t been even as successful recently, creating a cash crunch for the studio as it continued to maintain a Japan-based production operation rather than shipping animation jobs overseas. As a result, said the unnamed company insider quoted in a story posted Japanese site News Cafe, Ghibli’s latest release, When Marnie Was There, “seems like it will be the last.”
Instead, the insider is quoted saying, “From here on, it appears as though this won’t be a studio that makes new works, but instead, manages its copyrights.”
In January, French publication Liberation wrote that Ghibli employees expected to be laid off after Marnie came out. Their contracts are largely scheduled to end soon. Marnie, directed by Hiramasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty) debuted last week to disappointing numbers, attracting just $3.7 million in its first two days.
Deadline called Wild Bunch, Ghibli’s partner, but could not reach anyone for comment. It’s late night in Japan, so we’ll be following up further as soon as possible.