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Never Ending Man Hayao Miyazaki (2016)

I have never really connected with the majority of the Studio Ghibli films directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The exception was Porco Rosso which I loved. That being said I do understand why he is revered as a director - his films are beautiful to look at, crafted superbly and full of little details - I think it must be the stories that don't connect. Because he is so good at what he does and because he is such an influential figure in anime and animation I find myself very curious about how he goes about his craft. With the release of Never Ending Man Hayao Miyazaki in the UK by Anime Limited I jumped at the chance to pre-order a copy and find out more about Miyazaki as  director and also what goes on behind the imagery in animation.
The documentary footage for Never Ending Man Hayao Miyazaki was recorded over 2 years in Japan following the 2013 announcement of Miyazaki's retirement. Released in the UK in 2020 it has been available in Japan since 2016 and was released in 2018 in the US by GKIDS. The documentary footage is edited into a 70 minute subtitled feature which gets close to Miyazaki in his home, the "office" at Studio Ghibli and gets candid views from Toshio Suzuki, a co-founder and producer at the studio as well as a friend of the esteemed director.
It appears that after retirement Miyazaki still has something that he wants to make. He meets with a young, dynamic group of CGI animators. With Ghibli and Miyazaki being famous for hand-drawn animation (and staying away from CGI) you can imagine the sense of wonder and conflicting thoughts as Miyazaki sees that his idea, Boro the Caterpillar, could be completed using these alternative techniques. 

Taking up a desk in one of the Ghibli offices Miyazaki and the CGI animators get to work and the documentary presents a very intimate view of the journey they start together. It is clear from the outset that the CGI animators are full of enthusiasm and belief in their tools, skills and experience. They have a sense of confidence about them but are still willing to learn and oh what an experience they get. 

It is clear from the outset that Miyazaki can see the potential for Boro the Caterpillar in the skills of the CGI animators but feels unable to communicate what he wants. His world is pen, paper and quick corrections or rough line tests to get his points across. How does he do it with these new tools? Equally these CGI tools have physics and mathematics built into them but even when it is physically correct, if it doesn't fit with what we expect to see, it doesn't deliver. There are wonderful moments where Miyazaki explains what isn't quite right with the rough work he is being shown or where he wants extra emphasis placed. In these moments he draws on all of his animation and life experience to bring life to a caterpillar and when you see his suggestions applied to the CGI sequence it comes to life and Boro is given a personality that in he didn't have before. It is fascinating to watch.

This is a documentary about Miyazaki, Boro and the CGI animators just happen to be there. We are treated to sequences where we watch him draw, paint and study his environment to get inspiration. During those elements it seemed to me that he was content and absorbed in what he was doing. Outside of those times (and when directing the animation) I got the sense that he was restless, like he was looking for something, a purpose perhaps. Perhaps it was his next challenge - we now know he is working on the feature How Do You Live? which could be released in the next year or so. I'm guessing that is a challenge. 

Never Ending Man doesn't shy away from some of the more challenging moments that they filmed and in doing so they showed a much more human personality than I was expecting. (I'm currently reading Starting Point. It's a collection of essays, interviews and articles by and with Hayao Miyazaki which creates a very distinctive image.) Early sequences showed quite a strict exacting director. Along with the moments of his restlessness, the different languages of CGI and hand drawn animation really comes out. You can see the frustration in his face and body and it is an experience that we can all relate to. It's like when you can't remember something and are trying to describe it to someone and they have no clue what you are talking about. 

I can't begin to imagine what it is like to go from challenging stressful work that is all encompassing to ... nothing, let alone have such a body of critically acclaimed work. This feature really brought that out and made me think of colleagues who have retired, or friends and family. It really showed me the importance (again) of having things that you love to do (and can do!) for the future. I could have watched hours of Miyazaki drawing and painting at his table at home. There was a real sense of peace and contentment about it. You are watching a master at his craft.

Never Ending Man Hayao Miyazaki is a must see for anyone who is interested in Miyazaki or has an interest in animation. It is an intimate journey with Miyazaki as it feels like he searches for something after retirement. It presents a very human subject going through emotions and moments that we can all relate and look forward to. 


I A NUTSHELL:  An intimate portrayal of a director adjusting to retired life when there is still more to give.