It must have been a very earnest meeting. I like to think of them sitting round a table in a smoky, high-end restaurant, plenty of beers in, so that the producers and money-men think they have an edge on their quarry.
“Please,” one of them might have said. “Just make one more film for Studio Ghibli. Just one. You can do anything you like.”
And Hayao Miyazaki, for it is he, raises a querulous, bushy eyebrow and says with a puckish smile: “Anything…?”
Fast forward a couple of years, and the world-class director’s latest and last film hits cinemas, a fictionalised bio-pic of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Mitsubishi Zero fighter plane. From retirement, producer Toshio Suzuki must have laughed his adenoids off, because for once, it wasn’t going to be his problem.
The Wind Rises has achieved a remarkable feat, managing to annoy both the left and right wing in its native Japan. Denounced by Korean critics for its “moral repugnance,” it is already making waves in America, where the Miyazaki love-in has been disrupted by a movie about, in a sense, one of the architects of Pearl Harbor. But Horikoshi is presented as a simple inventor and dreamer, horrified at the uses to which his work is put.
Whereas Tales from Earthsea infamously played out tensions between Miyazaki and his son, The Wind Rises alludes to memories of his own father, Katsuji, director of the Miyazaki Airplanes factory. It celebrated a man who loved flight and flying, who made simple widgets that happened to get used in military machines. But perhaps it also celebrates Miyazaki himself, as the artisan who just wanted to make nice things, only to discover he was the poster-boy for an industry that also made Pokémon and porn.
He’s been grappling with this subtext for several movies now – the distracted, conscripted wizard of Howl’s Moving Castle; the muttering boiler man of Spirited Away, toiling behind the scenes but forbidden from escaping. He is saying goodbye to all that, at long last, and getting his life back.
I’d wish Miyazaki a long and peaceful retirement, but honestly, I still don’t think we’ve seen the last of him.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO magazine #120, 2014. The Wind Rises will be part of the Studio Ghibli season at London’s BFI Southbank this spring.