Do You Remember That Old Lullaby?

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The Emperor of Japan invited Hayao Miyazaki to visit the Imperial Palace on Monday. He was to receive a cultural award and take tea with the Emperor, the Empress, their second son Prince Akishino and his wife. Unfortunately he was too busy with work to attend.

The man who has made and abandoned more retirement plans than the average insurance company is working on a new movie. And it looks as if this one is taking him back to his earliest roots, to the place where his passion for powered flight was born.

Two years ago, Miyazaki published a short manga in Model Graphix magazine called Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises.) When he was born in 1941, Japan was at war, and his father and uncle were hard at work in the family business. Miyazaki Airplane made rudders for Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter planes. The Zero fighter was the backdrop to Miyazaki’s formative years. The Wind Rises is the story of the plane’s designer, Jiro Horikoshi.

On November 2nd, distributor and production company TOHO registered the and web domains. This apparently confirmed a ‘slip’ in a radio interview by Toshio Suzuki and widespread online speculation that Miyazaki’s next project would be based on the manga. Since Isao Takahata is scheduled to finish and release his next film in the summer of 2013, the stage seems set for a powerful double bill, a replay of the summer of 1988 when My Neighbour Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies premiered in Japan’s cinemas.

This would undoubtedly make a fabulous swansong for the founding fathers of Studio Ghibli. Takahata is 77 and has never been a fast worker: his last feature film, My Neighbours the Yamadas, appeared in 1999. Retirement after the next film might be a reasonable assumption.

Miyazaki, however, has had a productive millennium so far, with three features and eight short films since 2000. If The Wind Rises appears in 2013, as hinted, he will have averaged one feature every three years since 2001. He’s only 71. If he keeps up this pace, he could write and direct two more features before he’s much older than Takahata is now.

But will he have the impetus to do it? In 1997 the process of hero-making that began with Nausicaa of the Valley of The Wind ended with the creation of his ideal hero-king, Ashitaka, in Princess Mononoke. Since then he has occupied himself with how children, specifically girls, become who they are, while his longtime friend and fixer Suzuki has drawn parallels between the creator’s life and work. Perhaps The Wind Rises will find its place in this personal cycle, by moving back past his relationship with his director son Goro and the gifted former animator he married, to the family business that helped to shape his infancy.

Novelist Albert Camus wrote “A man’s work is nothing but the long journey to rediscover through the detours of art  the two or three simple and powerful images in the presence of which his heart first opened.” For Hayao Miyazaki, maybe his next movie will complete that journey of discovery, bringing him back to the small boy who drew the aeroplanes his father and uncle made, and dreamed of one day flying to magical places.

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