Blu-ray Review: Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki

Can an artist really retire? When you’re working at a call center, you imagine the day you can swipe your ID card for the last time and walk out the front doors never having to repeat the company’s name again. You dream of being able to enjoy life on your own terms. But an artist who has been able to make a living without their output is a totally different thing. Do they really want to turn off their creativity? These are people who never officially took a day off because whenever an idea hit them, they had to at least sketch it out. “Retirement” for an artist sometimes means scaling down the projects. The paintings becomes a manageable size. A musician sticks to a few local shows. A director focuses on script ideas and executive producing. After the release of The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki announced he was retiring from animation. At age 72, he was ready to step away from rigors of filmmaking. His retirement led to the shutting down of the production facility at Studio Ghibli. He was going to help with exhibits at the Studio Ghibli Museum in Tokyo. Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki is an extremely intimate portrait of the Oscar winner’s retirement.

Director and cameraman Kaku Arakawa quickly finds Miyazaki not enjoying the new routine of his life. Sure he’s not in a rush with production deadlines looming over him and hundreds of animators waiting on his approval. He moves around a sparsely furnished house and does a little drawing for the museum. The biggest thing lately has been attending funerals of his colleagues. His longtime producer Toshio Suzuki jokes that all they can do now is wait for death. And it’s around this time that Miyazaki finds something to keep him busy as he wants to see if an old dog can learn a new trick. Studio Ghibli was noted for being all about hand drawn animation. Now after all these decades, Miyazaki wants to make a short CGI cartoon about a caterpillar. Suzuki is eager to have his pal working again. They dust out the old production room and bring in a bunch of kids with their computers. We learn along with him as to what it takes to work in this new frontier of animation We see when he learns what he needs to do to make this technology work as an extension of his artistry and not merely let the computer do the heavy work. We also see how getting deeper in the project makes him more youthful. Although Suzuki jokes that working with young people makes Miyazaki feel younger, but Miyazaki ages the kids. Miyazaki reflects on how he devoured the talent of all those around him which was part of why studio shutdown production with his retirement. But now he is back, the studio is humming and people are happy that he’s even doing a small project. Of course they want more, but can he give more?

Arakawa gives a full portrait of Miyazaki and not just a “isn’t he great” marketing promo. There’s footage from before the retirement when Miyazaki tears into an animator who is not understanding what’s necessary in the scene. Later a group of computer animators bring in a demonstration of what Deep Learning can allow a computer to do when it comes to animating on its own. Miyazaki isn’t pleased at the subject matter on the screen and he unloads on them. Both times, he doesn’t go into an over the top tirade for no reason. He lays out why they aren’t getting happy Miyazaki in his work apron. He makes animated films. He’s not a cartoon.

It must be noted that the final version of Boro the Caterpillar is not included on the Blu-ray. This can only be seen at the Studio Ghibli Museum in Tokyo.

Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki is must see viewing for fans of Spirited Away, Ponyo and Howl’s Moving Castle. You get to see the spaces where he made so many of his masterpieces with his crew. You get a deep sense of how he works and communicates with his staff. How he views elements of his animation. If you’re not a fan, this is a very thoughtful documentary about a man facing retirement. We go from the question of whether Miyazaki can he really just stop what he’s been doing for all these decades to can he change his techniques and finally if he’s satisfied with a small project. Can the artist really walk away? The answer for Miyazaki is obvious.

The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. Kaku Arakawa appears to have shot the documentary using a rather small camera and without extra lights so he can sneak into spaces for the best view. The imagine gets extra grainy when people are out after dark. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio stereo. Everyone is speaking Japanese so there’s subtitles in English, French and Spanish to help you understand the conversations.

DVD with all the bonus features found on the Blu-ray.

Alternate Version (48:10) is recut and features an English speaking narrator giving a voiceover. They retool things to immediately set up the big news revealed at the end of the original cut. It does give a few extra details including how he lives three minutes from the studio.

Trailers (4:07) set up how the director retired and then decides he needs to do the short film.

GKIDS and Shout! Factory present Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki. Directed by Kaku Arakawa. Starring: Hayao Miyazaki & Toshio Suzuki. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 70 minutes. Released: April 30, 2019.

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