Hayao Comes of Age:
Growing up in Japan in the years after World War II, Hayao Miyazaki certainly never gave any thought to one day pursuing a career as an animator. He spent much of his free time drawing, however, and after graduating from a Tokyo-based university, Hayao took on a job as a low-level artist at Japan’s famed Toei Animation studio. During the next several years, Hayao rose steadily through the ranks at Toei and contributed to a number of high profile projects – though it would still be a while until he’d receive the opportunity to direct his own film.
After leaving Toei in 1971, Hayao cut his teeth as a filmmaker on a pair of Japanese television shows – though it wasn’t until 1979 that the animator made his full-length debut with The Castle of Cagliostro. The film didn’t make much of an impact on either the box office or critics, which pushed Hayao to take more chances on his next effort. 1984’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind tells the epic story of one woman’s attempts at preventing two warring societies from destroying themselves, and the movie, based on Hayao’s comic series of the same name, was an instant hit within Japan and proved instrumental in the creation of Hayao’s famed production outfit Studio Ghibli.
Hayao Goes Global:
Hayao’s growing esteem among animation buffs continued to grow as the years went by, with his 1988 fantasy My Neighbor Totoro quickly establishing itself as the filmmaker’s most highly acclaimed endeavor to date. (Roger Ebert recently included the movie as part of his ongoing “Great Movies” series and called the film “awe-inspiring,” “enchanting,” and “lovingly hand-crafted.”) And although his next few efforts weren’t quite able to replicate My Neighbor Totoro’s success, Hayao bounced back in 1997 with the international hit Princess Mononoke – which eventually went on to win a slew of awards and garnered such well-known names as Billy Bob Thornton, Claire Danes, and Billy Crudup for its English-language version.
Hayao Releases His Masterpiece:
Following up a movie as accomplished and acclaimed as Princess Mononoke would be daunting for even the most seasoned filmmaker, and yet Hayao – after taking some time off to spend time with his children – emerged in 2001 with what most fans consider his masterpiece, Spirited Away. An Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature, Spirited Away follows a young girl as she’s inadvertently drawn into a fantastical world that’s inhabited by a variety of creatures – with the film’s translation into English shepherded by no less than Pixar head honcho John Lasseter. The film, which stands at a dazzling 97% at Rotten Tomatoes, is largely perceived as one of the towering achievements of the anime genre, and yet Hayao has managed to come awfully close to the excellence of Spirited Away with his follow-up efforts - 2004’s Howl’s Moving Castle and 2008’s Ponyo.