6 December 2019
Studio Ghibli is struggling, especially after the retirement of animation master Hayao Miyazaki. Photo: Studio Ghibli
Studio Ghibli is struggling, especially after the retirement of animation master Hayao Miyazaki. Photo: Studio Ghibli

Studio Ghibli may quit producing feature animations

Now that Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki has retired, many are wondering how long Studio Ghibli will survive.

The iconic studio, which created the megahits My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies, will stop producing feature films and instead focus on managing its copyrights, according to Japanese media reports. The studio itself has been silent on the issue.

Studio Ghibli has been a deeply personal enterprise by its founders and artists, who handle all aspects of making an animation movie from story and screenplay to illustration and music, as well as editing and other post-production work. 

While most of the other animation studios in Japan have outsourced various portions of the filmmaking process overseas to bring down costs, Studio Ghibli has insisted on hiring full-time staff to maintain the quality of its production. This is highly admirable, but it has also resulted in soaring costs.

The studio’s annual labor cost is about 2 billion yen (US$19.7 million), which means it has to make an annual revenue of 10 billion yen to maintain normal operation, according to Yomiuri Online. It’s a difficult target even during its heyday, and probably almost impossible after Miyazaki retired last September.

The Wind Rises, Miyazaki’s last film, made 10 billion yen worldwide, but that money was still below break-even. Isao Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya, which was screened in Japan last November and is now showing in Hong Kong, has made around 5.1 billion yen so far.

The figures indicate that Studio Ghibli has been struggling since Miyazaki left, and its management has no choice but to stop producing feature films.

The lack of talent has made matters worse. Studio Ghibli is famous for its detailed, two-dimensional animations. In line with its perfectionist character, the studio has artists who only do the background sceneries for the film.

Another famous Japanese animator, Oshii Mamoru, once said that most Ghibli artists have no experience in drawing portraits despite working there for five to 10 years. Only few are given the coveted creative assignments. The lack of talent has become more obvious after Miyazaki left.

Studio Ghibli has yet to make an announcement on its post-Miyazaki plans. But given the heavy financial burden the studio is carrying, it may be just a matter of time before it quits making feature films. It would a great loss for fans. It would be the end of an era. 

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EJ Insight writer