By Greg Beck (Hiroshima–ken, 2006-11) for JQ magazine. Greg is a writer, producer, home brewer, and Social Coordinator for JETAA Southern California and Arizona. A former news producer for Tokyo Broadcasting System in New York, he currently works freelance in Los Angeles. For more cinema reviews, follow him on Twitter at @CIRBECK #MovieReview.
Receiving its East Coast premiere last night at Japan Society in New York, NHK’s new documentary on Studio Ghibli’s famed animation director Hayao Miyazaki offers a seemingly deep and undeniably personal look into the man’s current life, as well as his achievements and challenges, both artistically and—in his old age—existentially. True to Japanese-style filmmaking, we see a series of scenes as they happen, and are left to draw our own meaning. Still, this tight, 70-minute documentary does not wander. It preserves a feeling of deliberate pacing and purpose through clever editing, and possibly even some deliberate misdirection, which echo Miyazaki’s personal deliberations.
The film starts with Miyazaki’s retirement announcement at a press conference in September 2013. It then jumps forward two years, to an unseen and seldom-heard cameraman, whose perspective we take for this fly-on-the-wall documentary. Entering his gorgeous, countryside atelier, Miyazaki grumbles humbly, “What do you have a camera for? There’s nothing worth seeing. I’m retired.” He feeds birds, smokes, makes tea, and gripes about the complacency of Disney’s Frozen anthem “Let It Go,” but in no time shows that his creative drive is undiminished. Walking to a table covered in a pile of pages of new projects and material, he insists, “I’m a retired pensioner. I’m just fooling around now.”
This is clearly not the case. Following Miyazaki over the course of 2016, he grapples with many issues, including using CGI to animate a short film, Boro the Caterpillar, the deaths of several longtime colleagues and friends, and how best to confront his own career and mortality in his twilight. Rather than arriving at answers, the film presents carefully chosen scenes illustrating Miyazaki’s many concerns and actions, sometimes directly contradicting himself. Occasional interviews with his longtime Ghibli producer, Toshio Suzuki, provide necessary background and context. While the documentary expertly seizes on various facets of his life, his relationship with his wife, whom he refers to twice but is never seen, is glaringly absent, reminding us that our privileged perspective is not truly all-access.
Still, most of this film feels intimate. So much so, that even if the documentary were nothing but a clever marketing scheme, seeing this much of the man who (especially in the United States) is known solely by his body of touching and influential work provides fascinating and valuable insight. It is at times touching, consistently engaging, and well worth a watch. For all of the morbid humor he and his friends use discussing his death, here’s hoping that time is a long way off.
For NHK World’s edited broadcast of Never–Ending Man, click here.
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