Does Miyazaki Deserve His Honorary Oscar?

Mike P Williams
·Contributor

Studio Ghibli may have had a bit of a bumpy ride over the past 12 months, but one man who’s not only been consistent in his contribution, but also there right from the beginning, is Hayao Miyazaki.

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At the 87th Academy Awards held on 22 February, the animation maestro will be the recipient of the Academy Honorary Award, however, it won’t be televised and in the limelight alongside the likes of Best Picture/Actor/Actress, etc. But that’s just the way the 74-year-old would prefer it.

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For all Miyazaki’s hard work that’s led to recognition, respect and, to an extent, fame, he’s a man that would prefer to remain away from the big lights of Hollywood and be allowed to ply his trade in peace.

Some describe him as a genius, or the Japanese equivalent of Walt Disney, but such comparison doesn’t really do the animator/director/writer/producer justice, in my book. A man known for his tireless dedication, passion and enthusiasmfor telling stories, Miyazaki has not only been part of the Studio Ghibli brand for 30 years, but was one of the founding three, alongside Toshio Suzuki and Isao Takahata, back in 1985.

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Only last year he announced that he’d be hanging up his artist’s apron to serve as a change of pace, even though he admits he was never about to severe his long-term ties with anime entirely. Instead, he immediately began working on hand-drawn manga; a passion he developed as a child in the mid-20th Century. 1969 saw his first professional job in manga, but wasn’t until some 10 years later, in 1979, when he delved into his directorial debut with ‘The Castle of Cagliostro’.

Since then five decades have passed, whereby he’s built an animation studio from the ground, created a renowned brand, affirmed himself as one of the most talented artists and storytellers on the planet, and won an Oscar. Even though Ghibli’s global popularity never grew as expansively as Disney managed, the unique brand was a respected and critically lauded one.

'My Neighbour Totoro', 'Kiki's Delivery Service', 'Princess Mononoke', 'Spirited Away', 'Howl's Moving Castle', 'Porco Rosso', and his final feature, 'The Wind Rises', are just some of the extraordinary works he's accomplished over the years. Each uniquely told, gorgeously conceived, and painstakingly animated, as they set themselves apart from anything else. 

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Not only do his films please aesthetically, but they’re crammed with subtext and important messages; whether it’s addressing the anxieties of a young girl moving to new surroundings (‘Spirited’ Away’), or a commentary on conservation and the destructive nature of humanity (‘Princess Mononoke’); a Miyazaki film was always something to not only anticipate, but savour.

So it’s perhaps a surprise that Miyazaki has only ever scooped one, solitary Oscar, which was in 2003 for ‘Spirited Away’. Not that he’ll care. It’s clear he doesn’t do it for the praise or in hope of an ounce of fame. And it was no shock to many of us when it was announced he was to receive an Honorary Oscar, either. 

Miyazaki has often come across as semi-reclusive and extremely humble, if not a tad passive-aggressive in his attitude at being forced into the spotlight whenever his unquestionable talent is acknowledged.

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The Academy Honorary Award isn’t given out each year. In fact, he will be only the fourth animator to receive one, joining ranks with Walt Disney, Walter Lantz and Chuck Jones. 

Does he deserve such an honour? Without a doubt.

After all, his Oscar for ‘Spirited Away’ saw him become the first director to ever win for an anime film, yet you’d have to think back 25 years (to 1990) to the last Japanese filmmaker to be presented with anything resembling this lifetime award was which was, of course, Akira Kurosawa.

Frankly, Miyazaki’s reaction upon learning of his Oscar selection was not unexpected. In fact, it sums him up perfectly. His response: “Honestly, I don’t think there’s any need to give awards to people who have retired, but nonetheless, it is an honour.”

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Picture credit: WENN, Studio Ghibli