"Who Is The Next Hayao Miyazaki?"

by Kevin Cirugeda,

If every anime viewer were to write a shortlist of the most essential creators in the industry, I have no doubt that Hayao Miyazaki would receive the most mentions with a massive lead over everyone else. And that's not really an issue of perception, as he has definitely been critical to anime as it is; while most people are only acquainted with him due to Ghibli's massively successful movies, his actual influence extends from his fight for a labor union during his Toei youth to the entire generations of animators that were inspired by him. No other anime director can even begin to compare to the international critical acclaim he has received, and the consistent financial success of his movies also puts all his peers to shame. And perhaps more importantly, Miyazaki's worth in bringing anime closer to viewers all around the world is invaluable – from people with a budding interest in the medium to children who held these films dear for all their lives, even individuals who irrationally despise the mere idea of anime. As you can imagine however, there are some downsides to his monumental figure as well; his presence eclipsed other fascinating minds surrounding him like Ghibli's co-founder Isao Takahata, and even the studio as an entity got so entangled with his image that a post-Miyazaki Ghibli became unsustainable. If you have been keeping up with the news for the last few years, it's easy to see why the latter is quite the problem.

Long-time fans might be aware of this already, but September 2013 was far from the first time Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement. His approach to film-making is unhealthily zealous at the best of times, which combined with his age has led to him repeatedly announcing he was quitting ever since Princess Mononoke came out. Warning signs that increased in intensity until after The Wind Rises, when he proclaimed he would definitely retire from feature-length films. With him gone and a weakened Ghibli announcing that they would put major production on hiatus, a massive hole seemed to open in the anime industry. The murmurs had existed for over a decade, but these events triggered them to become actual worries and set speculation ablaze: who would be The Next Miyazaki?

Goro Miyazaki
The idea of The Next Miyazaki was rather literal at some point. Goro Miyazaki was likely more aware than any of us that succeeding his father would be impossible, hence why he pursued a very different career as landscaper. But as if there was some magic at play, that lead him to take on architectural design work, and that to assisting the planning stages of Ghibli's museum. After serving as its director for a few years, a project at the studio in need of a leader ended up on his lap. Hayao was opposed to the idea for understandable reasons; he's an obsessive genius director who will go as far as personally revising countless key animation sheets for his projects, while his son had no experience whatsoever and wasn't even an animator. The result was bittersweet: Hayao Miyazaki acknowledged Goro's Tales from Earthseasort of at least, let's not forget he'll even harshly assess the work of his dear colleague Takahata – but the reception of his son's movie was mixed to say the least.
That wasn't the tragic end to a career, though; things worked out better when it came to Goro's second film From Up On Poppy Hill, which Hayao co-wrote. He even received an award for Ronia the Robber's Daughter, a modern equivalent of the classic World Masterpiece Theater series that was met with positive critical reception despite the initial backlash against its usage of 3DCG. These are evidently not the works of someone trying to follow their father's steps, however – something he has openly stated he can't and won't do. As he moves onto supervising a Chinese CG film, it's clear that Goro's path as a creator will be to become Another Miyakazi, not the next one.

Mamoru Hosoda
Perhaps the most widely accepted tentative successor, with a delicious tint of unintended irony. I feel like Hosoda barely needs an introduction at this point; for quite a while he has methodically released a new movie every 3 years, fantastic films set in inventive settings that have enamored many. Each one has been more financially successful than the previous to the point of becoming a force to be reckoned, and even on an international level he's gained massive recognition. A perfectly suitable candidate, then? Maybe, if you ignore his rather somber past at Hayao Miyazaki's very own Ghibli. He became a bit of an exception at the studio by being trusted with a film despite being an outsider, but his strong personal style clashed with what was expected of him, and unable to convince the producers he was removed from the project that would eventually become Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle. It's no secret that Hosoda's dark feelings about the situation dyed the film he directed after going back to Toei: One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island, which then became the launching platform for his career.
This isn't to say that Hosoda must still feel bitter about what happened, but it does make the vehement claims that he must be The Next Miyazaki a bit amusing, as they have already been deemed incompatible creators.

Makoto Shinkai
Makoto Shinkai is no stranger to the title of Next Miyazaki. Scattered comments already awarded him that fate pretty much every time he produced a new work, but those faint statements might as well have been Voices of a Distant Star before Children Who Chase Lost Voices – a film that brought him stylistically closer to people's perception of the Ghibli brand, and thus greatly intensified the parallels made by fans and critics alike. The movie didn't turn out to be a favorite amongst his fans at large however, and ultimately its reach was still very limited; for a long time his entire oeuvre had only received very limited screenings and thus wasn't allowed to cause a huge splash, even though he was already perceived as a big deal online. your name. was his first film given wide distribution, and as you're likely aware, it absolutely smashed the achievements of his past work – and just about every anime as well. Measuring its success with the lens of animation doesn't make much sense anymore, after smashing almost all of Ghibli's filmography and being well on its way to reaching Japan's Top 5 highest grossing movies of all time. When it comes to anime, only one name will still stand atop of him: the director of Spirited Away and figure he's supposed to succeed, Hayao Miyazaki. An unlikely rivalry between two artists who couldn't be further apart when it comes to the stories they want to tell.

These are the most suggested candidates, but far from all names that have been at least briefly considered; there was Hideaki Anno due to his continued success with Evangelion through Rebuild, the newer generations at Ghibli with directors like Hiromasa Yonebayashi, and amazingly even his older pal Takahata. Just about everyone who achieves a notorious non-franchise hit movie is brought up, so not even someone like Naoko Yamada would be safe. Opposite cases can get framed through the same lense as well; I've seen a film like A Letter to Momo get called Hiroyuki Okiura's failed attempt to become The Next Miyazaki, simply because it's a family-friendly original fantasy movie that didn't do amazingly well on theaters.

Who is the best fit to become The Next Miyazaki then? If none of those options convinced you then you're on the right track, because the truth is that no one is, and that approaching artists like that is fundamentally misguided. The directors who come up during these arguments aren't even stylistically similar to him, and the term has become a poisoned shorthand for Popular Anime Director Well Regarded By Casual Viewers. While there is great inherent worth in Miyazaki's achievements, reducing him to his fame alone is insulting him as a creator; even if there is no one to hear it, excellent anime does make a sound when it lands, and Miyazaki would still have been a fascinating figure even if he were misunderstood and unpopular. The same goes to the candidates to this made up title – if you truly respect their work, assigning them a role they never signed up for because one of their films happened to resonate with a wide audience isn't the best idea. And even if a new voice approaching humanity and environmentalism in a similar manner were to arise, they would still deserve better than having to live up to frankly impossible standards.

At some point there might have been a viable discussion hidden in there, but it's time to accept that The Next Miyazaki has become nothing but a creatively hollow marketing term that has no place in fan and critic discourse. While the internet was busy arguing about who could replace him, Hayao Miyazaki has already broken his promise and very recently revealed that he's pitching the concept for another feature length film. He's going to keep on creating until his last breath, and his work will still remain after that. The Current Miyazaki will never leave to begin with, so forget about the next one.


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