Considered the Walt Disney of Japan, manga artist, animator, and filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki is known for transporting audiences to new magical worlds with his enchanting stories, lovable and memorable characters, and a gorgeous animation style.
From his 1979 directorial debut, The Castle of Cagliostro, to the yet-to-be-released How Do You Live?, Miyazaki has been dazzling audiences of all ages for nearly 60 years. He’s a master of the form and one of the most influential artists from Japan. Here are 11 facts you should know about the iconic filmmaker.
1. Aviation plays a role in many of Hayao Miyazaki's movies.
Hayao Miyazaki's father was the director of Miyazaki Airplane, a manufacturing company that built rudders and other fighter plane parts for the Japanese government during World War II. His family's background in aviation became a passion for Miyazaki, and many of his films feature themes of taking flight, including 1988's My Neighbor Totoro, 1989's Kiki’s Delivery Service, 1992 Porco Rosso, and more.
In fact, 2013's The Wind Rises is an animated biopic about Jiro Horikoshi, the engineer and designer of the Japanese Mitsubishi A5M and Mitsubishi A6M Zero flyers used during World War II.
2. Hayao Miyazaki co-founded Studio Ghibli in 1985.
On June 15, 1985, Hayao Miyazaki co-founded Studio Ghibli with Grave of the Fireflies (1988) director Isao Takahata, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) producers Toshio Suzuki and Yasuyoshi Tokuma, and Miyazaki’s son, Gorō Miyazaki.
True to Miyazaki’s love of aviation, Studio Ghibli is named after the Caproni Ca.309 Ghibli military plane used during Italy’s occupation of Africa during World War II. According to the company, the word ghibli is Italian for "hot desert wind," and the name was chosen because the founders wanted to create a film studio that would "blow a new wind through the anime industry."
3. Hayao Miyazaki refused to attend the Academy Awards in 2003.
Despite winning the Oscar for Best Animated Film for 2001's Spirited Away (the first and only foreign-language winner in the category to date), Hayao Miyazaki refused to attend the 75th Academy Awards in 2003 due to the outbreak of the Iraq War, which started a few days beforehand.
"It is regrettable that I cannot rejoice from my heart over the prize because of the deeply sad events taking place in the world," Miyazaki wrote in a handwritten statement. "However, I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to all my friends who have lent their effort in releasing ‘Spirited Away’ in the United States and to all those who have shown their appreciation of the movie."
4. Hayao Miyazaki also directed a music video.
In the middle of production on Princess Mononoke in 1995, Miyazaki wrote and directed an animated music video for Japanese rock duo Chage and Aska’s song "On Your Mark," as a part of a Ghibli Experimental Theater side project. The seven-minute music video is set in a Blade Runner-esque sci-fi world and follows two cops during a raid of a religious cult’s temple, while government officials then take an angel hiding inside. Later, the pair rescue the angel held captive inside of a nuclear reactor.
5. Hayao Miyazaki has already "retired" twice
Miyazaki retired from filmmaking after the release of The Wind Rises in 2013, but he returned in 2016 to direct a short film called Boro the Caterpillar for the Studio Ghibli Museum. Soon after, Miyazaki also started production on How Do You Live?, a brand-new feature film that he wanted to make for his grandson. In 2020, Studio Ghibli co-founder Toshio Suzuki told Entertainment Weekly that the studio is basically finishing one minute of animation on the movie per month, with hopes of a 2023 release.
Miyazaki is no stranger to brief retirements from filmmaking. In 1997, he announced Princess Mononoke would be his final film, but he was back directing movies a few years later with Spirited Away in 2001.
6. There's a worm named after a Hayao Miyazaki character.
In 2007, a group of Russian zoologists discovered a new velvet worm species in Cát Tiên National Park in Vietnam. And because of its caterpillar-like shape and multiple stumpy legs, researchers named it Eoperipatus totoro after the Catbus in Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro.
7. Hayao Miyazaki teamed up with the iconic schlock studio, Troma Entertainment, for My Neighbor Totoro.
Five years after its release in Japan, My Neighbor Totoro was released in the United States in 1993. Studio Ghibli struck a deal with low-budget genre movie company Troma Entertainment—known for B-movie cult classics like The Toxic Avenger, Cannibal! The Musical, Tromeo and Juliet, and Surf Nazis Must Die—for U.S. distribution. This would be the first time a Miyazaki film got a wide release in the States.
8. Hayao Miyazaki doesn't work from a script first.
The animation in Miyazaki’s films is elaborate and detailed, but the Japanese filmmaker doesn’t like to write a screenplay before he starts making a new movie. Instead, Miyazaki finds the story through creating storyboards.
"I don't have the story finished and ready when we start work on a film. I usually don't have the time," Miyazaki said to Midnight Eye in 2002. "So the story develops when I start drawing storyboards. The production starts very soon thereafter, while the storyboards are still developing. We never know where the story will go but we just keep working on the film as it develops. It's a dangerous way to make an animation film and I would like it to be different, but unfortunately, that's the way I work and everyone else is kind of forced to subject themselves to it."
9. Hayao Miyazaki will mail you a samurai sword if you try to cut his movies.
In 1997, Miramax acquired the rights to distribute Princess Mononoke in North America. However, executives at the film company were notorious for acquiring foreign films and re-editing them for American audiences, and they wanted to cut the film down from 133 minutes to just 90 minutes. To make their feelings on the matter clear, Miyazaki and his producer sent executives a samurai sword with a simple message attached: "No cuts." Miramax ended up releasing Princess Mononoke at its full running time (though, for the record, Miyazaki puts most of the blame on his producer for the stunt).
10. The Simpsons paid homage to Hayao Miyazaki.
After announcing his retirement in 2013, animators on The Simpsons paid tribute to Miyazaki with an elaborate sequence that featured references to nearly all of his movies—including Otto as the aforementioned Catbus—in the season 25 episode "Married to the Blob."
11. Hayao Miyazaki is known to whip up ramen for his production team.
During the making of Spirited Away, Miyazaki and his production team would work long days and late nights to meet the film’s release date. To boost morale every night, there would be an 11 p.m. staff meal break with a different member of the team preparing the meal for the rest of the crew—even Miyazaki who would make his "Poor Man's Salt-Flavored Ramen," which includes loads of instant noodles, eggs, and fresh vegetables.