Hayao Miyazaki, the anime director behind such classics as “Spirited Away” and “Ponyo,” has reportedly announced his retirement. Was the great Japanese animator greater than Walt Disney?

September 2, 2013, 12:18 PM

Hayao Miyazaki Retires: Was He Better Than Walt Disney?


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2001 – Studio Ghibli “Spirited Away.”

Reports that Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki is retiring has sent anime fans into mourning. But it should also send them to their DVD collections and to iTunes to watch his work and celebrate his genius. The news about the famed filmmaker’s retirement was announced yesterday at theVenice Film Festival, where the director’s latest movie,  “The Wind Rises,” received its international premiere, Variety reported. Miyazaki reportedly will give a press conference later this week. Representatives for DisneyDIS -0.41%, which distributes Miyazaki’s movies in the U.S., didn’t respond to a request for comment. Miyazaki was often likened to Walt Disney, but such comparisons sold both animators short.Over his career, the 72-year-old Miyazaki has been both beloved and somewhat mysterious, often remaining distant from the Western press, even as his films were warmly embraced by critics. Still little-known in the U.S., his movies are blockbusters in Japan, and are hugely influential around the world.

When I interviewed Miyazaki in 2009 shortly before the release of “Ponyo,” I found him to be anything but reclusive–he was was expansive in his answers, and quick to laugh.

Miyazaki directed such animated feature film classics as “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004), “Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989), “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988), “Castle in the Sky” (1986) and the Oscar-winning “Spirited Away” (2001).

Many of Miyazaki’s films explore the futility of war. His films often lack villains–and instead present opposing interests looking for resolutions. Miyazaki told me that growing up in Japan in the shadow of World War II shaped his outlook about conflict, but he tries to keep his views from coming across too “overtly.”

While Disney movies typically feature female protagonists only when they are princesses, and only a single Pixar movie, “Brave,” has had a female hero in the lead, Miyazaki’s movies routinely celebrate girls in central roles. “Kiki’s Delivery Service” was about a young witch’s coming of age; and in “Spirited Away” a young girl saves her family.

There’s no real debate over the genius of Disney. We’ll all get a closer look at the man (albeit through a dramatic lens) in the coming movie “Saving Mr. Banks,” in which he will be portrayed by Tom Hanks.

I recently took a trip to Orlando where the power of Disney’s commercial vision was reconfirmed, as I waited in long lines for rides and shopped for branded toys for family members. The recent release of Disney Infinity, the video game that features figurines of Disney characters, demonstrates how Disney’s imagination translates profitably into advancing technological times.

While none of Miyazaki’s films was a huge hit in the U.S., his influence on animation was global.

Protecting the environment is a major theme in Miyazaki’s works, and with the growing concern over global warming, his vision seems increasingly visionary. In “Ponyo,” man and nature are portrayed as out of balance, and the sea is depicted as full of refuse. “All I did is just draw how the sea has become, the way it is in reality,” Miyazaki told me.

I was first introduced to Miyazaki during a trip to Japan years ago. I stayed with a family friend, who told me that Miyazaki was “our Walt Disney.”

I’ve since learned that he was much more than that.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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