Movie Review: ‘NEVER-ENDING MAN: HAYAO MIYAZAKI’ is a thoughtful portrait of a master

Hayao Miyazaki at work in NEVER-ENDING MAN: HAYAO MIYAZAKI. Courtesy of GKids.

Courtney Howard // Film Critic


Not Rated, 70 minutes 
Directed by: Kaku Arakawa

The transitional role from career-minded professional to retiree isn’t easy for many people – especially for someone of Hayao Miyazaki’s caliber. He’s a masterful artist and dedicated storyteller who’s enraptured and delighted audiences with his animated features for decades. His creative drive is incomparable and inspiring. And he’s one of the few filmmakers who can send shockwaves around the globe upon the announcement of retirement – which he’s done and un-done several times.

Director Kaku Arakawa’s NEVER-ENDING MAN: HAYAO MIYAZAKI is a portrait of the iconic figure locked in both a personal and professional struggle: attempting to rectify his overflowing font of creativity with the physical and psychological limitations of advanced age. Though the documentary plays like a truncated version of the TV special that aired on Japan’s NHK, it’s fascinating to glean wisdom and insight into the legendary filmmaker’s thoughtful, at times torturous, creative process. Giving us a window into his self-doubts (“Am I alive at 78,” he questions) and self-deprecating wit (he calls himself a “geezer” repeatedly) helps humanize the legendary god-like figure – a status he’s been eager to do away with for years.

The documentary, which is sectioned off into chapters,begins in early 2015, a few years after the press conference where Miyazaki announced he was retiring and that the animation studio he founded, Studio Ghibli, was essentially being disbanded. The camera follows him around his atelier, capturing him puttering restlessly, making tea and ramen, doodling and questioning the popularity of FROZEN’s anthem “Let It Go.” At first a reticent subject for the camera, he transforms before our eyes by chapter two into a man rediscovering his love for his craft. He draws renewed vigor from his art, and it ultimately revives his drive for the preservation of hand-drawn animation – an art form that would surely suffer without his worldly presence.

Hayao Miyazaki at work in NEVER-ENDING MAN: HAYAO MIYAZAKI. Courtesy of GKids.

The fly-on-the-wall approach gives us an inside look into how Miyazaki conceives, conceptualizes and crafts his ideas by following his process for creating the Ghibli museum short “Boro the Caterpillar.” The filmmakers also subtly spotlight his vulnerability and humanity through the introspective,profound thoughts we see him pondering. The ensuing events show a man unwilling to creatively stagnate despite many of his friends and trusted studio employees dying – colleagues like long-time collaborators Michiyo Yasuda and Masako Shinohara. He wonders why he’s left behind and not them.

There are many inspiring, thought-provoking ideas to be pulled from watching a revered, beloved industry pioneer in the next stage of life. He spouts platitudes like “all important things in the world are a hassle” (chapter five’s title, incidentally) that lead the audience to believe that if they’re not suffering for their art, it’s probably not groundbreaking.

Miyazaki is a visionary beyond parody or mimicry. So much so, when they try to emulate his style in CG, the animators fail. His skill at visualizing character motivation and movement is incomparable. His voice in the industry is vital and unique. We can only hope that he keeps un-retiring from a craft that gives him, and us, so much joy.


About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.