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Depending on who you ask, and how you interpret the various peaks and valleys in his extraordinary career, Hayao Miyazaki has already retired several times, or at least walked away from Studio Ghibli more than once.
In the late 1990s, after completing Princess Mononoke, the legendary animator –– revered both in his native Japan and around the world as perhaps the greatest living practitioner of the art –– walked away from the studio he co-founded to pursue smaller scale projects, only to return to Ghibli a short time later with the Oscar-winning triumph that is Spirited Away. Even in 2013, when he formally announced his retirement from animation after completing The Wind Rises and Studio Ghibli shut down its production department in response, there were always hopes that the icon would be back.
Then, in 2016, fans got word that a new project was emerging. Ghibli was up and running again, and for the past five years Miyazaki has been quietly at work on How Do You Live?, a film inspired by the novel of the same name by Genzaburo Yoshino. First published in Japan in 1937 and released in an English translation this year, the book is a childhood favorite of Miyazaki's, and follows a 15-year-old boy in Tokyo in the wake of his father's death. Of course, just because Miyazaki has selected a source material doesn't mean he's sticking all that closely to it, as his longtime fans know very well.
So, what can we expect from How Do You Live? This week, The New York Times' T Magazine published a very rare profile on the legendary animator, now 80 years old and still averse to granting long audiences with the press. Though the profile is in-depth, covering everything from his childhood to past career triumphs and frustrations, Miyazaki remains somewhat guarded when asked about his much-anticipated new work. When asked why he chose to return for another feature, he responded simply, "Because I wanted to." And though he still takes the hands-on approach of animating many of the film's frames with his own hand, he didn't provide much in the way of teasers regarding the visuals or his approach.
Toshio Suzuki, Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli co-founder and longtime producer, was only slightly less guarded than his partner on what's to come, describing the film only as "fantasy on a grand scale," and hinting that one of the film's non-human characters reminds him of himself.
In an effort to get one last response from Miyazaki, writer Ligaya Mishan asked a rather profound question: Will he answer the question posed by the title of the film, How Do You Live?
Miyazaki's equally profound response: “I am making this movie because I do not have the answer.”
How Do You Live? does not yet have a release date.