Sunday, September 1, 2013

Miyazaki retiring, says Studio Ghibli chief | The Japan Times

Miyazaki retiring, says Studio Ghibli chief | The Japan Times

I wonder what retirement in this case truly means.  Have we heard the last of Hayao Miyazaki?  I doubt it.  If we have, I'd say he's made several definitive statements during his career and doesn't owe anyone a thing at this point.  But considering his artistic achievements over the years and the joy he's given millions of movie-goers, we owe Miyazaki a massive world-wide round of applause and a very loud, "Arigato gozaimashita, Miyazaki-sensei!"

Here's a little personal anecdote concerning Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.  My father had Alzheimer's in his final years and lost a lot of his ability to comprehend television and movies.  Lack of effect.  Even baseball no longer interested him.  I can't say why, exactly, but a doctor could probably describe it very well.  I think it was because the images no longer connected in any meaningful way.  We as a family knew this was a sign he was going away from us little by little.

At the time I had no real interest in anime and certainly no plan to move to Japan, hadn't even seriously considered it.  I did, however, read a number of extremely positive reviews for the latest Studio Ghibli film, Spirited Away.  Roger Ebert, in particular, gushed over it and convinced me I had to see it.  For whatever reason, I put it off until it left the theaters in Athens.  One weekend I visited my parents in Albany and saw in the newspaper the local movie house still had Spirited Away.  My dad and I decided to go see it.  He didn't care anything about Spirited Away and probably couldn't even have pronounced its Japanese title if you spotted him the Chihiru and the Kamikakushi.  He wanted to go simply because I wanted to go.

Even in his prime years, ol' Dad could rarely make it through a movie in a dark theater without falling asleep, and considering his mental state at the time, I just assumed I'd watch the movie and he'd have a nice nap and then we'd go get a snack or something.  It had happened before, many times.  When I was too young to see Blade Runner, rated R, my dad, whose idea of a great movie was Blazing Saddles (I agree with him, naturally) took me and slept through it.  He did these things he wasn't interested in because he was that kind of dad.  My brothers played sports and that took up a lot of his time, but I liked weird movies and he tried to indulge me when he could, and he did so gladly.  In the Alzheimer's days, I really tried to make every moment with him count, too.  Just having him near me was extremely important.  Less than a year later, I'd be living on the other side of the world.

So off we went and the most interesting thing happened.  About halfway into the movie, I checked on him to see if he'd fallen asleep.  I saw his eyes glinting in the screen light.  They were wide open.  Unblinking.  His expression reminded me of years before, when he was healthy in body and mind, and my parents and I went to Disney World.  Out of all the attractions we rode the one he got the most out of was the horse-drawn trolley on Main Street, U.S.A.  It made a huge impression on him.  If we'd traveled all that way simply to have a horse pull us in a trolley, he'd have considered it a successful vacation.

Watching Spirited Away, with its rich colors and vividly-realized fantasy environment, the huge magical bath house full of talking frogs, radish spirits and bumbling heads, Dad wore the same look.  The engaged trolley expression.  I was so caught up in the movie I can't be sure he stayed awake for its entire running time.  And not knowing what went on in his mind I can't really be certain he got a whole lot out of the story.  Something about it captured his attention for an extended period, though, which rarely happened that year.  I asked him afterwards if he'd enjoyed it and he told me he had.  That was about the extent of our conversation on Spirited Away.  We probably went to Subway for a late lunch after that (that man loved his Subway), but we could just as easily have headed home.  I don't remember that part of the day.

But I will never forget that look, his expression there in the half-light.  I think about that and I'm happy we went to see Spirited Away together.  As lovely a movie as it is on its on, it will always have an extra meaningfulness for me because it provided one of my last happy Dad memories.

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