Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Hayao Miyazaki: The world's greatest animator

Click to play
Creating Studio Ghibli
  • Hayao Mizayaki created Studio Ghibli with business partner in 1985
  • Director and animator created international hits like "Ponyo" and "Spirited Away"
  • Miyazaki is one of the last of his kind, relying almost totally on drawing by hand

(CNN) -- Hayao Miyazaki is regarded by many as the world's greatest living animator and an icon of Japanese popular culture.

In 2002, his work burst onto international screens with the ghostly animation "Spirited Away." It smashed box office records in Japan and earned him an Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

Setting up Studio Ghibli in 1985, the 70-year-old has made 18 animated features that fuse wild fantasy with more serious issues including environmentalism and feminism.

Miyazaki's 2008 film "Ponyo" featured a catastrophic tsunami, but the animator insists that including disasters in his films only makes him a realist able to highlight the fragility of life rather than a prophetic, doom-monger.

Hayao Miyazaki's tsunami
The world's greatest animator

"I can't predict things, but I knew that a tsunami was coming because if you live in Japan that's to be expected," he said.

"We just forgot that at some point a tsunami will come. Even in the disaster stricken areas, people should have known, or even if they knew they probably felt that they were protected by the concrete around them."

Miyazaki visited the tsunami-hit area of northeast Japan four months after the disaster to screen his films to local children.

Surveying the devastation around the town of Rikuzen-Takada, he said: "The people who are going to live here should take the time and really think about what kind of town should be rebuilt."

His own attention to detail and pain-staking approach to making his films has gained him plaudits from contemporaries like Pixar's John Lasseter and "Wallace and Gromit" animator Nick Park.

But he does believe that his Studio Ghibli is one of a dying breed; a place where animators draw by hand and use computer animation sparingly.

"We are an extinct species maybe, an island of the Galapagos, and well, (hand drawing) is the only thing I'm interested in and therefore people who are not interested in working by hand should choose another place of work."

While aware of the need to creating a functioning business with Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki remains protective of his films -- "all my films are all my children" -- especially when shown to international audiences.

He once sent a samurai sword to Harvey Weinstein who was handling the release of "Princess Mononoke" with a note attached reading: "No cuts."

"Sometimes we have to create animation to support the studio, not have the studio to support the animation," he said.

"But we can't really have that approach so we have to change our mindset and say that we want to make this animation.

"Just as long as there are people, there is an audience for the films we make, that is enough."