After the superb 2013 documentary about Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, I wasn’t sure that there was much left explore on the topic. And when I recently learned that GKIDS had released another documentary about Miyazaki last year, Never-Ending Man, the trailers and clips that I watched gave me the impression that it would largely be a meditation on mortality and the inevitable entropy of diminishing physical and mental capacities that come with aging. And it is. But it is also so, so much more.
The documentary opens with the press conference in 2013 when Miyazaki announced his retirement. Again. But this time, he assured us, he meant it. It then jumps ahead a couple of years, and we find Miyazaki puttering around his personal studio every day, still somehow managing to find art projects to occupy his time and attention, all day, every day. There are some melancholy shots of the Studio Ghibli building, now shuttered and empty. The documentarian following him around with a camera is literally in the room when Miyazaki gets the phone call that a former employee of Ghibli has just passed away, on two separate occasions. Miyazaki seems worn out and drawn, talking a lot about mortality and how his time has passed.
After a chance encounter with a group of young CGI animators leads him to reopen Studio Ghibli and begin work on a new short film, we see Miyazaki gradually become re-energized. The process is not without its pitfalls, but the act of starting a new project and seeing it to completion seems to reignite something in him, and by the end of the documentary his outlook appears to have completely changed. I don’t want to go into too much detail for fear of spoiling how it all unfolds, but there is a moment at the end where Miyazaki has made the decision to keep working until he dies. It would be better, he says, than simply stopping and then wait around for death to claim him. Better, he says, to die with something to live for.