Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki Blu-ray Review


Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki Attempts CGI

Legendary animator and filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki saddened legions of fans across the globe when he announced his retirement in 2013 after releasing his final theatrical feature, The Wind Rises. It was even more shocking when beloved animation house Studio Ghibli was dissolved in the wake of his retirement. The revered director of such animated classics as My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and Howl’s Moving Castle, Miyazaki is the most influential creator in animation since Walt Disney.

Shot over two years immediately after his retirement, Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki provides a small glimpse into the mind and creative process of the icon himself. First released in 2016, the Japanese documentary covers Miyazaki’s first dalliances with CGI and his daily life after Studio Ghibli’s closing. Acknowledging the undeniable momentum for CGI animation replacing hand-drawn animation in theatrical animation for the first time, it’s a big step for Miyazaki.

After promising The Wind Rises would be his last theatrical feature, Miyazaki quietly began working on a small project called Boro the Caterpillar. The twelve-minute animated short was to be Miyazaki’s first animated completely in CGI, working with a young team of CGI animators.

The documentary largely follows Miyazaki as he shapes Boro’s creation from the drawing board and struggles with the changing demands of modern animation. We see the legend struggle with his first stabs at drawing on a computer tablet, going back to his regular storyboards for guidance when frustrated by the technology. Better moments include Miyazaki guiding the CGI animators in a board meeting.

While the documentary helps provide a glimpse into Miyazaki’s creative process, more fascinating are the small insights into Miyazaki’s demanding personality and attitude. Repeatedly calling himself a “weak, old man” and deriding his advanced age, Miyazaki’s personal drive doesn’t seem to let him relax when working.

…largely supplementary content that should have been padded with a few outside talking heads and animation historians

We see the master animator sketch out entire storyboards by hand in elaborate detail as he helps design Boro and his world. The young CGI animators working with him are surprised by his intense craft and dedication. The documentary paints Miyazaki as a feisty senior citizen living as a curmudgeon. It doesn’t sugarcoat his personality for better or worse. His personal strengths and flaws are on full display.

That determination and attitude drove away many of the animators working for him at Studio Ghibli. The documentary notes he never successfully developed a replacement to pass the torch, tarnishing his image. Reading between the lines, it seems Miyazaki announced his initial retirement to keep fan expectations in check on his next project and remove pressure to keep Studio Ghibli afloat after he left.

If you are looking for a better and more involved dive into Studio Ghibli’s inner workings during their peak years, go for director Mami Sunada’s Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. There is a sad, bittersweet note about Studio Ghibli’s passing in Never-Ending Man that feels unpleasant as a fan. When Miyazaki looks to call one of his long-time animators for help on his new short, he discovers she passed away the year before and wonders on camera why he’s out-lived her. They had worked together for fifty-some years.

Miyazaki’s legacy has already been built with animated classic after animated classic under his belt. He’s already reneged on The Wind Rises being his final Studio Ghibli animated feature and is currently working again on his next animated movie. This small documentary gives us a personal window into what he was doing in the two years after announcing retirement and a glimpse into his creative process, but not much else. It’s largely supplementary content that should have been padded with a few outside talking heads and animation historians.

Video

Never-Ending Man’s picture quality instantly recalls a local news channel’s random interview footage. Expect rudimentary television video shot in HD with one hand-held camera as they follow Miyazaki on his daily business.

The 1080i presentation is shown at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The 70-minute main feature gets encoded in generous AVC parameters on a BD-50. This is not polished video made for a theatrical release. It resembles a glorified special feature in their usual A/V quality with lower standards.

The film clips from Studio Ghibli’s animated classics look great by comparison. The raw interview footage with Miyazaki has serviceable clarity and definition.

Audio

The only audio is a sparse Japanese soundtrack heard in 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Outside of a few film clips, the documentary is almost all dialogue. Capturing Miyazaki’s private moments by following him around with a camera and minimal recording equipment over two years, dialogue quality is patchy at best. Miyazaki practically mumbles his way through many of the moments.

There is a distant, recessed quality to the dialogue’s audibility that occasionally makes understanding difficult. I liberally recommend using the subtitle option even if you speak Japanese.

Optional English, Spanish and French subtitles play in a white font.

Extras

GKIDS and Shout Factory release the Japanese documentary in a Blu-ray and DVD combo set. A glossy slipcover is available. The Blu-ray is coded for Region A.

Alternate 48-Minute Version With English Narration And New Footage (48:10 in HD with 2.0 DTS-HD MA) – A female voice in English narrates this alternate cut of the main documentary. This culls the meandering footage of Miyazaki puttering around performing mundane tasks. It’s a tighter, more focused edit that offers a less personal experience and a different perspective. Interestingly enough, it paints a slightly different and less negative portrait of Miyazaki. This is more accessible for casual fans and probably worth watching first for English speakers.

Theatrical Trailers (04:07 in HD) – The U.S. and original trailers are included.

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Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki
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A raw, unrefined look into animation legend Miyazaki’s two years after announcing retirement, working on his first CGI project.

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