Have you heard? Have you heard? Studio Ghibli’s closing! They announced they’re closing their animation department! They’re going to stop making movies! Marnie killed the studio! It’s the end of an era!
Oh! This is the death knell for anime! We’re doomed, doomed to scatter to the four winds, and Sailor Mars will scorn the world with her freakishly deformed crooked fingers for all eternity!
That was the narrative yesterday across every corner of social media. From Tumblr to Twitter to Facebook, people spread pictures and partial translations, telling their own over-the-top versions of the story at hand. In a lot of ways, it was like watching Utena’s Shadow Girls chattering about the upcoming duel, considering just how over the top people were in their knee-jerk reactions. “It’s the end of anime!” proclaimed some, while others lamented this “truly sad” turn of affairs. Others still gloated about how they were right, and that Miyazaki’s departure was the death knell for the company.
All without any real confirmation, outside of a poorly translated segment from Japanese TV.
What was most shocking, though, what that major news organizations, including The Hollywood Reporter and The Reel Bits, ran with the narrative, and pushed the story to mainstream outlets like Yahoo! News and CNet. This fed the narrative, and continued to stoke the flames of speculators across the web, even as new information continued to surface. When the full story came to light, we began to see updates and clarifications get posted to these articles, quietly informing the latecomers of the latest information.
Still, speculation on social media continues to running at full blast, despite the retractions and corrections. The story is still buzzing, still circulating across forums and social media. It’ll take two or three days for the hype to die down, and could take anywhere from two to three months for the rumor itself to be dispelled. And even then, there will be people who continue to claim that old, outdated information.
Such is the nature of an idea virus. “Idea virus” was a term coined by marketer Seth Godin to describe an idea that’s so compelling that it simply spreads through a population. These are the things that inspire people to share, and exchange, and push on their friends. It’s a truly interesting phenomenon, and something that’s interesting to see in action.
Anyway, the full story is as follows:
Studio Ghibli co-founder Toshio Suzuki appeared on the TBS program Jōnetsu Tairiku, in which he discussed the future of Studio Ghibli. There, he mused over the future of the company.
The full statement from Suzuki, translated by Kotaku, is as follows:
We’re thinking about disbanding the production department and making a big change to the larger view of Studio Ghibli…
Obviously, Miyazaki’s retiring was quite significant. After that, what should Ghibli do? With that, continuing to endlessly create [films] like this is not impossible, but once, right about now, we will take a short rest and think about what’s next.
Suzuki emphasized that the company is considering doing a round of “housekeeping”, which is a friendlier way of saying “restructuring.” The ideal end result would be a “rebuilding” of the studio to create a viable environment for the new generation.
Now, I’m not going to argue that this isn’t dire. It certainly is. Studio Ghibli has approached a turning point, as they try to cope with a post-Miyazaki world. And, with two underperformers at market, it’s become clear that the company cannot sustain the same risk-reward format that fueled so many successes in the past. Without the surefire winners from Miyazaki’s titles, the company needs to re-evaluate just where their priorities will rest.
While many are already crying doom and gloom as they proclaim that the studio is dead and buried, I can’t help but feel that people are overlooking the forest for the trees. The company’s decision to postpone feature film production is a direct admission that the company has no faith in the sustainability of their product.
And, to be quite honest, investors are watching. If Studio Ghibli does resume operations, they’ll basically be starting in a weakened state. Their industry clout will undoubtedly take a hit, and it will be more difficult to secure the funding for a major motion picture project.
To force Ghibli to survive on a smaller budget would lead efficiency improvements out of necessity. Changes to workflow and modernizations in labor structure will undoubtedly need to be implemented, and a generally leaner approach to production will need to be adopted. And, apparently, the studio is taking steps to do this. According to Crunchyroll, the studio will roll back its operations to a freelancer-centric system, as opposed to its current long-term contract setup. The studio used this freelancer format prior to the production of Porco Rosso in 1992.
Basically, if they wish to continue producing feature films, Studio Ghibli will need to grow and evolve into a newer, more effective company. They’ll need to become an organization that can survive in this modern landscape, while filling the hole that was left by the departure of Miyazaki. It’s not impossible, but it will be one of the most difficult trials that the studio will ever face.