After releasing Spirited Away in 2001, Hayao Miyazaki hinted that it would be his final picture, much to the dismay of Japanese movie-lovers. Miyazaki is a revered figure in Japan, and his movies are wildly popular. Miyazaki’s success is linked to his level of involvement in his films, which goes far beyond his position as director. Not only was Spirited Away based upon an original Miyazaki story,but Miyazaki gave the final approval for every piece of key animation in the film. At 24 frames per second in a 124-minute movie, it was an overwhelming job. In addition, Miyazaki helped choose the voice cast. He personally attended every voice taping session and every recording session for the background music. He often worked until two or three in the morning for months on end.

When the hubbub over his feared retirement died down, Miyazaki explained that he was not planning to quit but merely to delegate more duties to his younger staff members. Delegation had been difficult in Spirited Away because of the sheltered upbringings of many of his young staffers. Miyazaki could explain what he wanted, but they couldn’t adequately picture what he requested because of their limited life experiences. For example, Miyazaki wanted the white dragon to have a snout like a dog’s, and to react as a dog would when something was forced into its mouth. However, none of his young artists had ever owned a dog, and they had no idea what he meant. Miyazaki took them on a field trip to a veterinarian’s office and had them videotape a dog being handled by a veterinarian’s assistant so they could watch it back at the office until they captured Miyazaki’s vision.

Miyazaki’s difficulty with his staff is ironic because Miyazaki critiques exactly this type of sheltered upbringing in Spirited Away. Chihiro and Boh are both brought up in a bubble, separated from the real world around them. Although Miyazaki may want to step back and be less involved in his films, the cultural gap between his generation and the younger generation of animators will clearly make doing so almost impossible. Miyazaki is part of a generation of Japanese animators who made anime an important mirror of Japanese culture, both past and present.