clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Hayao Miyazaki’s final film hits theaters this week — but you’d never know it

Studio Ghibli’s How Do You Live? is purposefully flying under the radar

Promo art from Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s film How Do You Live? featuring a fantastical white bird in close-up Image: Studio Ghibli
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

Hayao Miyazaki, the master filmmaker behind Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Princess Mononoke, was all set to retire from his company Studio Ghibli and the animation world after his 2013 film The Wind Rises. But when you love to work... you work. So in 2016, despite calling it quits, Miyazaki revealed he was back at it on one last movie: How Do You Live?. Details were sparse and production was slow — in 2020, Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki said only 36 minutes of the planned feature film were completed since production began three years prior — but anyone familiar with Miyazaki’s painstaking work knew How Do You Live? would be worth the wait whenever it finally rolled around.

Well, good news: It has rolled around. It’s finally here. Like, this week.

There are no trailers for How Do You Live?. There are no promotional images or loglines. Miyazaki has done zero press for the film, and according to Suzuki, the 86-year-old animator has no plans to do so. The closest thing there is to hype are cryptic tweets from the Ghibli Twitter account teasing audio output.

How Do You Live? opens in Japan this Friday, July 14, with zero fanfare. This is, according to Ghibli, exactly the plan.

According to translations of a recent interview Suzuki gave with the Japanese magazine Bungei Shunji in June, the reason for the media blackout is simply that Miyazaki and the Ghibli team want the film to do all the talking. In theory, if there’s a new Miyazaki film playing in theaters, audiences will seek it out — so why give anything more away? Bold move, but the pedigree is there: Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Ponyo are all among the highest-grossing films to ever be released in Japan. The Wind Rises, an existential drama about an artist who loves to build war planes, was the number one movie in Japan in 2013. If anyone can one-up Cloverfield or Beyoncé’s Lemonade with a massive-but-surprise drop, it’s Miyazaki.

We still have no idea what How Do You Live? is about. Ghibli has described it as a “big, fantastical story” — not too surprising based on Miyazaki’s filmography. But it also sounds like it could be the animator’s grandest film to date: This week, in anticipation of the Japanese release, IMAX confirmed that How Do You Live? would be the first Studio Ghibli film to release in the big-big-big-screen format. Based on reports from Suzuki, the scale isn’t impacting Miyazaki’s style.

“We are still hand-drawing everything, but it takes us more time to complete a film because we’re drawing more frames,” the producer said in 2020. “So, there are more drawings to draw than before. Back when we were making [1988’s] My Neighbor Totoro, we only had eight animators. Totoro we made in eight months. [For] the current film that Hayao Miyazaki is working on, we have 60 animators, but we are only able to come up with one minute of animation in a month. That means 12 months a year, you get 12 minutes worth of movie.”

Miyazaki takes no shortcuts. He’s iffy about computer graphics and loathes AI-generated animation. He is one of the singular artisans to come out of animation. And suddenly, his new movie is upon us. While Disney handled the release of The Wind Rises in 2013 and GKIDS, the premiere animation distributor, has handled tons of Japanese imports and kept Miyazaki’s dream alive with constant theatrical revivals of the Ghibli films, at this moment, there are no international release dates or distribution plans for How Do You Live?. Expect a U.S. release to be slightly less of a surprise. But if you want to live the Miyazaki way, skip the trailer when the time comes.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon