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The Story Behind The Film Made 12 Minutes At A Time

studio ghibli

If there’s anything we’ve learned about Hayao Miyazaki through the years, it’s that nothing can keep the legendary filmmaker from telling stories. At least, not completely.

The Studio Ghibli titan has since made two retirement announcements throughout his illustrious career—one in the 1990s, which he broke in 2002 upon the release of his Academy Award winning film, Spirited Away, and another as recently as 2013. This second retirement was broken just three years later when he announced his highly anticipated film, How Do You Live?.

Here is everything we know so far about Miyazaki’s rumored “swan song” and long-churning project. 

Source material and plot of How Do You Live?

Not much is known about How Do You Live?’s plot at the moment but it has been confirmed that it is based on Genzaburo Yoshino’s 1937 novel of the same name. This also happens to be Miyazaki’s favorite book.

On several occasions, the director has credited Yoshino’s work as a vital influence on several of his films, such as My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Ponyo. Its plot follows a boy named Koperu, who after the loss of his father, begins pondering life’s big questions with the guidance of his uncle. The much-beloved Japanese classic has since been translated into English back in 2021 for the first time, with an introduction from acclaimed author Neil Gaiman. 

Its official summary reads as follows: 

How Do You Live? begins with fifteen-year-old Copper, who has recently suffered the loss of his father, gazing out over his hometown of Tokyo, watching the thousands of people below, and beginning to ponder life’s big questions. How many people are in the world? What do their lives look like? Are humans really made of molecules? The book moves between Copper’s story and his uncle’s journal entries, in which he gives advice and helps Copper learn pivotal truths about the way the world works.

Over the course of a year in his life, Copper, like his namesake Copernicus, embarks on a journey of philosophical enlightenment, and uses his discoveries about the heavens, earth and human nature to determine the best way to live. Yoshino perfectly captures the beauty and strangeness of pre-war Japan — the changing of the seasons, the fried tofu and taiyaki stands, and the lush landscapes, as Copper explores the city on his bike and learns from friends and family what really matters most in life.

If you’re itching to know more about the film’s possible plot, you can check out several excerpts of the novel online or go and read the book in its entirety.  

Production of How Do You Live?

Producer and fellow Ghibli founder Toshio Suzuki has revealed in several interviews that in the past that Miyazaki would typically work on at least seven to ten minutes of animation a month. For How Do You Live?, the famed storyteller has chosen to spend only a minute each month on the film, creating 12 minutes of footage a year since production began in 2016. Suzuki has stated, however, that this is by design because of their lack of a deadline. 

“With the production of this new film, we’re experimenting with having no established deadline. I’m looking forward to how that comes through in the work,” Suzuki said. At the time of reporting, initial reports pegged that production would wrap by 2019 but this was ultimately scrapped and pushed to a later date in 2023. 

The producer also explained in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that this slower approach was donned to achieve something different: “Many directors make films on and on and on throughout their careers as they grow older. When Miyazaki came back and said that I want to make a film again, I actually said that’s not a great idea because he’s achieved so much already. You can’t come back and do something that you’ve already done in the past, you have to do something different. One of the ideas that came out from that was, why not spend more time and spend more money [to make a film]? So, that’s one of the new approaches.” 

Suzuki himself has acknowledged that this may be Miyazaki’s last film. However, like most of us, he seems to have hope that the director might change his mind: “I don’t believe it. As long as he lives, [Miyazaki] will probably continue to make films.”

Apparently, he has even asked the director not to make yet another retirement announcement. And here’s to hoping that he doesn’t.

Teaser and poster for How Do You Live?

We have yet to get our hands on a trailer or teaser clip but Studio Ghibli has provided us with a sneak peek via a poster. Along with a brief announcement regarding the film’s release date, the poster showcases a bird-like creature. Although the source material itself doesn’t delve into the supernatural, Miyazaki is known for his love for fantasy and all things whimsy, so we can probably expect incorporation of this into his upcoming film. 

Related: 2022’s Sight & Sound Top 100 Movies Poll Demonstrates Film Culture Is Online Culture on The Escapist

Studio Ghibli in a Galaxy Far, Far, Away

If you’re looking for something new to watch from Studio Ghibli in the meantime, then you’re in luck. The iconic animation studio recently collaborated with Lucasfilm in a surprise partnership to produce a short starring The Mandalorian’s beloved Grogu, also known by everyone on the internet as “Baby Yoda.” The short is available for streaming on Disney Plus and was helmed by first-time director Katsuya Kondo. The hand-drawn short by the talented artists of Studio Ghibli starring Grogu is entitled Grogu and Dust Bunnies and features timeless elements often associated with classic Ghibli films, such as love for snacks and sprites reminiscent of those in My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away

The studio’s much-awaited theme park based on several of its most famous and much-loved feel-good films also opened last November 1, 2022, if you’re interested in actually living the Ghibli experience. The park is located within the Expo 2005 Aichi Commemorative Park in Nagakute city (which is about three hours away from Tokyo) and is divided into five key areas: Hill of Youth, Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse, Mononoke’s Village, Valley of Witches, and Dondoko Forest. 

Release date of How Do You Live?

As previously mentioned, How Do You Live is set to premiere in Japan in July 14, 2023, although an international release date has yet to be announced. 

(featured image: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

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Danielle is a twenty-something writer and postgrad student based in the Philippines. She loves books, movies, her cat, and traveling. In her spare time, she enjoys shooting 35mm film and going to concerts.