Japanese Animation Powerhouse Studio Ghibli Makes History With Honorary Palme d’Or at Cannes

When Studio Ghibli receives its honorary Palme d’Or May 19 at the Cannes Film Festival, the creative home to Hayao Miyazaki — arguably the most admired and influential living animation director — will make history.

This marks the first time an honorary Palme d’Or has been given to a group, which sits well with the helmer. Miyazaki’s longtime collaborator, producer and co-founder of the studio, Toshio Suzuki, believes the animators is not comfortable with being singled out for the honors surrounding his filmmaking.

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“He knows a large group of people have helped make each one of his films,” said Suzuki through a translator. “Miyazaki is typically Japanese, which is to say he is very shy. When he learned this award was for our studio as a group, he was very happy with that. It takes a long time to make his movies and many people help make the movies.”

Even if Suzuki and Miyazaki are deferential about the award, Cannes president Iris Knobloch and general delegate Thierry Fremaux were effusive with their statement: “For the first time in our history, it’s not a person but an institution that we have chosen to celebrate. Like all the icons of the seventh art, these characters populate our imaginations with prolific, colorful universes and sensitive, engaging narrations. With Ghibli, Japanese animation stands as one of the great adventures of cinephilia, between tradition and modernity.”

The Tokyo-based Studio Ghibli, which was launched in the mid-1980s, is where Miyazaki, one of the studio’s co-founders, made his Oscar-winning 2023 animated feature “The Boy and the Heron,” “Princess Mononoke” and “Spirited Away,” also an Oscar-winner for animated feature and one of the highest-grossing films in Japan’s history. The studio is also known for the film “My Neighbor Totoro,” which inspired the studio’s mascot, a large, rounded spirit whose shape borrows from racoons, dogs and cats.

In the early days of Studio Ghibli, the founders just wanted to keep their company afloat and didn’t have their eye on creating the kinds of internationally acclaimed masterpieces that eventually came to define their work. They were simply focused on making one film after the other.

“We were too busy [to think about those kinds of goals],” laughed Suzuki. “We were making the first film and we thought maybe if we can make this film and it succeeds then we can make the next film. But we knew that if we fail and the movie is bad or if no one likes it then that was the end of us. So we were just focusing on that first film.”

While Miyazaki has been one of the studio’s most active creators, they’ve also released films by studio co-founder Isao Takahata (“Grave of the Fireflies”) and Hiroyuki Morita (“The Cat Returns”). Hiromasa Yonebayashi, whose film “When Marnie Was There” received an Academy Award nomination for animated feature, began his career at Studio Ghibli with “The Secret World of Arrietty.”

Though Miyazaki once announced his retirement, Suzuki doesn’t believe the helmer will ever be able to completely walk away from the art he loves so much. He’s not sure when the next film will begin since Miyazaki puts so much into his work.

“He sort of tortures himself when he makes a movie,” said Suzuki. “He works very hard and thinks a long time about the kind of movie he wants to make. He will never say the word retire again. But I think it will be some time before he starts again. He needs to rest from making ‘The Boy and the Heron’ because it’s a very long process that takes many years.”

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