Written by Sarah Yoon
Success stories. They’re supposed to be inspirational, but when you hear about that impossibly young professional who hogged all of the luck, connections, and natural talent, you want to hit your head against a wall. Hard. For a story that is truly encouraging, meet Hayao Miyazaki in 1979, when he directed his first feature film, The Castle of Cagliostro.
Putting in the Time
Far before Studio Ghibli was in sight, Miyazaki poured decades of dedication into his craft. He started at Toei Douga studio in 1963, honing his drawing skills and pushing for quality storytelling as an animator and designer. After eight years at Toei Douga, he rose through various animation studios until he joined TMS Entertainment in 1979, where he got the chance to prove himself on a new level. At 38, he’d gained enough co-directing experience to finally go solo.
Though directing the project promised great career growth, several conditions tied Miyazaki down. The film was supposed to be a remake of a Lupin III episode, but the series writer already disapproved of the script. To save it, Miyazaki convinced his collaborators that the film needed an original plot, even though that meant reworking the entire project. With only four months left for production, he wrote a new script and directed the film.
Miyazaki put his personal spin on the series, making Lupin a gentlemanly thief rather than the usual playboy. But the film wasn’t fully his. Despite its status as an anime classic, Miyazaki never felt fully satisfied with The Castle of Cagliostro. No matter what he thought of his work, he couldn’t deny that it marked a turning point in his career.
Patience and Persistence
Even a Cagliostro-sized advantage didn’t mean that Miyazaki’s career would be an easy road. Though he proved his skill as a director through The Castle of Cagliostro, his film pitch for Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was flat-out rejected. It was too risky without a preexisting fan following. Miyazaki needed to prove that the story wouldn’t flop. Instead of giving up, he adapted the story into a manga series that ran for twelve years. That was the push he needed. He began the manga in 1982 and released the film in 1984. With guts, patience, and solid craft, Miyazaki helped found Studio Ghibli by 1985.
A career isn’t a one-time event and there’s no secret formula for success. It’s a lifetime of accumulated experience and growth. When you work for other artists and work toward their dreams rather than your own, you’re laying the foundation for greater opportunities. You invest in your future with quality work rather than reaching blindly for self-promotion. No one who has seen Miyazaki’s films can doubt the experience that he gained along the way. He earned the chance for creative freedom when he was 44, and he turned his golden years of life into golden years of artistry.
So, how about it? Do you have the resilience and drive to work toward your goals?
Month-A-Zaki is back! Listen to the Critical Hit guys this Friday as they discuss The Castle of Cagliostro, and check out some Miyazaki goodness from last year: “Spirited Away: Growing Organic Characters” and “Howl’s Moving Castle: Storytelling through Character and Concept.”