san antonio spurs and studio ghibli

What does the San Antonio Spurs and Studio Ghibli have in common? Nothing really.

As any MBA student can tell you, the main issue with Studio Ghibli is succession planning. The studio was founded in 1985… 29 years ago. That is a generation. In that time, the studio failed to produce a successor to Hayao Miyazaki, and that failure leads to the studio’s modern realities. While there are other issues like reliance on Japanese animation talent and the decline in traditional animated films, these issues are not disconnected with succession planning.

Now there could be many reasons for why Ghibli’s minor league system failed to perform. Maybe Miyazaki overshadowed everyone, thus making it difficult for the company to develop talent. Maybe their recruiting and talent evaluations have not been good. Maybe they were too romanced with the idea of Goro carrying on for Hayao. Maybe they just did not care. There can be many reasons. But none of them were insurmountable.

What should have happened? Studio Ghibli invests in young, upcoming directors. They either call up someone from their farm team, or they scout free agents. But it is kind of silly to pretend that they do not need a succession plan. People get old. Times change. A good succession plan is key.


Goro is not a succession plan. He is not even Brian Herbert to Frank Herbert. I remember seeing Earthsea and realizing Goro did not understand the Ghibli way. The movie just did not have a Ghibli feel, and, even worse, it is to Ursula le Guin what Warriors of the Wind is to Miyazaki. Maybe worse. He may end up being an average or slightly above average directory, but he is not the ace Ghibli needs.

Okay, it is a few years ago, and I’m watching Mamoru Hosoda’s Wolf Children and just thinking to myself, “Why isn’t Hosoda being primed to be Miyazaki’s successor?” He has many of the same qualities and beats as Hayao… maybe a modern Miyazaki-lite but infinitely better than Goro and steps above anyone else at Ghibli. Wolf Children has the same simple charm of earlier Ghibli works and focuses on (a) strong heroine (b) self-discovery and (c) unity in nature and community. Bonus points since Hosoda wrote Wolf Children himself. You don’t think Hosoda could have been the new Ghibli ace? I think so.

Ironically, Hosoda was the original director for Howl’s Moving Castle. This was way before The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars. He was the first non-Ghibli director tapped for a movie, and he quit after many failed attempts to please the big boss of Ghibli (read: nothing Hosoda did impressed Hayao, who then took over directing the movie himself). While a Hosoda Howl might not have been as great as a Hayao one, it gives the studio a prime young director to develop. As great as David Robinson is, he gives time to Tim Duncan. As great as Duncan is, he gives time to Kawhi Leonard. That’s succession. In the NBA, it is hard to be a competitive franchise for more than a few years, but because of careful succession planning, they have elongated their championship window to over a decade. They leaned on Duncan when Robinson was old. They leaned on Parker and Manu when Duncan started to age. Now they lean on Leonard. You know you won’t be there forever, so you nurture the next generation. So what if Hosoda is not going to be as good as Hayao for Howl? What you want is Hosoda being the ace for The Tale of Princess Kaguya and beyond.


I am not blaming Isao Takahata for Kaguya tossing Studio Ghibli in doubt. He’s 78 years old! If I can pee and eat without help when I’m 78, let alone directing a movie, I’d be happy. So, again, it comes down to succession. Ghibli is looking at themselves going, “Can we really risk $50 million on a movie directed by either a 78 year old or Goro?” They would not need to reorganize nor would this post exist in an alternate dimension where Hosoda took the reigns for Howl, then Earthsea, then Arrietty, or even Summer Wars and Wolf Children as Ghibli projects.

(In that alternate universe, Hayao would still come out of retirement for Ponyo and The Wind Rises. Also in this hypothetical universe, Firefly would be four seasons long, Justin Bieber works at a Tim Horton’s, and Crystal Pepsi would still be around.)

(Disney saw the exact same thing happen in the mid 2000’s. So they bought Pixar. Problem solved.)

The other option is to try something different. Maybe the answer is not the next Miyazaki but rather the next director who can come up with interesting films for 2020 and beyond. For me, that would be Masaaki Yuasa. He has the vibe of Miyazaki while high, and I am not sure if that is a bad thing. I totally underestimated him in Kaiba. I totally forgot about him in Tatami Galaxy (I’ll make it up someday too). I totally dismissed him in Kick Heart (which is terrible, so I don’t feel bad about this one). But he is not afraid to experiment, and he has an eye for modern animation processes. Kaiba, Tatami, and Ping Pong show he can not only tell a story but tell one in a stylish way. They are also stories about nature, belonging, and friendship. Not only that, dude has a tumblr. I can’t imagine Hayao or Goro being on tumblr.


While Wolf Children got me thinking of Hosoda, it was Adventure Time that got me thinking about Yuasa. Watching “Food Chain,” I thought, “This is how I picture Adventure Time if Pendelton Ward sent a box of weed to Hayao Miyazaki.” But, hey, sometimes you have to try something else, and Yuasa brings a lot of interesting animation techniques as well as storytelling. Other pressing Ghibli issues like bridging the gap to modern animation techniques (Ghibli is very reliant on hand-drawn art) or appealing to the next generation is something a younger director is better equipped to deal with. If there is any director who can pull off a story saying as few words as possible, it would be Yuasa. Maybe there are other possibilities too, but Hosoda and Yuasa have proved that they are capable of the task.

Ghibli’s issues stem from not having a proper succession plan to Hayao Miyazaki. They put all their eggs into his basket, and the studio did not properly develop or hire young directors.

(Or maybe in twenty years, we’ll think about Science Saru, Studio Chizu, and Studio Ghibli after their directors respectively. Maybe Hayao is right that a name is just a name. But sometimes a name stands for more than just a name.)

10 Responses to “san antonio spurs and studio ghibli”

  1. It is sad, but what had to happen, had to happen.

    You are right I think that they mistakenly thought that his son can take over. But it doesn’t work like that. You can have a son take over being a business owner, but not as a person who has creative input. Being average isn’t good enough.

    But it was too late. If Miyazaki had no son, they probably would have planned for a serious succession much sooner. But it is too late now.

  2. This is pretty much what happened to the Lakers, if we stick with NBA references.

  3. It happened to the Australian Cricket Team too. We were invincible for years, but the price was that no new blood was able to get any experience. I mean literally every member of the team could have been Captain if they were born in a different country. Eventually they all got old and retired, and the team collapsed.

  4. What comes up, must come down

  5. “the studio failed to produce a successor to Hayao Miyazaki”

    Not completely true. There was strongly competent succession planned for some time.
    Yoshifumi Kondō directed Whisper of the Heart, which was released in 1995, was animation director on Princess Mononoke… and then died in 1998.

  6. They’ve had 18 years to develop new directors or recruit talent. If they were depending on Goro…. well, as Hayao Miyazaki said, a name’s just a name. They should’ve had plans to keep the line of succession going – if the big star director does, there should be at LEAST one person ready to step up to the plate. If they both die, then a third person, and so forth.

    They may be in this for the art, but they’re a business too. Even Disney knew that back in the day… even if it meant bringing a devil on board in order to keep things running.

  7. There’s definitely a problem in terms of their staff getting too old without enough trainees to replace them. I’ve heard that a few of their young alumni have gone to other studios over the years, which might explain where this unfortunate situation came from.

    I think they also need to diversify, after Miyazaki, perhaps by doing TV shows. Not necessarily the same ones the rest of the industry is already doing, but closer to a downscaled version of their films, figuratively speaking, which would have more mainstream appeal.

    In other words, producing TV anime for the non-otaku Japanese market in better time slots is something that I think Studio Ghilbi could hope to pull off more than any other studio.

  8. I appreciate these industry commentaries you been pumping out lately. They’re insightful and hearing them from someone whose been around the block with fandom is far more meaningful than the typical episodic commentaries.

    Please keep them coming!

  9. @Il Palazzo

    The keyword being “was”. Between 1998 and 2014, that is a LOT of time and about one entire of generation of apprentice directors that should have been nurtured yet Ghibli have failed to do.

  10. I have to partially disagree with you. Yes, Hayao Miyazaki was the dominant character at Ghibli and definitely overshadowed the rest, but still I believe there was prospect. Admittedly Earthsea was pretty flawed, but Goro’s second feature Kokuriko zaka kara was a really nice and lovely film and I believe he learned a lot from his first outing. Also, Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s Arietty was a nice film, of course not yet en par with Hayao’s works, but very promising. I believe they could have, of course with the assistance of a good producer (don’t underestimate good editing, Hayao always had a good one in Yasuyoshi Tokuma at is side up until Ponyo, and while I love Ponyo, it is technically a bit messy and noticeable that there was nobody to reign in Hayao and his wild imagination for structured story telling), carried on the studio for the next few years, since Goro isn’t the youngest imself, until the next talent could merge from the staff or one could bring in an outsider to shake things up. And there I like you notion about Yuasa.

Leave a Reply