Hirokatsu Kihara, who once worked on production at Studio Ghibli and was involved in the makings of Laputa, My Neighbour Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service, has criticised all of the studio’s films since 1989’s Kiki of being boring. Last weekend (July 15th-17th), he was a guest at London’s Hyper Japan festival, and there he gave an interview to UK style magazine Dazed, during which he said that over two decades of Ghibli movies have been drained of creativity.
Kihara admitted his bias towards the films he worked on, but said a certain level of communication and shared contribution between director and the rest of the production team is missing at the studio. “During the three films that I worked on, I was [Hayao] Miyazaki’s confidant in terms of ideas and concepts,” he said. “I noticed the problem was that Miyazaki likes to put everything of himself and everything that he had into one film. But, when you’ve done that work, what’s left?”
Saying that he felt each film was exclusively the work of one of the studio’s co-founders and directors, Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, Kihara expressed that they have therefore lacked ideas. Comparing the directors bearing the full weight of the creative process to the filmmaking approach at Disney and Pixar, where “they get everyone to throw in ideas”, Kihara said “They’re overworked – they don’t have enough time to come up with new ideas or mature the ones they have.” He also mentioned a high turnaround of employees, suspicious of Ghibli hiring people purely because they “please the producers”. Kihara’s theory is that “They want followers, not leaders – that’s why the work is reducing in quality.”
When he was asked to give the reason for such a stifling workplace culture, he replied “There’s one person there who I won’t name. I find it very scary. He speaks like a yakuza and rules it like a politician.” If this is indeed true, it isn’t surprising that Kihara left Ghibli. Though he’s been credited as production staff in several anime projects outside Ghibli post-Kiki, he now gives his undivided attention to writing ghost stories.