When his son Goro was named director of the upcoming Ghibli Studios adaptation of Ursula K Le Guin’s Tales From Earthsea, fears about Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement grew. Would the most celebrated living animator give up active creative participation in Ghibli films?

Today, the answer is definitively, wonderfully, ‘no’. Toho Studios has announced that it will release Ghibli’s Ponyo on a Cliff (Gake no ue no Ponyo) in 2008. The elder Miyazaki will not only direct, but plans to eschew the CGI that’s taken a greater role in his last few films. Instead, he wants to go back to basics, and plans to animate the film with a hand-painted watercolor look.

Even better, the story isn’t an adaptation, but a personal tale straight from the director. The titular Ponyo is a goldfish princess with dreams of humanity who has a friendship with a young boy. The film’s boy is based on Goro’s son (Miyazaki’s grandson) and Variety reports that the film’s setting will be based on the artist’s 2005 stay near Japan’s Inland Sea, an area famed for scenic beauty. Quoted in the article is Studio Ghibli president Toshio Suzuki who said, "he will use simple, childlike drawings. He intends to make something different from his previous films."

This is great news. Howl’s Moving Castle was Miyazaki’s only true disappointment, both because it was a lesser telling of the novel’s tale, and because it felt as if the director (who did come onto the project late) was coasting. A new stylistic direction and a personal story could be deeply invigorating. Could Ponyo on a Cliff be the film that forestalls his retirement far longer than we’d dared hope?


My old friend Derek, aka the guy who introduced me to Miyazaki in the first place, just wrote in with a link provided on the Miyazaki mailing list. Apparently GhibliWorld, one of the largest fan sites for the studio, has published an image representing the film’s art style.

Click here for the image.