Studio Ghibli Sounds Like A Stressful Place To Work

[Image: Dick Thomas Johnson | Flickr]
[Image: Dick Thomas Johnson | Flickr]
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Former Studio Ghibli employee Hirokatsu Kihara was recently in London talking about his time at the famed animation studio behind such classics as My Neighbor Totoro. That time sounds stressful!

In an interview with Dazed (via Yurukuyaru and Rocketnews), Kihara dished about his experiences at Studio Ghibli. According to Kihara, “There’s a sense that everyone is replaceable—even (Hayao) Miyazaki.” Yikes.

Kihara alleges that the studio doesn’t hire creative types with terrific ideas, but rather, people who will please the producers. “They want followers, not leaders—that’s why the work is reducing in quality,” he says. “The people that have worked at Ghibli leave quite fast—and never come back.”


Kihara worked in production during the making of My Neighbour Totoro, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. After that, he left, and is now known as successful horror novelist. Things to keep in mind: Kihara hasn’t been at Studio Ghibli for decades, and the word on most anime studios is that they’re high-pressure environments.

“Personally, I think that after Kiki’s Delivery Service all the later works have only been the works of Miyazaki and (Isao) Takahata—so they’ve lacked ideas,” Kihara adds. “Each film becomes less and less surprising.”

I dunno about that. Studio Ghibli has made some terrific films post Kiki’s.

Continuing, check out this exchange:

So, do you mean, it’s not a collaborative place to work?

Hirokatsu Kihara: Each film is Miyazaki, then Takahata, then Miyazaki, then Takahata. Instead of, for example, Disney and Pixar style, where they get everyone to throw in ideas, now they dump all responsibility on the director’s shoulders. They’re overworked – they don’t have enough time to come up with new ideas or mature the ones they have.

I wouldn’t have guessed that. So, it’s a stressful, restrictive place to work?

Hirokatsu Kihara: During the three films that I worked on, I was Miyazaki’s confidant in terms of ideas and concepts. From that experience, 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?


Well, the studio’s most promising young director Hiromasa Yonebayashi of When Marnie Was There fame is gone. Miyazaki, who has retired from feature filmmaking, remains as has 80 year-old Takahata, who continues to work. Of course, and producer Toshio Suzuki is still there.

Studio Ghibli disbanded production staff in 2014, and right now the studio is apparently trying to figure out what to do next.


Recent non-Miyazaki and Takahata efforts have ranged from good (From Up on Poppy Hill) to very good (Arrietty) to great (When Marnie Was There).

When asked why this kind of workplace culture exists, Kihara replied:

There’s one person there who I won’t name. I find it very scary. He speaks like a Yakuza (Japanese mafioso) and rules it like a politician. However, it should be recognised that he is the one who made the company rich and survive this long. Do you not find it strange that there are no interviews with Ghibli or hardly any articles written on it?


There are articles written on the studio and plenty of interviews. Heck, they’ve even let cameras on them, showing how the studio’s top brass are often hard-asses (I mean, Miyazaki doesn’t even go easy on his own son). Not exactly a warm, fuzzy workplace.

I don’t doubt that Studio Ghibli is a stressful place to work. I don’t doubt that both Miyazaki and Suzuki are incredibly demanding people to work for. What I’ve always found so odd about the studio, however, is how it’s been unable to nurture new talent.


For example, Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki publicly criticized When Marnie Was There’s director Hiromasa Yonebayashi for the way the movie was marketed in Japan, blaming him for the poor box office numbers. Looking back, it should not have been much of a surprise that Yonebayashi had left by the following year as his film was nominated for an Oscar.

Earlier this February, however, Yonebayashi said his next movie might be for the famed studio, but he’s no longer employed there. Losing talent like that seems like an oversight. Failure to develop more talent like that seems unfortunate. It’s no Disney or Pixar, but perhaps, that has never been the point of Studio Ghibli.


Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.

Originally from Texas, Ashcraft has called Osaka home since 2001. He has authored six books, including most recently, The Japanese Sake Bible.

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With Studio Ghibli it has always felt like the top dogs can’t think of the studio without them, so they don’t bother trying to find people to replace them when they’re gone - I mean still working in that kind of environment at 80? Just let it go, enjoy retirement and get someone younger with fresh energy to rejuvenate the place.