Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement recently to a flurry of news and speculation, including the sincerity of it; he has retired before, only to return. That is nothing new. Many celebrities and artists in particular have feigned retirement only to continue to create. I think most just need a break and are unable to express it as such because they are in the public eye. It is easier to say: ”I am retired.” and walk away from fans briefly than it would be to say: “I’m taking a break.” without the inevitable follow-up: “When will you be off break?” The former statement enables one to take some rest and be forgiven for ignoring the public until ready to return. The latter quip comes off as lip service and cryptically begs for more explanation. If he needs a break, so be it; for that matter, if he really is retiring, good for him--he’s earned it.
I know some (gasp) have never heard of him and some (double-gasp) don’t care for him, and that is not my aim here. If you do not care, I am not here to argue, but if you don’t know him or his animation, stay and listen. I am not going to be exhausting, I just want to share a bit of my experience and steer you in a direction (even if that direction is away, if he isn’t your cup of tea.)
My first experience with Miyazaki was: Warriors of the Wind. I had no idea at the time that it was such a different version than its original form: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Watching “Nausicaa” was like seeing a new movie with familiar characters; it was delightful. It was not my introduction to anime, (Star Blazers and Speed Racer did that) but it did serve to make me seek out more by its creator.
I have a few recommendations (if you are more interested, you can search at the site above--the Nausicaa link--to see more if his fine work). His films are filled with deep storylines, as in Howl’s Moving Castle, layered characters (Porco Rosso), and terrifically strong-willed female characters (Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro are still quoted around our house to this day; they are the “Growing Up” movies for our children, and soon, our grandchildren.) If you want to laugh, check out Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, for slapstick situations and silly characters. If you want serious themes, look at Princess Mononoke’s environmental take compared to Nausicaa’s (Mononoke may be a bit too intense for young viewers--preview it first.) For fantastical imagery there is Laputa: Castle in the Sky (listen for Mark Hamill's voice) and Ponyo (with Liam Neeson, although I didn’t much care for this one. The story was a bit too disjointed for me, and I really wasn’t made to care for Ponyo).