Hayao Miyazaki, whose hand-drawn animated features still rake in millions in his native Japan and have earned him a worldwide cult following, has decided to retire from filmmaking, his studio announced Sunday.
"The Wind Rises" will be the 72-year-old director's last movie, Studio Ghibli president Koju Hoshino said at a news conference at the Venice Film Fest, where the master's 11th (and now final) feature is in competition. He said Miyazaki -- who was not in Venice for the international premiere -- would make his farewell remarks next week in Tokyo.
Miyazaki cemented his grandmaster status with the Japanese years ago, cranking out one beloved box-office smash after another -- but his popularity in America has been slower to grow. Though he gained admirers with late 1990s films like "Kiki's Delivery Service" and "Princess Mononoke," it was "Spirited Away" that brought him the most attention here, winning an Oscar in 2003 -- the first anime feature ever to do so.
"Spirited Away" (left) -- which at the time eclipsed "Titanic" to become Japan's highest-grossing film -- told the tale of a little girl who's swept into a sprawling, otherworldly recreational spa where ghosts and phantoms from around the world come to relax and cleanse themselves. The eclectic fantasy made more than $10 million in the U.S., and opened the door for Stateside distribution partner Disney (Pixar chief John Lasseter, pictured above with Miyazaki, has been a major champion of his films) to bring his subsequent films ashore with moderate success.
Miyazaki's immediate follow-up, "Howl's Moving Castle," was too estoteric for American audiences -- it made just over $4 million U.S. -- but his 2009 oceanic fantasy "Ponyo" made more than $15 million, followed by $19 million for last year's "The Secret World of Arriety."
Of the top 10 grossing Japanese anime films in U.S. box-office history, five are Miyazaki creations. ("Pokemon" films occupy Nos. 1 and 2). "The Wind Rises," Miyazaki's 11th feature, follows the man who designed fighter planes for Japan during World War II.
Disney will release "The Wind Rises" -- which has already made more than $80 million in Japan since its July release -- under its Touchstone Pictures banner. No U.S. release date has been set.