Hayao Miyazaki (third from left) is flanked by Pixar and Disney directors at San Diego Comic-Con International 2009. (Michael Cavna / The Washington Post)
Writer/artist

FOUR YEARS ago, it looked as though we might never get another Hayao Miyazaki film. The Studio Ghibli mastermind had announced his retirement and this time it seemed that the animation legend might indeed mean it. Sure, Miyazaki might still storyboard for fun, but the Oscar-winning “Spirited Away” filmmaker had apparently shared his last full-fledged vision with the world.

Thank goodness, then, that the man cannot stay away.

His Studio Ghibli stands alongside — and continues to inspire — Pixar as the world’s greatest animation house. Ghibli refuses to stand pat, recently undergoing its biggest senior-management shake-up in nearly a decade. That move followed Ghibli directors — including Toshio Suzuki and Yoshiaki Nishimura — scoring Oscar nominations each of the past four years. The Japanese studio is home to so much talent, including co-founder Isao Takahata (“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”) and Miyazaki’s own son Goro (“From Up on Poppy Hill”), who reportedly is working on a CG-animated project.

Yet nothing raises the hopes of animation fans the world over quite like news of a film by Hayao Miyazaki, who turns 77 Friday.

When I sat with Miyazaki in 2009, as the English-language version of “Ponyo” was released, it was unclear how much longer he would continue to assume the director’s chair. And within four years, he announced his plans to walk away for good.

But last year, Miyazaki announced he was coming back, and last fall, he said his final feature film would be titled “Kimitachi wa Do Ikiru ka,” which translates to “How do you (guys) live?” The film shares its title with an acclaimed 1937 book by Genzaburo Yoshino that will figure into the movie’s own narrative spine.

“The film is about how this particular book featured prominently in the protagonist’s life,” Miyazaki said last October during an event at the Natsume Soseki Memorial Museum at Waseda University in Tokyo, according to the Asahi Shimbun.

Miyazaki said that the feature could take three to four years to complete, meaning that we might get the new film right about the time the world is celebrating Miyazaki’s 80th birthday.

Here’s hoping Miyazaki’s passion and storytelling genius keep him coming back to the boards for as long as he has something to say.

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