TOKYO (AFP) — Hayao Miyazaki's first full-length film in four years hit screens across Japan on Saturday, putting aside speculation that the Oscar-winning Japanese animator had made his last picture.
A 650-seat movie theatre at Tokyo's shopping and business district of Hibiya was filled with his fans, mostly children and their parents, to watch "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea," which the reclusive 67-year-old wrote and directed.
Inspired by the 19th-century fairy tale "The Little Mermaid" by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, the story centres around a tiny fish-girl, Ponyo, who rides a jellyfish to escape her home in the sea.
She meets a five-year-old boy, Sosuke, who vows to protect her, but Ponyo is taken back to the sea. Desperate to be a human and live with Sosuke, Ponyo heads to land again with help from her sisters.
Miyazaki is one of Japan's biggest cultural exports. His last film, "Howl's Moving Castle," broke opening box office records at home in 2004 before winning a cult following in Western and Asian nations.
Miyazaki has said repeatedly in the past that he wants to retire.
The 2004 release of "Howl's Moving Castle" was met by speculation that it would be his last film, raising concerns in Japan for the future of the lucrative animation industry.
But "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea" has dampened such concern.
Miyazaki, who had used computer graphics since "Princess Mononoke" in 1997, decided to shun hi-tech effects in his latest picture.
"I believe that making animation with pencils is the only way for us to survive," Miyazaki told a news conference.
"Everybody is discarding pencils. Because of that, at least we should not lose track of ourselves," he said. "I want to continue to work in such circumstances."
The film used 170,000 hand-drawn pictures to animate characters and objects, a record number for a Miyazaki production.
It took one and a half years for 70 staff to draw the pictures, according to Studio Ghibli, which has released his works.
The film also uses numerous other manually drawn pictures as the background -- with the succession of screens creating a slightly jittery atmosphere to the film.
Asked what animation he is considering next, Miyazaki only said: "I will soon turn 70. I'm now telling myself that I should not talk about things in the future."
Miyazaki's second to last film, "Spirited Away," won the Academy Award in 2003 for best animated feature, Japan's first Oscar for a full-length work in nearly half a century.
He also received a Golden Lion award from the Venice international film festival in 2005 for lifetime achievement in cinema.
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