In a surprising move, Studio Ghibli, renowned for classics like “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Spirited Away,” is set to be acquired by Nippon Television Holdings. The announcement has taken the corporate world by surprise, given Studio Ghibli’s reputation for eschewing profit, modern technology, and the trappings of contemporary society.
The acquisition can be likened to Disney’s purchase of Pixar for $7.4 billion in stock in 2006, although it holds even greater significance. Studio Ghibli’s work has resonated with multiple generations in Japan, connecting parents who introduced their children to Ghibli classics in the 1980s, who are now grandparents.
Fans are understandably concerned about the acquisition’s impact on Studio Ghibli’s unique approach to animation, epitomized by the Japanese art of craftsmanship called “monozukuri.” The studio is known for its dedication to perfection, with reports suggesting they produce just one minute of a movie per month.
Now, Studio Ghibli will become a subsidiary of a publicly-listed company, Nippon Television Holdings. The latter has experienced stagnant revenue for seven years and faces declining viewership, including among Japan’s aging population and a significant portion of Gen Z who do not watch TV at all. Studio Ghibli’s fans worry that Nippon TV’s leadership may not uphold the studio’s culture.
One of the key reasons Nippon TV could make this acquisition is its longstanding relationship with Studio Ghibli, which has showcased its films on the network’s Friday Road Show weekly movie slot for decades. The popularity of Miyazaki’s films still draws significant viewership, and Japan is one of the few major markets where Studio Ghibli’s movies are not available on streaming services.
While the financial details of the acquisition remain undisclosed, Nippon TV’s impact statement suggested that it is “immaterial.” This suggests that the deal may be relatively small compared to Disney’s acquisition of Pixar, which cost $7 billion.
Studio Ghibli has had a strained relationship with Disney, its former distributor. Interestingly, Nippon TV formed a strategic partnership with Disney last year, offering bundled streaming services and collaborating on productions. Nippon TV also owns its own streaming service after acquiring Hulu’s Japan business in 2014, preceding Disney’s control.
While Nippon TV has emphasized that it will maintain Studio Ghibli’s autonomy, the acquisition marks a potential turning point for the legendary animation studio and one of cinema’s great auteurs, Hayao Miyazaki.
The move may serve as a lesson for other Japanese companies with iconic founders who face challenges in succession planning. The pressure to replace legendary founders could potentially lead more firms to consider selling.
In this era of change, Studio Ghibli’s fans, creators, and business leaders alike may find valuable lessons in this acquisition.