Hayao Miyazaki Hayao Miyazaki

In case Hayao Miyazaki needed another spur to work hard, he now has one in the form of Demon Slayer — Kimetsu no Yaiba — The Movie: Mugen Train.

Miyazaki, 80, sees the hugely successful anime feature as a rival, according to Toshio Suzuki, his longtime producer at Studio Ghibli. Appearing on the Fuji TV show Bokura no Jidai, Suzuki said that he hasn’t seen Mugen Train — but when he described the gist of it to Miyazaki, the director replied, “That kind of film would be a hit. Well, to me it’s a rival.”

Released in Japanese theaters in October, Mugen Train has since become the highest-grossing film of all time in the country, knocking Miyazaki’s Spirited Away into second place. It was also the highest-earning film worldwide in 2020. Its global gross stands at more than $475 million.

The clip can be watched (in Japanese) below:

In January, I interviewed Suzuki for the film magazine Sight & Sound. I brought up an observation he’d made in a book released in 2017: that filmgoers were tiring of fantasies and fables. I asked him whether he still held that view, and he answered:

People nowadays want to see a fantastical world that’s connected to the real world in one way or another. Whereas before, it was like you’re taken to a completely different world and immersed in it, and once you’ve experienced it you come back to the real world, and you’re inspired by that experience. But it seems that it doesn’t work that way now. People need something that’s more familiar.

Suzuki’s words brought to my mind Mugen Train, which grounds its exuberant fantasy in a concrete location (the train of the title) and historical context (the Taisho Era of 1912–26). Suzuki told me he had no plans to watch the film.

Miyazaki is currently at work on his next feature How Do You Live? Suzuki told me (in January) that the film was around half-complete and would likely be released in around three years.