Those looking for a different perspective on our world could do a lot worse than cast a glance over at the impressive output of Japanese broadcaster NHK: a public service broadcaster that functions much like an equivalent of the BBC.
Far from a household name outside of their domestic market, NHK are now making more of a concerted effort to usher their programmes, specials and documentaries towards an English-speaking audience. With an expansion into the digital broadcasting platforms in the UK, there is no question as to their commitment to the cause.
With this in mind, the channel recently presented a special one-off evening in London to promote one of their mouth-watering exclusives, as well as a hit from their back catalogue. The former was present in the form of a new documentary on Studio Ghibli co-founder and maestro, Hayao Miyazaki, entitled Never-Ending Man, and the latter a heartfelt, touching film on autism from the perspective of the 13-year old Naoki Higashida, a non-verbal boy who wrote an international best seller.
The unlikely success of his book, ‘The Reason I Jump’, was due, in part, to Irish novelist David Mitchell (‘Cloud Atlas’) falling across it in Japanese. A one-time teacher of English in Tokyo, Mitchell read the book and translated it – without permission – into English. The reason? In order to pass it on to his autistic son’s carers to furnish them with an insight into his boy’s mind. Soon, the endeavour took on greater significance. The book was formally translated, through his contribution, and spread across the world. The exclusive film by Takuya Maruyama, entitled ‘What You Taught Me About My Son’, charts Mitchell’s first formal meeting with Higashida and also looks at the now 22 year old man’s development and wider contributions. Insightful and humane, this delicate film educates as much as it resonates emotionally.
“I don’t want to die doing nothing. I’d rather die having something to live for” imparts the iconic Hayao Miyazaki nonchalantly from the balcony of his office. Such homespun wisdom is despatched casually, but within it lies the tick of a legend; the relentless spin of his creativity and his will to forge forever forward. His laurels are not for resting and his internal urge to make art utters a deafening roar within his being.
This film charts Miyazaki’s first ever voyage into CGI. His intention is to make a short film. As he starts the process and tries to buck the rebuttable presumption that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, he feels himself pulled ever more towards a grander and grander vision. As many of his former colleagues and cohorts begin to expire around him, Never-Ending Man finds him questioning purpose, as well as his own mortality. This is one of those films that transcends the subject matter of the artist and deals with the biggest of all topics. Thoroughly absorbing and somehow spiritually enlightening, this is a compelling and riveting coup for NHK. There are no doubt many more to be shared henceforth.
Never-Ending Man is going to be screened on NHK World TV on 3 June and again on 4 June.
For more information on NHK programmes and listings, please visit https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/