If you are a fan of animation you may have already heard about Studio Ghibli, a japanese company considered by many to have produced some of the greatest animated films of all time. From the works of Miyazaki to the lesser known movies of Takahata, Ghibli has a catalog that speaks volumes to its creativity in both storytelling and filmmaking all around, in fact, eight of Studio Ghibli’s films are among the 15 highest-grossing anime films made in Japan, with Spirited Away (2001) being the highest, grossing over US$290 million worldwide.
Ghibli was formed in 1985, after the success of Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the company would then go on to create some of the most beautiful animated pieces in cinematic history. The name Ghibli was given by Hayao Miyazaki from the Italian noun “ghibli”, based on the Libyan-Arabic name for the hot desert wind of that country, the idea being the studio would “blow a new wind through the anime industry”.
Since August 1996 Disney is one of the main distributor of Ghibli movies abroad. Over the years, the company has worked on several different projects, reaching from animated feature films to short movies, commercials and television films.
Though all of Ghibli’s work could be examined, we are going to mention briefly two of the most remarkable titles.
The first masterpiece is “Spirited Away” a coming-of-age story with hints of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz thrown in with the trademark of Ghibli wisdom and imagination. It tells the story of Chihiro, a young girl moving house with her parents. They get lost and stumble upon what they believe to be an abandoned theme park that turns out to be a realm where the spirits dwell. For over two hours we watch a young girl grapple with the responsibilities of maturing in a world that operates secretly within her own – the animation is incredible, the vast array of characters simply awe-inspiring, and each thread of the story builds to something much larger than the sum of its parts. Spirited Away is the only foreign language film to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, and to this day is the highest grossing film in Japan.
The second anime is ”My Neighbor Totoro”, one of the earliest Ghibli films, and featuring a titular character that would go on to be the company’s mascot, My Neighbor Totoro is a thematically similar film to Spirited Away, but with an entirely different outlook. Like its distant cousin Spirited Away, it focuses on young girls (this time sisters Mei and Satsuki) moving to a new home and discovering a secret world within it. This time though, there’s no supernatural curse or fantastical prison-like work conditions. The film explores the two young girls and their father as they adjust to life in the countryside. Their mother is seriously ill in a nearby hospital and the sweet, subtle movements of the film’s narrative are a celebration of the imagination of children, as well as a supportive father. Where Spirited Away curses parents’ greed, My Neighbor Totoro rewards the perseverance of a close-knit family. There’s also a group of adorable monsters named Totoro who help the girls to cope and familiarize themselves with the incredible enchanted environment that surrounds their new home.
You can actually visit the world of Ghibli in real life in Tokyo! There is a museum called Ghibli Museum in Mitaka city. The concept of the museum is “Let’s get lost together”. There is no direction inside or outside of the buildings so that children and even adults can wonder around the museum by themselves.
So what makes a Studio Ghibli film a Studio Ghibli film? Well, their works most often feature common motifs, themes, and imagery for one. These commonalities include female leads (usually younger), (talking) cats, sweet old ladies, things related to aviation, trains, boutiques, characters with multiple forms and identities, flocks of birds, birdlike creatures, misunderstood male characters, secret or hidden places, and in many cases a lack of a clearly defined antagonist.
Throughout their films the male characters are misunderstood which is unusual because in the American film industry, it is usually the other way round. One of the things that make Studio Ghibli’s themes are quite exciting is that in almost all of their films the enemy is not clearly defined.
Arguably, one of the Studio Ghibli’s main influences could be said to be Disney because both studios have taken inspiration and ideas from each other and they occasionally visit each other.
In the western culture there is this obsession of girls with princesses and the boys’ obsession with superheroes, with gender roles being enforced at a very early age.
You do not see this in Ghibli films, as the strength of the protagonists usually comes from within and is not portrayed in relation to their gender.
Ghibli’s animation films are the type of movies that you would like your children to be raised on, especially if you have girls. The heroines of Ghibli are always strong and resilient, without it being the focus of the film. Most of the Ghibli films are also in touch with nature and have environmental themes, like Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke.
They live with nature and both of them are protectors of the environment in their different ways. Nausicaä, living in a toxic world following a war that destroyed human civilisation, is in touch with nature and even a toxic jungle that everybody avoids. She enters it wearing a mask and explores its beauty.
In addition, Studio Ghibli touches on many relevant themes and ideas that have to do with the crisis of habitat our world faces in this post-industrial era. As a result, not only does Studio Ghibli push new ground with the quality of animation and sound in its productions, but also accomplishes much in educating us on the importance and necessity of maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship with nature.
Studio Ghibli has been a pioneer in Japanese film animation industry for 30 years. Even though Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki retired from their careers, the new generation is already producing a new film and the Ghibli spirit will be passed on to those young animators and producers.
These films lament the decay of Japanese culture and tradition, made possible by the progress of cultural homogenization and globalization in the name of economic prosperity. Using the mythos and lore of the Shinto religion, Miyazaki combats this trend by creating a fantasy realm that has special significance for the Japanese people and their spiritual roots.
The spirits and monsters that inhabit these worlds hint at the possibility that these fantastic creatures existed in Japan at one time, but are around no longer due to the devastation of humanity’s unquenchable thirst for power and prosperity. Princess Mononoke touches upon this theme, in a similar fashion to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, by presenting the Iron Town as a contagious disease that spreads indefinitely, leaving only destruction, death and hatred in its wake. Spirited Away, on the other hand, focuses more on the individual’s relationship with their own desires, and the possibility that choosing to fulfill one’s desires could have a terrible impact on others, as well as one’s self.