Okay so I’m a Studio Ghibli fan. Any reader of Lamellae knows this, but I’ve only touched on why while talking about specific movies. I thought it was worth a post on it’s own.
Obviously there are many spec fic stories in their catalogue from Laputa: Castle in the Sky, which is a 1986 science fiction, through to When Marnie was There, 2014 magic realism. But right from the start they also made stories without any spec fic elements, starting with Grave of the Fireflies in 1988 and most recently The Wind Rises in 2013.
They were proving that animation isn’t just for kids (an attitude that’s always bugged me) back in the Eighties. In fact, Grave of the Fireflies is one of the most beautiful and saddest films I’ve ever seen. To the point that, despite how much I like it, I don’t own a copy because I don’t ever want to put myself through that again!
Its writer/director, Isao Takahata, was also responsible for another heartbreaking film in 2013 – The Tale of Princess Kaguya – which is a traditional folktale told in an amazing visual style. He did Pom Poko in 1994 too, which I only discovered recently. I think his films look straight-on at loss and difficult issues and, while they don’t all have sad endings, they resolve in realistic ways.
Hayao Miyazaki who runs the studio and who has made the films you might have heard of like Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle has a particularly whimsical sensibility, but his films aren’t all sweetness-and-light either with Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind tackling hard situations.
What the studio does remarkably well is strong female protagonists and they always have.
Nausicaa (considered their first film but technically made by another studio) was is from 1984 and, as I’ve said elsewhere, she is what a princess should be (self-sufficient, wise, brave and doesn’t need anyone to come save her). I was reminded of Nausicaa as I watched Arietty recently, which is Studio Ghibli’s 2010 take on The Borrowers. Arietty is the same kind of character, as is Fio – from the 1994 film Porco Rosso – who is an aeronautic engineer.
I love too that their films show friendships between boys and girls, as well as many different loving relationships. And I love that the landscape and environment is present in almost all their storytelling.
What I admire most of all though are the characters. There are always memorable and well-drawn (excuse the pun) characters and often more than one. The only movie in their catalogue I don’t think quite worked – Tales from Earthsea – suffered from not having this magic ingredient.
Speaking of admiration… as an animation geek it blows my mind that they still hand draw.
In a movie world so overwhelmed by American content, I personally enjoy seeing Japan either in setting or the details of the worlds they present. Definitely a reason I go back to My Neighbour Totoro (1988) despite the fact it’s aimed at quite a young audience, because there is a hefty dose of culture and rural lifestyle that makes me want to live in a house like that near a giant camphor tree!