What makes Studio Ghibli so magically immersive? Every movie feels like a visual essay, which dives down on different topics that both kids and adults can resonate with. The Japanese animation powerhouse has cast its spell over wide-eyed anime audiences for nearly 4 decades, and on this article, I’ll share what I know regarding the studio.
The studio came to life when Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki joined forces in 1985 to animate the first entry of the studio, “Nausicaä of The Valley of The Wind”. They actually met in the 1960s when they were working for the Toei Doga Studio, but after 20 years, they decided to make it out on their own. Following the huge success of the movie, they set up a small production in the suburbs of Tokyo. A year later, “Castle in The Sky” was released, the official first Studio Ghibli title, which now is one of the most acclaimed animation studios in Japan and the world, with more than 40 titles released.
Regarding the name of the studio, it was Miyazaki’s idea. A avid flyer, he was inspired by the Caproni Ca.309 Ghibli, a surveillance aircraft which was built in Italy during the Second World War. The Ghibli also means “desert wind” in the Saharan desert, symbolizing the breath of fresh air in Japanese animation.
About the logo, although not as successful as their first two entries, the sales from “My Neighbor Totoro”, more noticeably the soft Totoro toys, kept the company from bankrupting at the time, thus resulting in Totoro becoming the official mascot of the studio.S
The philosophy behind Studio Ghibli had one goal: To explore the depths of the human soul, by blurring the thin line between reality and fantasy, by offering poetic stories that would translate the complexity of the human soul. No marketing strategies, no pandering to the masses, just one humble goal.
Striking a balance between reality and fantasy is not an easy feat to achieve, but, Ghibli animators seem to have gotten the hang of it. They never reuse animation, or use CGI, everything is hand drawn. There is nothing there before the concept, everything is hand drawn from scratch. And this is where the studio excels in my opinion. The attention to detail to every scene, every still frame, so rich in details, unique color palettes, make the movies very immersive to the viewer. No matter how far-fetched the notion of a movie might be, the way it’s structured, the way movement is animated with such ease, which itself creates a new set of rules and logic of the world, add to the immersion.
Miyazaki doesn’t underestimate the intelligence of children, neither their power of understanding. Although targeted to a younger audience, these movies resonate very well with adults, thus resulting in the emotions and the message of each movie be authentic.
Each movie tackles on different aspects of life, without holding back. The feelings of despair and sadness, sorrow and loss, but also hope and joy, love and passion about life, make the movies relatable for all audiences, despite age. Miyazaki believes children should be exposed to everything life has to offer, that’s why he more often than not, tackles on adult themes, such as militarism and environmentalism. He believes that children should be exposed early on to these topics, and if they are presented correctly, they will understand in their own way.
It is pretty likely that you already know, and seen most of the movies of this studio. Anyway, I’d like to conclude this article by listing 5 of my all time favorite Ghibli movies, just in case (not in any particular order).
Porco Rosso (1992)
Ocean Waves (1993)
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Only Yesterday (1991)
Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
Although the last one is technically not a Ghibli film, it is Miyazaki’s first featured film, which holds a lot of elements that would be present later on in Studio Ghibli, so I thought it appropriate to include it on the list.