I’ve been trying to write a Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki post for months now. Unfortunately, graduating undergrad and life sort of got in the way of that, but that’s irrelevant now cause this it! Sort of. I’ve decided to split Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki, and you’re probably thinking why? Isn’t Hayao Miyazaki Studio Ghibli? Yes, and no. Hayao Miyazaki is one of the founders of Studio Ghibli and he certainly has been involved in every film the studio has produced (not to mention the man is a genius), but in my opinion it takes more than one person to make a great film, an especially in animation where there are so many people involved (which is true to any film though). The other co-founder of Studio Ghibli is Isao Takahata, and he has also put in the hours and sure as heck deserves recognition. In this post, I focus on the studio as a whole and my choice for top 5 takes into consideration all the films the studio has done. Part of it is to highlight the talent of the other artists in the studio, but it’s not just that. These films are important and really underrated in the United States (with the exception of number one), and it has to do with the fact that Miyazaki’s name isn’t in the forefront, so I’m going to just tell you to watch them because they are fantastic. I will have a follow up post in January (Miyazaki-San’s birthday month!), which will focus on the artist Hayao Miyazaki, and his body of work, so look forward to that. Meanwhile though, let’s talk Ghibli!
I had some major reservations about watching Whisper of the Heart, mostly cause I hated the premise for it. Two teenagers fall in love but of course it’s not as easy as it sounds. Blah! But I had to watch it cause I was set on watching all Studio Ghibli films, and it has in fact become one of my favorites, clearly. Something this studio, and its animators do really well is capturing the real and simple feelings of life, and then using the animation to enhance those feelings. The animation is never exploited. Something that would seem kitschy and cliché is actually really honest. The characters of Shizuku and Seiji are charming, and even though they are the lead couple and expected to be destined, it never feels like that’s all they are. They are individuals with separate goals but they also have faith in each other, and really that’s Love (capital “L”). This film has a lot history behind it too and it’s not all happy. It was the first Studio Ghibli feature film to be directed by someone other than Miyazaki or Takahata. Director Yoshifumi Kondo was the protégé of Miyazaki, and many expected Kondo to take over as head of the studio, unfortunately he died at 47. I would have looked forward to more of his projects. Also, because of this film I know the lyrics to “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” which I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or bad, but either way, yeah.
4. The Secret World of Arrietty (2010), directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Here is the thing, I knew about Arrietty since 2010, but I didn’t actually get to see it until two years later. That’s the only downside to these imports that have to be dubbed, and until very recently Disney was responsible for the distribution of Studio Ghibli films in the United States. So, the actors for the voices are of course top notch. That being said Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, and Carol Burnett have some of the best voices ever. Anyways, about this film, basically it’s a stunning 2D animated film. Studio Ghibli is one of the few animation studios left that has held off on the whole CGI/3D craze that permeates Hollywood, instead they are working with the tools they’ve always had in new exciting ways. They create worlds that are gorgeous and visually stunning without succumbing to the idea that it has to be computer animated in order to look real. The story isn’t the most heartfelt I’ll admit and it gets pretty sappy at some parts, but besides that the characters are hilarious, and the ending, well, it’s not your expected ending but it feels right. Yonebayashi has been with Studio Ghibli for quite a while and worked on many of the top rated films, in Arrietty I think he ingeniously included qualities and techniques from those other films he worked on.
3. The Cat Returns (2002), directed by Hiroyuki Morita
Consider this a sort of sequel spin-off to Whisper of the Heart, with the focus on the character of The Baron, a gentleman cat (a gentlecat!). The Baron was first introduced as statue which Shizuku is fond of, but in The Cat Returns he’s a talking walking character, actually most of the characters are cats, even the main human character turns into a cat. So if you like cats, boy, do I have the movie for you! Morita creates such a fun world the whole time it’s just one big smile. It’s basically Alice In Wonderland, but with cats!
2. Grave of the Fireflies (1988), directed by Isao Takahata
Okay, remember how I mentioned something about these movies being important, this is still true and in fact Grave of the Fireflies might be the most important. Besides it being the saddest flippin’ movie it’s also really beautiful and historically accurate. It’s clear Takahata had a specific vision in mind for this wartime story. First, it’s told from the perspective of a 14-year-old kid, and second, he wanted to be faithful to the novel it’s based on. It’s tough to write and direct a movie about children having to survive during a war. No one wants to see that, but that was the situation during World War II in Japan, but not only Japan actually but everywhere, It’s a fact there are children everywhere in the world. So, I mean yeah it’s really hard to watch but it’s honest and it’s another reason to hate war, and that’s a bandwagon I think a lot of people should get on. Let’s hate wars.
1. Spirited Away (2001), directed by Hayao Miyazaki
In terms of an animated film doing everything right, yeah Spirited Away is that film. Remember to keep an eye out for my top favorite Miyazaki films, this makes the list there too, in a more different way, but still it’s on both lists! That’s crazy! Anyways, in Japan this film is bigger than Titanic, and in the states in was nominated and won and Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, along with a bunch of other film awards. It was a hit and continues to be a hit today. The score is beautiful and the scenery, and the food, is all types of sumptuous. It’s a coming of age story but not only meant for children but for adults as well, that’s the great thing about any Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli film. They break that awful notion that because it’s animated it must only be for kids. The film tackled current themes and it’s gripping and enchanting in so many levels. I recommend this film to anyone who wants to learn about the craft, not just for animators but just everyone. Best film ever. Okay this is now gushing and I’ll stop. Thanks for reading and remember to read the Miyazaki one coming soon. That will have the good stuff.