Saturday, March 10, 2012
Studio Ghibli (株式会社スタジオジブリ) is a Japanese animation (or "anime") production company founded in 1985 by directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata with producer Toshio Suzuki. Miyazaki in particular has achieved international renown with films such as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle and Ponyo. Spirited Away shared the Golden Bear with Bloody Sunday at the 2002 Berlinale, and won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards. It is the only non-English film to win that award, and it holds the world box-office record for a non-English film with $275 million.
The films are uniquely expressive and suitable for the whole family without the pandering childishness of many American family films. The main characters are most often children that have a degree of maturity and wisdom.
The quality of the animation is often astounding, especially as it relies on more traditional animation techniques. Their portrayal of various settings with supernatural or fantasy elements is done with great care and imagination. It's a refreshing change from the excess of computer animation coming from Hollywood these days.
Ghibli films do share the trait of most anime films of having gigantic, over-sized eyes for most characters. I recently got into a discussion where it was suggested that this had more to do with Japanese fascination with cuteness than with western beauty standards. Nonetheless, I do think it makes an odd political statement, especially when there are occasional lowly comic characters whose eyes are represented by lines.
Unwitting racial statements aside, every film of theirs that I have seen has been quite excellent and are highly recommended.
Spirited Away: The Films of Studio Ghibli
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Castle in the Sky
My Neighbor Totoro
Whisper of the Heart
Kiki's Delivery Service
The Cat Returns
The Ocean Waves
My Neighbors the Yamadas
Howl's Moving Castle
Discover (or re-discover) such classics as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro and many others in this fifteen-film retrospective.
Often referred to as the Disney of Japan, Studio Ghibli has evolved over its twenty-five-year history into one of the most influential film studios in the world, its trademark animation style, powerful storytelling and deeply felt humanism creating works of elegant simplicity and universal appeal. Long cherished in its home country and spoken of in reverential tones by animators the world over, Ghibli first came to wide North American attention when Disney released Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke in 1999, establishing both a business and a creative link between the two animation giants that lasts to this day. Indeed, the celebrated work of Disney partner Pixar, the most creatively consistent of all American studios (animation or otherwise), is almost unimaginable without Ghibli: Pixar creative head John Lasseter, who calls his longtime friend Miyazaki "the greatest animation director living today," uses the Japanese master as a narrative divining rod when the studio shapes its new projects, and Ghibli's combination of beautifully imaginative fantasy and pressing, present-day social concerns is readily discernible in such Pixar films as WALL-E.
The genesis of Ghibli traces back to the early 1960s and the beginning of the anime wave in Japan. Introduced to each other at a union meeting, Miyazaki and fellow young animator Isao Takahata went on to collaborate on some of the most popular early anime series in Japan, including Heidi, Girl of the Alps and Future Boy Conan. They made their first feature together, the ambitious Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind, in 1984, which was such a success that it spurred them to establish their own studio in partnership with producer Toshio Suzuki. Founded in 1985, Studio Ghibli followed the success of Nausicaä with the classic films Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro (whose friendly forest spirit adorns the company's logo and Tokyo headquarters) and Kiki's Delivery Service. While Miyazaki, who directed all three films, is Ghibli's most easily identifiable auteur, his work emanates from the Ghibli house style developed by himself and Takahata: a deceptively simple, gently-paced aesthetic that sets the studio's work apart from the more kinetic anime that dominates Japanese television. And while Miyazaki carries Ghibli's humanist concerns into the realms of fantasy and legend, Takahata grounds them in contemporary and historical reality, most notably in his masterpiece Grave of the Fireflies.
That Ghibli's work can retain its remarkable cohesion with material that ranges from delightful fairy tales to muscular adventures to historical epics and serious dramas testifies to the studio's strong philosophical foundation and shared vision. Key to this sensibility is Ghibli's strong emphasis on the human characters in their films — children in particular — over such animation staples as talking animals (not that Ghibli doesn't have its fair share of those as well). Children are the protagonists in almost all of Ghibli's films, but as opposed to the reductive portrayal of kids so common in the American cinema, the Ghibli films present determined, intelligent young people who pursue their goals — whether recovering their parents from an uncanny magical realm in Spirited Away, defending a kingdom in Nausicaä or surviving in the ravaged landscape of WWII-era Japan in Grave of the Fireflies — with bravery and resourcefulness.
It is this faith in the human ability to persevere, and to retain an innate goodness despite the sad evidence of human cruelty and folly (often presented in the form of environmental devastation), that provides the overarching vision of Ghibli's work, fostering a unity of theme and style that the studio has carefully cultivated and maintained throughout its existence. Like such colleagues as Pixar or Britain's Aardman (the home of Wallace & Gromit), Ghibli has stubbornly maintained its independence even when associating with such giants as Disney, allowing for a creative freedom and vaunting ambition that is almost unprecedented in a film world effectively ruled by all-powerful media conglomerates. With Ghibli's The Secret World of Arrietty, an adaptation of Mary Norton's much-loved juvenile novel The Borrowers, set to arrive in theatres in February, now is an ideal time to discover (or rediscover) this wondrous cinematic legacy. — Jesse Wente