Studio Ghibli's animation legacy and hidden treasures

Kiki's delivery service (1989)

Studio Ghibli, the iconic Japanese animation studio founded by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, has left an indelible mark on the world of animation. Known for their enchanting worlds, rich storytelling, and compelling characters, Ghibli films have not only captivated audiences in Japan but also resonated with viewers worldwide.

How Studio Ghibli influenced the world of animation

The universality of Studio Ghibli's enchanting worlds has played a pivotal role in the studio's impact on international animation. While Ghibli's films are deeply rooted in Japanese culture and folklore, their themes and emotions are universally relatable. Films like "Spirited Away," "Princess Mononoke," "Howl's Moving Castle," and "My Neighbor Totoro" have introduced viewers to magical realms filled with wonder and imagination. In "Spirited Away" for instance, audiences get immersed in a bathhouse for spirits with the main character Chihiro as her parents turn into pigs, a place teeming with fantastical creatures and unique characters. These enchanting worlds serve as the backdrop for compelling narratives that often explore themes of identity, the importance of empathy, environmentalism, and the human spirit.

Hayao Miyazaki

Since 1985, throughout these years, Ghibli has influenced filmmakers and animators around the globe. At a time when computer-generated animation was gaining prominence, Ghibli's commitment to the traditional art form inspired a new generation of animators to explore the possibilities of 2D animation. This dedication to craftsmanship and storytelling has had a profound impact on the animation industry worldwide.

International filmmakers have drawn inspiration from Studio Ghibli's storytelling techniques, which often blend the ordinary with the extraordinary. Ghibli's focus on character development, emotional depth, and the exploration of complex themes has set a high standard for storytelling in animation. Filmmakers from diverse cultural backgrounds have sought to emulate Ghibli's ability to create meaningful and emotionally resonant narratives. Additionally, their influence can be seen in the visual aesthetics and narrative depth of video games, especially those developed in Japan.

The director of "Tomorrow", a Bangladeshi animated short film, told Prothom Alo that, "Miyazaki greatly influenced my career, particularly in filmmaking. While my art style is influenced by Disney, I prefer Miyazaki's approach to filmmaking. His films capture life's moments in a unique way, emphasizing the beauty of everyday activities like walking, gazing at the sky, and connecting with nature; something rarely seen in Western cinema. Additionally, the way he creates strong bonds between his characters evokes childhood memories for me. One of my favorite Miyazaki films is 'My Neighbor Totoro'."

Studio Ghibli films

Studio Ghibli's films often explore themes that transcend cultural boundaries. For example, "Princess Mononoke" delves into the conflict between environmental conservation and industrialization. This theme resonates with audiences worldwide as environmental concerns are universal. The film's depiction of nature's resilience and the consequences of human actions speaks to viewers from different cultural backgrounds, making it a cross-cultural masterpiece.

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Whilst being originally created in Japanese, their films have achieved significant success at the global box office. For example, "Spirited Away" became a global phenomenon, winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and grossing over $350 million worldwide. This success showcases the widespread appeal and cultural significance of Ghibli's work beyond Japan.

Spirited Away (2001)

The Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo, is a captivating homage to Studio Ghibli, the iconic animation studio. Designed by Hayao Miyazaki, it offers interactive exhibits, a life-sized "Laputa" robot, and a themed cafe. It's a must-visit for Ghibli fans, providing insights into the creative process behind beloved films. Other than the museum, every year a ‘Studio Ghibli fest’ is arranged worldwide. During this festival, a selection of Studio Ghibli's animated films is screened in theatres for a limited time. This event allows fans of Studio Ghibli to experience their favourite movies on the big screen and introduces these iconic films to new audiences.

Grave of Fireflies (1998)

Lesser-known Studio Ghibli films worth watching

While Studio Ghibli is celebrated for its classics, there are lesser-known gems within their filmography that deserve recognition. These 5 films may not have received the same level of attention as "Spirited Away" or "Princess Mononoke," but they are equally deserving of admiration. These movies can definitely be a part of your lazy weekend.

Ponyo (2008)

1.       Whisper of the Heart: a coming-of-age story that explores the dreams and aspirations of a young girl named Shizuku. This film's focus on self-discovery and creativity resonates with viewers of all ages.

2.       The Cat Returns: a delightful spin-off from "Whisper of the Heart." It introduces audiences to a whimsical world inhabited by talking cats and explores themes of courage and self-identity.

3.       Only Yesterday: another hidden gem that explores the nostalgia of adulthood as a woman reflects on her childhood and the choices that led her to where she is today. This film's emotional depth and relatable themes make it a standout in Ghibli's catalogue.

4.       Pom Poko: it tackles environmentalism in a unique way, featuring shape-shifting tanuki creatures who struggle to save their habitat from urban development.

5.       Porco Rosso: it follows the adventures of Marco Pagot, a cursed World War I veteran who hunts air pirates in the 1930s Adriatic Sea. The film is known for its unique characters, stunning animation, and aerial battles, while exploring themes of love, redemption, and the aftermath of war.

My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

Future of Studio Ghibli

Hayao Miyazaki, who is in his 80’s, initially announced his retirement from filmmaking but returned to create one last movie, "The Boy and the Heron." Despite his age, this film was officially announced in 2017 and took nearly five years to complete. Recently, it premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival and gained international attention. The US release is scheduled for 8 December 2023. The movie, already acclaimed in Japan, combines a classic Studio Ghibli fantasy twist with a tale of grief and personal struggles, solidifying Miyazaki's legacy as a legendary animator and storyteller.

But “The Boy and the Heron”, Hayao Miyazaki’s first feature film in a decade, probably won’t be his last after all. Ghibli’s executive Junichi Nishioka told CBC News that not only does he not feel like retiring anymore, he’s actively coming into work to create yet another film. Nishioka said, “He is currently working on ideas for a new film. He comes into his office every day and does that. This time, he’s not going to announce his retirement at all. He’s continuing working just as he has always done.” Hopefully the fans are going to get more amazing films with the touch of Hayao Miyazaki.

The Boy and the Heron (2023)

Looking ahead

Studio Ghibli continues to inspire generations of animators and storytellers and its enchanting world will remain a testament to the power of imagination and the universal appeal of meaningful storytelling in animation. Whether through the lively adventures of "Kiki's Delivery Service" or the tranquil landscapes of "My Neighbour Totoro," Ghibli's enchantment knows no bounds, transcending language and cultural barriers to touch the hearts of viewers around the world.

* Rumaiysa M Rahman is a 12th grader of Dhaka City College who loves animals, taekwondo and Korean culture