Since it’s Hayao Miyazaki‘s birthday on January 5th, I figured it would be nice to have an article published around that date. If you don’t know who Miyazaki is, all I have to say is, “Shame on you!!!!!!!!” Hayao Miyazaki is a renowned Japanese animation director. He’s responsible for a lot of wonderful movies like the 2002 Academy Award Winner Spirited Away and other classics like My Neighbour Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service. His latest movie, Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea (watch the trailer here) was out in theatres during the summer.
Now, what is Studio Ghibli? Well, it’s the animation studio he co-founded with director Isao Takahata and producer Toshio Suzuki. This studio has seriously produced some really magical films.
Anyways, unlike my article on Japanese literature, I can’t just give “picks” on Studio Ghibli films, you have to watch them all! (If you’ve never seen a Ghibli film, I declare that you have no soul.) As a result, I’ll list the top 5 things that make this animation studio so wonderful.
1. The animation is detailed, exquisitely researched and beautiful.
If you’ve watched some of the “Behind the Scenes” DVD extras, you’ll see that the animation team puts a lot of thought into how they will animate certain parts of the movie. In Spirited Away, Miyazaki animated the thrashing Haku by first observing the movements of an eel as it thrashes around when you take it outside a tank. As well, a lot of the animation in at Studio Ghibli is hand-drawn. Miyazaki has been reported to have personally redraw thousands upon thousands of animation cells.
2. Miyazaki knows how to portray people we can relate to.
A lot of cartoon characters tend to lose their realism and humanity. Sometimes it’s done on purpose to make a show funnier, other times the character just has a lack of depth because they don’t act the way a normal person would in a tough situation. This is part of the reason why we love fictional characters, but at the same time, there’s always an easy attachment to characters whose experiences and reactions mirrors yours.
With Miyazaki, he knows that people aren’t perfect. Need an example? Just take a look at Chihiro from Spirited Away. She’s not a preppy, cheerful airhead like a lot of regular anime heroines and she’s not perfect like them either. She’s apathetic, a coward and whiny and has to learn a hard and slow lesson before she can change herself into a better person, just like the rest of us.
(By the way, Miyazaki isn’t the only director of Studio Ghibli but I’ve singled him out because I have several concerns with the themes and characters in Isao Takahata films. I may decide to write an article on this in my Japanese literature blog, so stay tuned.)
3. Studio Ghibli plots are deep and fascinating.
People in North America tend to associate cartoons with children, therefore it’s a common perception that cartoons were not meant for an adult audience. However, I don’t think a child can completely grasp the complexity and struggle within Princess Mononoke even though they’d enjoy the really cool story and characters. At the same time, being an adult can bring forth new interpretations of the films. For example, in My Neighbour Totoro, were the strange creatures called “Totoros” real or were they figments of the girls’ imagination to comfort themselves during a really rough time?
4. The music is absolutely gorgeous.
The composer of all music in Studio Ghibli films is almost always Joe Hisaishi. His pieces beautifully capture the mood of each film. Sometimes, instrumental soundtracks are a bit boring, but not Hisaishi’s stuff. I think his best work can be heard in either Castle in the Sky or Kiki’s Delivery Service (I love the waltz in that movie), although Ponyo by the Cliff on the Sea will be an interesting soundtrack since I think he’s expanded his style.
5. They’re just tons of fun.
If watching Studio Ghibli films doesn’t make you happy, then I don’t know what would.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY HAYAO MIYAZAKI~!