Intrigued Ep: 1. Studio Ghibli

Hi all. This is the first chapter in my series where I would talk about my favourite animation studios, movie makers and mostly anything that intrigues me. So join me as I try to breakdown and understand what makes them so intriguing & special.

What better studio to pick for my first chapter than my all time favourite, Studio Ghibli. Ghibli’s dexterity and creativity has dazzled the audiences for almost 40 years now. It’s undoubtedly one of the most famous Japanese animation studios, known for their masterpieces like Spirited away, Howl’s moving castle, Ponyo, The wind rises, My neighbour Totoro to name a few. It has been nominated 5 times for the Oscars and has won once for the Best Animated Feature.

Scene from spirited away

Ghibli was founded by the critically acclaimed pair, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata in 1985. They founded it with a goal of making good animated movies from Japan that are worthy of the international stage. Hence the name “Ghibli”, which means “hot desert wind” in Italian. The idea was to blow a new wind through, then stagnant, Japanese animation industry.

Hayao Miyazakhi and Isao Takahata

Ghibli always respected the behemoth Disney, for their technical abilities. But, they found their emotional depictions to be far too simplistic. It was a time when animation was made solely for children. This limited animation studios from bringing more complex themes into their movies (which was normal for live action movies at the time). That was when Ghibli decided to take a different route, to make animated movies that focused on the emotional intricacies of the characters, rather than making ironically cartoonish characters. Early animated movies like “Snow queen” helped Miyazaki understand the true potential of animation to portray human emotions. He knew that in order to make movies with a strong emotional story, it had to be based on empathy and characters with real human emotions.

Scene from ponyo

Starting from their first movie, “Castle in the sky”, they paid close attention to the subtleties of their characters, whether its a scene where they are waking up from bed, wearing shoes or eating food. The expressions, movement & character feelings looked different each time you saw them, which made the characters unique and alive. Further more Miyazaki understood the unpredictability of people’s lives better than anyone else. All his characters had simple motives and flaws, just like anyone else. That’s what made them relatable. Just because a character happens to be the protagonist doesn’t make them infallible.

Scene from Porco Roso

How Ghibli portray character emotions is simply exceptional. You never find exaggerated expressions. The story & environment makes you feel what the character is feeling. They are masters at evoking the emotions they want in the viewers. Their films often have a lot of slow moments unlike other Anime of the time, who used cheap tactics like exaggerated expressions for characters to get a reaction out of their audience. You’ll often find the character and time flowing by slowly and silently in a Miyazaki movie. What keeps you engrossed is the connection you make with the character. In the end Miyazaki’s goal was to make movies that helps us all further understand the human condition. By imagining ourselves in the shoes of these characters, who slowly avenge their struggles and become self reliant through their emotional achievements, we start to build a emotional connect and empathize with the character. It, in a way, helps us understand ourselves better. This emotional aspect is at the core of what makes a Ghibli movie, a Ghibli movie.

Well, that’s all for the first chapter folks! Hope you liked it. Please share in the comments what you feel makes a Ghibili movie so iconic.

In the next chapter we’ll try to understand the mastermind behind animated movies like Akira, Steamboy, Metropolis etc. The one and only — Katushiro Otomo.

Thank you for reading and Goodbye!