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Published May 16th 2019
For me, that's a no brainer. I like Studio Ghibli movies. Let me count the ways. The animation is ethereal, especially of nature. There is so much beauty in every stalk, ray of sunlight, and ripple. Old villages, spirit world, and even machinery come alive before your eyes. To the extent, you sometimes forget it is indeed animation. I also like that they haven't gone onto 3D animation but remain faithfully 2D. For me, there's a beauty to 2D that the best of 3D fail to offer.
The background score is hauntingly beautiful and stays with you long after you're done watching. Like all Ghibli fans, I have a CD of Ghibli music and listen to it for relaxation, to focus at work, while driving, and even in my head without media assistance.
Amazing characterisation, where even out-of-this-world characters soon assume a familiar reality as if you've known them all your life; case in point—Totoro. No one has brought out the innocence and practical tenacity and resilience of childhood better than Ghibli, especially Miyazaki. Hard working, generous, imaginative, yet practical child characters with sincerity radiating from their faces overcome impossible odds, survive by dint of sheer courage, give it all they got and emerge victorious in the end but still appear quite placid and accepting about the whole thing. There's plenty to inspire and educate child audiences today in any Ghibli movie.
The story lines are simple, but the depth of the tales are a different matter, if you open that door. Which is possibly why one never outgrows Ghibli. When you're young it's light-hearted fun, lovely music, cute characters, and straightforward storytelling. You grow up and understand the significance of the lesser characters, profound underlying messages of sustainability, war and its aftermath, survival, confronting the fearful, loss, heartbreaks, relationships, and what it means to be human. So those are some of my favourite things about Ghibli movies. Now I shall review a few of my favourites and hopefully inspire you to go on a Ghibli binge over the weekend.
My all-time favourite is the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, hands down. As I said above, I now realise the undercurrents in that beautiful tale. It is the journey of the little girl Chihiro to being Sen and then finally back to being herself again. Meanwhile, she goes through experiences her parents are oblivious to. They are so involved in their own lives that they do not see dangers, warning signs, or even notice that something's off. So Chihiro is left to fend for herself and make her own decisions at crossroad moments in life. Fear and grief at the prospect of losing her parents forever forces her to grow up and take responsibility and act, to volunteer for tasks that others baulk at. From a typical ten-year-old sulking in the backseat of the family car, she learns to make deals, use her wits, accept love and support, and pretty much battle through to finally bring her parents back to their senses.
This 2014 Academy Award winner is the poignant tale of a princess animated by Isao Takahata with apparently supernatural artistic capabilities. The story is an adaptation of an ancient Japanese folktale. A childless couple find a shining bamboo stalk and out of it emerges a tiny resplendent baby girl who grows at the speed of bamboo rather than a human baby. She grows up to be an exquisite beauty and intuitively knowing she is of regal status, her father uproots her from her humble rural home to the upper end of town so she can find an eligible suitor. She is now known as Princess Kaguya and is courted by the nobles and royals. However, she longs for her childhood home and friends. The ending is of cosmic proportions and truly best viewed than narrated.
Director Miyazaki's love and reverence for nature as well as his faith in the possibility of technology coexisting with nature for mutual benefit is evident in every stroke of this animated feature. Floating high above in the sky beyond human visibility is Laputa, the highly advanced ecosystem where the inhabitants coexisted peacefully with nature. Their robotic inventions were not meant for destruction but for preserving and protecting. But Laputa is now deserted and has attained a mythical status.
Young Sheeta has in her possession a crystal necklace that holds the key to Laputa. And of course, this means she is pursued by the likes of Muska who intend to get hold of it. Pazu, a young lad on whom she literally lands as she falls out of an airship, is now her comrade-in-arms. The rest of the story is their race to save Laputa from the bad guys who are bent on destroying nature, the friendly robots, and upsetting the delicate nature-technology-human balance that Laputa is all about. But the kids are forced to chant the spell of destruction to prevent Laputa from falling into Muska's hands. Well, it doesn't end there but just gets even more intriguing as is usual in the case of Ghibli movies.
You can almost hear Takahata chuckle as he brings the Yamada family to life. The Yamadas are a typical urban middle-class family leading their normal life but unwittingly leaving us in stitches. There's the hardworking Dad, the Mum who can't cook to save her life, the wisecracking grandmother, the teenage son going through the ugly duckling phase and the cute kid sister. It's in the form of little vignettes that are full of irony and humour, making light of life's disappointments and taking it in their stride. The grand finale is when the husband opens his prepared speech in front of an august audience to find it has been replaced with a grocery shopping list. What does he do?
Well, then there's Totoro, Arietty, Ponyo, From Up on Poppy Hill, Porco Rosso, Howl's Moving Castle, and the heartbreaking Grave of the Fireflies. I can't possibly go into all that here, so I'll leave you here with these. If you haven't seen these, it's definitely worth catching.