10 Things I Learned from Watching Studio Ghibli Films

I have been watching a lot of Studio Ghibli films these past few days and there’s nothing that makes me happy and inspired right now but these works of art. If only I could make a time machine right now, I would go back to when I was younger and I would watch all these amazing films just in time of its release and not now in my early 20’s and when Ghibli already announced that they won’t make any feature films anymore (temporarily maybe). This halt in production was much influenced by the retirement of the legendary filmmaker and animator, Hayao Miyazaki who created the studio with Isao Takahata in 1985. Miyazaki is considered as the main driving force in the excellence of most Ghibli films and as an aspiring filmmaker myself, he’s creating a lot of influence on me right now. I may be late for a few years but Ghibli films are timeless and the beauty of the message of their films shall inspire the generations to come. So far, here’s what I’ve learned from watching these films.

1. Go beyond what’s ordinary

I think there’s no other film studio that has consistently proven to apply this statement better than Studio Ghibli (Yes I’m quite snobbing Disney, Pixar and other western studios here). They have always created something that people have never seen before. The name of their studio even supports this for Ghibli is an Italian noun that means a “new wind” and Miyazaki adopted this with the thought of “blowing a new wind to the anime industry.”

Unique creations on Ghibli films are best seen with their characters and story setting. They created creatures like No-Face and Soot Sprites in Spirited Away that definitely helped evoke emotion from the female protagonist, Chihiro. More examples are Catbus, a part cat and a part bus being in My Neighbour Totoro, and Robot Soldier from Castle in the Sky which is a mechanized robot of death and destruction that chose instead to be a guardian and a gardener of a floating city.

Moreover they created worlds that weren’t seen or explored much before like the kingdom of cats in the Cat Returns and the Spirit World where Chihiro’s parents were turned into pigs in Spirited Away. More than these creatures and worlds that Ghibli has created, they also established new trends in the cinema and animation industry that definitely broke stereotypes and these will be evident in everything I will write from here onwards. In going beyond what’s ordinary, Ghibli definitely introduced new perspectives to people.

2. A villain is not a requirement in films

Most Studio Ghibli films lack hero versus villain thing going on with their storylines. It’s more on the troubles of the protagonists with themselves, their environment, and yeah more on really the characters’ desires, nothing more. Miyazaki was actually quoted saying, “Making an evil creature that really has an empty space or a hole in his heart is very tragic and depressing and sad to draw, so I don’t like drawing them.” There you go. No to evil characters!

3. ‘Animation’ is not synonymous to ‘children’

Clearly, Studio Ghibli has made animated films for everyone and not for children only. Their films like Only Yesterday, The Wind Rises and Porco Rosso specifically target adults more than children and I would say they are of no less than the ones made for children. They are grounded with adult reality but at the same time there’s a magical feeling to it which makes the studio well-loved by all ages.

4. Hushed moments are often the best parts

Animated films in the western world are always known for their action-packed scenes and this is where Ghibli films are far different. Ghibli films invest on the silent interludes in which the characters are simply thinking or waiting and or just doing the ordinary small things that people actually do in real life. The scenes in which Jiro is just sitting and smoking a cigarette in The Wind Rises and or that peaceful scene where Chihiro is riding a train across the surface of a glassy lake and that other one in which Satsuki and Mei are just patiently waiting at a bus stop for their father in My Neighbour Totoro are scenes where the characters and the audience can just reflect on everything.  These are honestly the most beautiful scenes more on because we could relate on doing it ourselves on a regular basis.

5. Real love is way more than being touchy

Most of these films involve romance. Though more often it’s not the main or only focus of the film. But yes love here is shown more on the things you do for the person and less on the things you do with the person on a physical level. The simple things like Seiji reading all the books in the library for Shizuku in Whisper of the Heart and Jiro flying paper airplanes for Naoko in The Wind Rises or that moment in the Secret World of Arriety in which Shawn replaced Arriety’s kitchen with a new one are the scenes driven by deep affections. No unnecessary hugging or kissing but when the characters do, it surely is magical!

My favourite couples are Howl and Sophie along with Seiji and Shizuku!

6. Children take out all the emotions from you

The Guardian quoted Miyazaki saying “Well, yes. I believe that children’s souls are the inheritors of historical memory from previous generations. It’s just that as they grow older and experience the everyday world that memory sinks lower and lower. I feel I need to make a film that reaches down to that level. If I could do that I would die happy.”

Everyone has a soft spot for children and that’s what Ghibli films have proven with most of their protagonists being considered as generally young. They have the most heartfelt emotions, when they cry, we cry; when they laugh, we laugh; and when they love, it feels so real. They are also projected as a very important part of the society because they inherit the past while they live on to become the future. It’s a great wonder for me why the Philippine cinema don’t give much attention and importance to films about children. We need to explore more I guess.

7. Women can be badass film protagonists

Even before female leads became a trend now in the west, Ghibli has been long celebrating the power of women to kickass and generally just carry the whole film. The best example for this is Princess Mononoke in the same titled film. Besides, Ghibli’s female leads are far more complex than Disney princesses. They are three dimensional characters and they have goals far bigger than finding true love.  Shizuku dreams to be a writer. Arriety wants to find a home where her family can finally live safely, peacefully and with the ‘little people’ like them. San wants to save the forest spirits from the humans.


8. It introduced you to all things different in Japan

When I say Japan all I ever think before were the television animes and the mangas it was based from and of course their big contribution to the deaths in World War II. But Ghibli showed me a different way in looking at these things through their films. Now I know that anime can be different from animation. I really can’t explain it but you know it is animation when it’s Ghibli. The expressions of the characters are also different for in anime it’s more exaggerated while in Ghibli’s animation it’s much closer to what is in real life. In Grave of the Fireflies and partly in The Wind Rises, I was also enlightened about my view of the Japanese people during the World War II. I always thought that Japanese then was so evil and blinded. I failed to recognize that more than any other nation, they are (if not the most) one of the most that suffered. The atomic bombing was just really painful for them. And their children….. Oh God Grave of the Fireflies was just so painful to watch with children like Seita and Setsuko suffering from American air bombs.

9. Emotion as a principle is always better than logic

I watched an interview of Miyazaki where he said that as a child he would go with his father and watch western films and he remembered as he comes of out of the cinema he would always express that he did not understood what he just watched, but somehow it has always struck him when he can’t explain something. That thought is what provoked him to do The Wind Rises because at first he thought that some people especially children may not understand or appreciate aeronautics anymore but eventually he remembered himself as a child and eventually went to go with it. Ghibli films have always created and explored creatures and things that are new to us and we cannot understand but sometimes like Miyazaki, what we can’t explain interests us. Besides with these unique creations, Studio Ghibli have always invested more on evoking feelings from us rather than making us understand and this proves very effective with their box office successes.

With this argument, I remembered filmmakers in the Philippines complaining that big studios here won’t accept their concepts because they would say, “The Filipinos won’t get that.” I always hated this statement because first, they underestimate the capability of the Filipinos to understand and second is simply me thinking that Filipino films like what the Japanese do, should focus more on the emotional aspect rather than the logic.

10. It’s never too late to go back

I know that these films were not part of my childhood but somehow it always felt like it had. Something seems so familiar. Ghibli films are not for children only, it is very much for adult too for it makes us remember our childhood, how we have changed and how we can never feel the same happiness ever again. Yet, when we watch these Ghibli films, somehow, we are able to go back. It’s amazing what Ghibli does to us.

That’s it! Hope I didn’t bore you to death right there. If you love Studio Ghibli like me comment your thoughts below!