The Wonderful World of Studio Ghibli
I want to welcome you to the world of Studio Ghibli! A Japanese animation studio who created some of the greatest animated films ever made. Drawn by hand in painstaking detail, the monsters and characters that grace our screens are remarkable, wonderfully weird and imbued with vibrant and magical colours. The imagination and originality of studio Ghibli gifts us plots, characters, animations and creatures that we would never have dreamed up ourselves. Originally in Japanese, the films have been dubbed with English speaking actors meaning for once I'm not encouraging you to climb the one-inch wall that haunts foreign film.
Studio Ghibli gives us an exclusive window into the world of Japan, its films look at the days of ancient Samurai and the Second World War. They explore different aspects of Japanese culture and history finding unique ways to balance their classic traditions and the pressures of modern life. I personally feel these films offer us an amazing way to explore this foreign and fascinating culture. The dubbed English gives a sense of familiarity to characters and plots that are different and fresh. The three films I have featured are all available on Netflix with more being added on the 1st of every month!
Spirited Away (2001)
Chihiro (voiced by Daveigh Chase) and her family are moving to the suburbs when a stop on her journey flips her world upside down, and shakes her out of her anger and resentment. They discover a world ruled by an evil witch Yubaba (Voiced by Suzanne Pleshette). Yubaba turns everyone she meets into animals holding the humans hostage in her lucrative bathhouse. Chihiro finds herself abandoned in this ancient, cruel and magical world with her only way to escape and rescue her family lying in becoming a worker herself. Luckily, she finds an ally in Haku (voiced by Jason Marsden) but is he all he seems?
This animation has been hailed as one of the greatest to ever be produced. It is abundantly clear why it has this accolade if you watch the film. Every single frame is intricate and detailed, they are completely filled with colour and life. The character's burst with personality. I found myself blown away by the level of animation and the huge differences to say the work of Pixar and Disney. It detaches itself from realism and instead of being lifelike, Studio Ghibli focus on creating a detailed and magical world.
Hayao Miyazaki (director) can be given the credit for the amazing film that is Spirited Away. He controls each individual frame. They are coordinated into masterful plots that leave us feeling blown away and awed. The film is steeped in allegory and everything has a deeper meaning. There are references to ancient traditions that are more poignant because they seem to be dying in the modern world. Miyazaki finds a way to capture this old magic and combine it with the new; the creatures he creates such as No-face (voiced by Bob Bergen) are deeply original and very mystical and, takes its inspiration from classical Japanese mythology.
The is a must watch! It is an on-screen experience! You could view it again and again, I even recommend that you do in the hopes of understanding the film's worth and value. If you are a fan of foreign film or just of good animation there is something in this film for you to love. It introduces a new world and culture and immerses you into adventures and stories that have you gripped from the very first 10 minutes.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Defender of his village, Ashitaka (voiced by Billy Crudup), is given a deathly curse from a boar demon. His journey takes him through Ancient Japan, the setting for Princess Mononoke. Ashitaka's only hope is to discover the source of the demon's power and hopefully, be able to reverse his curse. He discovers Lady Eboshi (voiced by Minnie Driver) who is willing to use crude guns against forest Gods to further her mining empire. San/Princess Mononoke (voiced by Claire Danes) is a human who has been raised by wolf gods, she fights for them and their homes. As the only neutral force, Ashitaka can see the good and the bad on both sides.
The plot of this film feels much more mature. It explores deathly curses and elevates the power of arrows fired so that they can decapitate a man in one shot, this shocked me at first. I was not expecting it from an animated film. This plot is moving and explores the idea of ecology and the destruction of environments for consumerist gain. It works well. Evil and good are mixed together and neither side are perfect, both seem flawed. The plot is nuanced, interesting and fascinating.
Studio Ghibli once more do an incredible job exploring Japanese culture, the Gods referenced all link to legends and myths and the samurai stand alongside depictions of the first guns. These look more like handheld cannons! It is no surprise that Hayao Miyazaki directed this film as well and his stylistic mark is everywhere. The English dubbed dialogue is very good with the actors helping elevate this film for an English audience, Billy Crudup particularly does his young brave warrior character justice!
I think this is my favourite Studio Ghibli film. The original plot and setting of Ancient Japan make it so. The amazing mix creates a world that is full of fantasy. It is intoxicating and enticing, I would highly recommend this film to anyone who will listen, it is the perfect foreign animation.
The Wind Rises (2013)
Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) dreams of flying! He is near-sighted and wishful, he will never be able to become a pilot. Instead, he joins a large Japanese engineering company and becomes one of the most innovative and imaginative airplane designers of the 20th century. We follow his life as he contemplates his dreams and the reality, as the dark spectre of WW2 looms over Japan. He just face the reality that his planes will be used for weapons. Jiro is the central character and through him we see the monumental moments of Japan's recent history; the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923), Tuberculosis crisis and the Wall Street Crash (1929).
The film is a journey. We learn who Jiro is across the two-hour film, we learn his hopes, his dreams and his fears. We know him by the end and I found myself celebrating when he succeeded, and I found myself feeling his pain when early planes failed to fly. The building of this wonderful characters is partly down to Joseph Gordon-Levitt who owns the role, injecting emotion, whether childlike wonder or melancholy, into everything he says. The other voice actors like John Kransinski (Honjo) and Emily Blunt (Nahoko Satomi) also do a fantastic job.
The other standout is of course the animation! It is used to show some of the crises of Japan such as the Kanto Earthquake. The sounds of a human voice groaning to depict the earth made it seem alive, and ominous. It is a powerful effect and works incredibly well. That entire segment of the film is a real highlight, I was gobsmacked at the power of the animation, sounds, and how the characters reacted to the situation. The same effect is used for the engines and planes. It is all given life. I have never heard human voices and sounds used to the great an effect.
I love a film that explores the life of one person! This was no exception. I just loved how this film used effects that will feel foreign but work in such an impressive way. I feel like I learnt a lot about 20th century Japan and what caused them to be so far behind the technological curve going into WW2. I would highly, highly recommend this film and any and all Studio Ghibli creations. This film was emotional, it was familiar and new all at the same time. It was incredible. Studio Ghibli is masterful in creating the best animated films around and they give such insight into culture and history for countries that are both fascinating and foreign.