What Studio Ghibli Means To Me: A Tribute To Hayao Miyazaki

Very soon, The Wind Rises will be released, marking both Studio Ghibli’s 18th feature film and the inevitable end to Hayao Miyazaki’s career. The co-founder of animation company Studio Ghibli has become an icon in the word of modern animation, influencing and shaping the industry with a remarkable career spanning six decades, and his 11th film as a director for Studio Ghibli will be his last. The quality of The Wind Rises barely matters at this point; his career, with its countless films of pure genius and unrelenting wonder, has given us quality that begs to be watched for years and years, generations and generations. In my journey to be the film fanatic that I am today, Miyazaki’s work has had an immeasurable effect on me. My appreciation for both foreign cinema and animation would not be as strong as they are today without the influence of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, the worlds he conjures up for the audience. I got lost in the imagination of Hayao Miyazaki a long time ago, and I haven’t found the way out yet.

I remember watching my first Studio Ghibli film, back when I was twelve years old. It was the then mega-hit Spirited Away, a remarkable, confusing, hallucinogenic example of animation which captured both the animation and the heart. I’d never seen a Japanese film before, but the beautiful visuals and the engrossing tale made the need for subtitles unimportant. Hayao Miyazaki’s work reaches beyond language, transcending cultural boundaries to become almost universally acclaimed in a way which many foreign films can only dream of achieving. The pure magic of Miyazaki was deep in Spirited Away, and it grabbed me almost instantly with my first taste of his work. This extraordinary tale of a little girl who has to work in a bathhouse for spirits to save her parents is the typical ‘masterpiece’ of Miyazaki’s collection; the one film everybody seems to know, without knowing who made it or how they’ve only really experienced the tip of the iceberg. It’s akin to watching Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and not then going off to experience his other works, like E.T, Saving Private Ryan or Jurassic Park; a whole collection of masterpieces is just in your reach, if only you’d stretch a little further. Later on, I discovered Howl’s Moving Castle on television a year or so later, not at that moment realising the connection. Although considered by some as a weaker entry into Miyazaki’s legacy, I instantly fell in love with its incredible style, its bonkers storyline and the sheer imagination that stemmed right through the roots of the film. For me, it went beyond the charms of Disney, or the beauty of Pixar; it seemed to have more substance and more style than any other animated film I had ever seen. Studio Ghibli draw up worlds that you never want to leave, whether they be the mystic bathhouses of Spirited Away, the walking house of a wizard in Howl’s Moving Castle or, as I experienced next, the underwater haven of Ponyo. They may all be very different films, but the charm and the wonder that Studio Ghibli can create sticks hard and true from film to film.

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After the aquatic charms that Ponyo so sweetly provided, I searched out and experienced what is perhaps my favourite of all of Miyazaki’s work; My Neighbour Totoro. This story of young sisters who find forest spirits in the woods behind their house is a simply remarkable piece of work, a film that goes above and beyond the standards set for animation in film. It taught me that action, violence and even just general peril were not necessary pieces of the puzzle in terms of filmmaking, and Miyazaki deliberately stays clear of that. The characters develop, the mystery deepens, and you as the audience will simply enjoy the film through sharing company with these wonderful characters. The mystical forest creature, Totoro, has become the symbol of Studio Ghibli, and besides from that he also represents what is so brilliant about the studio itself. Totoro represents the innocence and the beauty of Miyazaki’s animation, the avoidance of general, boring Hollywood contrivances, proof that films can do remarkable things without resorting to conflict, explosions, big guns, and half-naked women. I would argue that My Neighbour Totoro is a vital part of anyone’s education on film, as it was in mine.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly what captivates me, what moves me and what inspires me when I watch one of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, but it always does without fail, regardless of the film. They are quite simply perfect examples of cinema, sucking the audience into a fantastical world that holds the power to excite, sadden, amuse and scare. Studio Ghibli’s marvellous films introduced me to another world of cinema, left me breathless in ways few other pieces of cinema have, or ever will do. Miyazaki’s retirement marks the end of an era for animation, a glorious age that spans all the way from 1986 to 2014, an age where the wonder and imagination of his films have lit the world alight. Cinema is losing a master of his craft, a man who redefined in the western world the very concept of anime and foreign language film. He passes the torch on to his son, Goro Miyazaki, but it is hard to see the old magic ever getting rediscovered by the studio, even though the 2011 film From up on Poppy Hill was an encouraging example of what we can expect to come from Hayao’s protégée. Overall though, Miyazaki’s work has encouraged and influenced me to learn more about animation, taught me to appreciate foreign cinema, and showed me what can happen when you break the boundaries and limits set by Hollywood. His films are not only magical, breathtaking or jaw-dropping; they are also important. They are cinema at its very finest.

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38 thoughts on “What Studio Ghibli Means To Me: A Tribute To Hayao Miyazaki”

  1. I like the Studio Ghibli films as well. Even though some of them are less than satisfactory (Tales from Earthsea comes to mind), they contain a beauty and a charm that is wonderful and makes you want to become a kid again. I look forward to seeing some of the films they’ll come up with in the next few years and what direction they’ll go in after they start production up again (I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I just found out that they’re halting production for a while to deal with Miyazaki’s retirement). Here’s hoping their last two films, “Princess Kaguya” and “When Marnie was There” make it to the States soon.

    By the way, have you seen the video “If Miyazaki films were like all other anime” on YouTube? It’s pretty funny, and reminds us why Miyazaki films are better the way they are rather than like other anime out there.

  2. Studio Ghibli is fantastic, and has made the whole world of animation better. My personal favorite is Howl’s Moving Castle. Have you seen The Cat Returns? It is wonderfully ridiculous.

    1. The Cat Returns and Porco Rosso are two of Studio Ghibli’s slightly stranger, sillier efforts, but still fun none the less. I love Howl’s Moving Castle, and oddly enough, I especially love the English dubbed version, including Billy Crystal and Christian Bale.

  3. I have always loved Studio Ghibli and have always picked on of their movies over many more well known movies. My favourite has always been Castle in the Sky. I remember the first time I watched it, it got to the end bit and my dvd player messed up and I was just sobbing. Partly because I was so touched by the story and partly because I was so touched by the story that I had to see the end. It is truly sad that Miyazaki is leaving and I hope that his replacement is just as good.

  4. ‘Spirited Away’ was the first Studio Ghibli film I ever came across. It was the only film by them I watched for a while. The film I watched next was ‘My Neighbor Totoro’. I remember falling in love with the imagination behind the work. Truly magical.

  5. We have the entire collection in Japanese and English since my daughter travels back and forth to Japan so often it was quite easy to get hooked. Miyazaki’s works are pure genius.

  6. I saw the Princess Monanoke probably 5 times in a little theater in Atlanta. probably the best movie i had seen then in theaters plot wise, and still up there for me today!

  7. Studio Ghibli’s animated works will always remain in my list of favourite films – with or without Hayao Miyazaki, although it truly is such a loss to have him retire. Even my 3 kids love to watch films like “Spirited Away” (countless times), “Ponyo”, and “My Neighbor Totoro.” Miyazaki left us a priceless legacy in films that educate, inculcate life-long values, especially along environmental issues, and most of all, entertain us in spectacular fashion. I will never tire of watching his films again and again.

  8. I feel so much nostalgia when I watch these films. The soundtracks are always beautiful too.

    Now I watch them when I’m older I realize some of the profound and deep subtext which Miyazaki portrays. Many of his films are about subjects such as pollution as well as the general greed and destruction from the western world.

    This is what makes them so special as they can appeal to children, adults and academics alike,

  9. I love and agree with this post. I don’t know how he’s managed but Hayao has managed to keep a touch of old world charm intact to all of his work, and I couldn’t ask for anything better in any sort of medium. His son will add his own sort of charm to it and whatever it may be I’m sure it will be brilliant. I’d say that the great storyteller trait most likely runs in the family. 🙂

  10. Studio Ghibli has created some of the most wonderful animated films ever! They are just so crazy, funny, weird, and heartbreakingly beautiful. I didn’t think any animated films could rival my childhood Pixar favourites! But “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “Spirited Away” are just absolutely sublime films I can watch over and over!

  11. I saw those movies in the same order you did, except the first Miyazaki film I saw was Princess Mononoke. It amazed me and creeped me out a bit too, all those slug things oozing out of the sick creatures, but I was enthralled. I’m looking forward to this new film for sure, and to revisiting the others.

  12. My discovery of Studio Ghibli was very similar to yours and like you – I am still in love and desire to remain lost in the worlds that Miyazaki has created. This is a lovely tribute to a very deserving creative genius!

  13. Reblogged this on Tea Shell and commented:
    This is a lovely tribute to Miyazaki – the creator of so many worlds I continue to lose myself in. Every movie I have watched has not disappointed. He will be missed! But never forgotten 🙂

  14. Completely agree! Miyazaki’s worlds are as rich and detailed as worlds get. I loved ‘From Up On Poppy Hill’ as well, the soundtrack was sweet and light and sad all at the same time.

    I hope you liked ‘The Wind Rises’! More serious (I think) than his other works, but retains the charm all of his films have 🙂

  15. Lovely post of appreciation. I find many of the Ghibli films a good intro into anime and many have lasting charm that ages so well.
    I too love Spirited Away, it’s my fave of the Ghibli films but I think Nausicaa really taps into something, something innate.

    1. I totally agree, the Ghibli films were my first intro into anime and helped me appreciate the genre more.

      I really love Nausicaa now that you mentioned it, but I think the deepest and most complex of Miyazaki’s film is undoubtedly his last, the Wind Rises. A very mature, personal feature which explores morality in a way which feels very new and very inspired.

  16. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! I don’t want to sound like part of the “masses” in saying this, but Spirited Away is one my favorite movies of all time, and is definitely my favorite Miyazaki film. That being said, I’ve also seen Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo, both of which were lovely as well. I didn’t quite realize how expansive his catalog was, I’ll have to check out Totoro and his other films at some point.
    I really wanted to see The Wind Rises, but missed its theatrical release. I’d love to know your thoughts on it.

    1. Thank you! Spirited Away and Howl’s are definitely the two most well known of Miyazaki’s work in terms of Western media, but there is a whole back catalogue which people are missing out on. My Neighbour Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service are great places to start!

      I saw the Wind Rises recently, and I thought it was absolutely wonderful. A lot more mature and personal compared to the other Studio Ghibli films, but it still feels distinctly Miyazaki, and has a real tone of finality to it. A perfect ending to an incredible legacy of cinema!

  17. Studio Ghibil has always been fantastic in their works in terms of portrayal and plot. I remember watching my first Studio Ghibil flim, Spirited Away when I was 5. I was still young and could not understand a single thing about the flim and felt nothing except for one word – magical. Recently, I caught the flim again and I understood the full meaning of the movie. The transition of Chiro, from a child to an adult because of her circumstances. It striked me deeply because as a teenager, people expect us to be matured but actually, we are still young and we want to be cared for instead of being forced to grow up.

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