IMAGE COURTESY OF STUDIO GHIBLI
Before I began writing this piece I talked to my mother about Studio Ghibli and the movies they make. I asked her if she remembered films like “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” to which she responded very positively saying “It’s not normally my kind of movie, but I love ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service.’” Much like the rest of Ghibli’s work, “Kiki” is a Japanese animated feature that made its way to the West through a deal with Disney. Ghibli films were dubbed over with voice work from such prominent actors such as Sir Patrick Stewart, Uma Thurman, Kirsten Dunst, and Mark Hamill among many others; the films were then distributed across the U.S. Nowadays Ghibli is quite well known to many, but that wasn’t always the case.
In the mid 80s to the late 90s Japanese animation, known as “anime,” such as Ghibli’s work was not a household product. It wasn’t until the release of the psychedelic, dystopian anime film “Akira” that American audiences began to take notice. So what exactly caused people to latch onto such a different experience than what they were used to? Was it Disney’s involvement? Was it the actors newly added? That may have opened the door, but I think the staying power of the films resides in the running theme of all Ghibli films: humanity.
Hayao Miyazaki, the lead creative force behind many of Ghibli’s works, did not set out to make children’s films with flashy animation. He made complex animated films about what it means to be human. I’m certainly not the first to notice this, and I highly recommend you check out a video by Youtube creator Channel Criswell on Hayao Miyazaki that inspired me to write this particular piece. I asked my good friend and cinephile Tom Giazzon what he thought was the universal draw to Ghibli’s work and he simply said two things: “The focus on the human condition” and the “vivid and engaging world building.” I couldn’t agree more with his sentiment. When I say Miyazaki made complex films I mean to say that the message of his films didn’t take you by the hand like most Western animated films had done before.
Miyazaki’s work holds a level of respect for the viewer, allowing them to connect with the emotions of his characters on display and understand the mystical worlds that surround them. In the West there was, and to an extent still is, a mindset that cartoons are designed wholly for children. My counter argument would be sit down and watch “Akira” and tell me you’d show it to your children. Animated media, particularly anime, has been addressing deep and important themes far better than your average “Hunter Killer” for quite some time. Miyazaki films are so highly regarded that many Western animated shows currently running like “Steven Universe” and “Star vs. the Forces of Evil” clearly take heavy influence from anime with character driven, serialized stories.
The only issue with such involved filmmaking is that such narratives could be off putting for some who are not fully used to idea of animated content addressing such themes. The complexity is why I recommend checking out Miyazaki’s work, however; it’s the perfect way to dip your toe into a whole new style of film without being overwhelmed. The beauty of Miyazaki’s work is that you could be five years old or 50 years old and you’ll get something meaningful out of his films. If you’d like to get something meaningful out of one of his films in a theater setting then you’ve come to the right place.
After relatively recently acquiring the distribution rights from Disney, GKIDS has been working in tandem with Fathom Events to do limited runs of Ghibli films in theaters with both their English dubs and the original Japanese with English subtitles. On Nov. 18 through Nov. 20 you can find a screening near you to see one of the classic Ghibli films “Castle In The Sky,” and I could not recommend enough that you do so. Ghibli holds a special place in my heart for films that have stuck in my mind far longer than most, and I think you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t check them out for yourself on the big screen. I honestly don’t think you can replicate the sweeping score and gravity of a Ghibli film on a laptop – so do yourself a favor and experience a whole new world at your local theater.