“Whenever someone creates something with all of their heart, then that creation is given a soul.” – The Baron, The Cat Returns (2002)

          In the media, animation is often looked down upon as an inferior art form. It is considered less mature than its life-action counterparts, and many people claim that animation is only for children. These people are ignorant. Many films and television shows have broken through this mold in recent years, offering more mature themes and receiving critical acclaim. One studio that has done this is Studio Ghibli. This Japanese animation studio has been catapulted into the spotlight and homes around the globe. Through their team’s dedication, Ghibli has produced heartwarming stories filled with love, empowerment, and nature that have captured the hearts of children and adults alike.

          Studio Ghibli originated in Toyko, Japan in 1985. The company was founded by directors Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki, and producer Toshio Suzuki. Each man had long careers in the animation industry under their belts as they were all into their forties and fifties when they had this idea. The success of their most recent film, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), which all three worked on, was the catalyst for the creation of Studio Ghibli. Since then, the studio has produced 23 feature films with varying directors. Their style is instantly recognizable as the studio uses mostly hand-drawn animation using watercolor and acrylic paints. Their films are seen as having a cozy, kid-friendly atmosphere that draws in anyone who watches them. Their two most recognizable films to a Western audience would be Spirited Away (2001) and The Boy and the Heron (2023), as both films won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. Several others have been nominated for the same.

          Hayao Miyazaki is the most prolific director and animator at the studio. He has directed ten films for Ghibli but has worked as an artist since 1963. Prior to working at this studio, he animated for other Japanese cartoons and produced manga. His works are the studio’s most popular and critically acclaimed films, which shows in their merchandising and theme park. Miyazaki has attempted to retire on many occasions. The first time was after the film Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), then after what was considered his swan song, The Wind Rises (2013). He went back to the studio to direct their most recent and semi-autobiographical film, The Boy and the Heron, and the idea was teased that he would retire after that. It seems he has not followed through and continues once again to work in the studio today.

          Isao Takahata, another founding member, was the second most active director in the studio. He directed five films before his death in 2018 at the age of 82. He began his career in art in 1961 and worked with Ghibli from its inception to his passing. The last film he directed was released in 2013, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. He claimed that after that film, he was done and retired. But, like Miyazaki, Takahata continued to work in the studio, holding other roles and offering creative advice.

          Another crucial member of the Studio Ghibli team is Joe Hisaishi. He has worked as a musician since 1975 and has worked alongside Miyazaki since 1984. Hisaishi followed him into the studio and has conducted music for nearly all his projects. He is known for over 100 film scores and his solo albums, which date back to 1981. Many cherish his music for adding to the already rich atmosphere of Ghibli’s films.

          Outside of its animation, Studio Ghibli is known for its stories about love and connection. Many viewers resonate with the natural connections that ebb and flow through the characters’ journeys. Not all these relationships include romantic ones; the friendships and family bonds shine just as strongly. Characters aren’t afraid to be vulnerable with each other and openly show the bad and good parts of themselves. These films explore the growth that comes from characters getting outside of their comfort zone and processing their emotions. Love connects them to each other and helps them work through and eventually solve their problems. These bonds become personal to the viewer, leaving them with a sense of cherished attachment to them. Good examples of connections in Studio Ghibli’s films include My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and Whisper of the Heart (1995).

          Each character stands out as having individual personalities as well as strengths and weaknesses, especially their female characters. Since its inception, Ghibli has highlighted the stories of young girls as the central plot for most of its films. It has never been in a weird, sexualized way that is popular in Western media. Their stories are so rich with complex motivations and deep relationships with their peers and themselves. Miyazaki has been outspoken in his desire to make films showing girls they can be brave and self-sufficient and don’t have to think twice about fighting for what they believe in. He has said many times that any woman is just as capable of being a hero as any man. These empowering depictions of women and girls serve as a powerful source of representation for them. This theme is especially present in movies like Princess Mononoke (1997), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989,) and Spirited Away.

          Studio Ghibli is also known to focus on nature and the effects of capitalism and war. Nature is seen as something fragile and good, something needing protection from the human population. Many of the antagonists in their films are people who attempt to dominate nature. Their motivations typically lie within a need for political power over others, which ends up being destructive for both nature and humans. Even with this, many of the antagonists are shown to be sympathetic villains who are not truly evil. Like their female characters, they are given layers and complexities that make viewers think and analyze why they do these things. These ideas of nature and antagonists are present in Castle in the Sky (1986) and Ponyo (2008).

          Along with this comes Miyazaki’s strong pacifistic views. It is clear in many of his films that he believes war is spurred on by greed and delusion. He and his movies, specifically The Wind Rises, have received criticism from far-right groups in Japan because of this. But, if there is one thing about Miyazaki, it is that he will never talk down to his audience or hide his true feelings. He does not treat the viewers as if they are merely children. He provides a story and shows them a lesson many adults would find enlightening. Along with that film, these themes are also found in Porco Rosso (1992) and Howl’s Moving Castle.

          Studio Ghibli is something deep and personal to me. I could never put into comprehensible words how much it means to me or get out all the thoughts I have about it. I hope this has awakened your curiosity about this small section of animation, at least just a little bit. Ghibli doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon as they continue to work on creating ideas for more films. They are a studio that continues to inspire and encourage children and adults worldwide to dream and fight for what they believe in, and it seems like their legacy will last for generations to come.

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