Studio Ghibli is a household name at this point, and rightfully so. Today, the studio celeberating 34 years since its founding, and in these three decades, it’s truly amazing just how consistently masterful their works have been! I was maybe about six or seven years old when my father bought a video of what would be my first Ghibli film, My Neighbor Totoro. It is likely one of my most rewatched movies to this day, because as a child, I couldn’t get over how lovely the movie was. Its depiction of the quiet countryside and the magical creatures in the woods was so charming to young me; I wanted to ride on Nekobus and grow a giant tree in my backyard. Totoro combined the everyday of going to school and chores around the house with the fantastical, something that endlessly captured the imagination of young me. I wanted to be in a Ghibli film, I wanted the magic shown there for myself. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way; Ghibli films truly have a masterful way of sweeping you up and making you want to dive into its vast and beautiful world.
The movies aren’t just for children either, even if I started out with them when I was a kid. Some titles, such as Whisper of the Heart, I remember vaguely enjoying as a child, but truly enjoyed as an adult because I was able to understand a more mature story. I was terrified of the violence of Princess Mononoke as a child, but now I understand what that violence symbolizes. Some movies I loved as a child but am hesitant to rewatch now that I’m an adult, because I fear that I’d lose some of its charm. This is a fear I never have for Ghibli films, because I notice more things about each movie now that I’m older and have some context. Each Ghibli film may be something that delights children, but they’re never exclusively for children.
Moreso, there’s a consistent need to try to create more human stories. In contrast to a lot of western animation and media in general where there is a clear delineation between good and evil, all Ghibli films strive away from that. Most prominently are Princess Mononoke, where every side of the conflict is seen through a sympathetic light, and The Wind Rises, where the airplanes that Jiro intends to perfect end up being used in the war machine. Ghibli films don’t shy away from bad circumstances or consequences of peoples’ actions as being negative, but rarely do they portray people as being outright evil. What results is a story that is not only more well-rounded, but revels in its humanity. Humanity is oftentimes complicated, muddied, but still tender regardless.
What results is not only a gorgeous product, but a gorgeous product that makes viewers happy. To watch a Ghibli film is a joyful experience, one that usually makes people feel good. It’s a tough world out there, and there are enough shows that are as gritty as possible, and try to get their audience down. Media that wholeheartedly inspires happiness is truly something worth treasuring.
These many brilliant worlds come into being through painstakingly detailed animation that for the most part, is mostly still hand-drawn. It is often the fantastical in the mundane, many of the movies when not entirely fantasy, chooses to show magic through smaller moments. There is genuine joy in people’s daily lives, from the small tasks they do to the food that they make. Even in the portions with magic, there is a constant sense of realism. Such attention to detail not only makes each scene a pleasure to watch, but makes it seem that what is happening on screen, as fantastical as they are, are plausible. No matter how wild the scenarios, the heightened attention to making the animation flow creates this awe-inspiring sense of wonder, one that pulls you in and keeps you hooked.
With decades behind them and more to come, Studio Ghibli remains a powerhouse; small and quaint, but one with incredible reach across the industry and into our hearts. Happy 34th, Studio Ghibli. May you keep making the kind of movies you make best—modern fairy tales, ones that inspire us all.