Words by Benjamin Pinsent
In the world of animation, ‘Disney’ has continued to reign supreme, by not only producing its own films, but also by owning ‘Pixar; studios. It has become a childhood institution and if you say that you’ve never seen a classic ‘Disney’ film people pity you for a poor childhood.
This focus on American animation has limited us from other counties’ efforts in the field. Over the last twenty years Japan has emerged as a power house of both television and feature animation, and the company leading this drive has been ‘Studio Ghibli’.
Founded in 1985 by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, the studio has been compared to the Japanese equivalent of Disney. With co-founder Miyazaki being called the Japanese Walt Disney, because of a level of quality that can be very rare, while most comparisons can be attributed to Disney owning the dubbing and distribution rights to most of Ghibli’s films. But that is where the similarities end.
Japan has a different culture, expressed in a distinctly different way to that of America or Britain. Each ‘Ghibli’ film has a distinct feel to it, as Miyazaki and Takahata tell their own stories. Miyazaki is probably the most well known ‘Ghiblian’, the focus of his films are mainly that of time travel.
What is more, there is a feeling in most of Miyazaki’s films about taking Japan back to a simpler time, often with pastoral and fantastical settings. Each film contains strong female leads but virtually no villain.
However, fellow co-founder, Takahata is far more contemplative, his films feel smaller and more character driven, rather than an action adventure plot. What remains the same is the emotional impact that each film has: there is a strong connection to the characters and there is always a feeling of catharsis at the end.
In recent years, not only due to the on again off again retirement of Hayao Miyazaki, in my opinion ‘Studio Ghibli’ seem to have lost their touch; actively targeting their films towards a younger audience, with stories and characters that don’t really seem to progress or develop.
This could be a temporary glich in ‘Studio Ghibli’s’ filmmaking. Having already established a great legacy, many fans and admirers of their work. I am sure that ‘Studio Ghibli’ will be entertaining the world for a very long time.