Mayazaki and Hisaishi: Studio Ghibli’s Eyes and Ears

Words by Eifion Jones

Since the release of the much loved and widely received classic ‘Spirited Away’, ‘Studio Ghibli’ has started to become a name to be reckoned with in the world of animation, easily up there with the likes of ‘Disney’ and ‘Pixar’.

Like Disney (albeit, Disney quite a while ago) ‘Studio Ghibli’ has been telling stories to both young and old alike, with the use of fairytale, allegory etc. But ‘Studio Ghibl’i is as the name suggests, a Studio. So who is responsible for these masterpieces of animation?

Though it was co-founded by two Japanese animators, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, it is arguably the former that is responsible for the Studio’s biggest hits ; ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ and ‘Princess Mononoke’.

‘Princess Mononoke’ being my favourite of Studio Ghibli’s in their impressive catalogue, it may seem that my high regard of Miyazaki is slightly biased. But, to his credit, ‘Spirited Away’ is the only film outside of America to ever have won a Best Animated Feature Oscar, so credit where credit is due.

Miyazaki’s unique style of animation is revered by many and his ambiguous portrayal of both genders and morals, persistent message of the fragility, beauty of nature and subtle but poignant symbolism make his films both interesting and entertaining. A combination it seems, only a few can master. It only takes a single viewing of any of Michael Bay’s Transformers series to realise some directors manage neither.

If Miyazaki can be seen as the eyes of ‘Studio Ghibli’, but who is its ears? Anyone who has seen any of Miyazaki’s wonderful films will no doubt remember the epic scores that accompanied their blissful imagery.

Those ears would be Joe Hisaishi’s, a composer who is a frequent collaborator with both Miyazaki and ‘Studio Ghibli’.

His first collaboration with Miyazaki was in ‘Nausicaa of the valley of the wind’ in 1983. Since then he has continued to work with him until Miyazaki’s most recent film, ‘Ponyo’ in 2008. The result of this 25 year partnership has meant some of the finest original film scores not just in animation, but film in general.

Given that film is both an auditory and visual experience, the fact that this partnership works so well is perhaps why their films are so successful. I think they would both agree that the films are theirs given that it is the fusion of Hisaishi’s composing and Miyazaki’s storytelling  help breathe life into the mostly hand drawn motion pictures, which audiences have grown to love.

It seems only fair then, that as time rolls on, this partnership be remembered in the same vein as Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan, Ennio Morricone and Sergio Leone, David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti and many more.

Studio Ghibli

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.