Whilst watching the famed Studio Ghibli favorite, My Neighbour Totoro just the other day, something occurred to me – most Ghibli films have impacted somewhat on people’s lives.

You don’t even need to be a fan of anime. Let’s face it, people don’t even realize these days that Studio Ghibli films are ‘anime’ – they just think they’re animated films. Then again, let’s face facts again, most people don’t even know what Studio Ghibli is. However, after over 30 years of being in the industry, it’s clear that the Studio Ghibli franchise is a popular one.

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A screenshot of The Wind Rises (2013)
But despite the recent commercial flops that Ghibli has faced, particularly with the 2013 movies The Wind Rises and The Tale of Princess Kaguya not making much profit (if at all), many of Ghibli’s films have made it into people’s homes and onto their television screens, either through DVD sales or by means such as Film4’s infamous Ghibli season that is broadcasted most years in March – although I haven’t seen any signs of one from this year, sadly. As a matter of fact, this was really my first exposure to Ghibli as well, watching Spirited Away (2001). That was, however, before I discovered that the team at Ghibli were the masterminds behind one of my childhood favourites, Ponyo (2008).

Opinions on the films by Studio Ghibli vary on a film-by-film, person-by-person basis. For example, Dan Schindel from filmschoolrejects.com reckons Princess Mononoke (1997) is Ghibli’s best, but My Neighbour Totoro (1988) tops the list for Metro’s Adam Starkey and The Tale of Princess Kaguya – the supposed commercial flop of 2013 – is within the top eleven according to ‘Howl125’ over at MyAnimeList.net. But what are the more popular Ghibli films according to statistics? I found some statistics online concerning the cinematic popularity of some of the Ghibli films.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind: $1 million budget, $6.3 million gross
My Neighbor Totoro & Grave of the Fireflies: $3.7 million budget, $5 million gross
Kiki’s Delivery Service: $6.8 million budget, $18.5 million gross
Only Yesterday: $9.8 million budget, $25.6 million gross
Porco Rosso: $8.6 – 9.2 million budget, $34.1 million gross
Whisper of the Heart: $6.8 million budget, $25.6 million gross
Princess Mononoke: $20.4 million budget, $159.3 million gross
Spirited Away: $16.2 million budget, $274.9 million gross
Howl’s Moving Castle: $24.2 million budget, $231.7 million gross
When Marnie Was There: $10.5 million budget, $34.1 million gross

From these statistics, it’s clear that Spirited Away is one of Ghibli’s best performing movies, according to the box office. Is the 2001 film the best answer we’ve got to why Ghibli is so watchable, or is it due to something else?

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Screenshot taken from Spirited Away (2001)
Arguably, Spirited Away can be described as “weird and wonderful”, using the words from Peter Bradshaw’s review of the film, and also as “one of the finest of all animated films” – a rather bold statement taken from Roger Ebert’s review. It features magic, fantasy-like lands, as well as the nostalgia of childhood. The relationships between the two main characters – Chihiro and Haku – also shows the aspect of love, but not the stereotypical romance; it features a love between friends, a protective relationship full of innocence. It contains morals, particularly shown when Chihiro’s parents are transformed into pigs, and yet we still haven’t delved into how creative this film is. No one can deny how beautifully drawn the animation of Spirited Away is and you can definitely tell that Miyazaki has put in miraculous amounts of details into this production.

But how is Spirited Away any different to any of the other Studio Ghibli films? Bradshaw also commented on Princess Mononoke, saying that it was “striking and distinctive” as well as being “a kaleidoscope of visual images”. Arguably, this can contrast Spirited Away, the animation involving quite dark colours, with any change in colour being quite gradual. And, although, it isn’t a Ghibli film, Satoshi Kon’s Paprika – if we’re talking about striking colours and what-not – is definitely nothing like Spirited Away. The genres of adventure, drama and the supernatural are not exclusive to this 2001 film either. Ghibli’s 1986 film, Castle In The Sky, also features adventure – the two main characters attempting to find the land of Laputa – whilst My Neighbour Totoro features the supernatural element by the means of Totoro himself, a forest spirit. Most Ghibli films feature some sort of love, regardless of whether it’s platonic in a way that’s similar to Spirited Away, or whether it’s more serious as it’s hinted to be in Howl’s Moving Castle between Howl and Sophie, so perhaps it’s the loving story lines that we all enjoy. The same story lines all feature morals as well – a particularly popular one in Ghibli films being a strong message against war featured in films such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984).

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Screenshot taken from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Arguably, it could also be due to the childhood nostalgia that we get from watching the movies, but how can this be applied to others? Sure, it goes without saying that Miyazaki’s films feature a lot of children, but there are some that are exceptions. From the list above, Porco Rosso (1992), although featuring the character Fio, is largely based around the potential romance of Porco and Gina, both of which are a lot older than the 17 year-old Fio. Only Yesterday (1991) has the main character being a 20-something woman, quite a contrast to the likes of Kiki’s Delivery Service, for example, as a lot of the audience potentially have not experienced life being that age and possibly aren’t able to relate to the character as well as they can when they’re put in the shoes of a young girl who simply wants to go on an ambitious adventure – that’s something the majority of us can relate to! Along the same lines are certain themes show in Ghibli movies. Take into consideration the movie, Grave of the Fireflies (1988), which heavily features the theme of war. For some, this will not be an easy theme for them to relate to the characters with, although perhaps that is simply my opinion.

Regardless to why Ghibli is so watchable, one thing has become quite prominent in all of this. Miyazaki’s team at Studio Ghibli are conscious of what they wish to produce. They want to create well-made, creative pieces of art, in the form of film making. They want to bring across different issues and themes to the world of anime and cinema. Considering they’ve been doing this for over thirty years, winning several awards and experimenting with different things along the way, I would say Studio Ghibli films are simply pleasurable to watch due to the ‘exotic’ nature of the films – they all invite us into a world completely different to the one we’re in, with characters both good and bad, situations that are sometimes tricky to get out of and light humour that simply makes us smile from time to time. They make the viewer seem like the alien within the several worlds we’re presented with, but that’s certainly not a bad thing. Here’s to many more years of the famous Ghibli movies, even if rumours have already been spread about the company’s closure before now.

 

Sources:

Howl125. 11 Must-Watch Studio Ghibli Movies (2015) [Accessed on 3rd July 2016 at: http://myanimelist.net/featured/358%5D

biker_brat. Interesting Info (2006) [Accessed on 3rd July 2016 at: http://www.onlineghibli.com/tavern/print.php?threadid=428&boardid=4&styleid=1&sid=5hl43e4ohjd12ffb907t9emlc0&page=1%5D

Peter Bradshaw. Spirited Away Review (2003) [Accessed on 3rd July 2016 at: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2003/sep/12/spirited-away-review%5D

Roger Ebert. Spirited Away Movie Review & Film Summary (2002) [Accessed on 3rd July 2016 at: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-spirited-away-2002%5D

Dan Schindel. The Movies of Studio Ghibli, Ranked From Worst To Best (2015) [Accessed on 3rd July 2016 at: https://filmschoolrejects.com/the-movies-of-studio-ghibli-ranked-from-worst-to-best-b480bffd7fb7#.oo9dzb5nt%5D

Adam Starkey. Studio Ghibli: We rank the studio’s 10 best ever films from Totoro to Princess Mononoke (2016) [Accessed on 3rd July 2016 at: http://metro.co.uk/2016/06/10/studio-ghibli-we-rank-the-studios-10-best-ever-films-5936806/%5D

youfoundbec. Studying morality in Ghibli. (2015) [Accessed on 3rd July 2016 at: https://isthatallfolks.wordpress.com/2015/09/09/studying-morality-in-ghibli/%5D

Liz Rugg. Top 5 Studio Ghibli Romances (2012) [Accessed on 4th July 2016 at: http://www.flixist.com/top-5-studio-ghibli-romances-207013.phtml%5D

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