In 2016, the Rotowriters had a blast celebrating all the films in the Disney Canon leading up the release of Moana. It was such a positive experience we thought it might be fun to profile another studio’s canon and, after little debate, we settled on the Japanese anime company, Studio Ghibli. Since 1985, the studio has made one beautiful film after another, and, in this series, we hope to introduce younger readers to these amazing movies and also discuss with all of you why they are so special.
We will start our project a little earlier than some, with Castle of Cagliostro and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind; both films which predate the founding of Studio Ghibli but involve most of the major players. A lot of these films a majority of readers will be familiar with, like Spirited Away or Ponyo, but hopefully we can introduce you to more obscure titles, like Whisper of the Heart or Only Yesterday. In total, we will celebrate 24 films in the series, and we look forward to your comments and participation.
The best way to introduce Studio Ghibli is to profile the two main driving forces behind the studio: Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.
Hayao Miyazaki was born in 1941 in Tokyo, Japan. As a boy he dreamed of becoming a manga author but then transitioned into animation. His first projects were TV anime until, in 1968, he became chief animator, concept artist, and scene designer for a film called Horus: Prince of the Sun. This film just happened to be directed by none other than Isao Takahata.
In 1979, in the middle of production of Anne of Green Gables, Miyazaki directed his first film, The Castle of Cagliostro. A clip from Cagliostro would be seen by the folks at Disney, including a young John Lasseter, who would become a massive Miyazaki fanboy. Miyazaki would then go on to release Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind in 1984.
Soon after Nausicaa, Miyazaki, Takahata and Yasuyoshi Tokuma founded Studio Ghibli. They would go on to release nine Miyazaki films, including My Neighbor Totoro, which is where the logo for the studio came. He would also work with composer Joe Hisaishi on all of his films, except for Cagliostro.
In 1996, Disney signed a deal to distribute the Studio Ghibli films in the United States. This helped the movies travel around the world. However, Miyazaki and Takahata both had a strict ‘no-edits’ policies for international distribution. Aside from language dubbing, there were to be ‘no cuts’ or alterations to any distributed film.
Probably Miyazaki’s most famous film was 2003’s Spirited Away, which took home the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Princess Mononoke, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and My Neighbor Totoro are also considered masterpieces by many.
Famous for his visuals over story approach, Miyazaki does tend to repeat themes in his work including young female protagonists, a love of aviation, talking cats or animals, honest discussions of mental health, and European locals.
In 2015, Miyazaki was given an honorary Oscar for his contribution to film. 2013’s The Wind Rises was supposed to be his final film, but, in November 2016, he announced he was once again coming out of retirement to direct a new feature film. I know many of us are anxious to see what comes next from this true master of animation.
Isao Takahata was born on October 29, 1935, in Ujiyamada, Japan. At 9 years old, he survived a major US raid on Okayama City. Such an experience with war would go on to influence his work in his masterpiece, Grave of the Fireflies. As a boy, he loved French animation and went on to work for a company called Toei Animation.
He directed Horus: Prince of the Sun, which despite being a flop led him to work with Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe. In 1982, he was tasked to direct Little Nemo and, as part of that film, he met with seniors at Disney and started a relationship with many of the animators there.
The first movie he directed for Studio Ghibli was Grave of the Fireflies, which was released as a double feature with My Neighbor Totoro, and was declared by Roger Ebert as “one of the greatest war films ever made”.
He then would go on to make beloved animated films such as Only Yesterday, Pom Poko, My Neighbors the Yamadas, and receive an Oscar nomination for The Tale of Princess Kaguya in 2013. He was also behind the scenes producing and collaborating on many of Miyazaki’s films and projects, including directing the music of Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Takahata’s films are a welcome breath of fresh air from most anime, including Miyazaki’s films. The watercolor sketchy style sets them apart, but also his focus on social issues and more melancholy themes. Even his comedies like My Neighbors the Yamadas have something to say about family, marriage, and appreciating the small moments of life. His films are truly a joy to watch.
It is very easy to throw around hyperbole these days but, in the case of Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, it cannot be denied that they are animation masters. It is going to be a real treat to celebrate their tremendous films in this series. I know some think anime isn’t for them, but I would challenge you to give these films a shot. They have such variety in themes, styles, topics, and characters. It will open your eyes to what animated films can be, and be one of the most enriching experiences you can have as an animation fan.
Let’s start celebrating Studio Ghibli!
What is your favorite Studio Ghibli film, and what do you like from both Takahata and Miyazaki? Are you excited for this new Countdown?
Edited by: Kajsa Rain Forden