Headquartered in Kogane, Tokyo, Studio Ghibli is easily the most famous Japanese animation and film studio in the world. Founded in 1985, the company’s logo features the fan-favorite Totoro from Hayao Miyazaki’s “My Neighbor Totoro.” Many many times has Studio Ghibli been called “the Disney of Japan” and Hayao Miyazaki “the Walt Disney of Japan.” I certainly can’t argue with that – Miyazaki and Ghibli are both pretty magical.
Over the years Studio Ghibli has won many awards for their whimsical creations and in 2002, Spirited Away won a Golden Bear and an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. To this day it remains the only film made outside of the English-speaking world to have done so. Do you know the secret that makes all of Ghibli so magical? No? Read on to find out.
Ghibli and Friends
So where does the name Ghibli come from anyway? Well, Ghibli is based on the Arabic name for the sirocco (Mediterranean wind). During World War II the Italians used the sirocco for their Saharan scouting planes. Although pronounced with a hard g in both Arabic and Italian, the Japanese pronunciation of the word is with a soft g (ji-bu-ri).
The reason the studio chose to go with this name was because they wanted to “blow a new wind through the Japanese anime industry” changing things up and offering a breath of fresh air – pretty ambitious to say the least. But the studio has certainly lived up to its namesake. Check out this quick list showcasing some of the studio’s top highlights.
The first real box-office success in Studio Ghibli’s history (just over $18 million) was Kiki’s Delivery Service in 1989, four years after the studio’s creation.
The highest-grossing film of 1992 in Japan was Studio Ghibli’s very own Porco Rosso (¥2.8 billion in distribution income).
The first ever Studio Ghibli film to use computer graphics was Pom Poko in 1992, starring a group of tanuki.
The first Miyazaki film featuring computer graphics, and the first Studio Ghibli film featuring digital coloring was Princess Mononoke in 1997. Roger Ebert placed the movie sixth on his top ten movies of 1999 (after it had been released in the US) and it was also the highest grossing movie in Japan (overtaking E.T.) with $134 million in box office revenue until the achievement was claimed by Titanic several months later (but not for long!)
The first Studio Ghibli film made entirely with digital processing was My Neighbors the Yamadas in 1999.
Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away was the first film to gross $200 million worldwide before opening in North America (eventually making about $275 million in total), and it was the only anime film ever to win an Academy award for Best Animated Feature, and it took over Titanic ($135 million) at the Japanese box office, becoming the top grossing film ever in Japanese cinema.
The achievements above, along with a lot of other information can be found on Studio Ghibli’s Wikipedia page. And for those of you who are unfamiliar with the history behind the origins of Studio Ghibli, a good synopsis can be found here.
What Makes Ghibli Special
So what makes a Studio Ghibli film a Studio Ghibli film? Well, their works most often feature common motifs, themes, and imagery for one. These commonalities include female leads (usually younger), (talking) cats, sweet old ladies, things related to aviation, trains, boutiques, characters with multiple forms and identities, flocks of birds, birdlike creatures, misunderstood male characters, secret or hidden places, and in many cases a lack of a clearly defined antagonist.
These were things I never really thought about much before I actually took the time to look back on the films, but once you realize the commonalities they’re pretty easy to spot. Take Spirited Away for example: its setting is in a secret place, we’ve got a young female lead, a sweet old lady, birdlike creatures, characters with multiple forms and identities, and a misunderstood male character. Studio Ghiblianism at its finest.
But did you know that the “first Studio Ghibli film” isn’t actually a Studio Ghibli film at all? Even though Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki himself, the film was created one year prior to the creation of Studio Ghibli. Nausicaä was actually published by a studio known as Topcraft. So even though it’s not technically a Studio Ghibli film, it is often credited as one due to how influential it was to the studio’s creation in 1985.
Another fun fact is that Studio Ghibli has adopted a strict “no cuts” policy. This policy was introduced after the unfortunate butchering of the American release of Nausicaä which can be read more about here. The policy was brought up again after the release of Princess Mononoke in 1997 because Miramax wanted to make changes to the film in order to make it more marketable to the United States when it was released over here in 1999. Apparently Studio Ghibli responded by sending Miramax an authentic katana with a simple message reading “no cuts” attached to it. That’s certainly one way to get your point across.
I really respect this about Studio Ghibli. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always hated it when localized films are cut or altered from their original forms by someone other than the actual creator of the film. Knowing that all of Ghibli’s films are now brought to the United States exactly as they were meant to be viewed is a very comforting feeling even if the American production companies insist on having them dubbed into English. But hey, that’s what multi-language DVDs are made for, right? Right.
Studio Ghibli was even nice enough to give a shoutout to Pixar for their 25th anniversary. How kind! Both studios have collaborated with Disney, drawn inspiration from one another, and have even visited each other on various occasions. Both Pixar and Studio Ghibli are argued to be two of the best animation studios in the world today and are right up there with Disney in my opinion.
The next film due to hit the States from Studio Ghibli is The Secret World of Arrietty/The Borrower Arrietty ( 借りぐらしのアリエッティ). I was lucky enough to get to see Arrietty and it was pretty good. Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away are definitely still my favorites from the studio however, but Arrietty was pretty solid as well.
The Studio Ghibli Museum
Did you know that Studio Ghibli also has its very own museum? Well they do, and from the looks of it, it’s a pretty cool place to be. Located in Mitaka, Tokyo, the museum promises to make all of your Studio Ghibli dreams come true. Unfortunately I haven’t actually been there myself, but you can read all about it over here.