animation films

The wonderful world of Studio Ghibli, in five films

If you haven’t seen ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ or ‘Spirited Away’, go forth and get them.

The Red Turtle was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival (May 11-22), where it won a special jury prize in the Un Certain Regard section. The wordless animated film tells the story of a castaway trying to survive on a deserted island and witnessing the miracles of nature and the beauty of relationships.

‘The Red Turtle’.

Directed by acclaimed Dutch animator Michael Dudok De Wit, of Oscar- winning short film Father and Daughter fame, The Red Turtle has been produced in association with Studio Ghibli, one of the most celebrated animation studios in the world. Co-founded up by renowned animator and filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki in 1985, Studio Ghibli is renowned for its elegant simplicity, fantastical splendour, and profoundly human and environmental themes. The Red Turtle is releasing in Japan in September 2016. While we wait for an Indian release date, there is a magical world of Studio Ghibli films to get through, including the epic Princess Mononoke, the imaginative Porco Rosso, the heartwarming Whispers of the Heart and most famously and the tragically brilliant Graves of the Fireflies. Here is our top five list.

‘Castle in the Sky’(1986) The first Studio Ghibli production has a fantasy steampunk setting. Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky tells the story of Sheeta and Pazu, who battle storms, pirates and an army on their quest to find a flying castle that holds the answers to some of their questions. Pazu’s father once found Laputa but no one believed him. Now Pazu needs to prove to the world that Laputa does exist. Sheeta owns an ancestral crystal made of an imaginary substance called Aetherium, which holds immense power to save the world as well as destroy it. Laputa is home to this power, robots, and heaps of ancient jewels and riches.

An epic adventure set in the skies, Castle in the Sky is packed with laughter, fear, tragedy and explosions. The film discuses some of Ghibli’s favourite themes – nature, the perils of uncontrolled technology, friendship, greed, and, most importantly, love.

‘Castle in the Sky’.

‘My Neighbor Totoro’ (1988) Two sisters and their father move to rural Japan, where the girls befriend a forest spirit. One of Miyazaki’s most iconic movies, My Neighbor Totoro is made timeless by its simple story and its delightful characters. The adorable children’s film shines despite the shadow of possible death (the girls’ mother lies sick in a hospital), while the girls discover soot sprites, a very creepy Cat Bus, and, of course, Totoro.

Miyazaki’s sentimental ode to childhood and the simple pleasures of a rural life not only gave Ghibli a place in film history but also inspired the studio’s logo, which is a silhouette of the lovable Totoro.

‘My Neighbor Totoro’.

‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ (1989) Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service is a coming of age story of a 13-year-old witch who leaves home for the first time to live on her own. Kiki takes off on her shaky broomstick and reaches a coastal town where she delivers cakes for a bakery. A simple and bittersweet adaptation of a children’s novel by Eiko Kadano, the film features a remarkable central character. Kiki’s Delivery Service challenges many gender stereotypes, especially when viewed in contrast with the princess-in-distress archetype from Disney animated features made in the same period. Kiki is self-reliant, battles with self-doubt and remains down-to-earth from beginning to end.

Her cat Jiji, who travels with her, is one of Ghibli’s most fascinating creations. The talking cat is a symbol of Kiki’s younger self and innocence. The elegantly drawn Jiji is as much a winner as the extraordinarily kindhearted girl-witch.

‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’.

‘Spirited Away’ (2001) Miyazaki’s film gave Studio Ghibli the international acclaim it deserved. Spirited Away won an Oscar in the Best Animated Feature category and a Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and is Japan’s highest-grossing movie of all time. It’s the story of Chihiro, a 10-year-old girl who enters the spirit world and takes up a job at a bathhouse while looking for a way to save her parents who have been turned into pigs by an evil witch, Yubaba.

Like most Ghibli films, Spirited Away features a brave and compassionate young woman at the centre – an endearing klutz who tests her limits and finds the courage to do what’s right. The film features a wonderfully imagined and realised world of enchanting creatures and monsters and explores some of Studio Ghibli’s favourite themes – the environment, tradition versus modernity in Japanese culture, mythology, friendship and love.

‘Spirited Away’.

‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya’ (2013) A thing of visual beauty and immense emotional depth. Isao Takahata’s tale of a beautiful princess from the moon is based on Japanese folktales. Princess Kaguya, or Takenoko as she is lovingly called, is discovered as a tiny nymph sleeping inside a bamboo stalk. But soon enough, she grows up to become a woman of unmatched grace and beauty. She experiences joy, love and immense happiness but endures pain, anguish and loneliness too as she is ripped away from a life close to nature and placed in a world brimming with earthly riches and wealthy suitors.

The film was the swansong of Takahata, who directed Grave of the Fireflies and Pom Poko for Studio Ghibli. The Tale of Princess Kaguya unfolds like a delicate scroll. It plays out in pastel shades, charcoal strokes and watercolor fluidity and changes shape, speed and tone as Kaguya goes through her physical and emotional transformation. Joe Hisaishi’s music is a character in its own right.

‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya’.
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