With news that Studio Ghibli may be shutting down its production department coming out of Japan late last week, I started reminiscing about what my first Studio Ghibli film was and how it has affected my life. I can’t say that I grew up with Studio Ghibli or Miyazaki films, my first anime experiences were Dragonball, Outlaw Star, and Pokémon; I will say that every one Studio Ghibli’s productions has had a long lasting impression on me.
The first Studio Ghibli film I saw was Princess Mononoke back in the early 2000’s, my younger cousins wanted to watch it when I was babysitting them and it blew my mind away. First of all, I couldn’t believe that my seven and nine year old cousins wanted to watch it or how very into it they both were. I thought that maybe some of the themes and messages might go right over their heads but they understood and agreed with what they were seeing. I think we watched that movie three times in a row that night and I didn’t mind one bit. I hate to say this, but I think Princess Mononoke was one of the first times I saw a really strong female character in a movie, aside from Ellen Ripley in Alien I can’t think of any others.
Spirited Away was the next Studio Ghibli film I saw and is hands down my favorite of them all. That movie from start to finish hypnotizes me; everything from the art and story to the characters and themes captures my heart. I think Spirited Away is the only anime, aside from Rurouni Kenshin ,that my mother likes. I loved watching Chihiro find her way and grow while working in that insane bathhouse and dealing with Haku and No-face. Again it shocked me that many, at least Americans, considered it to be a kid’s movie despite all of the very adult themes in it. Not only was it a coming of age story but it dealt with generational differences, greed, corruption, and environmental issues. I can’t wait until my son is old enough to watch it with me.
Speaking of my son, who is three years old, most of my memories watching Studio Ghibli films are with him. He is definitely going to be able to say that he grew up watching those films, and that My Neighbor Totoro was his introduction to anime. Honestly, My Neighbor Totoro confuses me a little, I’m used to seeing overt conflict in movies but Totoro doesn’t have that. My son loves it though, to him it is as magical as anything can be, I love seeing him light up when Totoro roars his name at Mei or when Satsuki, Mei and Totoro are waiting for the bus/catbus in the rain and Totoro jumps to make the droplets on the tree fall on his umbrella.
Another film my son loves is Ponyo, he thinks its so cool that he’s watching a movie about kids his age going on this adventure. I almost can’t stand how sweet the movie is, I feel like I’m getting diabetes from watching it. I do think it is a very adorable movie and I love the art style in it. I tried showing my son The Cat Returns but I think he is a little too young for that one; it went right over his head. That doesn’t bother me though because I know he will continue to like everything that Studio Ghibli has released as he gets older, he’s already asking to watch Spirited Away but I think it’s a bit too much for him still.
I guess I’m lucky that I didn’t grow up with Studio Ghibli because now I get to watch my son grow up with it and discover new films that I haven’t seen yet either. I’m grateful to the friends that showed me Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, because that was totally awesome, 007 as a thief. Miyazaki’s last film The Wind Rises was also incredibly good, and I can still see the dreams that Jiro had and the amazing planes he thought of.
Aside from being just pure entertainment Studio Ghibli’s films have definitely influenced me as a person and as a writer. I know that because of the strong environmental themes in all their movies, I am environmentally conscious. I care about what happens to the rain forests and oceans; I care about endangered species like wolves, tigers, and whales. I know to be aware of my impact on the world and how I am going to leave it for future generations. As a writer, the films have made think really hard about how I portray women in my stories, making sure not to make them damsels in distress or an object for affection. I want them to be brave, confident, caring and strong, I want them to be able to live up to characters like Chihiro and San.
Even though I really hope that Studio Ghibli continues to make terrific films I know that what they have made will live on and continue to fascinate and entertain generations of children. Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli has, in my opinion, influenced anime as much as Osamu Tezuka did manga with AstroBoy and BlackJack.
– Joseph Murillo