Today: April 24, 2024

Celebrating Studio Ghibli

When Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata formed Studio Ghibli (meaning “Mediterranean wind”) they had one dream in mind: to breathe life into Japanese animation industry. Nearly three decades later, the pair are now regarded as the Disney of Japan. Ahead of their 30th Anniversary – and to tie in with this month’s UK release of Ghibli’s The Wind Rises the BFI are paying homage to the company by screening its entire back catalogue. StudioCanal are also releasing The King And The Mockingbird, which was a huge influence on the fledgling Studio Ghibli. To mark the festival and these two new releases, Janet Leigh takes a look at the magic that is Studio Ghibli.

Although founded in 1985, the origins of Studio Ghibli date a year earlier with the release of Nausicaä: Valley Of The Wind. After facing initial rejection, the action/adventure animation – based on Miyazaki’s 1982 manga of the same name – was eventually produced by the film studio Topcraft. Nausicaä’s mission, to reconcile two warring nations and prevent the destruction of their dying planet, struck a chord with the public and it was on the back of that success that the renowned animation company was built.

Since then the company has continued to enjoy success after success. Its first real box-office triumph was Kiki’s Delivery Service – a spellbinding animation which made just over $18 million (£12 million) at the box office in 1989. In 2001 Miyazaki and Takahata went on to produce the Studio’s highest grossing film Sprited Away, which brought in over $274 million (£164,607 plus) worldwide. Their good fortune didn’t end there. Its fantasy/adventure animation Porco Rosso knocked E.T. off the top spot as the highest-grossing film in Japanese cinema.

Considering Studio Ghibli’s impressive track record it’s unsurprising to discover that of the fifteen highest grossing anime films made in Japan, eight of them are Ghibli produced. So what makes a Studio Ghibli film so special?

There’s no denying that the company has a beauty and charisma that is hard to match. Miyazaki and Takahata have in the past credited Paul Gimault’s award-winning The King And The Mockingbird (Le Roi et l’Oiseau) as having a profound influence on their work and it’s easy to why. Widely considered one of the best animated features of all time, it may lack the razzle-dazzle of modern animation, but there it has an undeniable charm and allure. A wit and style – not dissimilar to those found in Ghibli productions – that transcends time.

Stellar imagery, captivating, evoking themes and strong female leads seem to be a feature of Ghibli films that go down well with audiences all over the world. However this is not to suggest that everything has been smooth sailing for the animation team. In 2006 Goro Miyasaki, Hayao’s son, directed the weakest film of the animation company’s history: Earthsea. His second film, From Up On Poppy Hill, also suffered bad luck when the devastating effects of the 2011 Japanese tsunami and earthquake threw production into chaos. Power outages meant that a large amount of animation had to be done at night to avoid disruption.

However these are no more than blemishes on a track record, which over the years, has accumulated many, many awards including a Golden Bear and an Oscar for Best Animated Feature for Spirited Away (becoming the only film made outside of the English-speaking world to have done so).

Fans of animation will no doubt be awaiting this summer’s Studio Ghibli release When Marnie Was There but those who feel that is too far away can indulge at the BFI.  The BFI’s Ghibli celebration season will last an entire two months and will be taking viewers back on a chronological journey of the company’s history. A definite don’t miss.

The King And The Mockingbird is out limited release on 11th April.

Hayao Miyazaki’s final film for Studio Ghibli, The Wind Rises, is released on 9th May.

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