Spirited Away: The Films of Studio Ghibli

I had a really fun time studying Studio Ghibli’s style while writing this piece about the TIFF Bell Lightbox’s Spirited Away: The Films of Studio Ghibli retrospective. For our research, my colleague Damanjit Lamba and I got the chance to interview retrospective programmer and head of film programmes at the Lightbox Jesse Wente to get some better insight on the history and mission behind Ghibli’s efforts.

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Brandon and Damanjit: People often botch the pronunciation of the Studio. How do you say Studio Ghibli?

Jesse: It is in fact pronounced Studio Ghibli (jib-lie), which is the correct pronunciation from Miyazaki San himself. It’s one of those weird things where I think it’s a studio name that for so many years people haven’t said, they’ve just seen.

Brandon: How Has Disney and Pixar’s exclusive North American distribution of Ghibli films been beneficial to the Studio?

Jesse: It’s an incredibly unique position, and I think it’s been hugely beneficial to Studio Ghibli’s influence in the world, and in the world of cinema in particular and I applaud them [Disney]. Disney has been a huge support to us  in having this series here, they’ve been incredibly generous in us having these films because to them it’s part of their mission to make sure these films are seen by people. When we first opened the building this series was one of the dreams that we would someday mount [in the Bell Tiff Lightbox]. Quite frankly I thought it was going to be years and years away because it’s a really monumental task to get both original language and dubbed versions of these films together. The Pixar relationship has been hugely beneficial to Ghibli and has in no way impeached their [Ghibli’s] voice. They [Studio Ghibli] still produce exactly the same types of films they produced 20 years ago.

Damanjit: Where do you think that Ghibli’s aesthetic fits in the changing sphere of Japanese animation?

Jesse: It really does stand apart. I mean, it’s very interesting to have a studio, which Ghibli very much is. It [Ghibli] employs hundreds of people and artists working on these films for years and years- it’s a studio in the way we think of studio. Yet as a company it has an auteur aesthetic, in the sense that the movies are all of a kind and in a like. It’s really unique to animation because of the products they churn out. I think that Ghibli always really stood in connection into animation but also very distinctly apart. While they do have talking animals and action sequences that one would normally associate with Japanese animation, they are somewhat of a different sort. I think that comes from the stories, they take very traditional Japanese myths and stories and transfer them to animation in a way you don’t normally see otherwise.

Brandon: What are your 3 must see Studio Ghibli films?

Jesse: Wow, uh geez. The first one I ever saw is the very first one: Nausicaa, which I would have seen probably in the late 80s early 90s. Nausicaa, at that time, was really quite legendry. Legendary and hard to find. I still think it’s one of their grandest statements. I just think its a stunningly beautiful movie, it really announces their [Ghibli’s] arrival in a way that I think is sort of amazing. I would then put My Neighbor Totoro, which is my all time favourite Ghibli movie. To be honest with you it makes me cry every time-

Damanjit: Totally agree with you there!

Jesse: It’s such a beautiful film. What I love now as a parent, which I didn’t appreciate when I saw the film, is that movies like Totoro are really hard to find in North America that have that sensibility and speak to kids in that way and present the world that that film does. After that I’d probably say Spirited Away. It’s probably their most popular movie in North America, and I remember when it was nominated for the Oscars and it was sort of like ‘where else would this movie have come from but Studio Ghibli’?

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Watching a crackling fire named Calcifer (Billy Crystal) talk in Howl’s Moving Castle is proof that director Hayao Miyazaki really can breathe life into anything.  Combining magic, technology, and science Howl follows the tradition of other Studio Ghilbi masterpieces with its abundant fluidity, refusing to ground itself in one particular representation of an alternate world.

Sophie (Emily Mortimer), a teenaged hat maker is whimsically cursed by the benevolent Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall), and turned into an old woman. In the quest to reverse her transformation Sophie comes across the soft spoken Adonis wizard Howl (Christian Bale), who’s dark and tortured soul desperately seeks restitution.

Watching a crackling fire named Calcifer (Billy Crystal) talk in Howl’s Moving Castle is proof that director Hayao Miyazaki really can breathe life into anything.  Combining magic, technology, and science Howl follows the tradition of other Studio Ghilbi masterpieces with its abundant fluidity, refusing to ground itself in one particular representation of an alternate world. Sophie (Emily Mortimer), a teenaged hat maker is whimsically cursed by the benevolent Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall), and turned into an old woman.

In the quest to reverse her transformation Sophie comes across the soft spoken Adonis wizard Howl (Christian Bale), who’s dark and tortured soul desperately seeks restitution. With his penchant and awe inspiring ability to make heaps of scrap metal and glossy steam punk machines behave like metallic organisms with minds of their own, Miyazaki showcases the beauty of the synergy that exists between humankind and technology, and the sordid darkness  that pervades our destructively futile uses for it.

-BB

 

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