Welcome back to Berkana. I know I am two days late for this post, but I hope you will excuse me as I am experimenting with my email open rates and other tactical sides of being a writer. I also want to thank those of you who have shown interest to become Beta readers for my book. I am excited to send you the unabridged version of the promised chapters as a Christmas gift! I am grateful for your unconditional support.
Now without losing more time, let us dive into the magical world of Studio Ghibli
Beauty and Magic
The world of animation allows us to see the beauty of everyday life lost to our busy schedules. It is strange but true that the subtleties of our surroundings are captured more realistically in animation than they can be in other forms of filmmaking. The animation world is built on the screen with visions of extraordinary beauty invisible to our cynical minds. Studio Ghibli specializes in this form of world-building. Ghibli's dreamlands undergo metamorphosis based on the prominent themes of our modern world problems like war, capitalism, hustle culture, inequality, power abuse, eco-vandalism, etc. Amid these themes, Ghibli carefully evokes emotions to render a naturally evolving world that is believable. This way, the story always grows on its own from the point of conception to become what it is - in this case, a fuller and meaningful world where magic and beauty reign despite the immense difficulties that life offers.
The conjunction of immersive world-building techniques with humanitarian themes is the formula that makes Studio Ghibli legendary. They have mastered the union of art with wonder, wisdom, and entertainment in each of their unique films. The trivialities of everyday life unraveling amid a fully developed fantastical reality is the storytelling style of the house Ghibli. There is a sense of calm married off to chaos. The characters are intricately woven into their surreal surroundings. The character's interaction with their environments adds a dimension of hyperreality to the Ghibli worlds. The life-like quality of the films is because of the minor details captured in every frame. From a fly buzzing over the lamps to the movement of traditional Japanese wind chimes. From the texture of the honey dripping from a spoon to a mobilized crowd in the night market. Nothing seems out of place in these movies. Everything seems intentionally created with precision and purpose. As they say, God is in the details. Ghibli’s magic resides in the details of the scenes. Ghibli conjures alternate worlds that offer an escape away from the demanding routines of life.
Tools and Techniques
1. Colors - Artists, in general, rely on colors as a form of expression in their work. However, the way Ghibli does it creates a silent language of colors in their films. Contrasting colors are chosen carefully to form a syntax understood by the viewer. This is essentially a technique that filmmakers frequently use to evoke certain emotions. Colors speak eloquently to convey what dialogues or narration cannot. The comfort of a cozy home or the strange dangers of a fantastical world is expressed through colors. The film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind starts with a girl in a cool blue robe landing on a yellow desert from her aircraft. The scene shifts to the girl entering an underground cave full of mysterious crawlers. The cool grey-blue ambiance of the cave complements the color of the girl’s robe. This transition signals the viewer that the girl is trying to camouflage or blend in with the surroundings - the place might be dangerous.
2. Music - The mesmerizing scores of each movie hold the essence of the storyline. The magic of piano-heavy Jazz accompanied by cello, violin, and bass illustrates a world where magic and melancholy coexist. The poignant soundtracks emphasize the soulful yearnings for beauty and resilience. They evoke deeper emotions which are essential to living a good life. Studio Ghibli soundtracks are universal both in their composition and application. Applying visuals, music, and story together creates a world of endless possibilities.
3. Conception - The unique hand-drawn sequence of action is what makes Studio Ghibli special. Miyazaki believes in a deeply personal method of character building. He believes that it is important for the artist to understand the inner motivation and fears of the character. He insists that the artist should step into the character and experience the fictional world as the character would, like method acting. The artist then draws from his unique experience of living inside the fantastical world. It allows the artist to draw every frame with knowledge true to the character. This approach makes the quizzical worlds and the characters of Studio Ghibli hyper-realistic and believable.
4. Characters - Ghibli protagonists are often noble and graceful. They embark on dangerous journeys and manage to remain determined and courageous in the face of all adversity. These multi-dimensional characters undertake their unique Hero’s journey that enables their growth while fulfilling their role in the world. Studio Ghibli shows us that no matter how small you are, you still have a significant role to play in the mysterious workings of this universe. They reassure the viewer of this philosophy by creating supporting characters with significant roles in the storyline. The characters are often complex and morally grey, like real-world people. In Ghibli's stories, people are always believed to be inherently good. Evil is considered to be an outside force. In Japan, it is believed that evil, like the wind is a force of nature and is capable of making people do the wrong things. This belief is rooted in the Shinto religion. From this perspective, many of these movies make more sense. When a character is emanating negative emotions such and hate and anger, it is considered that the negativity is the force of nature and is not an integral part of the character.
5. Values - “Always believe in yourself. Do this, and no matter where you are, you will have nothing to fear.” - Hayao Miyazaki
This is the philosophy Miyazaki and his team adopted while creating the Ghibli characters. The characters traverse through many difficulties with confidence and conviction. These characters display the virtue of goodness and the power of resilience in the face of adversities. The interactions between the characters emphasize the necessity to value human relationships. It signifies the importance of taking time to connect with others in our journeys. In the films, the characters go through immense hardships, pain, and struggles in search of something bigger than themselves. They find the courage to overcome all crises when they find themselves in pursuit of protecting something or someone they deeply love. The characters go through unfair amounts of hardship to come out on the other side, transformed into a better and bolder version of themselves. In this way, Ghibli questions how far we are willing to go to make the best use of our lives.
6. Food - Perhaps the most magical element that blends reality with the surrealism of the Ghibli world is food. In the films, food often inspires a sense of wonder, is a direct source of magic, or is used to develop intricate emotional bonds between the characters. It is a tool to elicit an emotional response or as an element of comfort and familiarity. A fish who desperately wants to be a human because of her newfound love for ham, a teenager who wants to be a writer overwhelmed by her work comforted by a bowl of ramen - the central ingredients of Ghibli food is always love, warmth, and comfort.
Miyazaki’s work is deeply influenced by Shinto religious beliefs and old Japanese folklore. In the Shinto religion, kami or spirits are believed to exist naturally as forces of nature and are guardians of this world. This is apparent in the way the existence of spirits blends into the everyday reality of the Ghibli characters. This dimension of spirits is not out of place or unnatural for the characters interacting with their unique worlds. The spirits are always venerated and respected. It is believed that disrespecting a kami brings in disharmony or wrath of nature. In his opus, Princess Mononoke Miyazaki demonstrates this philosophy through the existence of the forest spirit. In Shinto beliefs, the balance of nature is intricately dependent on all beings who interact with their immediate ecosystem, and Princess Mononoke is a direct derivative of that belief.
The Master’s Process
Hayao Miyazaki co-founded Studio Ghibli with Isao Takahata, Toshio Suzuki, and Yasuyoshi Tokuma. However, Miyazaki’s ethos and passion have been central to the brand name. Studio Ghibli's logo is Totoro which is one of Miyazaki's most widely loved characters. This speaks volumes of Miyazaki’s impact on the production house. He is the most outspoken one too. He is the unruly dreamer and master conjurer of the Ghibli house. And hence his reputation precedes him. Miyazaki is not a builder but a gardener type of storyteller. He plants seeds and lets his ideas grow wild in his imagination. From there, he shapes them into intriguing forms that instill in his young viewers a sense of wonder. He starts with an image in his head, sketches it, and then the whole plot grows from there. Miyazaki’s worlds are visually complex and expansive, drawn without the limitations of a script.
His attention to detail and curious eyes enabled him to capture the beauty in the mundane, otherwise lost in the humdrum of modern life. Each detail is a necessary element of storytelling. Flies, people, tress, subway, everything is drawn to deepen the experience of the world in which the story is unfolding. With his masterful creation of a deep atmosphere where his hyper-active characters inspire action through their will and motivation, he almost always coveys the importance of living our best lives. Miyazaki created several open worlds with infinite possibilities where the stories grow organically with several potential outcomes.
He observes the beauty of life without avoiding its difficulties. Striving in the face of adversity is one of his core values. Born in a pre-war Japan and growing up in a post-war one left him and his contemporaries with the nostalgia lost to Japan's newer generations. Thus his worlds invite this conversation about accommodating the old ways without dishevelling the necessary modernizations. His work emphasizes more on what remains of the old world rather than what is lost, creating an outlook of hope rather than desperation.
The Children of the light
Children are central to Miyazaki’s world. His characters and audience are primarily children - brave, intelligent, and responsible children. He aspires to inspire generations of children to practice courage. He often shows them as intuitively smarter than the adults with more openness to accept the mysteries of the universe. In his movie My Neighbor Totoro, the little girl can see the small forest troll collecting acorns in her garden while the elders cannot. This aligns with Miyazaki's belief that children can experience magic because their minds are not corrupted by adult common sense. He also believes that the details he creates, like the color of Totoro’s coat or the shape of its ear, are for his younger audiences because children are intuitively smarter than adults and can grasp the meaning in the details. In this sense, the movies are truly made for children. These movies portray life as a great adventure that needs to be undertaken. And that if you have the right intentions and values, the result is always hopeful. This massive gravity of hope that his movies leave us with inspires us to lead meaningful lives.
As per Miyazaki, living is the bravest of all virtues, so now more than ever he wants to invite us to this conversation of how to live our best lives amid difficulties? How does the human spirit emerge and shine despite all atrocities? He believes one answer to that universal question is following one’s path with determined self-belief. One must believe that they can change the world with their art, and only then maybe there is hope that they could make a difference. With this sense of excellence which is existentially important to him, the Oscar-winning director created some of the most beautiful animated movies that will forever inspire generations to dream impossible dreams and have the courage to turn them into a reality.
Are Studio Ghibli movies a reflection of culture, or are they the tools that shape it?
I think what Studio Ghibli did over the last few decades is give its viewers an ability to dream and create their reality. With that being said, no art is independent of its culture or time. Fantastical stories directly comment on the current socio-political era in which it is created. But it is also true that art has the power to inspire change in the subconscious. Art (in any form) is the only tool that can change collective behavior on a fundamental level. In that sense, art is power. So to answer the question, of course, Studio Ghibli is a reflection of culture, but it has also shaped culture by asking the most intimidating existential question of the times. What is the cost of our indifference to our ecosystem? What happens when we forget our humanity, kindness, and patience? What do we lose when we forget our roots? One is bound to change at fundamental levels if one ponders over these questions every day.