Ode to Anime Studios – Studio Ghibli

I wanted to hold off on this particular studio for some time…but the only non-fiction anime/manga books left in the library were Ghibli ones.

So…where do I begin? Ghibli is one of those gateway studios – if you don’t encounter it on your way down the anime rabbit hole, then you’ll learn about it (or maybe just Hayao Miyazaki, Joe Hisaishi and/or Isao Takahata) along the way. However, it’s not just those names behind some of the most beloved anime movies of all time – for instance, there’s Yoshifumi Kondo, who had a directorial role on Whisper of the Heart (Cavallaro 2006).

Ghibli was created off the success of Nausicaa, which itself was started in 1983 off the success of The Castle of Cagliostro and anime magazine Animage approaching Miyazaki for another hit (Cavallaro 2006). Nausicaa wasn’t actually created by Ghibli, but it’s often counted as one due to the artstyle and staff on it. By the way, “Ghibli” (ji-bu-ri) refers to a hot Saharan wind and also to an Italian fighter plane (McCarthy 1999). Notably, Miyazaki’s father and uncle worked in a factory making airplane parts (Cavallaro 2006, McCarthy 1999), which is a pretty obvious link to his love of flying and machines that fly. 

Although Ghibli’s biggest names are from Miyazaki’s generation, occasionally younger talent will be given the chance to shine, such as with Ocean Waves (Cavallaro 2006), and with certain recent movies such as how Goro Miyazaki, Hayao’s son, has been taking the directorial helm as of late. As of 1999, Ghibli were hiring about 100 full-time workers in the studio and about 100 more workers were outsourced (McCarthy, cited in McCarthy 1999). Ghibli’s various partnerships with groups like Tokuma (a distribution/publishing company, notable for protecting Ghibli works after massive cuts to Nausicaa) oftentimes kept Ghibli afloat and even helped to make standards at the studio better than the norm (Cavallaro 2006, McCarthy 1999), which is probably one of the reasons why their work is held in such high regard. Miyazaki even has his own copyright, Nibariki (“two horsepower”), for his own works (McCarthy 1999).

Furthermore, some of Ghibli’s central themes include those of protecting the environment, such as how Nausicaa was partially inspired by Miyazaki witnessing the mercury poisoning in Minamata Bay, and the wisdom of children, such as Chihiro and the sisters of Totoro (Cavallaro 2006). Some of its usual motifs are flying, pigs and the elderly – heck, there were even two short “Ghiblies” (which act as Ghibli’s Shirobako) and Miyazaki was portrayed as a pig in that (Cavallaro 2006)!

…well, here’s the tough bit.

Picking your favourite Ghibli movie is like picking a favourite child – you know someone’ll get offended. However, since I don’t remember where Nausicaa and Castle in the Sky fit in my life with anime, and even though it’s likely Kiki’s Delivery Service was one of the first anime I finished (due to its length), period, I still think it a tossup between Totoro and Spirited Away…and because this is my blog and my rules, let’s have both. They’re sheerly iconic and yet have that “going from the mundane to the extraordinary” element that seems to be quite prominent in anime (which, as you might notice from my love of urban fantasy, I love that a lot). The former is inspired by Miyazaki’s own mother and countryside life as a “war baby” while the latter is inspired by a child of a colleague of Miyazaki’s (McCarthy 1999).

What’s so good about them? Although I realised my skills at Japanese were getting better when I was able to pick out individual words in Arrietty‘s theme song, Totoro‘s entire theme song actually made sense to me as a student of Japanese who, at the time, didn’t entirely have a grasp on how the conjugation of aruku became arukou

…well, the reason it was so understandable was because it was designed to be sung along to for all ages despite its themes of death, which shows the true multidemographic appeal of the movie.

On the other hand, it’s because Spirited Away is not only an Academy Award winner, but also came at exactly the right time to hit me in the nostalgia and still remember it, unlike Kiki, Castle in the Sky and Nausicaa – I remember watching those three, but my memories of each are so vague that I go “meh” even when reading synopses detailing spoilers in full glory. (Well, Howl and Spirited Away both fit the bill of “being nostalgic, but not enough to forget”, but I think the latter stuck with me more because I related a lot better to Chihiro at the time of watching.)

So now it’s your turn to do the agonising choice – what’s your favourite Ghibli movie?


  • Cavallaro, D 2006. The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki. North Carolina, USA.
  • McCarthy, H 1999. Hayao Miyazaki – Master of Japanese Animation. Berkeley, USA.

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