Music and magic: Studio Ghibli Selectrospective at The Prince Charles Cinema

NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!

When I heard that my favourite cinema in London was screening three Studio Ghibli films in one day, I pretty much rallied the troops and promptly bought my ticket!

As most of you probably know, Studio Ghibli is a Japanese animation film studio. No, it is the Japanese animation film studio.

Studio Ghibli really became famous in UK in 2001, when it had its first cinematic release with Spirited Away. To date, this is still my favourite Ghibli film and I have fond memories of sitting in the cinema on a Sunday afternoon with my dad and sister with just two other people for company.

The studio was founded back in 1985 by directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, after the success of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Of course, Hayao Miyazaki is now an international figure: as a film director, animator, artist and screenwriter. The creature from its second film, My Neighbour Totoro, was the one that became the company’s logo and still remains as popular as ever. Fluffy Totoro even made a background cameo in Toy Story 3, much to the delight of fans!

Arguably, Studio Ghibli is one of Japan’s greatest modern exports. It’s essential that anyone with the slightest interest in Japan has at least seen some of the studio’s films and for very good reason. All of the films retain the special ‘Ghibli’ magical charm that both children and adults adore. To date, the studio has produced 17 films.

Rather than run through the plots of three films that were shown at The Prince Charles Cinema, as most of you have probably seen at least one of them, I thought I would dig a little deeper and explore what ‘makes’ a Ghibli film.

There are three things that are essential any Ghibli film: child-like imagination, a fantastical setting and powerful music. In My Neighbour Totoro, two young sisters move to a new home in rural Japan, waiting for the day when their mother will be well enough to leave hospital and join them. Distracting them from the daily anxieties of the real, adult world are their adventures with the strange creatures around them; dust bunnies, little white rabbits, the cat bus and, of course, the big fluffy Totoro. Only the children can see and interact with these creatures but their imaginations are so powerful that you never doubt that what is happening around them is real. There is no “was it all a dream?” moment because the presence of the creatures impacts the plot of the film; the seeds that Totoro gives to the girls sprout into trees, the girls lend their father’s umbrella to Totoro and it subsequently goes missing and, in the climax of the film, the cat bus reunites the sisters after one of them gets lost searching for the hospital where their mother is resting.

At first, Porco Rosso felt like the odd film out at the screening because it initially seemed to lack the fantastical creatures and spirits and young innocent children. This was my first time seeing the film but, to put it simply, it had Miyazaki’s signature all over it. The film’s hero is a pig pilot… does it get any stranger than that? Furthermore, his unusual appearance is never questioned by the film’s characters and is accepted as part of the world’s natural order. The story is set in post-World War One Italy and follows an ex-fighter pilot ace, who has been mysteriously turned into a pig and now spends his days as a bounty hunter. At first, this doesn’t sound like conventional Ghibli material but don’t be fooled into thinking that it is not an excellent film or breaks the pattern. We still have our adventurous child, perhaps pushing the definition at the age of 17 but integral to the progression of the film and its resolution, and the mystifying alternative Italy where fighter planes and pirates rule the skies and seas. Porco Rosso himself is an brilliant character too!

Personally, Spirited Away will forever be my favourite Ghibli film because it encompasses these three themes I mentioned earlier. When Chihiro and her family stumble across an abandoned theme park (as they are moving home, not too dissimilar to Totoro), she is the one to resist the mysteriously-placed food that subsequently turns her parents into pigs. She then becomes trapped in the themepark, which reveals itself to be a bath house for spirits, and is forced to enter a contract with the owner Yubaba in exchange for her own name.The bath house is huge, overwhelming and terrifying not only for Chihiro but for the audience, which is partly helped by the amazing artwork, strange-looking spirits and soundtrack. The childish charm of the film lies in certain characters that are particularly ‘cute’ and Chihiro’s own struggle to help those around her and return home with her parents. If you only ever see one Ghibli film, it really should be Spirited Away.

A massive thank you to both the Prince Charles Cinema for screening these three fantastic titles and inspiring this blog post, and Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki for being responsible for them! I have always wanted to blog about Studio Ghibli but was never sure how to go about it differently, so I am glad this opportunity came along! There are so many other good Ghibli films out there, so I probably will do a Selectrospective of my own in the future…

I will leave you this week with a present; my single favourite piece of music from any Ghibli film. As you might have guessed, this is from Spirited Away. We first hear this when Chihiro becomes trapped in the spirit world, running from terrifying beings and desperately trying to find her parents. Close your eyes, seriously, and picture yourself as an eleven-year old in that situation. It is surprisingly overwhelming and proves just how much a soundtrack can add to a film.

All photos for this post were taken from this amazing Photobucket page.

One thought on “Music and magic: Studio Ghibli Selectrospective at The Prince Charles Cinema

  1. Its interesting that you have tried to find the three “ingredients” that make Ghibli films so special. I have often thought about this myself; although the three I have come up with are not the same.There is definitely something that is common to them all, that makes them feel like separate islands within the same landscape, or even though they are not linked by characters/story lines etc. like conventional sequels. To me there are common elements, factors or ‘rules’ that cross the boundaries of each film to form this coherent pattern or message that you find a little more of with each film. Its like different worlds in the same universe – they may be very different in geography and biology but they share the same basic laws of physics.

    Such great films – I wish more people treated children and their intelligence and capacity to understand with as much respect and reverence as these films do.

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