It is close to impossible to talk about anime without mentioning Studio Ghibli Inc. This Japanese film studio has been redefining animation since 1985, changing age-old assumptions that the genre was solely meant for children. Their movies are often of complex plot lines that explore larger themes, leaving their audience with provoking thoughts.
Here are some of the studio’s ground-breaking films:
1. Spirited Away
This is by far their best film made. It won a Golden Bear award in 2002 and won an Academy Award for Best Feature Film in 2003. The movie is influenced by the Japanese Shinto-Buddhist folklore. The story revolves around a young girl named Chihiro who is moving to a new town along with her family. They decide to take a short cut and unknowingly land up in a magical place, finding their way to a beautiful bathhouse. Chihiro begins to explore the area while her parents pig out at the food stalls that are suspiciously unmanned by anyone. She comes back to her parents only to find out that they have turned into pigs. Her parents no longer recognise her and she is now left all alone to fend for herself in this strange ghostly place. The movie is a coming of age story, where the protagonist is forced to let go of her childhood and move on to adulthood. It is a commentary on the generational differences and issues between parents and their children.
2. Princess Mononoko
This is a historical fantasy war film where an Emishi village of Muromachi is attacked by a demon. A young Prince, Ashitaka tries to kill the demon before it destroys everything in its path. The movie is largely a commentary on the relationship between nature and man. The inhabitants of the villages nearby the forest ransack large parts of the land and nature begins to fight back. San, a girl raised by wolves, resents mankind for their treatment of Mother Nature while Ashitaka is on the quest to save the land.
3. My Neighbour Totoro
My Neighbour Totoro is a post-war film set in the year 1958. The Kusakabe family relocates to an old house close to a hospital where their mother, Yasuko, is treated for her illness. Tatsuo Kusakabe, a university professor, must now raise his two daughters, Satsuki and Mei, on his own. The story revolves around the two sisters and the adventures they have in nature. They befriend the forest spirits and meet the “keeper of the forest”- Totoro. The audience is led to wonder if the forest spirits are just figments of the children’s imagination, created to deal with the difficulty of not having their mother around. The keeper of the forest only seems to appear when the girls are in situations that are difficult for them to handle. However, things remain unclear in this aspect as there are many instances where the spirits seem to be just as real as the girls.
4. Grave of the Fireflies
Grave of the Fireflies is war film that depicts the consequences the war brought to the families of Japan. It revolves around a brother and sister, Seita and Setsuko. They struggle to survive the last few months of the Second World War after they learn that both their parents have died, leaving them with nothing to live on. Like most of the families during that time, Seita and Setsuko lost their home to the bombings. They go live with an aunt, but are soon forced out of her care as the rations begin to deplete. Both the siblings don’t survive the war and lose their lives to starvation and sickness.
5. Howl’s Moving Castle
This animated fantasy film is about a young girl named Sophie who is paying her sister a visit. On the way, she encounters a wizard named Howl. While returning from her sister’s home, the Witch of the Waste turns her into a 90-year-old woman. She is led by a living scarecrow, Turnip Head, to Howl’s castle where she is employed as a cleaning lady. Sophie’s country is caught up in a war with a neighbouring nation and Howl is repeatedly asked to pick a side to fight on. A romance starts to brew between Sophie and Howl. Sophie’s compassion influences Howl to make changes in his personality. He begins to look outward, rather than focusing on his selfish needs. The film also expresses the director Hayao Miyuzaki’s views on the Iraq War of 2003. Like most of his films, this too bears anti-war sentiments.
Strange though the plot lines may be, these films offer you a stories different from that of Hollywood. The audience’s perspective is opened to the Japanese culture and is presented new ways of responding to societal issues and themes.