I was first introduced to the entrancing world of Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki when I was around eight-years-old. As was typical of my early 2010s childhood, most weekends my sister and I would be allowed to pick a DVD to rent from our local LoveFilm. Over the course of the weekend, we’d play our chosen disc at least three to four times, promptly exchanging it for a new film the following weekend. One weekend we happened to select the Studio Ghibli classic The Secret World of Arrietty. Adapted from the Mary Norton book The Borrowers, a story I knew well from my primary school’s library, the film was beautiful to watch, filled with bright colours and engaging animations. From that point onwards my sister and I fell in love with the magical world of Studio Ghibli, spending the subsequent weekends renting as many of the infamous Japanese animation film studio’s movies we could get our hands on.
Founded in 1985 by Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki, Studio Ghibli has produced some of the most successful animated films of all time. For me, Studio Ghibli films effortlessly combine whimsical childhood nostalgia with beautiful imagery, making them the perfect films to watch as we enter the spring months. One of Miyazaki’s most famous films, My Neighbour Totoro, exemplifies this. Released in 1988, the film follows two sisters in 1950s rural Japan, who befriend several spirits in nearby woodland. The film is an endearing and easy watch, ideal for a rainy afternoon.
Beyond Studio Ghibli’s ability to depict humans’ relationship with the natural world, as we inevitably enter summative season, the drive and determination of several Studio Ghibli characters can potentially act as a source of inspiration. Kiki’s Delivery Service was a film I was introduced to at the height of the first lockdown. Following a burgeoning young witch who leaves home to earn her independence and develop a career through her ability to fly, the film is light-hearted, engaging and immensely enjoyable. If you’re looking for a sweet, coming- of-age story, involving baked goods and an adorable cat called Jiji, Kiki’s Delivery Service is the film for you. Though Kiki’s journey is full of mishaps and general chaos, at least her determination might be a source of motivation!
In addition to Kiki’s Delivery Service, From Up on Poppy Hill is a slightly less well-known but equally brilliant Studio Ghibli classic. As a history student, this film has become a firm favourite of mine, depicting life in 1963 Yokohama. The protagonist, Umi Matsuzaki, contends with her father’s death during the Korean War whilst also engaging in increasing student activism that was typical of 1960s Japan. The film deals with universal themes like memory, love and loss, all whilst managing to remain light-hearted in sections. It’s a great watch and, as with any Studio Ghibli movie, has stunning imagery to accompany such a heartfelt story.
I couldn’t write about Studio Ghibli without mentioning its most infamous film — Spirited Away. Despite engaging with darker subject matter in comparison to the films mentioned previously, Spirited Away acts as the perfect form of escapism and, in my opinion, is an ideal way to spend an extended break from academic work. Spirited Away profoundly altered the world of animated films, breaking records in both Japanese and international box offices. The film is largely credited with making Studio Ghibli the global phenomenon it is today, notably winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2003. The film is eerily surreal, with the audience introduced to a plethora of mystical spirits as the title would imply. Told from the perspective of ten-year-old Chihiro, Miyazaki succeeds in telling a relatively dark story, about a child entering the spirit world in an attempt to save their parents, with the same level of nostalgia and stunning animations as previous Studio Ghibli tales.
Whether it’s to appreciate the bright and colourful animations reflective of the imminent spring months, or to access a form of escapism, Studio Ghibli films offer a great way to detach from the outside world and encounter themes of friendship, nature and determination. Their stories are timeless, accessible and, most importantly, incredibly entertaining. All in all, watching a Studio Ghibli classic is arguably the perfect way to unwind after a draining Epiphany term, with the added bonus of getting to experience some of the world’s best animated films.
Illustration: Mollie Dunne