can never really call yourself a serious Studio Ghibli fan until
you've discovered Ghiblies. For those of you in Japan,
this, of course, is nothing new. You've been aware of this great
movie studio from the very beginning. The rest of us in the West,
however, have only discovered its existence in fits and spots during
the past decade. Only now, as the Ghibli DVDs are steadily released
in Europe and the Americas, are we becoming aware of its greatness.
often claimed, over the past couple of years, that Ghibli is the
best movie studio in the world. Anywhere. Animation or live-action,
it doesn't matter. This is the studio that has steadily churned
out one masterpiece after another, modern classics that are both
entertaining and challenging. Previous generations have been blessed
with the Neo-Realists, the French New Wave, the genius of Renoir,
Ray, Kurosawa and Ozu. For me and my generation, lost in the post-Star
Wars Hollywood haze, there is Studio Ghibli. You lucky ducks.
so much tougher to work backwards, starting from Mononoke
or Spirited Away and working
our way back. I feel that I'm still just a student, learning lessons
handed to you ten or twenty years ago. I think that's why I enjoy
watching short films like Ghiblies. They may be apart from
the "official" Miyazaki and Takahata canon, but it offers
great insights into the immense talent behind the two old masters.
I mentioned yet how fortunate the Japanese people are?
those who don't know, Ghiblies was a twelve-minute short
film produced for television in 1999, as part of a show about the
famed movie studio. This was one of the studio's minor productions
that pop up from time to time. Included among these is a series
of spots for the Japanese TV network Nippon Television called Nandarou;
a short called Sora Ino no Tane ("The Sky-Colored Seed,"
animated and directed by Yoshifumi Kondo), Miyazaki's On
Your Mark music video; a wonderfully nostalgic series of
ads for House Foods in 2003 (again by Miyazaki); and various short
films for the Ghibli Museum.
is something of a loose parody of the film studio, a series of breezy
and lighthearted segments that detail the daily lives of the staff
members. Careful eyes will spot characters based on actual members
of the studio, and the temptation is there to try and name everyone
who pops up on screen. One person is clearly Toshio Suzuki; another
one may be Takahata, but a quick video clip (showing "the model"
from behind, eating a doughut) isn't all that clear. It's probably
not too important for anyone but the most hardcore trivia hounds.
(pronounced with a hard 'g') very much looks like a television production,
with animation and artwork that is very quickly jumbled together,
with an almost improvisational feel. It's really a continuation
of the visual style of Takahata's My Neighbors
the Yamadas. That great picture was criminally overlooked
when it was released in 1999; for some baffling reason, Japanese
audiences decided to spend their time with the first Pokemon movie
and The Phantom Menace.
still trying to wrap my mind around that one. I have half a mind
to fly over there and hit people over the head with a fly swatter.
toad! Bad toad!
Takahata's Yamadas look is continued in Ghiblies, Episode
2. This film appeared in 2002 as a double feature with The
Cat Returns, and is given the full production values of
any feature-length Ghibli movie. For my money, this is the better
of the two films, far more visually ambitious, far more imaginitive,
far more Ghibli-esque. Not that I don't appreciate Hiroyuki Morita
and his team, as Cat Returns is a good picture, but Episode
2, in my mind, deserved the top spot on the bill.
this film does is demonstrate the studio's spectacular creativity
with computer-aided animation. They still haven't completely moved
into the CGI-animated style of Pixar, for example, and they likely
never will. What Studio Ghibli has done is integrate hand-drawn
animation with computers. They've always taken a slow, cautious
approach to computers, learning how to integrate the modern technology
with their traditional skills. They dipped their toes into the water
with Pom Poko, On Your Mark, and Whisper
of the Heart, but with Mononoke they finally committed
wholesale, and Spirited Away continued to meld the two
such a seamless approach that I doubt many Westerners are even aware
of it. It's interesting to listen to critics praise Spirited
Away and Howl's Moving Castle as a triumph for traditional,
hand-drawn animation, seemingly unaware how skillfully they involve
computers. It's simply a different approach, and I'd suggest that
American studios that want to cash in on Pixar's success should
look to Studio Ghibli as an example of how truly diverse computer
animation really is. There's still a lot of virgin territory.
the real greatness of Ghiblies Episode 2. There is such
an amazing variety of visual tricks and styles throughout the various
segments. I'm reminded a lot of Richard Linklater's Waking Life,
which also possessed a vivid energy, fusing a variety of animation
techniques with thoughtful conversations about daily life.
moods in these segments run length from comedy to awe to weepy nostalgia.
One segment involves a wonderfully funny visit to a restaurant where
the employees have to endure scalding-hot curry or else pay double;
as the case with all things Ghibli, it's the girl who comes out
ahead, shaming the boys and looking good while doing it.
segment is a quick music-video montage quite unlike anything the
studio has ever created. Another story quietly tells of a character
who gets stuck on the train when a pretty girl falls asleep on his
shoulder. Still another shows the characters at the end of the day,
best segment in the film, and also the longest, is a wonderfully
poetic look back on childhood and first loves. The memories are
prompted when one character is asked about his first love, and like
Taeko-chan in Omohide Poro Poro,
the memories come flooding back.
was actually done before, in the first Ghiblies short,
but the technology and the skills of the artists have greatly expanded
the palette. We see a stunning point-of-view shot, from the boy's
bicycle, as he rides past a girl at a shop, and there are other
equally amazing shots inside a schoolhouse.
we're seeing is a mixture of two-dimensional characters over a three-dimensional
landscape, all painted in storybook watercolors. It's the perfect
realization of the watercolor paintings used when Miyazaki and Takahata
create their movies, and it's all so alive. There's nothing, absolutely
nothing in America, to compare this to.
this childhood segment possesses all the trappings of Takahata's
stories, from the shifts in visual style to the personal flashbacks.
Even the Ozu rose petals make an appearance. It just has that magic,
that personal intimacy. Previously, I speculated that Takahata was
involved somehow, even if he was standing over the animators' shoulders
and handing out advice. However, upon closer inspection, I become
more aware of director Yoshiyuki Momose's long involvement with
Studio Ghibli. He was involved in Grave of the Fireflies and Omohide
Poro Poro, continuing to the present day as animation director on
has created a number of short films at Ghibli (which can be seen
on the Short Short DVD in Japan); in Ghiblies 2 he is pretty much
in charge. However, I still do not know the extent of his creative
control on this project, whether the animators were allowed to run
free on each segment, or if there was some greater planning involved.
I'd still like to know who was specifically responsible for what,
because there's a great amount of variety in art styles and narrative.
Episodes 1 and 2 are the sort of things you would expect to see
in an art-house animation festival, never from the country's biggest
film studio. But it's that spirit of experimentation, of creating
art for the artists first, and the general public second, that has
made Ghibli the finest moviemakers in the world.
first Ghiblies film is unavailable on video or DVD, but
you can find it over the internet if you're resourceful. Ghiblies
Episode 2 appears on the Japanese DVD for Cat Returns,
and there's talk that it may appear a year or two down the line
in the States. I wouldn't hold my breath just yet. But we can always