A Brief Retrospective
At the start of May, I made a decision to review every Ghibli film on Netflix in a month, one per day. It was a project to –
- improve my writing skills
- learn to write reviews quickly
- work on my consistency, by committing to an idea
Despite going over the deadline by a month (sigh), I’m pleased with how it turned out. I definitely learned a lot. It was initially a challenge because I didn’t have a lot of faith in my perspective. I watched/read a lot of other reviews that often put me in crisis because what they said contradicted what I’d said. Or they said what I wanted to say much more succinctly. I had to accept early on that this was okay. I just had to keep writing. Yeah, there are reviews where I don’t know if what I wrote makes any sense or represents my views of the movie accurately, but at least I wrote it. I think this project was good for my mentality- removing that fear of writing.
The true aim of this project was to re-examine my relationship with Studio Ghibli. As I said at the start, I’ve never really loved Ghibli in the way others seemed to, and I wanted to change that. In hindsight, that was silly. It’s hard to verbalise, so bear with me. My favourite animated films are Jin-Roh: the Wolf Brigade, Liz and the Blue Bird and Prince of Egypt. I love these films because they moved me so thoroughly in their artistry, and they spoke to me in a deeply personal way at a specific period of my life. I didn’t go into these films expecting to resonate with them. It was a rare, wonderful coincidence. Very few excellent films make that impact on me. To dismiss Ghibli because their films failed to make that impact was vastly unfair. Understandable, given the studio’s reputation, but still unfair.
And whilst I’m not going to be adding a Ghibli film to my personal top ten anime list anytime soon, I have fallen in love with the studio hard. Anyone who likes film, animation and storytelling in general should watch a Ghibli film. They’re just sophisticated – sophisticated narratives, sophisticated visuals, sophisticated music. I felt like I was having an expensive gourmet meal every time I watched one. I disproved some assumptions about Miyazaki and Takahata fairly quickly (Takahata is not a bleak director – the opposite actually – and can be really on the nose with his writing. Miyazaki, by contrast, is far more nuanced than his bombastic visuals would suggest).
And learning the history of Ghibli definitely enriched the experience. Like I said in my Tales of Earthsea review, the quality of the studio’s output is largely the result of years of experience through working at older studios like Toei Douga. They’ve grown with the anime industry. It was fascinating to learn about the various artistic figures involved in the films, like Katsuya Kondō, Yoshifumi Kondō, Yasuo Otsuka, Kazuo Oga, Hideaki Anno and Kitarō Kōsaka. If there’s one thing I genuinely regret in my reviews, it would be not going more in-depth with all these artists. I feel so grateful and lucky that I had the chance to experience the works of so many talented individuals.
My Favourite Films
Here is a list, in ascending order, of my favourite Ghibli films right now.
My Neighbours the Yamadas
This film is so slept on it hurts. A series of vignettes about an eccentric Japanese family might not make the most exciting film, but once you get into it, it’s hard to not be charmed. This is Takahata in his element, depicting the ups and downs of family life with humour and startling intimacy. The Yamadas, to me, are iconic – the family I wish I were a part of.
Whisper of the Heart
What a classic. I will forever believe that this film is a rite of passage for any young person. What I love about it is that it speaks about the uncertainty surrounding ambition, talent and the Future in a sensible way. It understands what needs to pay the bills. It understands that ambition can sometimes cloud judgement. It doesn’t promise that the creative life will be filled with endless joy and wonder. But it has a gentleness and empathy that makes it a comforting, hopeful experience.
Another hidden gem! I really, really like Porco Rosso’s vibe. There’s a certain feeling of leisure that I’ve come to associate with the film. It’s a calm film (for Miyazaki), dancing between epic aerial escapades and nostalgic, introspective character drama. There’s layers I’ve yet to unpack. And the moment in the film where Porco reveals his past was the first time I got chills from a Ghibli film. And all that in a low-key, goofy film about a flying pig. I love it.
My review of Spirited Away is so short because if I sat down and talked about every good thing in the film, I’d have been there for ages. The film is perfect. There’s no dent, no flaw in it. After watching it, I felt a sense of awe because I couldn’t process how something could be that objectively good. But my fondness for this film goes beyond its technical perfection. I watched it with my sister and part of the enjoyment was seeing her fall in love with it, and we could fangirl over it together. The film is doubly beautiful because I could share its beauty with the people I love.
If you held a gun to my head and forced me to pick an absolute favourite Ghibli film, this would be it. The character animation in Only Yesterday is superb. The sequence where Taeko meets X at the train station still kills me every time I watch it. It’s so natural and spontaneous in a way you rarely see in animation. Watching the characters interact became a special kind of joy. It speaks to Takahata’s commitment to realism in depicting slice-of-life narratives. The movies’s presentation of childhood, with its joys and upsets, is just wonderful to watch. It may not be the most impressive, but it’s a film that excels in my favourite animation niche. That’s reason enough to love it.
So, what’s next? Well, I’ve been watching a lot of anime in quarantine. I’ve just finished the first season of March Comes in Like a Lion and I loved it, so I want to talk about it. I’ll definitely be revisiting Studio Ghibli because there’s still a lot that I want to say. But I’ll leave it here for now. A massive thank you to the studio for all the awesome movies! And a massive thank you to all who read my reviews! I hope you enjoyed them, and I’ll see you in the next.