Whether you're into anime or not, you cannot not be into Studio Ghibli movies — it's something someone told me years ago. Everyone who has watched Ghibli movies desires to live in that world, and for a reason. For the uninitiated, Studio Ghibli is a Japanese animation studio founded by Hayao Miyazaki — an animator, writer, and creative director. Ghibli has won several awards, including the Oscars. 🏆
What Makes Ghibli Special?
There are movies that entertain you, and then there are movies that stir something within you..in a really nice way. Studio Ghibli movies do just that! From kids to adults, Ghibli movies hold a special place in the lives of those who watch them. But more importantly, they are powerful enough to influence thousands of storytellers, writers, visual artists, and creators worldwide. Not just in Japan.
I really mean it when I say Ghibli has been inspiring generations of artists for years now — for instance, let’s take game design. When Nintendo decided to remake its popular 80s game A Boy & His Blob in the 2000s, the art director Marc Gomez used hand-drawn 2D animation, resembling Ghibli’s art style. In fact, in a conversation with Polygon, he also said, “When making Boy and his Blob, I thought a lot about My Neighbor Totoro and the connections between Satsuki, Mei, and Totoro. I wanted to capture as much as possible that connection without words, as well as the childlike wonder of exploring your own backyard.”
If we ask anyone who has played the game, they won’t stop gushing about the similarities between Ghibli world and the game. Over the years, many game creators have drawn inspiration from Ghibli anime. Worldwide too, several filmmakers have drawn inspiration from Ghibli; Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is one such example that has built a world similar to Ghibli's. In an interview, Anderson said, “With Miyazaki you get nature and you get moments of peace, a kind of rhythm that is not in the American animation tradition so much. That inspired us quite a lot.”
But as creators, we can learn a fantastic deal from Ghibli and Miyazaki at large, and the learnings aren’t limited to art and creativity alone. Wondering what they are? Let's delve!
Why Miyazaki & Ghibli Inspire Creators?
Powerful storytelling: If there’s one thing that remains consistent in all Ghibli movies, it’s the craft of storytelling. Hand-drawn art meets 2D animation and compelling storytelling. Unlike writing a story first, Miyazaki insists on building a world that merges nature, humour, environmental issues, politics, military themes, and human loss without simplifying stories for the younger audience. Achieving exciting storytelling while keeping it simple is no easy feat, but it appeals to creators and audiences — that you can leave a mark by creating stories that evoke emotion.
Attention to detail: The rusting leaves, monsoons drenching the city, people slurping on ramen — attention to detail is the cornerstone of every Ghibli movie. Taking the ‘devil is in the details’ idiom seriously, their anime immediately sucks you into their world and how! While the animation in Only Yesterday reminds us of the watercolour paintings we might have dabbled in as children, in Ponyo, we couldn’t stop noticing how the underwater life and the town, when drowned in the sea, come to life. The attention to detail when it comes to bare minimum things — an act as simple as relishing a pineapple adds vitality to the character. Human movements and nuanced sounds contribute to the content, bringing all your senses into the play.
Vivid imagination: It's rare to beat Japanese creators when it comes to crafting a world of magical surrealism. In Ghibli movies, too, the world is full of magical creatures like Teto (Nausicaa’s pet fox squirrel), Catbus in My Neighbor Totoro, which wouldn’t stop grinning wide (no wonder it’s a Cheshire cat!), the moving castle from Howl’s Moving Castle, and No Face from Spirited Away. Some of these characters are also inspired by folklore. The imagination is boundless. As creators, whether we’re looking for an escape or an immersive story, these movies often come to our rescue. Plus, the world-building and character development they portray are masterclasses in themselves.
Discipline: If we take a page out of Miyazaki’s life, it would be discipline and how he consistently creates. Even at 81, Miyazaki’s discipline is quite magnificent. He started as a manga artist, so he still sketches and stays involved in the craft of filmmaking. His discipline and respect for work allow him to stick to a routine and contribute in other ways to the studio — we’re talking about the times when he trained interns or trainee filmmakers, leaving an impact on fresh minds. Miyazaki says he’ll never retire — I guess that applies to all creators who wake up with a sense of purpose and to create.
Appreciating the stillness: We can’t always create, and the desire to create or push ourselves even when we cannot lead to burnouts. Sometimes appreciating the nothingness and taking life one step at a time brings in more good than we realise. When we pay close attention to Ghibli anime, there are so many moments of nothingness — of absolute silence, where you’ll find the characters basking in the sun, lying on the grass, or finding respite in long walks.
There’s a reason why Ghibli inspires a Pixar filmmaker and young designers alike! As creators, it’s our everyday hustle — acknowledging our surroundings, learning from the world around us, and giving back to the world in the form of our art. Ghibli does that and more. I hope you pick one of their anime this week and see how it inspires or calms you.