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Welcoming Totoro: Why it’s never too late for Ghibli

Devina Heriyanto
Devina Heriyanto

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Sun, April 9, 2017  /  09:44 am
Welcoming Totoro: Why it’s never too late for Ghibli

A still from 'My Neighbor Totoro' by Studio Ghibli. (Studio Ghibli/File)

A creature with no face, a girl who rides a wolf, a castle with legs, a goldfish that turns into a girl, and of course, the lovable creature in the forest behind your home. These are the icons of Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation powerhouse helmed by Hayao Miyazaki.

But icons are just representations of something larger and deeper inside the movies themselves. What actually makes Ghibli’s movies quintessentially Ghibli?

The first thing that comes to mind is the visuals.

“In a time where almost everything is CGI, they still use hand-drawn animation,” said Cynthia Ongga. Studio Ghibli still employs the classic hand-drawn 2D animation, yet produces works with meticulous detail, from character design, ornamental pieces, to how the food looks. The nomination of its latest works The Wind Rises, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and When Marnie Was There for three consecutive Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature has proven the endurance of Ghibli’s animation charm.

The second thing is the stories: not only do Ghibli’s movies have good stories, they are timeless. Many Ghibli movies have stories that are still relevant.

Take Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, for instance. Produced even before the studio was officially known as Ghibli, Nausicaä tells the never-ending conflict between humans and nature.

Read also: Studio Ghibli movies to be screen in 17 cities across Indonesia

A scene from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind(Studio Ghibli/File)

The theme of humans versus nature is found in many Ghibli movies. World of Ghibli of Jakarta volunteer Dinda “Noa” Hanifannisaa said that her favorite movies reflect this value.

“My favorites are three movies: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Princess Mononoke and Pom Poko. These movies show the very intricate relations between humans and nature and the consequences of destroying nature,” she said.

Anti-war messages are also found in the movies. Depicting a family torn apart due to Tokyo’s fire-bombing during the World War II, Grave of Fireflies is often dubbed as the most heart-wrenching animation ever made. The fictionalized biopic The Wind Rises shows the maker of fighter aircrafts used by the Japanese in the World War II regretting his invention. Howl in Howl's Moving Castle refuses to take sides in a war he does not believe in. The character from Porco Rosso even blatantly states, “Better a pig than a fascist,” a criticism of political conditions before the war.

Not all movies from Ghibli are complicated, some are just pure escapism, like the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, the legendary My Neighbor Totoro and child-favorite Ponyo. Viewers are taken to a magical world or simply to a countryside, away from the hustle and bustle of reality. If you are a romantic, Whisper of the Heart is your normal, coming-of-age story.

Read also: Must-watch anime movies from Studio Ghibli

Chihiro and No-Face (Kaonashi) in scene from 'Spirited Away'.(Studio Ghibli/File)

One can still look for a deeper meaning beyond the surface. Chihiro from Spirited Away befriends a monster without face, while other characters blatantly shun the monster. Such powerful anti-discrimination gestures often make headlines in today’s divisive society.

Among things the studio has received praise for is its portrayal of girls and women. Not only that the main characters in Ghibli movies are female, but they never need to be saved.

“Disney just stopped using the damsel-in-distress formula recently, but they still have these strict gender roles. Ghibli movies are more fluid,” argued Rahmi Dwi Nydia. As a mother, she often plays Ghibli movies for her daughter. “I still introduce her to Disney Princesses, just so she knows,” she said.

Ghibli has only officially entered the Indonesian market this year, having Chihiro compete with the more famous Elsa and Anna. Previously, Ghibli was mentioned on the local news when Indonesian artist Sherina Munaf sang for the studio’s television commercial (TVC) project. (asw)

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