Some of you will have noticed in my bio that I like Studio Ghibli films, and I’ve occasionally posted something to that effect here. So today I wanted to spend a bit more time on one of my favourite film production companies by writing a little on five (well, seven really) of my favourite Ghibli films.
It’s a Miyazaki-heavy list, but he’s such a warm director that I seem to naturally gravitate toward his films. That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy Takahata’s work, or the films of the other directors, but you’ll see a few Miyazaki ones in the list as I slowly reveal it!
Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi)
Perhaps like many Western audiences, this was my first exposure to Studio Ghibli and its wonderful films – though I didn’t see it until some time after it’s English language release.
I was actually at uni and had recently borrowed the impressive 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Inside I noticed Spirited Away and went straight to the university library where I borrowed the DVD and that was it. I was hooked.
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Spirited Away is the story of a young girl who has to work in a spirits’ bathhouse in order to save her parents, who’ve been transformed into pigs by their own greed.
Admittedly that’s a pretty simple description of the plot but it gives you an idea of the main source of tension. What it fails to show is the stunning attention to detail found in the animation (a trademark of Ghibli) and the great character arc at its heart. The way protagonist Chihiro goes from being what is basically an annoying child to a person of resolve, and who can turn those around her into friends, is handled really well and provides an emotional core that’s a big part the reason I’ve watched the film so many times.
But perhaps my favourite element of Spirited Away is the setting. The bathhouse is located in an abandoned amusement park and it’s beautiful, detailed and vivid, both in terms of its social and physical structure. And part of that colour definitely comes from the variety of spirits who visit it, among the most memorable being the close-mouthed Radish Spirit and the old River Spirit, who also embodies the environmental themes Miyazaki often includes in his films.
Another stand out aspect of the movie, and most Ghibli films, is the music. Provided by Joe Hisaishi, it’s a moving score, with so much of it feeling both magical and familiar.
An Academy Award winner and definitely an amazing film, Spirited Away isn’t quite my favourite Ghibli movie, but I’m kicking off with it because it’s where I started and if you’re looking to see what Studio Ghibli is like, you couldn’t find a better starting place.
More films to come so stay tuned!