Cedar N. Goslin
The train of mass-produced forgettable films paraded in front of us since CGI’s domination of the animation industry was interrupted on Feb. 17 by the release of “The Secret World of Arrietty.” Audiences in theatres traded in fart jokes for wit, recycled characters and plots for a coming of age story with substance and computer animation for traditional animation reminiscent of a time when artists took pride in their work. Movie-goers who were looking for a fast-paced, funny cartoon were probably left unsatisfied by Arrietty. But for those of us who grew up humming the “Totoro” theme song and secretly being creeped out by soot sprites, this latest production of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki was welcome.
Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have a “huge loyal following” in Central Oregon, according to Barb Campbell, who runs Wabi Sabi, a local store that carries Miyazaki films.
“I think it’s the beautiful animation that draws people to them,” said Patty Campbell, who also works at Wabi Sabi.
It was the captivating artwork coupled with non-conflicting plot lines that helped make movies such as “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service” famous. Both films have no real villain, but that doesn’t hold it back; the films allow viewers to enjoy the smaller details rather than rushing to the end to see what happens.
“I describe them as gentle movies,” said Barb Campbell, who enjoys the easy pace and lack of violence in many Ghibli films.
But not all Miyazaki films are easy going and gentle. Campbell said she also admires Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli for having the courage to tackle broader social issues. “Spirited Away” is a darker film that follows the story of a young girl trying to save her parents, who were turned into swine waiting for slaughter when they gorged themselves on a buffet at an old amusement park occupied by dark spirits. This film warns against the folly of gluttony and sloth. As she tries to rescue her parents, who non-coincidentally are more American-esque than most Miyazaki characters, the protagonist is warned by a sympathetic spirit that to stay among the spirits, she must find a job. She is told the work will be hard, but it’s the only way for her to avoid transforming into a pig like her parents.
Miyazaki also works with a lot of environmentalist and anti-war themes, both of which can be found in “Princess Mononoke.” The story criticizes the battle being fought between the human characters, as well as portrays the repercussions of being careless with nature through an enraged forest spirit.
Refreshingly, Miyazaki’s films have strong female protagonists. “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Spirited Away,” “Princess Monnoke,” “Ponyo;” all have in common female characters who defy Japanese gender roles. For that reason, Miyazaki has been called an active feminist by some of his fans and colleagues, including the president of Studio Ghibli, Tashio Suzuki.
Lighter themes that seem to be a favorite of Miyazaki include the wonder of childhood and love. Many of his films are based around the innocence of children and their ability to see the magic in the world. In “My Neighbor Totoro,” the two young sisters mingle with soot sprites and ride in a giant furry cat bus that most can’t see. “Ponyo,” a film inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” is a classic “love conquers all” story that manages not to leave a sugary after taste in your mouth. It is the diversity in themes, styles and messages, as well as the careful detail put into the art and story of each film that make Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli universal.