the universal appeal of studio ghibli

I think most people are at least aware of studio Ghibli, let alone have seen one or two films. To be honest, I am a ghibli superfan, but not necessarily because of the fantastical storylines. For me, (and this might be an unpopular opinion) the appeal of Ghibli films culminates in the way the tiny, universally applicable moments of real life are depicted in the most serene way. I know Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle are popular films, but I’ve always preferred the less exciting and more (excuse the term) ‘mundane’ films. Only Yesterday, Whisper of the Heart, From Up on Poppy Hill and Ocean Waves are some of my favourites, and not necessarily because of the storyline (although they are good nonetheless). Ghibli studios are able to capture these most personal moments and make them indescribable. I find myself watching little snippets on Instagram, which other people have similarly picked out as notably special. Some of the films are quite obviously dated, but they still have a timeless appeal through these moments – they’re transferable to every walk of life, whether you live in Japan or Nottingham or Italy (as quite a few of the films are strangely set in, and I still haven’t figured out why Ghibli likes Italy so much but I’ll roll with it).


Film Still from Ponyo (2008).

In Ocean Waves (1993), Ghibli perfectly captures school life with a true sense of nostalgia. The fights and bickering with other students, that felt like such a big deal at the time and now, looking back, feel completely insignificant, although all the emotion of that moment is still carried with you. Or the moments of finding true friendship, or love…which again, felt so important at the time, and now, as adults, fizzles out like a distant memory or a dream. The same goes for From Up on Poppy Hill and Whisper of the Heart – Ghibli captures the emotions perfectly. Small, seemingly insignificant details spark off these emotions and memories again. In Only Yesterday (1991), Taeko is drifting between adult life and memories of her childhood, which flood into her experience of the everyday. It’s much harder to make the mundane seem beautiful, like seeing it for the first time, than it is to create a fantastical world in my opinion.

I think Ghibli films are so appealing because they tread the line between adulthood and childhood, between reality and memory. They capture the small, visceral details of life that make us happy, like a soft summer breeze through your bedroom window, or the hype around exams or amazing food. (Honestly at least 60% of my enjoyment of these films comes from seeing animated food).

Gif from From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)

It’s really hard to put these moments into words, so I highly recommend that you watch these films if you can, and hopefully, you’ll understand what I mean.

Alternatively, if you’re like me and you’ve binged on every Ghibli film there is, or if you just fancy breaking away, I really rate Madhouse’s 1997 animation, Perfect Blue. I saw it in a one-night-only cinema screening in Nottingham a few months back and was completely blown away. Honestly…it will mess you up. The best description I can come up with is ‘Black Swan on steroids’.

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Featured image – Still from Ocean Waves (1993)

Written by Emily Stokes

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