As far as I know, Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away was the very first anime I watched. Well… maybe that’s not strictly true. When I was a kid, there was Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh. But… I’m inclined not to include them.
For what better place to start than with Ghibli and its auteur Hayao Miyazaki.
I’ll start by saying… Spirited Away is not my favourite Ghibli film, Kiki’s Delivery Service is. Now, I suppose that could be something of a surprise to many. It’s not one that gets talked about all too often. Nonetheless, it somehow manages to wriggle its way to the top of my pile, and into my heart!
It is without a doubt Studio Ghibli’s most recognisable and ‘mainstream’ of its films. The simple reason being, because of its utter brilliance. The way in which it can be appreciated by all people; adults and children alike. It’s relatable, it’s nuanced… it’s wonder in animation. And, frankly, it doesn’t get much better.
Of course, the majority of you will have seen Spirited Away, and no doubt much more of Ghibli’s beautiful, catalogue.
If anything, Spirited Away does a terrific job of culminating the ‘Ghibli Package’ – the sets of values and themes that the films explore and are based on, and the kind of aesthetic they broadly offer. For all of Ghibli’s films share things in common. From style, to the physical worlds they are set in. Spirited Away is no exception to this. In fact, it is probably the most magical fantasy world Ghibli has to offer. Though, not to denounce the others; it’s just that the land of Spirited Away is wonderfully rich, vibrant… and slightly unsettling. Not to mention the unfaltering direction of Miyazaki (come back to us!)
Watching it for the first time, I must have been no more than ten. It amazed me. The notion of such a world existing, of being able to cross a boundary between two places without even realising it – it was all that I could dream of. Of course, Spirited Away isn’t all plain sailing. Actually, it can be rather dark at times, exploring themes that may wash over the younger among us. And sure, at ten-years-old, I understood none of that. I was in it for the spectacle, and the magical story. Not to mention, I’d never seen anything like it before. You never can experience that first-time-amazement again. It can never feel the same; never as glorious.
The Appeal of Studio Ghibli
More so than any other anime/studio/series/director, the works of Studio Ghibli seem to appeal almost universally. It’s an enigma; the allure, and the pure enjoyment people derive from them. Why? Why has it broken through the culture barrier, and into the West, when so much other anime has failed?
I believe, in some part, that it is down to the accessibility of Ghibli’s films. You’re likely to find them in pretty much every film-store. Is this a result of their popularity? Or, is it the reason for their popularity. I’m inclined to believe it’s the former.
So, what is it, then?
From the opening scene of Spirited Away, we’re presented with a universal anxiety – moving home. Going to new places as a child, swings one way or the other. You’re either all for it, or all against it. In this case Chihiro has feelings of the latter.
We can all relate to Chihiro. Her pain of being young, and completely at the mercy of her parents responsibilities and actions. At the age when you’re just discovering things for yourself, cultivating a personal world-view, and beginning to stray away from the once impenetrable ideals of your parents.
Spirited Away, is without a doubt a coming-of-age story; at a time in the characters life where we have all felt the pressures of both the inside and the outside world. Perhaps Spirited Away’s magical kingdom is a manifestation of these often indescribable feelings. It’s a visualisation irrational things that make little to sense without physical substance. Things that are experienced all the way from East to West, and all places in-between; despite the obvious inherently Japanese setting.
It’s such ideas that nurture Ghibli’s wide-spread appeal.
It’d be hard to imagine a life in which I haven’t laid eyes upon the works of Studio Ghibli, and the worlds that they convey with such passion and artistic identity.
It’s a funny thing to think about what any one thing means to me, and to you. Because, the meanings are hidden, they are nuanced beyond understanding. And, in some respects the joy in Ghibli and Spirited Away is much like that – somewhat ambiguous, but absolutely beautiful, nonetheless. If you’re looking in the right parts of your mind, I guess you could say the same goes for life too. If anything, Ghibli’s films portray such lives; often through the eyes of children who see the world in ways which adults long ago lost.
It is the remembering of these ways. The re-kindling of boundless imagination that lights the Fire of Love for Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, and all others who have worked on the amazing films Ghibli have produced.
Hayao Miyazaki has semi-retired… he has announced that he will be making a feature-film under the name of, Kemushi no Boro.
Beyond this, his future is unknown. I suspect he will retire after completing this latest film. And, if not then, very shortly afterwards.
Though, this is not necessarily a cause for concern. Yes, Hayao Miyazaki is an incredible director, with outstanding vision, and endless creativity. This being said, Studio Ghibli will continue to produce movies. After all, it does not only employ a singular person. I’m sure – given enough time – there will be someone to fill his place. Though, it is another to think anyone could ever compare to the master.
What’s your view of Spirited Away and Studio Ghibli? Did it imprint upon you as a child in any way?
As always, thanks for reading!