Before starting, I must admit that, my words about cinema may be funnier than the funniest, as I have no formal or informal education about it. Yet, I believe it requires an effort and mastership to follow a story, as well as telling it. Today, I will analyze Studio Ghibli only as a person has nothing but his passion on reading stories.
I haven’t followed the cinema in a systematic way. As a young man of the IMDb generation, my first encounter with Studio Ghibli was the Spirited Away. It was a very different experience after all those Disney animations. It was followed by Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke etc. I was impressed by these movies in many ways, but the thing that motivated me to write this post was the simplicity and sobriety of the way that the stories were told.
Lines and Animation in Ghibli
There are no flashy visuals. There are no stupefying graphics. Over-vibrant colors don’t attack to your eyes. You don’t have a hard time to follow the images. Your mind doesn’t get filled with detailed pictures of human bodies. When it comes to the bodies, sexuality is not used as a hidden or open tool. While Disney animations depicts even a cat with previously determined understanding of a beautiful woman, Ghibli use only one little line to show the hips of a walking person. Of course, human beings have hips and a walking person’s hips move, no one tries to cover these facts. However, the real artistry is to show it with minimum visuals, not to draw unnecessarily sexy hips even for animals.
Human depictions cannot be done with one line, obviously. Viewers should have at least an understanding of appearance of the characters. In Ghibli movies, ugliness and beauty, thinness and fatness, youthfulness and elderliness, brownness and blondness are demonstrated with images as modest and plain as possible. After a Ghibli movie, you can tell which characters were beautiful, which ones were not. How old was the main character roughly? Yet, you can realize that your mind was not full of detailed images. Less tells more!
Depictions of Environment
One more think about the visuals of Ghibli movies: depictions of environment. Most of the time, the distant backplane seems like a static oil painting; relaxing and not distracting. A beautiful scene is just a beautiful scene, a melancholic room is just a melancholic room. Details are not more or less complicated than what is need.
In that sense, I put a special emphasis on The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. It is hard to put what I saw into words. An animation which seems like painted with crayons. (Maybe it is really painted with crayons, I don’t know.” At the first glance, I cannot deny that I was irritated. But after a while, my eyes got used to it and I was fascinated with its graphics beside its fantastic story. I highly recommend you watch this movie.
Narration and Imagery in Ghibli
It is not realism to reflect bare facts. An imagery lets the story to have meaning layers and magnifies its power of representation. Thus, with a powerful imagery, a story can tell more with less words. I want to express my feelings towards how Ghibli narrates its stories and use imagery with distinct examples. Although I will not give clues about the essentials of the stories, those who are very sensitive for spoilers should be careful.
There is a couple who eats the food that they found in a strange place and don’t know whom it belongs to. They think that they are rich enough to pay for it, thus, they ate it without permission. Later, we witness their transmutation into pigs as they are not able to desist eating.
Pigs, with their greedy and craving natures, are portrayed to describe cupidity in various languages and cultures. Ghibli provides a stimulus to our philological subconscious by transmutation of these greedy people into pigs. Thus, the meaning layers are increased with the dirtiness, bulkiness and laziness beside the greed. I mean, the transmutation of a greedy person who ate food which belongs to someone else, to a random animal would only mean a severe punishment. But when the species of the animal that this person is transmuted into is pig, it also means that the greed and crave make people dirty, lazy and helpless.
Effects of Industrialization into Sustainability of Nature
Industrial zones located close to sources of clean water badly affect the nature unless they have effective filter plants and waste storage facilities. It has been a significant problem especially since the Industrial Revolution. A drop of industrial waste can pollute tons of clean water, as it happened more than once throughout the last two centuries.
One of the Ghibli movies narrates a young lady who try to overcome various struggles. At some point, she is assigned to clean a malignant soul and she must do it for the sake of her own life. She tries to remove some unnatural things which occlude the soul and then she realizes that it was not a malignant soul at all. It was a clean and sanitary soul which was polluted. Finally, the soul rewards this young lady with a little piece of food.
When it is read straightly, these are the meanings we can deduce. It fits right into the plot and enables the story to go somewhere else. However, with a deep investigation, we can find the second layer of meaning. The mentioned soul is the guardian of the Grand River. When we look at the things that occlude the soul, we can realize that they were mostly industrial and civic wastes. So, Ghibli shows how these wastes turn clean waters into a monster. Secondly, we can realize that the mechanisms of the nature are not able to fight against the immense pollution caused by humans. The bathhouse was full of other souls who also represent the other mechanisms of the nature. However, cleaning of the Grand River’s guardian could only be possible with the help of a human being. People must take an active role and cannot wait for a river to clean itself. Thirdly, when the young lady was rewarded with a piece of food capable of healing, we remember that we lose the sanitary and nutritious power of the nature by polluting it.
Fruitfulness of the Earth
Most of the ancient teachings show the water and the soil as the sources of life. Both the creation and the nutrition of life depends on these two essential things. In one of the Ghibli movies, we witness the birth of a princess from a bamboo. A man who make his leaving out of bamboos finds her and undertakes her subsistence. Later, he finds golden pieces and silk fabrics in other bamboos just like he found the princess. He was already thinking that she came from heaven, but these convinced him for certain. These golden pieces and silk fabrics should have been gifts of the God from heaven.
Let’s try another way to look at the story. Suppose this princess represents the individual and all other people represent the society and societal traditions. The man who found the princess is just a classical type of father, and his wife is a typical mother. So, princess is facing the struggles of an individual in a society. Although we see that this father figure has undertaken the subsistence of the princess, the one who actually nourishes and clothes her was the earth (or the nature) itself. Ghibli reminds us the miracles of nature by showing the breasts instantly got full of milk when a baby is born. In the same way, plums blossom immediately, although it was not the blossom season. It is important to remember that if this story was told in Siberia, bamboo would be replaced by a pine tree; if it was told in Turkey, it would be replaced by a willow tree. Bamboo, pine tree and willow tree are just imageries for the earth.
I don’t want to give all the clues that I found in these movies. I mostly recommend you start the journey and find your own answers to the riddles of Ghibli. But if you want an advice for which movies to start with, I can list five of my favorite Ghibli movies (not in order).
- Howl’s Moving Castle
- the Secret World of Arriety
- Spirited Away
- the Tale of the Princess Kaguya
- When Marnie was There