Studio Ghibli has been there for me during the most tumultuous parts of my life. When I moved home, I had Spirited Away. When I struggled with my exams, I had Castle In The Sky. When I grappled with my depression for the first time, I had My Neighbour Totoro. Whenever life has thrown its worst at me, Studio Ghibli has been there in more ways than one. So I figure I’d try, in my own small way, to thank them.
Studio Ghibli is an animation company that resides in Japan and has been producing masterpieces for over thirty years. If you haven’t seen a Studio Ghibli movie before, then I envy you. To watch one for the very first time again, it would melt my heart.
I remember fondly the first time I came across a Studio Ghibli movie as if it were only yesterday. I was young, pottering about in HMV, looking for a cool DVD to buy to impress my friends. As I scoured the aisles for DVDs, I came across a rather unassuming, yet intriguing DVD cover. A large, grey panda-type creature, a leaf firmly atop his head, an umbrella in hand, looks perplexed while two young girls race around him in the tall grass. I was sold, immediately.
My Neighbour Totoro somehow wasn’t the first Ghibli film I saw. I would go on to watch Totoro some five years later, and it would be the first film to make me cry. The first Ghibli film I saw was Spirited Away. As my family was being uprooted from Sunderland to Hull, my life thrown into turmoil, my mother offered my siblings and me a small condolence in the form of a couple of DVDs. There was a Transformers movie that had a naughty word in it that made me and my siblings chuckle to no end. Then there was Spirited Away.
Spirited Away is a coming of age story that just so happens to involve a girl moving home and being whisked away to a fantastical world filled with spirits. Unfortunately, my move was less spectacular and involved more ginger nut biscuits and moping around as our new home was being swiftly renovated. But watching Spirited Away, seeing Chihiro grow into a more mature girl, tackling loss and grief, and overcoming her adversities, it inspired me.
That’s the magic of Ghibli movies. They have this innate ability to inspire you, fill you with a cosy, comforting sense of nostalgia, all while whisking you away to beautifully crafted and animated worlds filled with larger than life characters.
Castle in the Sky
I remember the time my friend handed me a DVD he found in his house. I can’t remember the exact reason he had given it to me, or why it included Castle in the Sky, the Dukes of Hazard movie, and the film Serenity. But I remember putting it into my mum’s ancient Macbook, hearing the DVD whir to life as three completely unrelated movies popped on the screen. I clicked on the most family-friendly looking one, and have never looked back.
If you knew me back then, you’d have heard me mention Castle in the Sky more than a few times. You’d also probably have the film’s theme song stuck in your head without having ever seen the movie. I loved that film, adored it even. I forced my sister to watch it on numerous occasions, even when she insisted she didn’t like it. I reckon I’ve brought her to my way of thinking now. I even convinced the stranger sat next to me in maths to sing the main theme song along with me. Sometimes, when I reflect on my childhood, I think of this film, of watching it on my mother’s tiny laptop and crack a rare, but welcome smile.
My Neighbour Totoro
The first time I watched My Neighbour Totoro was when I fell in love with films. It wouldn’t be until I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey that I truly knew I wanted to devote my life to film, but back then, glued to my TV as Totoro rushed Mei and Satsuki off their feet and whizzed them up into the air, I felt something extraordinary. I realised that films could elicit more from me than simple amusement. I realised they could make me truly feel something.
When I struggled through my GCSEs, I had the Totoro soundtrack to keep me going, plastering a smile on my face as I battled through the tears and fears that I would fail. I would put Totoro on the night before my first day of each university year, tucking into a takeaway pizza, and holding back my anxieties. And in my darkest moment, I turned to my Totoro plush and was reminded that not everything is as bleak as it may first appear.
Whisper of the Heart
Studio Ghibli is an integral part of my life. It’s what convinced me to expand my knowledge of anime, it’s what drew me to the world of films, and is what continues to make me smile even when all else seems to be falling apart.
It’s often easy to take for granted the media we consume. More often than not, media is constructed so that we may passively enjoy it and move on with our lives. But many films are a labour of love, created with such fervent passion and emotion that it’s hard for one not to connect to it. Out there, there is a film, book, game, or series that each and every one of us connects to in some way. Whether it’s a character, a motif, idea, or even a singular piece of dialogue, at one point or another I’d argue a piece of media has spoken to us all in a meaningful way.
I find it’s often essential to stop and reflect on what has made a meaningful impact on your life. Sometimes it is someone important to you, or sometimes it is an event in your life, like moving home or starting university. And sometimes it’s a film, a book, or even a game. Thinking of these things helps to ground me in reality, remind me of the good, the bad, and the ugly, and why all three are just as important to each other.
Grave of the Fireflies
As the final year of my undergraduate degree came to a close, I sat in bed, feeling as if I’d wasted my three years there. I had nothing to show for it, but worse than that, I’d come to resent the very thing I’d studied. I was broken and felt as if my life could only continue to get worse from there. As I resigned myself to yet another sleepless night, I decided to put on a film. I chose Grave of the Fireflies.
If you’ve seen it, you probably think it was a poor choice of film. You’d be right in thinking so. It’s one of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen, and I’ve sat through all two and a half hours of The Turin Horse. But as it came to an end, I suddenly felt the urge to write. I cracked open my laptop screen, opened Word, and let my fingers do the rest. I used to write a lot as a child, but as I got older, I’d abandoned it, thinking I’d never be good enough. But there, at 3 am, my eyes weary, my head hung low, my arms and legs exhausted, I wrote, and for the very first time, felt genuinely passionate about it.
This is the first time I’ve thought about that night since it happened. In a time where everything felt truly bleak, where it felt like the end, a film invoked a long lost spark I’d once felt. I write practically every day now, have three (unpublished) novels under my belt, and I’ve never been happier about it. Sure, Grave of the Fireflies didn’t cure my depression. Heck, even at that moment I didn’t realise that it was helping. But it has, in the long run, changed my life.
The Cat Returns
This is my story, of how Studio Ghibli spoke to me in my greatest times of distress and need. Sure, we probably don’t all have such a depressing story centred around the films of an animation company based over 6’000 miles away from me. I mean, that would be weird. But I sincerely hope that there are others out there who have been moved, touched, and perhaps even helped by a piece of media as I have.
I suppose if there’s anything worth taking from this rambly, over-sentimental article, it’s that films not only have the power to amuse, entertain and offer cathartic release, but can occasionally provide a glimpse at a better and brighter future.