For those disillusioned with the monotony of today’s viewing culture, dominated largely by the likes of binge-viewing, reality television, and seemingly endless murder documentaries, I bring good news. Netflix announced last month that they are going to stream 31 animated films from Studio Ghibli to an international audience, bringing a different breed of entertainment to viewers around the world. Far from being merely children’s films, the beauty and complexity of these films make them stand out from anything else you’ll find on Netflix, and are well worth a watch.
These films are unique, telling earnest and moving stories through the medium of animation, allowing them to allegorically convey universal truths by means of fantastical worlds and a breathtaking and otherworldly art style. The vast and mystical settings against which these adventures take place offer an optimistic and enchanting view on the variety and beauty of life, contrasted deftly with the personal and often simplistic nature of their plots, distinguished by an emphasis on humanism and family relationships. The films never rely too much on plot, but on personal connections and positive interactions, enabling the audience to truly connect with its characters.
Ghibli’s animations are highly influenced by the culture of their creators, and the embrace of Japanese elements makes them an unfamiliar but captivating form of escapism for international audiences. Films such as Princess Mononoke draw on traditional Japanese myths, creating a powerful sense of broadmindedness and tolerance among younger generations. Indeed, Ghibli’s films deal with a lot more complex and poignant themes than the majority of Western animations, and can equally be enjoyed as much as adults as young audiences. They espouse messages of pacifism and environmentalism, drawing on the context in which they were created.
Ghibli’s filmography is also remarkable for its ability to shape younger generations. Many of Ghibli’s protagonists face hardship, and have to overcome it through growth and determination, instilling maturity in younger viewers. Moreover, these films emphasise and set children up for the complexity of adult life— Ghibli characters find that they cannot achieve their happy ending without strife and personal loss. For example, Princess Mononoke’s Lady Eboshi is neither a hero nor an antagonist, preparing young people for similar characters they will meet in their own journeys into adulthood.
The influence and importance of these films is immense, and it is not surprising that Hayao Miyazaki, the founder of Studio Ghibli, has been compared to Walt Disney in impact on not just animation, but filmmaking as a whole. But the altruistic humanism of his works, embracing the indomitable human spirit, put him in an league of his own. His legacy I believe he sums up in his own words: “I would like to make a film to tell children ‘it’s good to be alive’.”
Image: tofoli.douglas via Flickr