Studio Ghibli deserves highest honour

The Japanese animation studio receives the honorary Palme d’Or next week. Taher Ahmed writes about its inspiring legacy
Last Updated : 10 May 2024, 23:36 IST
Last Updated : 10 May 2024, 23:36 IST

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While Walt Disney is credited with bringing the first wave of animation, the second wave is attributed to Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, and Toshio Suzuki, the founders of Studio Ghibli.

It is no surprise then, that the studio, which has inspired a generation of animators, is being conferred the Palme d’Or, perhaps the most prestigious award in cinema. This is the first time that an organisation is receiving this award, and there is perhaps none more worthy of this recognition than Studio Ghibli.

In a world where Western studio houses function like factories, churning out content (some good, some average), Studio Ghibli is a breath of fresh air, sticking to its passion for cinema and the love of storytelling.

True to their core

From its style of animation to the way it structures its movies, the studio stands apart. In a world intent on selling the wow factor through 3D and 4D (some are also experimenting in 2.5D), the think-tank at Studio Ghibli prefers the more conventional 2D, with a focus on getting the animation spot on. This ties in perfectly with its storytelling style, where the animator’s creativity and imagination take centrestage.

The focus is on a visual storytelling style that makes the movies feel more authentic, and not forced to meet the expectations of the audience or the studio heads. Box office collections become secondary as this passion for storytelling resonates with the audience, keeping things raw and real.

Emotional maturity

Appreciating the audiences’ intellectual capabilities ensures that its work is realistic — Studio Ghibli does not shy away from depicting mature themes. The stories exhibit an array of emotions, where the characters are complex, just as in real life. The animation supports this level of maturity, right from background to the colours and movements.

This isn’t a fairytale world, but an expression of creativity which makes the audience relate to what they see and hear. For instance, ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ may seem like a regular children’s movie at first glance, but it depicts how the main characters deal with tough real-life events, highlighting hope in a hopeless situation. ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ beautifully portrays the impact of war on survivors, and how the children adapt and balance their childhood with adult burdens. The beauty of childhood is not washed away by the flood of responsibilities, it rather comes out in a subtle manner.

Strong characters

Feminism is another key theme, as seen in ‘Spirited Away’, where the protagonist finds the strength to handle a complex situation and help her parents. The protagonists deal with their emotions and reveal their vulnerable side, a far cry from the larger-than-life stories we are used to in Hollywood. Strong supporting characters offer a balance, and the movie isn’t about one individual. In a way, it says life is about your own decisions, and yet the presence of a good support system can help you overcome many obstacles. 

Japanese heritage

The studio remains true to its roots. The stories feature everyday Japanese life. The depiction of Japanese culture through the food, locations, and customs has been a key differentiator. While not all stories are inspired by real events, they do have real-life elements incorporated in them. Nature plays an important role in Japanese culture and is central to movies like ‘Princess Mononoke’.

The depiction of spirits is a homage to Japanese folklore. The spirit realm is blended with the real world in ‘Spirited Away’ and ‘The Boy and the Heron’.

Japanese culture is closely related to animation, manga, and anime, with children and grown-ups enjoying different forms. This could be a reason for Studio Ghibli’s popularity across the globe. 

Inspiring creativity

It is rare for movies which do not have a Western star cast or relatable stories to achieve classic status globally, yet the work of Studio Ghibli does exactly this. It compels the audience to view movies from a different perspective. The message is not in your face — it is conveyed subtly.

This is the reason the audiences don’t feel mollycoddled. The studio has produced numerous successful movies in its nearly four-decade run, with two Oscars to show for its achievements.

The number of awards won by the studio pales in comparison to what modern studios such as Pixar have won. So why is Studio Ghibli receiving the Palme d’Or? It is perhaps because the animators at the other studios took inspiration from the founders of Studio Ghibli. If not for this inspiration, the modern-day world of animation might have seemed incomplete.

An award that honours the highest in filmmaking and a love of cinema is perhaps a fitting tribute to a place that inspires art.

(The author has worked in the animation industry)

Published 10 May 2024, 23:36 IST

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