The serious topics of Studio Ghibli

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Why do you think Studio Ghibli uses it's fantasy elements but still talks about serious topics such as loss and depression?



Many somber, depressing elements are easier to examine in a fantasy context. They allow for new approaches to familiar themes, and make them accessible to people who otherwise might not be as interested in them. Stories about loss or grief are relevant to everyone, so it makes sense that they would find their way into all sorts of films, and that they would find their way into films that are not overtly or explicitly about them.



A̶p̶p̶a̶r̶e̶n̶t̶l̶y̶,̶ ̶b̶e̶c̶a̶u̶s̶e̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶m̶a̶j̶o̶r̶i̶t̶y̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶A̶m̶e̶r̶i̶c̶a̶n̶s̶ ̶u̶n̶d̶e̶r̶m̶i̶n̶e̶s̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶c̶o̶m̶p̶l̶e̶x̶i̶t̶y̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶a̶n̶i̶m̶e̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶m̶a̶n̶g̶a̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶a̶r̶e̶ ̶m̶u̶c̶h̶ ̶m̶o̶r̶e̶ ̶p̶o̶w̶e̶r̶f̶u̶l̶ ̶m̶e̶d̶i̶u̶m̶s̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶n̶ ̶l̶i̶v̶e̶ ̶a̶c̶t̶i̶o̶n̶,̶ ̶b̶u̶t̶ ̶a̶r̶e̶ ̶s̶c̶a̶r̶c̶e̶l̶y̶ ̶k̶n̶o̶w̶n̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶m̶a̶i̶n̶s̶t̶r̶e̶a̶m̶ ̶v̶i̶e̶w̶e̶r̶s̶ o̶u̶t̶s̶i̶d̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶J̶a̶p̶a̶n̶.̶ ̶G̶h̶i̶b̶l̶i̶ ̶f̶i̶l̶m̶s̶ ̶a̶r̶e̶ ̶s̶t̶a̶t̶i̶s̶t̶i̶c̶a̶l̶l̶y̶ ̶w̶e̶l̶l̶-̶k̶n̶o̶w̶n̶,̶ ̶b̶u̶t̶ ̶s̶t̶i̶l̶l̶ ̶u̶n̶d̶e̶r̶a̶p̶p̶r̶e̶c̶i̶a̶t̶e̶d̶ ̶b̶y̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶x̶e̶n̶o̶p̶h̶o̶b̶i̶c̶ ̶u̶s̶e̶r̶s̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶M̶o̶v̶i̶e̶F̶o̶r̶u̶m̶s̶.̶ ̶A̶c̶c̶o̶r̶d̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶s̶t̶a̶t̶i̶s̶t̶i̶c̶s̶.

Okay, I reconsidered and decided not be an ass towards Guap this time.
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I'm not nice. I'm mean. Deal with it.



Why do you think Studio Ghibli uses it's fantasy elements but still talks about serious topics such as loss and depression?
Quite simply because it makes for a good film. A film where everything is sunshine and rainbows throughout its runtime is a film that is not worth watching. There has to be some darkness, some pain or some sort of conflict that is felt by the audience otherwise it's very hard to care for the film.

With that being said, whilst there may be somber and depressing elements present in some of those films, most of them are very hopeful and uplifting which is what makes them so popular even amongst very young viewers.

For instance take a look at My Neighbour Totoro, which is a film that basically revolves around 2 young girls who've just moved from the city to the country with their father, leaving behind all their friends and also their mother, who is in a hospital. They are lonely and so they conjure up this imaginary friend by the name of Totoro, a big smiling loveable cushion, to fill the void of missing motherly love. They are coping with the harshness of their reality by escaping to a fantasy world. But whilst everything in the film sets you up to think that Totoro isn't real and is just a figment of the children's imagination, the ending contradicts this claim.
My Neighbour Totoro is a film about faith (in a god?) that boldly proclaims that miracles do indeed happen, as long as you're willing to truly believe in them. Is there anything more optimistic and uplifting than that (almost too optimistic even for kids if you ask me)? Funnily enough, this reminds me Ingmar Bergman's masterful Fanny and Alexander, a similar story told from a far more bleaker perspective and I also think it takes a lot of its inspiration from Steven Spielberg's E.T. Extra-Terrestrial.

Similarly Spirited Away also has darker undertones (and is a much more serious film than Totoro incidentally). Miyazaki has made a film for the hundreds of thousands of Japanese girls who are forced into child labour every year in Japan (especially from late 1980s and early 1990s). It's a coming of age story about how to escape that world with both your name and your innocence intact, again, a very hopeful and uplifting portrait.

But at the same time, whilst I enjoy these sorts of films which tell delicate stories with depth and beauty, I really do not care one bit for the preachiness and self-importance of films like Princess Mononoke (widely considered his darkest film). Although it is visually arresting, I hate it when filmmakers pretend to be philosophers without having anything meaningful to say. I have similar issues with Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, a film that seems to say a lot but with little truth or meaning behind any of it. Princess Mononoke is a battle between man and the gods of nature and Miyazaki for some absurd reason asserts, without any justification, that nature is inherently peaceful and all conflict that has ever arisen is because of human beings (whom incidentally are a part of nature so doesn't that suggest that nature is really at war with itself? ). But unlike his earlier films, Mononoke is neither deep nor meaningful. Rather than subtly demonstrating, he throws it all in your face. So just having darker elements does not make a film great. There needs to be a balance.



Quite simply because it makes for a good film. A film where everything is sunshine and rainbows throughout its runtime is a film that is not worth watching. There has to be some darkness, some pain or some sort of conflict that is felt by the audience otherwise it's very hard to care for the film.
What are these edgy teen vibes I am feeling all of a sudden?

You can make great feel-good films, and you can make great films that do not focus or are not built around conflict (often called slice of life). It requires effort, good characterization and knowing how to display your mood, just like anything else, but I can't get into this mindset of you about restricting the reach of film narrative to specific thematic grounds.

For instance take a look at My Neighbour Totoro, which is a film that basically revolves around 2 young girls who've just moved from the city to the country with their father, leaving behind all their friends and also their mother, who is in a hospital. They are lonely and so they conjure up this imaginary friend by the name of Totoro, a big smiling loveable cushion, to fill the void of missing motherly love. They are coping with the harshness of their reality by escaping to a fantasy world. But whilst everything in the film sets you up to think that Totoro isn't real and is just a figment of the children's imagination, the ending contradicts this claim.
Whoa stop there xD

That's an interesting interpretation here. You mean My neighbor Totoro, the movie that starts with the two little girls jumping and running in pure joy after they arrive to their new country house, is a story about feeling lonely and sad? Do you mean the same movie where Mei is distracted 99% of the time playing with her environment, where she encounters Totoro by pure chance? Do you mean the same flick where all the new neighbors are fine, their father treats them well and they are all confident in that the mother will recover soon that it becomes an actual shock to them to know that her condition has got worse?

Sorry but I don't follow this.

My Neighbour Totoro is a film about faith (in a god?) that boldly proclaims that miracles do indeed happen, as long as you're willing to truly believe in them.
WHAT? Did any miracle happen during the course of the story?

Similarly Spirited Away also has darker undertones (and is a much more serious film than Totoro incidentally). Miyazaki has made a film for the hundreds of thousands of Japanese girls who are forced into child labour every year in Japan (especially from late 1980s and early 1990s). It's a coming of age story about how to escape that world with both your name and your innocence intact, again, a very hopeful and uplifting portrait.
NO, it's not about that AT ALL. I don't even know where to begin with this.



Registered User
Quite simply because it makes for a good film. A film where everything is sunshine and rainbows throughout its runtime is a film that is not worth watching. There has to be some darkness, some pain or some sort of conflict that is felt by the audience otherwise it's very hard to care for the film.
pfffffffffffffff

pffffff

If I could watch people frolicking in a sunny field for two hours, I totally would!



You can make great feel-good films, and you can make great films that do not focus or are not built around conflict (often called slice of life).
How do you define a feel-good film? Because I would consider My Neighbour Totoro a feel-good film. I wouldn't be able to tolerate a film that's literally an hour and a half of people dancing and laughing. If you enjoy such films, good for you but I would be bored to death.


You mean My neighbor Totoro, the movie that starts with the two little girls jumping and running in pure joy after they arrive to their new country house, is a story about feeling lonely and sad? Do you mean the same movie where Mei is distracted 99% of the time playing with her environment, where she encounters Totoro by pure chance? Do you mean the same flick where all the new neighbors are fine, their father treats them well and they are all confident in that the mother will recover soon that it becomes an actual shock to them to know that her condition has got worse?
The whole film is about childhood fantasies. In fact during one of the earliest exchanges in the film, the granny (or whoever she was) catches Mei whilst she's chasing little dustballs with faces and says to her "I used to see them too when I was a child". That sets the tone for the whole film. Totoro is basically one giant Teddy Bear, dreamt up first by Mei when she was having a nap under the bushes and again one night (this time by her sister as well) when they perform a rather weird ritual which results in the blossoming of an enormous tree (but of course it's only fiction because the tree is nowhere to be found the next day). But interestingly they are unable to find Totoro consciously (until the very end). The only other moment Satsuki meets Totoro was when she was waiting for a bus alone in the dark and she's clearly fantasising. I guess the term lonely is not right. They don't encounter Totoro when they're lonely but rather only when they're alone and there is no adult around. Ignore that sentence.

WHAT? Did any miracle happen during the course of the story?
The miracle the happens was the dream that was Totoro became a reality because he actually takes 2 girls (via giant catbus) to their mother. How did that happen if it was just a figment of their imagination the whole time. The story for the most part is extremely grounded (baring the childhood fantasies of course), but something special happens in the ending.

NO, it's not about that AT ALL. I don't even know where to begin with this.
You are free to interpret the film anyway you wish but if you must know, my opinion of the film was heavily influenced by this incredible dissection by the great Ayumi Suzuki, a masterpiece of film criticism.



pfffffffffffffff

pffffff

If I could watch people frolicking in a sunny field for two hours, I totally would!
I suppose it's a matter of taste here. I wouldn't enjoy such a thing



How do you define a feel-good film? Because I would consider My Neighbour Totoro a feel-good film. I wouldn't be able to tolerate a film that's literally an hour and a half of people dancing and laughing. If you enjoy such films, good for you but I would be bored to death.
An hour and a half of people dancing and laughing is not what "a film without conflict" means. It is a severe misrepresentation. Films without a conflict can have depictions of routine and character dynamics. It's not about being happy all the time, singing and dancing.

The whole film is about childhood fantasies. In fact during one of the earliest exchanges in the film, the granny (or whoever she was) catches Mei whilst she's chasing little dustballs with faces and says to her "I used to see them too when I was a child". That sets the tone for the whole film.
Of course it's about childhood fantasies. That has nothing to do with your interpretation of fantasies as some sort of escapism for sadness and loneliness. Neither of the girls feels sad or lonely for almost the entirety of the film.

Totoro is basically one giant Teddy Bear, dreamt up first by Mei when she was having a nap under the bushes and again one night (this time by her sister as well) when they perform a rather weird ritual which results in the blossoming of an enormous tree (but of course it's only fiction because the tree is nowhere to be found the next day). But interestingly they are unable to find Totoro consciously (until the very end). The only other moment Satsuki meets Totoro was when she was waiting for a bus alone in the dark and she's clearly fantasising. I guess the term lonely is not right. They don't encounter Totoro when they're lonely but rather only when they're alone and there is no adult around. Ignore that sentence.
Fine then. I guess this solves the disagreement.

The miracle the happens was the dream that was Totoro became a reality because he actually takes 2 girls (via giant catbus) to their mother. How did that happen if it was just a figment of their imagination the whole time. The story for the most part is extremely grounded (baring the childhood fantasies of course), but something special happens in the ending.
Getting this as well. Okay, moving on.

You are free to interpret the film anyway you wish but if you must know, my opinion of the film was heavily influenced by this incredible dissection by the great Ayumi Suzuki, a masterpiece of film criticism.
You pull your interpretation out of nowhere, specially when you say this:
Miyazaki has made a film for the hundreds of thousands of Japanese girls who are forced into child labour every year in Japan (especially from late 1980s and early 1990s).
Considering that child labor in Japan is not even a thing since, I dunno, the end of the Second World War?

Nothing in that analysis matches your conclusions and the problem with these conclusions is not their interpretative nature, it's that they are factually false (the child labor thing) or contradictory (a coming-of-age story about gaining innocence again? So basically Chihiro learns to be a kid again? Is there any growth then?). From your source I can see a social commentary on capitalism (something that fits the author like a glove. Yubaba being the representation of the evil West seems pretty far-fetched though, Miyazaki does have an appreciation for Western culture and I certainly don't picture him as reducing the capitalism issue to Japan vs the West), I can see this being interpreted as an emphasis in traditional values and spirituality (which I do not necessarily see as a complimentary one, at least not as a whole), but with all that considered, Chihiro suffers a process of change throughout. She does not recover her innocence, she actually becomes more confident, cautious and responsible, which allows her to deal with Yubaba and get her parents back. She needs to do this because at the beginning of the movie she is an overly dependent, typically selfish and childish little girl who would have never been able to get out of that nightmare alone, and through the movie she gradually changes this attitude, implying that she has grown. In fact you didn't mention the parents at all, which are a very important factor in the characterization of Chihiro and the moral of the story. The way she interacts with them both in the beginning and end of the movie tells you lots of things.

By the way, Miyazaki on Spirited away:

http://www.nausicaa.net/miyazaki/interviews/sen.html



You pull your interpretation out of nowhere, specially when you say this:

Considering that child labor in Japan is not even a thing since, I dunno, the end of the Second World War?
This is outright false and the reason I know this is because I used to live in Philippines for a long time and there was a similar problem there as well. You have clearly no clue what you're talking about. Japan at this very moment is a Tier 2 Watchlist country with regards to charges of forced labour and (especially of children) also prostitution (it includes other countries such as North Korea, Myanmar [Burma], Cuba and Sudan.) and the annual profit of this industry is estimated to be an astounding $ 44.2 billion dollars every year.
And also since the mid 20th century, Japan has also had a notorious record of human trafficking with East Asian countries (including the Phillipines). But the biggest victims are the woman and children from poor villages who have no option but to sell themselves to trafficking organisations and become basically slaves. The worst part is that the Japanese government supported this for a long time and in fact they practiced it themselves with the ndustrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program (TTIP).
I'm not posting references but I'm sure you can just read up on this anywhere online.



I didn't know that, thanks for the information. Out of curiosity though, when did you say that the Japanese government stopped supporting this? All I see is that the Japanese Constitution bans child labor, apparently through a law that has been there since 1947 but has been amended multiple times since so it's hard to check when they included specific bans on child labor, and that the statistics of illegal use of childs as workforce are shady and unreliable. Anyway I found info on human trafficking that confirms what you say so yep, I was wrong.

Why do you think the main purpose of Miyazaki is to represent the issues of child labor, though? It's Chihiro the one who decides to work with Yubaba and she does as a mean to reach a clear objective, and the narrative doesn't condemn her hard work but actually praises her growth through the experience. If Miyazaki wanted to criticize and represent the abuses of child labor he did way too lightly.



You can't win an argument just by being right!
I suppose it's a matter of taste here. I wouldn't enjoy such a thing
I think swany was cracking a funny. I laughed.

Not sure why the op seems to think anime is all My Little Pony. I lived in Japan and would come across manga. Some of the themes were shocking. Hell, even Bugs Bunny is brutal.



charges of forced labour and (especially of children)
can you elaborate that point, I hardly noticed that

also prostitution (it includes other countries such as North Korea, Myanmar [Burma], Cuba and Sudan.) and the annual profit of this industry is estimated to be an astounding $ 44.2 billion dollars every year.
And also since the mid 20th century, Japan has also had a notorious record of human trafficking with East Asian countries (including the Phillipines).
simply work, organized crime

The worst part is that the Japanese government supported this for a long time and in fact they practiced it themselves with the ndustrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program (TTIP).
I think it overaching, but idk. While it still polemic but what I'd seen it far from modern day slavery ppl try to implemented, when those ppl just working limited 4 hours a day. The loan was the risk they can bite of and what I seen from the rest of years they got there it always fruitful when them back to each hometown - for that kind of program

Well every body was a slave tho', capitalist slave I guess



Thank you everyone who shared their views on this, I posted this to gain primary data for a research project. If anyone doesn't want me to use what they've said or credit them in any way please let me know



But at the same time, whilst I enjoy these sorts of films which tell delicate stories with depth and beauty, I really do not care one bit for the preachiness and self-importance of films like Princess Mononoke (widely considered his darkest film). Although it is visually arresting, I hate it when filmmakers pretend to be philosophers without having anything meaningful to say. I have similar issues with Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, a film that seems to say a lot but with little truth or meaning behind any of it. Princess Mononoke is a battle between man and the gods of nature and Miyazaki for some absurd reason asserts, without any justification, that nature is inherently peaceful and all conflict that has ever arisen is because of human beings (whom incidentally are a part of nature so doesn't that suggest that nature is really at war with itself? ). But unlike his earlier films, Mononoke is neither deep nor meaningful. Rather than subtly demonstrating, he throws it all in your face. So just having darker elements does not make a film great. There needs to be a balance.
I would think that despite it being a very brutal movie it doesn't make it a bad movie. Many movie fans have developed the opinion that good movies must be "subtle" so anything that's a bit more aggressive with it's message is regarded as bad. Princess Mononoke is a movie made for teenagers and young adults, so it's more aggressive than his other movies by virtue of its target audience.

I remember that the first time I watched PM I though it was worse than Spirited Away but after I allowed myself to accept it's aggressive unsubtle tone the second time I watched it I had a very powerful experience. It is still the most powerful experience I had by watching a movie, ever.

PM is actually based on modern historical research, Miyazaki made the movie to be about the fact that medieval Japan was a more sophisticated and diverse place than most people realize. He said he was inspired by Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai because that movie was about Japan's disillusion with their armed forces in WW2 and it's portrayal of historical Japan was very biased so he wanted to do a more realistic historical movie about Early Modern Japan (Muromachi Period). And obsessed as he with with ecological stuff he decided to do a movie about the Muromachi period when there was a trend for economic development in the country, with greater deforestation occurring at the time.

Also, PM doesn't say that nature is inherently peaceful in fact it only says that man and nature can be in conflict and sometimes there is no easy way out: for the people of the forge-village to survive they will have to defeat nature and destroy the forest and for nature to survive they will have to kill the humans. It's message of the movie is nihilistic: there is no solution to the conflict and nobody is "right" or "wrong", the humans desire to survive and so does the forest, however, both cannot survive.

The movie ends with the half destroyed forest in a tamed state and different from the deep dark forest that was presented in the beginning of the movie as those deep dark forests in medieval Japan are now all nonexistent. When producing the movie Miyazaki had to travel to some pacific islands near Japan, where nature is still untamed, to show the production crew how these medieval Japanese forests was supposed to look like.

This nihilist atmosphere was developed to much greater profundity by Miyazaki in his most important work, the Nausicaa manga. And this manga is widely regarded as his best work, even better than his movies. Princess Mononoke is among his movies the one closer in atmosphere to the manga, but still not quite as dark. The manga is grim like Grave of the Fireflies and very different from the Nausicaa movie.

The ecological message is also more relevant than ever specially now that it has become the world's most pressing problem as Co2 emissions if they continue to grow, will certainly pose very serious problems for the entire world. Some even say that most of the world's ecology stands on the edge of massive collapse. While people like to criticize movies with ecological messages I guess it's now perhaps among the most relevant objective messages a movie can indeed convey.