Studio Ghibli season: 2nd Coming of an Epic Double Bill

This year saw the 25th anniversary of the simultaneous release of My NeighbourTortoro and Grave of the Fireflies; two very different films from Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli.

This year saw the 25th anniversary of the simultaneous release of My NeighbourTortoro and Grave of the Fireflies; two very different films from Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli. To celebrate this anniversary, a couple of weeks ago cinemas all over the UK showed the two films as a double-bill, and if you were lucky enough to get along to the screenings, you will know exactly what the fuss is all about.

The first thing to mention is that, as double-features go, this is certainly not a typical pairing, and that in itself is one of the reasons why these two films work beautifully together. To give you a little bit of the backstory, Studio Ghibli’s founders, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, worked on them simultaneously between 1986 and 1988, and both films were the first significant output of the newly-founded Studio Ghibli.

Released at the same time 1988, it should be said that the emotional impact upon Japanese children must have been significant, and this was down to the contrasting nature of both features. My NeighbourTortorois a playful, family fantasy which creates a strangely plausible universe where supernatural creatures co-exist and the message of respecting nature is a strong, but not over-powering, element which can be found at its core.

On the other hand, however, lies Grave of the Fireflies. This harrowing account of the WWII firebombing of Kobe is as heart-wrenching and emotionally-engaging as any live-action feature. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by AkiyukiNosaka, this masterpiece follows the struggles of a teenage boy and his younger sister at the tail end of World War II. This is a grim story of love, sacrifice and fragility, and is considered by many to be not only one of the greatest anime’s of all time, but also one of the most moving and important anti-war films.

Depending on which way round you experience this double-feature (many cinemas at the time changed the order); the effect is certainly different, yet undoubtedly significant. These two films have the ability to provide audiences with a truly powerful emotional journey, and I defy anyone to experience and not change the way you view animated features. With the seemingly infinite procession of Despicable Me’s, Ice Age’s and Madagascar’s – these beautifully-crafted tales of depth and joyful imagination offer a well-needed counterpart to the sugar-coated surface that is presented to us so frequently.

For many years the filmmaking brilliance of Hayao Miyazaki has been seen as separate from the traditional Western animation houses, such as Walt Disney and DreamWorks. However, more and more over the last couple of decades those cultural barriers have fallen away and western audiences have had the opportunity to experience animation and storytelling of incredible vision and quality.

Since 1985 few animation studios have been as consistent in their output as Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli.There may not always be one director behind all of Studio Ghibli’s work; however there is a unique and singular sensibility which binds it all together.

Its animated fantasies are made with just the right blend of humour, melancholy and whimsy to make them appeal to audiences of all ages. And while they have adopted more modern means of creating their films over the past few years, they remain committed to producing animation using mainly traditional, hand-drawn techniques.

It is that love and dedication for the art which produces movies which are, in themselves, wonderful pieces of artwork that more than hold their own against any of the top tier productions from Disney, DreamWorks or Pixar.

Don’t believe me yet? Over the next few articles I intend to impart to you my love for three other Studio Ghibli classics; Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. Seeing these films changed my perspective not only on film-making and animated features, but also on story-telling in general. When you are telling a story for children, and through the eyes of children, every element needs to be carefully considered and crafted, so that when it is experienced by children, it is everything they never knew they were missing.

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