I've been meaning to make a Studio Ghibli related blog entry for a while but wasn't really sure how to go about it. I've been a fan of the studio for a while, particularly the movies overseen by Hayao Miyazaki and it seemed somewhat disrespectful to try and sum them up in a no doubt clumsy fashion. In the end I decided to compromise by discussing a favourite of mine which also happened to be quintessentially 'Ghibli'. This movie was also the first feature film made by the studio, so it carries a certain amount of significance. It was made in 1984 and with it's success the Ghibli dynasty had begun.
The setting is a post-apocalyptic earth which has been changed dramatically following the "Seven Days of Fire"- a great war in which terrifying creatures known as "Giant Warriors" were unleashed leaving a burning planet in their wake. The earth which resulted is one covered in toxic jungles containing giant insects (including the armoured 'Ohmu') and which also emit a pollen poisonous to humans. Nausicaa is the Princess of the Valley of the Wind, a free spirit who has an affinity for the natural world which has come to resent mankind (a very natural reaction in most cases). The Valley of the Wind is the last bastion of the peaceful human world and Nausicaa constantly performs botanical experiments hoping to find the key to detoxifying the jungles. Unfortunately most of mankind haven't learnt from past experience and the Valley of the Wind is caught between the tensions of the Pejite and Tolmekian empires, both intent on obtaining an immature "Giant Warrior". With the help of the swordsman Lord Yupa, a Pejite pilot named Asbel and her trusted glider, Nausicaa must calm the flames of war which are
threatening the existence of the natural world.
As mentioned earlier, this movie happens to embody many of the themes which run throughout the Studio Ghibli repertoire. One theme is the juxtaposition of mankind/technology and nature along with the tensions which result. I think that's an important element; it carries the fears and concerns of many relating to our influence on the planet (deforestation, pollution, dwindling resources, endangered species, nuclear weapons and many similarly worrying issues). But it's worth mentioning that all of the movies which feature this theme avoid becoming preachy or overpowering; it generally blends seamlessly with more centric plot lines.
Another recurring feature is the presence of a heroine lead character in almost all Ghibli movies; a refreshing change to generally male dominated western cinema. In this case the heroine is Nausicaa; a bold and refreshingly intrepid female character who doesn't conform to the vulnerable "damsel in distress" stereotype which Disney (who some would call the western counterpart) generally pander to. Similar characters of the same Ghibli vein include Princess Mononoke, Kiki, Chihiro (Sen), Haru and many others - all of them bold as brass and ready to give any male characters a run for their money.
The last theme I will focus on is flying and Hayao Miyazaki's obsession with aircrafts. In World War II Miyazaki's father helped manufacture fighter planes and Miyazaki couldn't help but draw the majestic machines. Ever since he has looked to the sky for inspiration in all of his artistic endeavours. Indeed this is to the extent that it is hard to find a movie directed by him that doesn't feature a sequence in the air. In this specific movie the main method of transportation for Nausicaa is a glider and there are also some stunning scenes involving fighter planes from the great warring nations. There are plenty of other points to mention about thematic constants, plot structure, western influence in Ghibli anime and the repercussions of Hiroshima throughout but that's an essay in itself; the movies are after all very complex.
Hayoa Miyazaki's time at the helm is coming to an end unfortunately but luckily a new generation of talented animator/directors are emerging. Miyazaki's son, Goro Miyazaki, has shown great potential with 'Tales from Earthsea', exhibiting a different style that is sure to take Studio Ghibli in a fascinating direction. Many (including myself) would compare his style to that of Isao Takahata, another prolific director at the studio who famously directed the harrowing and powerful 'Grave of the Fireflies'. It's also worth mentioning that the next Ghibli release will be an adaptation of The Borrowers by Mary Norton and that this will be directed by another new young director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi.
'Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind' is an example of Ghibli at it's epic best; unfortunately in the US an awful edit called 'Warriors of the Wind' was originally released which completely missed the point of the movie; portraying nature as evil and humans as purely positive. Thankfully western audiences now appreciate "grey area" themes in animation and have really taken to Studio Ghibli and anime in general (it's important to note that there are plenty of examples of wonderful feature length anime outside of Ghibli). After years of child-centric, generally musical western animation, it was hard for a majority of western movie-goers to take more adult aimed animation seriously. Much like graphic novels, they have finally been accepted by the general public. Much to my relief, new talent have shown Studio Ghibli is likely to continue to be important exponents of this art form for many years to come; constantly pushing the envelope and exhibiting originality.