There’s an old story about a man who lives in a cave and stares at a wall for his entire life, seeing only the shadows of those outside the cave. He thinks this is everything there is. Then, one day, he gets up and goes outside and sees the world in a whole new light, because he realizes that those shadows were actually trees and animals. His eyes are opened to a world of possibilities that was always there, but just out of sight. This story might best describe the way I felt after seeing Spirited Away for the first time.
Because of traditions and history, Japanese art, television, film and animation are quite different from what we’ve become used to in America. Story structure is completely different. Strange beasts and fables which we’ve never heard of come to life on the screen. Castles live in the sky, parents turn to pigs and our neighbors are actually giant hamster-like creatures. To say that the work of Studio Ghibli embodies creativity, is a gross understatement.
In this series, you’re going to hear three names come up rather often. Let’s start with the two you’re less likely to know.
Isao Takahata was born in October of 1935 and lived through World War II, even surviving a massive air raid at the age of nine. He went to the University of Tokyo, graduating with a degree in French Literature, something I’m sure was super lucrative in Japan at the time (NOT). While searching for a job in French Literature, because there are lots of them, he was told by a friend of a job at Toei Animation as an Assistant Director. He applied and was hired. After competing with his co-workers for a time, he finally directed his first film, Hols: Prince of the Sun, which was an epic flop. He, along with other animators, including a young Hayao Miyazaki left the animation studio to strike out on their own. Eventually, Miyazaki and he would part ways for a time as Miyazaki directed Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. This would lead him to open the doors of Studio Ghibli at which time, he and Takahata would join together in the effort to create the new studio.
Toshio Suzuki originally started his career working on a magazine in the comics and entertainment department. While there, he would touch toes with many of the greats of the time; Shigeru Sugiura, Osamu Tezuka and Kazuo Kamimura. As he moved up the chain in editorial work, he would eventually ask for an article from Takahata and Miyazaki, concerning their work on Hols: Prince of the Sun. The two men declined, but this was a relationship fated in the stars. Eventually, Suzuki would reproach Miyazaki. This would eventually lead to the creation of a manga series called Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. In its success, they would create an anime film of the series, which would be the start of Studio Ghibli. Suzuki would go on to be the predominant producer at the studio.
And of course, the man we all know so well. After all, Hayao Miyazaki is synonymous with Studio Ghibli. Born in January 1941, Miyazaki also started his career at Toei Animation, where he would meet a mentor and someday a rival, Isao Takahata. His directorial debut, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, would not garner much success, but it would gain him some traction in the animation world. It wasn’t until his manga series Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was turned into an anime that he would finally co-found Studio Ghibli and begin his trek down the path of becoming a legend.
Studio Ghibli was opened as an animation studio on June 15, 1985 and was heralded by its founders as a studio where artists and directors had complete artistic freedom. The employees were treated as artists and all the work would be done in Japan. Early on, they would struggle with keeping the company afloat. After all, with such long production times, even one flop would have meant that destruction of the company. Even so, they persevered.
While the information above represents only a fraction of the research I have compiled on Studio Ghibli and its founders so far, it at least shows a glimpse of what I hope to accomplish with this series. With Vault Disney, I dove head first into the research and had a lot of fun understanding the story of Disney and how it went from a Steamboat driven by a mouse to the major corporation it now is. With Vault Pixar, I let the history take a backseat to really diving into the stories and creations of the company. Here, I hope to reignite the flame of pursuing the historical pieces of these films. After all, telling the story of Ghibli isn’t really about a corporation or a huge group of animators, it’s more about seeing the views of the three men above. It’s about understanding who they are as men and what drives them to create these incredible films. It’s about a viewpoint and a belief that creative freedom is everything.
Of course, with any big project like this, we have to have some ground rules. First of all, not every film we watch here will be distributed by Disney. To only look at Ghibli through the lens of Disney is to do it a great disservice. Where Disney becomes relevant, we will discuss as needed, but keep in mind that Disney didn’t enter the Ghibli story until 1996, over ten years after their conception. In fact, not every film will even involve Ghibli! Our first film, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was made pre-Ghibli, but its relevance in the Ghibli story is undeniable. Therefore, we will start with it. Not all the films will be Miyazaki films either. My hope is to watch ALL of Ghibli’s major animated films, regardless of the director. I will be watching these films both in the original Japanese and, partially, in English, in order to understand both the creative vision as well as the Western perception.
Named after the Caproni Ca.309 Ghibli, an Italian aircraft used in World War II, Miyazaki and his team sought to change the way we viewed animation. So come along as we explore this rich wealth of films one week at a time in an effort to understand a different kind of story-telling. Starting this Sunday we kick off a new Vault Series as we explore the minds of a team who sought to change everything. Welcome to Vault Ghibli.
Vault Ghibli officially kicks off Sunday, August 14 with Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind