Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Studio Ghibli makes magical movies for real people

Using animation and frame to enhance storytelling

By Owen Bailey, Collegian Correspondent

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Studio Ghibli mesmerizes moviegoers with magical imagery that tells truly human stories. The animation of Ghibli captivates audiences across demographics in a way that few other studios can replicate. It is all too easy to find oneself completely immersed in the studio’s films, conscious of only the fantastical moviescapes being portrayed.

2018 marks the second year of Studio Ghibli Fest, a nine-month film festival celebrating the studio. The Cinemark at Hampshire Mall in Hadley is one of hundreds of participating theaters and will be screening “Spirited Away” on Oct. 28, 29 and 30.

Few movie studios can merit a nearly year-long film festival in their honor. Ghibli earns this prestige through its unique animation style and deliberate storytelling, which are able to touch hearts and connect to people almost universally.

Ghibli mainly produces films in traditional anime style. Shots that feel more like paintings than movie scenes, rounded character features and vibrant colors in abundance are what define its  films. What sets the studio apart is the painstaking attention to realism in the most minute details of the animation. Combined with the masterful ways Ghibli frames the plots of its movies, even the most fantastical settings feel real.

A good example of these effects coming together to tell a striking story is in “Grave of the Fireflies.” The story follows two Japanese orphans in the late years of WWII. The adolescent brother, Seita, and the young sister, Setsuko, struggle to survive on their own in a war-torn Japanese countryside.

The detailed animation that is omnipresent in Ghibli works is particularly apparent in the film. These animated details hide in the most mundane gestures, highlighted by the dramatic environment in which the film is set.

It can be seen in the way Setsuko tilts and turns her tin of candies to get the last one to come out. In the way the two children undress to go swimming, unbuttoning every button, getting stuck on the tricky ones and carefully stacking their clothes in neat piles. Even in the way Seita cuts a watermelon for his sister, methodical, precise, taking great care to avoid cutting himself.

These animated details can be found across all of Ghibli’s films. They can be found in movies like “Spirited Away,” a magical tale of a young girl, Chihiro, stuck in the spirit world. Chihiro, although caught in an extraordinary situation, still acts like an ordinary child. She has trouble getting her shoes on and struggles to lift heavy objects. These mannerisms are not obvious or heavy-handed but they are there and make her a more complete character.

These little details connect the viewer to the character. They aren’t animated robots, reciting lines and riding a set track to the climax of the film. They are living, breathing creations, with human mannerisms and emotions, that struggle to find their way in trying times.

The way the plot is framed is also integral to Ghibli’s relatability. “Grave of the Fireflies”takes place in a nightmarish situation. The children are homeless, food is scarce and there is the constant threat of a rain of fire from the bombers above. However, these nightmarish elements, while a major part of the story, are not the sole focus.

Instead, the spotlight is on the relationship between Seita and Setsuko. This relationship, while often governed by hunger or fear, just as often produces scenes of intense love and happiness shared between two siblings. It is enough for the audience to sometimes forget the tragedy unfolding on screen.

“Spirited Away” also frames its dramatic plot with more grounded, familiar aspects of life. Chihiro is separated from her parents and surrounded by hostile spirits. In a conventional movie, such a setup would most likely lead to an epic plot where Chihiro must take the fate of her world into her hands and dodge death at every turn. Instead, she gets a job at a bathhouse.

This dramatically anti-dramatic frame for the story grounds the film in something familiar. The spirits feel less like alien beings and more like humans in their own right, simply portrayed in a fantastical way. The greatest evil she faces is not some sinister dark power, but beings who have fallen victim to gluttony and overconsumption, distinctly human flaws.

Studio Ghibli uses magical worlds and dramatic backdrops to pull out the most human qualities in stories. Alongside beautiful, detailed, animation, the studio is able to create films that are real, honest and, in their own way, alive.

Owen Bailey can be reached at [email protected]

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