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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Me and Studio Ghibli: Part 2

If  you missed part one of my Me and Studio Ghibli series you can catch up at the link provided. Today, for part two, I move onto two film's that could not be more different in tone. Both were released in 1988 astonishingly as a double feature. They are Grave of the Fireflies and My Neighbour Totoro.

1988- Grave of the Fireflies
The first film of Isao Takahata to be released by the studio and most certainly one of his most celebrated. The film is based on a popular semi-autobiography by Akiyuki Nosaka, of the same name. I have already posted on the film. Catch it in my World Cinema link at the end of the post. But for the continuity of the series I shall continue.

The plot follows brother and sister Seita and Setsuko in the midst of World War 2 in Japan. It deals with the airs near insurmountable struggles, living with a cruel Aunt and fending for themselves in a world where people can't afford to care.

Takahata's work tends to ground itself more firmly in emotion than much of Miyazaki's output and it would be fair to say that Grave of the Fireflies is an incredible depiction of humanity, certainly the most depressing picture I've ever seen, animated or otherwise. I would also state the film has a noticeable anti-war message but remains impartial to any particular faction. Chicago Time's popular critic Roger Ebert has stated the film "belongs on any list of the greatest war movies ever made".

Trivia time. The fruit drops that play a huge role in the symbolism and plot of the film are still on sale in Japan today. Also, a live action version of Grave of the Fireflies was released in Japan in 2008 with a run time of 148 minutes, a full hour longer than the animated piece.   Finally for North American readers if you are looking for a DVD version you will find that it is the only one in the collection (currently on sale in the States) that is not distributed by Disney.

A powerhouse of emotion and heart, Grave of the Fireflies is not only one of my favourite Ghibli films of all time I rank it as one of the finest works cinema has ever produced.

1988- My Neighbour Totoro 
The title character from My Neighbour Totoro is easily one of the company' most recognisable characters. he even is the company's representative in their official logo pictured above. The film is entirely, again, the creation of Hayao Miyazaki.

The plot follows the Kusakabe family of a university professor and his two children Mei and Satsuki (approx 4 and 10 years old) who move to the rural countryside of Japan to be closer to the hospital where their wife and mother is in hospital for an unexplained illness. There the two girls come in contact with the title character and adventure ensues.

Totoro is a movie that revels in the childlike world of imagination and really this is the films central theme. Miyazaki nails that childlike innocence in a way that will leave a smile on the face of even the most heartless viewer. the catbus is a sight that must simply be seen to be believed. Indeed,
the atmosphere in the preceding scene is simply magical.While the almost non-existant plat breezes past the viewer the films stunning art and sheer depth of imagination is what carries the viewer for the film's 86 minute runtime.

The combination at box office of two startlingly different movies was doomed to failure. I guess we could speculate that families were simply put off by the idea of subjecting their children to a film as grim as Takahata's masterpiece. However, sales of Totoro merchandise which continue to this day have meant that the character was a successful production for the company.

Trivia: Totoro has an asteroid named after him. The character has also appeared in  Comedy Central's Drawn Together and South Park along with Pixar's upcoming Toy Story 3. The character also appears in other Ghibli films such as Kiki, Pom Poko and Whisper of the Heart. The names of the two characters Mei and Setsuki originate from the Japanese pronunciations of the month of Mei. And Totoro's name actually comes from Mei mispronouncing the Japanese for troll tororu.

Part 3 is coming up later in the week. If you want to see more of my thoughts on Grave of the Fireflies follow the link labeled Me and World Cinema.

Gay Cinema
Me and World Cinema

I'd love to hear from you and your experiences with Studio Ghibli. I promise to get back to you ASAP. Until then stay safe. Stay happy.


  1. Not two of my faves, but great movies nontheless! Good on you Sir!

  2. I too loved Grave of the Fireflies! You definitely portray it well here - I have yet to see Totoro though... :(...but I look forward to it!

  3. Discovering Totoro is similar to that opening your Presents from Santa On Christmas morning. It's a gift to yourself!