When you hear of the word ‘Ghibli’, you may envision a certain round, grey and wide-eyed creature that goes by the name of Totoro. The titular character of the iconic Studio Ghibli film ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ and the face of the studio itself, you are likely to have chanced upon this cute being even if you have not yet watched the movie. Or perhaps it is the memorable character called No-Face, the enigmatic entity in the critically acclaimed and award-winning film ‘Spirited Away’, that springs to your mind.
Hayao Miyazaki is the man behind many of the tales that weave modern-day reality with threads of fantasy. At the age of 82, Miyazaki announced that the Boy and the Heron will be his absolute last animated feature film that he will create. Nevertheless, we know that the magic of Ghibli will live on through the ages because it captures the human heart and all the things that really matter.
Here’s how we can gift ourselves with what truly matters.
Magic in ordinary things
One would notice that many of the films are not embedded in some spectacular fantasy, but rather, set in normal scenarios where the characters experience the everyday notions of life; which is something most of us can resonate with.
Much of the screen time is dedicated to showing us viewers the carefully detailed scenes of characters engaging in simple run-of-the-mill tasks, such as cooking, taking a stroll in nature, visiting a convenience store or riding the train to school or work. These aspects of the movies are drawn in such a way that emphasises to us the beauty and intricacy in these fleeting moments that we typically overlook everyday. Despite the problems or emotions that character could be grappling with at the time, the environment around them carries on anyway, and they are able to continue on with their day.
This is shown intentionally to remind us that it’s okay to take the time out of our busy days to appreciate the small things around us, even when, or especially when, we are dealing with issues that seem overwhelming. At times it can seem like the weight of the world is on your shoulders and there is no way of moving forward. You may feel stuck or trapped in your situation with no way out; a sense of hopelessness that overrides your ability to continue about your day like normal. This is when you can take a breath, and turn your attention to the environment around you. Notice how life carries on and time still flows, despite how suffocating and overbearing your problems seem.
As the ghibli characters do, doing the small things in your routine like watering the plants or making your bed, or doing things that bring you happiness like reading or listening to music, can do a lot to help you get moving when you feel down.
Happiness can be derived from simple ordinary things in life
Spirited Away – Studio Ghibli
In Spirited Away, the character No-face became a menace to the people in the bath-house as he assimilated the greed and materialist ideals of that environment, representing the characters lack of self-concept and the need for external validation. His demeanor changed once Chihiro takes him to meet Zeniba where he learns to enjoy the simpler things.
Enjoy the moment
In a era where every generation showcases inhuman talent at a younger and younger age, many of us are caught up in the race to be even better and to step out into the world with even more to show for.
Do we still look at life through the curious lens of the 5 year old or 10 year old self? When was the last time we stopped to notice the flowers by the pathways, or to smell the freshness of the air after the rain. Are we running too fast and growing up too soon?
Psychologist Carl Jung asserted that the child hero archetype represents one’s journey in dealing with the struggles of growing up. When the child protagonist is faced with all-too familiar challenges and emotions that are difficult to grapple with, we are more likely to reflect on our own personal journeys and the ways we cope with our struggles. This self-reflection enables us to understand ourselves with a renewed perspective. This is one of the main ways that Studio Ghibli uses its characters as an avenue identify the journey that we are on and for us to seek comfort in our own lives.
Ghibli stories allows us to retain the untainted innocence of childhood renewing the awe and fascination at the world around us. A sense of child-like innocence reminiscent of simpler days before we were introduced to the reality of having to move into adulthood.
Howl’s Moving Castle – Studio Ghibli
Howl’s Moving Castle is a story of two people under a curse. Howl had eaten the fire demon in exchange for power. As the power grew Howl found it more and more difficult to revert back to his human form. Sophie however could see beauty in everyone and everything. Her compassion and acceptance was the magic that brought about the change in the characters in the story.
The popularity of Ghibli films lies in its universality, despite being situated within a Japanese context, as the journeys the characters endure are symbolic of the challenges that many of us face as we grow up
Most Ghibli characters are challenged to fit into the uncharted and alien terrain of adolescence, and sometimes, the uncertainty that consumes them as they step into adulthood. These films invite us to watch and resonate with the characters as they too navigate the complicated structures of society, laden with the weight of expectations placed on them, dealing with feelings of love and loss and everything in between, as our lives go on.
Across the many movies, we follow characters as they explore the imaginative world of looking at life through different lenses. When we take the time to reframe our negative thoughts about the situation we’re stuck in, understanding the pattern and emotions behind our thoughts, our problems may not seem as foreboding and would become easier to handle.
Whisper of the Heart – Studio Ghibli
Whisper of the Heart explores the fear of failure in the pursuit of your passion. Though the characters feel like their skills and talents are nowhere near good enough, they keep working hard to improve themselves and, at the same time, help each other become better people.
Beyond the facade of worldy accomplishment and accumulation, the gift of Ghibli is choosing to give what the human heart really longs for, acceptance, kindness, friendship and everything that differentiates us as human. Gift yourself what truly matters.
Jung, C. G. (1991). Psyche and symbol: A selection from the writings of C.G. Jung. Princeton University Press.