Studio Ghibli films – better than 3D

The entire family has come down with a bug. First my husband had a sore throat and cough 2 weeks ago, then my son had  a sore throat and a runny nose since Sunday. My middle child followed suit after about 2 days ago, and today my eldest got it. I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather for the past week too.

I had already booked tickets to IKEA’s Teddy Bears’ Picnic, which was to take place earlier today. My two younger ones really wanted to go, but they were so sniffly all day still, with a tissue up their noses, and my middle child has a cough too, so I just had to cancel. They might pass their germs on to someone if they went.

We stayed home and watched “Princess Mononoke“. It’s probably one of Studio Ghibli’s best films. Film 4 showed it some time earlier this year during one of those public holidays in Spring time – Easter, or maybe May Bank Holiday – I can’t remember very well now. But I remember trying to get the kids to try watching it at that time, and they pointblank refused. Said it seemed boring.

At that time, my kids were still pretty much used to current kids’ telly – all those 3D shows. Or cheeky, light entertainment like Spongebob Squarepants and Peppa Pig. 2D cartoons like the ones Studio Ghibli is so famous for were “alien” to them, and being used to 3D or bright flourescent colours in their shows meant that good ol’ 2D cartoons seemed boring and unable to stimulate them to engage at all.

But I grew up on 2D cartoons. I love anime. And I think so many of them are great. Many Studio Ghibli films in particular, have so much meaning and depth to them, and the pictures are simply beautiful. I thought it would be a pity if it just passed my kids by.

I started off by asking my kids if they wanted to take a look a couple of short clips on YouTube from the Studio Ghibli film “My Neighbour Totoro” because the characters were cute. I knew that would be something that would appeal to them, especially my animal-loving middle child, who is quirky and loves quirky stuff, and she loves fluffy furry animals, and the film is so quirky and involved cute, endearing animal-like creatures.

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She was hooked, even though the clips were really short. About 5 mins long each, and there were about 3 different Totoro clips we looked at together. She then told me she’d like to see the whole film. So I bought the DVD some time in July.

They were captivated by the film. Really loved it. Watched it several times again and again, revisiting some of the scenes they loved. The story itself actually has a much less benign background. It is based, apparently, on the tragic unsolved rape and murder of a Japanese schoolgirl whose corpse her poor sister had stumbled upon, along a dirt road one evening. Her sister was so traumatized by this that she eventually committed suicide. A man in the same village committed suicide when the police were roping in potential suspects, but the police ruled him out as the killer. And the man accused of murdering the girl was rumoured to be wrongly arrested simply because he was of the lowest caste in Japan at the time and the police picked him as an easy target. The police botched the investigation up as well.

When I watch”My Neighbour Totoro“, I get a different understanding from this story, because of this background. To me, it’s a really bittersweet story. But when my kids watch it, they only see the innocent joy and love in the show. Which to me, is part of the beauty of Studio Ghibli films like this. There is so much depth to it, it can appeal to everyone in different ways, there are so many layers in a Studio Ghibli film, like an onion.

I started a Lovefilm subscription soon after, so we could rent other Studio Ghibli films as well as other kids’ movies. Through our subscription, we rented “Kiki’s Delivery Service“.

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Kiki’s Delivery Service” had a slightly more grown-up theme compared to “My Neighbour Totoro“. It’s more like a coming-of-age film about teenagers. But all my kids loved the movie a lot because it is simply such an delightful film. They replayed it several times. Even my young son enjoyed it a lot.

So tonight we watched “Princess Mononoke“. Our second attempt since our first attempt in Spring, although none of my kids remembered the first time we tried watching this. To them, tonight was the first.

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This movie is pretty long, at just over 2 hrs playtime. And it is even more grown-up in it’s theme compared to “Kiki’s Delivery Service“. Some of the conversations between the characters in the show involved words that I’m pretty sure eluded my two younger ones, and I was a bit doubtful if my kids would have the mental stamina and patience to watch the entire movie.

It has a really nice orchestral soundtrack, really haunting, powerful visuals. And some pretty brutal warring scenes. Luckily my kids are not that squeamish, and they were not put off by that. And to my amazement, they watched the entire thing quietly and were completely besotted with it.

After the show, they talked about it excitedly. Mostly about the stunning visuals. Oh yes, the visuals were so superb, and so moving, that even a little child cannot fail to be entranced by it. Well it seems that my kids have fallen in love with the Studio Ghibli animation style by now.

Visuals aside, a lot of the deeper messages in the film – i.e. man vs. Nature and how nature always wins if man attempted to take full control, and how devastating the consequences can be if such a thing happened – were lost on my younger ones, it seemed. But that’s okay. If they ever remember it long enough, when they grow older, if they ever tried thinking about it, or rewatch it, they will get the message. It is a very strong environmental message. Do not mess with nature. Try to live side by side nature, and respect it. Respect it and it will respect us.

As for my eldest, who is typically a quiet girl, she might have gotten more out of it in terms of food for thought, but she just quietly watched it and sat there quietly when the show ended and the credits were rolling, thinking about it.

I’m pretty glad I introduced this particular genre of films to my kids. It makes all the 3D animation we see on kids’ tellies these days seem shallow and noisy, lacking in substance. Studio Ghibli films are works of art in and of themselves and have always garnered a tight cult following amongst film enthusiasts. And you know what? All 3 of these films we’ve watched together so far, made me want to cry. All of them. They were so moving. Alright, I guess maybe I’m just a bit sappy… but in my mind, introducing Studio Ghibli films to children is like introducing Jane Austen to teenagers –  it’s a must.

“I wanted to convey the message to children that this life is worth living,” – Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Thinking

 

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