I love Studio Ghibli films.
The beautiful animations, the stories of the relationships between humans, their environment and a magical realm, and above all the beautiful friendships among female characters of these films are like chicken soup for my soul.
I was introduced to these films by my sister, who while studying graphic design as an undergraduate saw Spirited Away (2001), fell in love with it and introduced me to the magical world of Hayao Miyazaki, the creator of these films.
My Neighbour Totoro (1988) quickly became one of our favourites from the collection. The story is about the life of two young sisters who move into a new house in rural Japan with their father, in order to be closer to their mom’s hospital as she convalesces there. In their new place, they meet a magical forest creature named Totoro.
The movie is about love: the love between sisters, between a father and his daughters, between people who help each other, between people and the forest and their respect for things they don’t always understand nor have words to explain.
The movie is love. It’s Miyazaki’s love for children and their imaginative world drawn and painted in beautiful animation. In the love he shows for and among the female characters of his stories, Miyazaki shows himself as a feminist, an environmentalist, a justice-advocate, and a marvelous storyteller.
I visited Japan a few years ago, and before visiting Japan I wondered at the imagination of Miyazaki and how he can draw such magical beings and beautiful scenery. After visiting Japan, it was difficult not to see magical creatures all around us. We were surrounded by beauty and magic in the temples, the shrines, the mountains, the rice fields, the trees, the forest, and the people. Japan is a magical place.
On our visit to Takayama, a city in the heart of Japan’s mountains, as me, my partner and my sister were walking in the forest rain began to pour on us. We sat near a small shrine while the enormous leaves of the trees sheltered us from the rain. When they couldn’t hold the droplets any more, we took out our umbrellas and sat listening to the rain drops, feeling and thinking that Totoro might show up any moment needing an umbrella too.
If you haven’t seen these movies, allow me to be their ambassador. The films could be designed into a course for your children (and yourself) as the days and the months of the pandemic drag on. I invite you to travel with me to Japan through these stories of love, loss, and belonging. Although some of the following movies do not take place in Japan, the characters are steeped in Japanese culture.
Here are some of my favourites, (other than My Neighbour Totoro):
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) – the adventures of a young witch whom on her quest to be independent learns how independence is achieved through relations with other people, especially the friendships with other women.
Porco Rosso (1992) – a story of a middle-aged WWII hero, whose face has been changed by a curse (the war) and whom with the help of his young female engineer attempts to reckon with the past.
Only Yesterday (1991) – a travel back and forth in time by a young woman who is revisiting her childhood home and is remembering the stories of yesterday.
Princess Mononoke (1997) – a more serious movie about the greed of humanity, capitalism, and environmental degradation. A boy travels far to find the cause of a disease that is spreading in his community and finds a superhero: Princess Mononoke who runs with wolves and tries to save the forest.
From Up on Poppy Hill (2011) – a high school love story.
When Marnie was there (2014) – a girl, her new friend, and family stories and history.
Travel with me.
I hope your travels nourish you with the love, care, and the beauty of these stories.