2020 is a banner year for Japan’s beloved Studio Ghibli, the production house behind some of the world’s most respected and beloved animated films. Founded in 1985 by directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, and producers Toshio Suzuki and Yasuyoshi Tokuma, Ghibli has produced many of Japan’s top box-office earners of all time. It’s earned worldwide acclaim for features like the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, the children’s classic My Neighbor Totoro, and the stunningly ambitious Princess Mononoke. It’s consistently pushed the artistic boundaries of cel animation and animated storytelling, with sweet fairy tales aimed at children, and grim fantasies meant for adults.
But until recently, Ghibli had banned digital purchase or distribution of its films, which were only available in theatrical release, or through physical media for home viewing. As Suzuki recently told Entertainment Weekly, ‘I always believed that films should be seen in movie theaters. We were very hesitant about expanding that even further [beyond] physical packages.”
That changed in December 2019, when most of Ghibli’s films became available on digital rental and sales platforms for the first time. 2020 is seeing a broad streaming-platform rollout of the studio’s works, with Netflix showing Ghibli movies outside the United States, and HBO’s new expanded online service, HBO Max, launching with most of the films on its platform. That’s going to mean a profound new accessibility for a slate of films that, until now, were only available at film festivals and in repertory release, through a short-lived run of Disney-produced DVDs or a higher-quality series of GKIDS discs. For most people, having instant, convenient access to Ghibli’s library will be an invitation into an entirely new world of animation.
Which is why Polygon’s entertainment section is celebrating May 25-30 as Ghibli Week, through a series of explorations that dig into the studio’s history and highlights, its running themes and bigger experiments, and its greatest moments and keenest observations. We won’t cover every Ghibli film in depth, but we will look at the most beloved classics, and explore how they fit into the studio’s familiar running obsessions. We’ll consider how Ghibli deals with certain ideas and emotions in ways that feel unique for children’s films, and discuss some of the creators behind the films.
We’ll also look at Ghibli’s fraught relationship with Walt Disney Studios, which for many years controlled its output in the U.S., and struggled to understand how to market these films to an audience used to Disney’s specific brand of animation. We’ll talk about Ghibli’s animation style, its music, the films’ use as a coping mechanism, and whole lot more. We hope you’ll follow along with us as we celebrate what Studio Ghibli has accomplished.
And part of that is coming to understand Miyazaki and Takahata as creators. Over its 21 feature-length films to date (with Miyazaki slowly, painstakingly working on a 22nd), Ghibli did eventually bring in other directors, including Miyazaki’s son Goro for Tales from Earthsea, From Up on Poppy Hill, and the TV series Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter. But Miyazaki and Takahata defined the studio — Miyazaki with his unusual worldview and fascination with certain moral stances and visual motifs, Takahata with his relentless experimentation and envelope-pushing. Through their films in particular, we’re hoping to explore Ghibli’s impact on animation and its fans around the world. We love Ghibli’s work, and we’re looking forward to helping even more of the world discover it, understand it, and become obsessed with it.