I have been a big fan of Studio Ghibli for around a decade (I just shuddered and feel really rather old). I love the clever cinematography applied to animated characters and scenes, that managed to capture a feeling or essence. Nothing is over drawn (unless really required), everything feels subtle but without any confusion as to what expression the characters have or the feeling behind their words and movements. The scenes seamlessly move along, telling the story, weaving a narrative, in a way that is delicate and well crafted. Watching a Ghibli film, you can absolutely feel the love and care which has gone into creating a masterpiece- which lets face it, most of the Ghibli films are.
My passion for Ghibli films isn’t outstripped by many things, but it is clearly surpassed by my love for my daughter (obviously). There are so many things I love about her and being a parent, but don’t panic this isn’t going to turn into an ode to my terrific toddler. One of my favourite experiences of parenthood is sharing the things I love with her. I love when she wants to wear my jewellry, or watch motorsport or tennis, and I love when she is happy to read stories I loved as a child (Paddington, Peter Rabbit, Whatever Next). It’s gratifying to have the person you created want to share in your interests, what’s the saying? Imitation is the highest form of flattery? Hard to argue.
Studio Ghibli films are one area of my geekiness I have been able to share with her from a young age. She has probably been properly watching films, i.e. paying attention and following the stories, not just having it on in the background, for around a year now. We made the very obvious call early on – Disney films as the place to start. Frozen was her very first favourite, swiftly followed by Toy Story and she still has a pretty strong love for that one. It was around this time last year that I decided she might just like one of the really colourful and light hearted Ghibli films. On a day stuck inside with sickness, feeling I might slowly peel my eyes out layer by layer if I had to watch Woody and Jesse swing from under the plane onto Bullseye and Buzz again (don’t get me wrong, I love those films, but there’s only so many times), I decided we needed a change. So I put on Ponyo.
I’ve often referred to Ghibli as Japanese Disney films to those that have no clue, although that isn’t really doing the Ghibli brand justice. Ponyo is in many ways similar to the Little Mermaid, but in a lot of ways it really isn’t. It uses a bright colour palette which is engaging to a younger child, and the theme song is actually just a bouncy and catchy as ‘Your Welcome’ of Dwayne-The-Rock-Maui-Johnson fame. The actual story without any context sounds a little like a dark Disney film, but the context of the animations and the way the creators are able to suspend disbelief and bring magic in, gives it an overall sweet feel. It’s not without its heart-wrenching moments, we watched Ponyo recently for the first time in a while and when Ponyo’s Dad (Liam Neeson) manages to sweep her back out to sea, leaving a bereft Sosuke heart-broken, the little lady turned to me for cuddle, with actual tears in her eyes and told me ‘Sosuke is sad because Ponyo is lost’. I worried briefly that I might have caused her untold trauma, but she asked for ice cream thirty seconds later so I figured the damage had been short lived.
Another Ghibli film with a very similar light feel to the story, although I don’t say that to diminish either, is Kiki’s Delivery Service. Aside from the fact that the title has the slightly irksome feel of being something you might spot on a higher number channel around midnight, it’s ideal for a younger audience. Much like Ponyo the romance or love element of the story focuses on friendship, but the main focus of the story is growing up and finding a place in the world. The story is trying in places, and I’m sure some of the tribulations go over the head of my toddler, but the talking cat Gigi and frequent broomstick flights are entertaining enough to hold her attention. I love it because it’s an easy watch for me, it doesn’t require my concentration or huge emotional investment, and that’s exactly what makes it ideal for little geeks.
Magic is clearly a theme interwoven through all of the Ghibli films, and the final one on my list today has magic in less subtle doses. My Neighbour Totoro, probably one of the most famous films from the studio, is a really obvious pick just due to the giant rabbit-bear creature that is Totoro, which any child would immediately want a cuddly version of. [NOTE: My daughter as managed to procure my Totoro cuddly toy… my love for sharing with her is occasionally tested!] This is one where the story line is less of a draw for kids, it’s actually quite complex, but the lovable nature of the two main girls, the frequent appearance of magical creatures who are inviting and fun, is a clear winner. The Cat Bus is always entertaining, and the outright nature of the whimsy in this film, feels exactly like it could have been lifted straight from a child’s imagination. My daughter has told me she wants to use a leaf as an umbrella in the rain, and whilst it’s the one that we’ve watched least, I’m sure it will become a firm favourite in the next few years. Oh, and a toddler saying Totoro might just be the cutest thing ever.
Ok, I promised this wouldn’t be a love letter to my daughter, but it is a sort of love letter to Studio Ghibli. I adore the films, Howl’s Moving Castle was my pick for favourite film in the first Geekstalkers article, and Spirited Away is not far behind it. But I am immensley grateful to the creators for making films I can share with my daughter at such a young age. There is so much of my geekdom I am itching to share with her – how young is too young to start on Harry Potter? – but that I’ve got a bit of a wait before I can. Studio Ghibli have given me something that they didn’t intend, I’m sure, but that is actually far more important that my own enjoyment… they’ve given me the unrivalled gift of memories of happy times, of watching my daughter’s love for something I love grow, and the knowledge the seeds have been sewn – I have window to the future of sharing other favourites of mine, even if I know she won’t love them all!
I’m going to end the article on a word of advice. Unless you are prepared for serious counselling needs, I strongly suggest you avoid watching Grave of the Fireflies with any little ones. I also strongly suggest you only watch it when you are feeling particularly emotionally resilient, and have a pretty plentiful supply of tissues. Dave is still pretty scarred from watching that one, it’s another beautiful film with a really heart-felt story, but my goodness it is tough going.
Please let me know what films you’ve shared with your kids, or what other areas of geek life you’ve managed to involve them in! Tweet us @JackGeekstalk or comment below.