Hayao Miyazaki has produced incredible, memorable animated movies through Studio Ghibli. His movies have won awards, are beloved by audiences and critics, and have some of the most stunning animation. But what, exactly, makes these movies so special? After doing some thinking — and research — here are three reasons why all Studio Ghibli movies are fantastic.
Movies are Based on Books, Stories, Folklore, Cultures, etc.
Many of Miyazaki’s films, such as Kiki’s Delivery Service and Howl’s Moving Castle, were originally books. They aren’t perfect adaptations — some scenes from Howl’s Moving Castle couldn’t be added, and the movie Tales From Earthsea took a different approach than the book — but they’re still wonderful. Others, such as The Grave of Fireflies, were based on short stories. Spirited Away, for example, draws from Japanese folklore and beliefs.
Drawing from so many sources is a great way to keep inspiration flowing and produce diverse content. The movies are magical but in different ways. Mary and the Witch’s Flower — based on The Little Broomstick — has witches who can use magic and ride brooms; The Castle in the Sky has a magical sky castle called Laputa; The Secret World of Arietty, inspired by The Borrowers has tiny people living near — and hiding from — regular-sized people. Because of the vast source material, the movies don’t follow a safe, generic pattern that focuses on monetary gains. Instead, each one is different from the one before, with a focus on bringing delight while also teaching the audience lessons.
Miyazaki Doesn’t Underestimate the Audience
Most of Miyazaki’s films are targeted toward children and teenagers, though adults enjoy them as well. This is because Miyazaki doesn’t try to make children’s movies; he just makes movies. He doesn’t underestimate children and assumes they can’t understand dark, complex themes. Princess Mononoke, for example, is an environmental piece depicting a war between forest gods and humans, showing hatred in many forms and presenting the fight not as one of good versus evil but rather as two different ideals pitted against each other. This complexity is usually absent in children’s movies, with an emphasis on good versus evil, right versus wrong, and easy themes that can be spoon-fed to children.
But the fact that Miyazaki refused to dumb down movies and themes for children, believing that they are capable of handling dark topics, also makes them perfect for viewers of all ages.
Incredibly High Standards for Each Movie
To ensure that each movie was successful, Miyazaki held each project to incredibly high standards. He is a perfectionist who has said that he can’t even watch his own films because all he sees are his own mistakes. He doesn’t want to have regrets, so he puts his all into each movie he creates. By creating new movies that build off the mistakes of the one before, he ensures that he will deliver quality content without letting his regret linger.
This pays off: his characters are realistic, the animations are gorgeous, and the movies are overall a delight to watch. Staving off regret by constantly improving is a pattern that works well for Miyazaki — and it may be one of the main reasons he has announced his retirement only to take it back several times in the last few decades. Perhaps he thinks he’s the only one who can direct movies that fit his high standards. One thing’s for sure: fans are certainly not disappointed.
Any Hayao Miyazaki movie is a treat to watch. Which one is your favorite?
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