It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Disney, but, more importantly, I am a huge fan of animation. I believe the stories told without “real world” boundaries are often some of the best (don’t start me on the overuse of C.G.I), and those written to be understood by young audiences are often the most sophisticated. In terms of American animation, I can happily talk for many an hour. However, I am aware of my lack of knowledge when it comes to more worldly animation. In order to combat this, I am broadening my animation palette so to speak. Studio Ghibli seemed the obvious place to start.
Studio Ghibli is a relatively young studio with humble beginnings as a anime studio in Japan in 1985. Over the last 33 years, they have become very well respected around the world for their feature films like Spirited Away, which went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. I sat down with an open and beyond curious mind to watch My Neighbour Totoro. It tells the simple yet bizarre story of a two sisters who move to a new house to find there is something a little strange about it, and its surroundings. Before long they discover Totoro, a giant, cuddly-looking growling teddy-bear-like-thing. At no point is he explained or justified, he just is, which is great.
Looking at it in terms of other animations I’ve watched, it was notably different. The whole energy of the film was the main thing I noticed to be distinctly different. A much slower pace was maintained as the film unfolded. There were no loud scenes or moments, it was somehow truer to life. It held a much more relaxed tone. The story telling was a lot less obvious than American films with the characters themselves hardly ever explaining the story. The fact that the main characters were human also made it, potentially, a little more hard-hitting. *minor spoiler ahead* The sisters’ mother is in a hospital throughout the film, which is covered in a really lovely, yet sad way. And while American animation does not stray away from heart-break, it is always that bit harder to swallow when it is real (human) people suffering the pain (need I mention UP). This film does that in a remarkable way. Everything was a lot more subdued than your average American animation; the colours, the music, the plot. But that’s what makes it special.
The other major difference was the bizarre factor. Totoro was very bizarre. Not in the “singing animals” bizarre like Disney often is, but in a genuine “what is going on” way. I had, of course, seen Totoro before, and found him to be adorable, which he is. But the noise that comes out of him is beyond unexpected, like a dinosaur and a traffic jam rolled into one. There is also the cat bus, that was odd. It is exactly the kind of wonderful oddness you expect to come out of Japan, and is something I found to be really excellent in this film.
While, there was definitely a large number of differences, there were also a number of similarities. The way the story was told was different, but it still maintains the fun element that animation brings. It was cute and uplifting and, overall, a bit of fun. Experiencing a different style and approach to animation is both refreshing and eye-opening, there really is a whole world out there.