May 06, 2018

Studio Ghibli's early 90s "modern" era

I wish Studio Ghibli had done more films with contemporary settings. Obviously they're known for doing fantasy really well, and I would never argue that they don't deserve that reputation, but my favourite Ghibli era is that window in the early 90's when they dabbled in more down-to-earth 'modern day' stories -- mainly Whisper of the Heart, Only Yesterday and Ocean Waves. It was probably the peak of their efforts to become a well-rounded studio instead of just being Hayao Miyazaki's backing band -- it's when they started hiring people as full-time employees rather than freelancers for project-specific short-term contracts, and tried to nurture younger talent. Before that they weren't really financially established enough to risk giving the reins to less experienced staff, and afterwards they increasingly became the "Miyazaki-brand fantasy factory" especially once that brought them a bigger audience in the rest of the world. Not that I can blame them-- I don't know if any of Takahata's movies ever made a profit. But artistically I think Ghibli's 'B-movies' are some of their most interesting films.

I just learned Pom Poko was the number one movie in Japan of 1994, and the Japanese submission for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards. So Takahata didn't always flop financially!]

None of them are directed by Miyazaki, so they're less publicized and consequently I didn't get around to seeing them until after I'd gone through the "main" Ghibli canon. Miyazaki's fantasies are so synonymous with Ghibli that the rest of the catalogue almost feels like the work of a different studio. I wish people were more aware of these great slice-of-life films, but fantasy always seems to be an easier sell in animation. Of course Pom Poko is nothing if not a fantasy film, but it also has some beautiful scenes of urban life. And Whisper of the Heart was written and storyboarded by Miyazaki, and he was a producer on Only Yesterday, so I don't mean to say he wasn't part of these films too. I think in general he was so critical and resentful of modern culture that he avoided focusing on it in most of his work though.

Anyway, this whole post was just an excuse to share some frames I like from Pom Poko. Enjoy!