Studio Ghibli has had a profound effect on the animation industry over the years. But as famous as they are, there’s a lot you don’t know about them.
It’s not a surprise that many of us wish that our lives were like a Studio Ghibli film.
Studio Ghibli films have a charm of their own. Most of them are wholesome, without being overtly sentimental and they teach us important lessons about life, as well as remind us not to take the little moments for granted. Often, they carry socially relevant messages that gently nudge us to pause and think deeper about certain issues.
In addition to being aesthetically delightful, they are also laden with Easter eggs and several of the films have interesting backstories that are almost as fascinating as the movies themselves.
How many of these fun facts do you already know?
10. Miyazaki’s Inspiration For Princess Mononoke Came From Diverse Sources
Princess Mononoke (1997) has often been hailed as Studio Ghibli’s best and most nuanced of all films, especially for its strong critique of environmental destruction and war, themes that were also explored in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984). Being a pacifist throughout his life, Miyazaki’s inspiration to make this film came from a variety of sources.
Firstly, he was impacted by the wars in former Yugoslavia that contributed to the strong anti-war tone in the film. A manga called “Mudmen” that refers to the Asaro Mudmen from Papua New Guinea perhaps provided the basis for the conception of San and the Spirit of the Forest. Miyazaki’s own childhood encounters with blacksmiths in turn led to the creation of Irontown in the film.
Finally, John Ford’s westerns also provided some ideas and the magical forest depicted in the film was inspired by the Shiratani Unsuiky forest in Japan.
9. A Worm Was Named After The Catbus In My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro (1988) is a heart-warming film that can be re-watched anytime to rediscover the magic of childhood. It also showcased the Ghibli mascot as a forest spirit that loves cuddles, affection and children.
While the figure of Totoro itself is a mixture of several animals (including a racoon, cat and an owl), a species of velvet worms (Eoperipatus totoro) in the animal kingdom has been named after its resemblance to the Catbus- another beloved character in the film.
8. The Water In Ponyo Was Hand-Drawn By Miyazaki
Almost every frame in a Ghibli film is a work of art in itself- beautifully detailed and illustrated that captures a small moment in life. And it appears that Miyazaki seems to prefer the personal and traditional touch of hand-drawn animation over CGI imagery.
In fact, his attention to detail is so on-point that he drew most of the waves and the sea in Ponyo On The Cliff (2008) by himself. The film which is loosely based on the “Little Mermaid” fairytale literally features the director’s own artistry.
7. The Tale Of Princess Kaguya Is Based On An Anonymous Science Fiction Fairytale
The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013) is one of Ghibli’s more recent efforts. It tells a poignant story about a magical princess who must return to her immortal realm on the moon following a bittersweet stay on the planet.
However the story isn’t a Ghibli original, but based on an anonymous Japanese folktale dating back to 1592. The story has been characterized as a proto science fiction story on account of its references to the moon and the fact that Princess Kaguya or “Lil’ Bamboo” is technically an extraterrestrial being.
Moreover, it has been adapted onscreen before- Princess of the Moon (1987) and Claire (2001), both of which are live-action films.
6. The Character Of Howl From Howl’s Moving Castle Is Different In The Book
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) which is based on the book of the same name by British fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones is perhaps one of the Ghibli films that are more well-known to western audiences. It’s a rather unusual and pretty colorful love story and the characters of Sophie Hatter (who is cursed to look like an aged woman) and Howl (a young wizard) have been particularly praised.
However, the character of Howl as he appears in the film is notably different from the book. For one, Howl in the book is more vain and prone to throwing tantrums while Howl in the movie has the vibe of a somewhat brooding Byronic hero. Moreover, the movie Howl can also transform himself into a bird.
5. The Same Characters Appear Across Films If You Can Spot Them
There are some creatures that reappear in Ghibli films and you have to be an astute fan to spot them.
For instance, near the end of The Secret World of Arietty (2010), when Arietty and her family leave the house in search of a new home, there’s a racoon in that scene. The same racoon appeared in Pompoko (1994).
Similarly, the fox squirrel that was seen near the robot in Laputa’s garden in Castle In The Sky (1986) had previously appeared in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984).
4. Gaiman Wrote Two Scripts For Ghibli And Miramax
Princess Mononoke (1997) was immensely successful, broke numerous records, and even made Ghibli films familiar to a western audience. In fact, Neil Gaiman was hired with the task of adapting the Japanese script to English.
However, while Ghibli wanted Gaiman to retain the Japanese flavor and cultural nuances, Miramax wanted the script to be westernized. Unable to reach a compromise, Gaiman wrote two scripts for the two companies and let them figure out the rest.
3. Porco Rosso Was Supposed To Be An In-Flight Film.
Porco Rosso (1992) wasn’t supposed to be a full-length film. It was originally planned as a short in-flight film for the Japan Airlines of 30 to 45 minutes. However the war in Yugoslavia that had recently broken out made the director consider a more serious and extensive approach.
Set during the 1930s, the film follows the adventures of a war veteran who presently freelances as bounty hunter, who is suddenly transformed into a pig. The title literally translates to “Red Pig” in Italian.
Nevertheless, before the film was released in the theaters, it was showcased as an in-flight film.
2. Kiki Is Almost Hit By A Bus Named “Studio Ghibli”
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) follows the adventures of young Kiki, a loveable witch who moves into the city and begins a flying courier service as well as makes new friends on the way.
There’s a scene near the beginning of the film where she’s almost hit by a passing bus. Now that would have been a pretty unremarkable detail had it not been for the fact that the bus bore the name “Studio Ghibli” on it.
That’s a pretty clever self-insert, don’t you think?
1. Whisper Of The Heart Has A Spin-Off Sequel
The numerous Easter Eggs also seems to suggest that all Ghibli films are set more-or-less in the same universe, due to the many meta-references and the reappearances of familiar faces.
For instance, Whisper Of The Heart (1995) is a beautiful coming-of-age romance film that ends with a happily ever after. The heroine in the film Shizuku is a passionate bookworm and she meets her future boyfriend when she notices that a certain Seiji is the one who had checked out her library books.
Her love for reading also gives way for her talent for writing and she even writes a fantasy story. And it seems that stories do have a life of their own. For example, there’s a scene in the library where she is looking for a new book and one of the books on the shelf is called “Totoro”- a not-so-subtle reference to My Neighbor Totoro (1988).
Moreover the cat figurine “The Baron” that features in her fantasy novel also appears The Cat Returns (2002) which is a sort of spin-off sequel to the film. There’s another stray cat Muta who is introduced in there and who appears in The Secret World of Arietty (2010).
Looks like the Ghibli films are all full of interconnected and delightful secrets!