Fears about the closure of the highly respected anime house, Studio Ghibli, began a year ago with Hayao Miyazaki’s confirmation of a rumor scattered at Venice Film Festival about his retirement.
Recently—as the celebrations and controversies about Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises (2013) simmered, and after the premier of Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s When Marnie Was There (2014)—Toshio Suzuki, new general manager of Studio Ghibli, made an announcement: When Marnie Was There will be the last Studio Ghibli feature film.
Suzuki claimed that the “brief pause” was to evaluate the needed restructure of the Studio, which was urged by Miyazaki’s departure. Despite the glimpse of hope the latter When Marnie Was There offered film fans, the Studio’s announcement made a considerable amount of Studio Ghibli’s faithful fans upset.
It seems that Studio Ghibli took the financial failure of 2013’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya as a sign of the above-mentioned restructure. This position can hardly be objectionable, however. Toshio Suzuki is, after all, a former producer, and Princess Kaguya’s director, Isao Takahata, is the other pillar of the studio’s reputation.
Truthfully, fans can hardly conceive the existence of Studio Ghibli without Hayao Miyazaki. After all, is not fortuitous that his most personal character happens to be the studio’s logo. Even something as miniscule as the Studio’s logo, die hard Ghibli fans may distrust films directed by different filmmakers—even if they are produced by the same Studio—as well as the future of a Studio without its master.
Nevertheless, the below entries are ten of the twelve Studio Ghibli feature films directed by filmmakers other than Hayao Miyazaki. While the below films are mediocre compared to Miyazaki’s superb pieces, some of them actually have been hailed by the specialized critics, as well as Studio Ghibli’s fans. Other films listed below were the first major developments of Studio Ghibli talents aside from Miyazaki’s and Takahata’s films.
Notwithstanding the failure of The Tale of Princess Kaguya, the next ten films can offer cinephiles firm hope about some of the Studio Ghibli’s potential without the direction of Hayao Miyazaki. Thus, the Studio’s alternative cinematic potentials listed below are the best and most dependable options for fans of Studio Ghibli and Japanese cinema.
10. Ocean Waves (Tomomi Mochizuki, 1993)
Ocean Waves follows Koichi’s high school students, Taku and Yutaka, as their life-long friendship is thwarted by the development of their mutual love interest for a new student, Rikako.
An anime television movie adapted from Saeko Himuro’s novel of the same name, Ocean Waves actually maintained its budget and deadline schedule. The film’s quality is questionable, however, especially since it was totally entrusted to Studio Ghibli’s novice staff.
Even with the pretty interesting character of Rikako, Ocean Waves holds the scandalous and belittling title of being Studio Ghibli’s first lousy project. Unfortunately, the final product caused some trouble for the film’s release because of the high hopes viewers had for the film’s translation of a classic and effective love triangle story.
If the film is such an atrocity, why should Ocean Waves be on this list? The answer is quite simple: while we cannot despise the quality potential of eventual products that may progressively count with less intervention of Studio Ghibli greatest minds, as Miyasaki’s departure seems to point, we cannot ignore the risky implications—a concern of the studio during its “brief pause.”
9. When Marnie Was There (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2014)
The story chronicles the life of a sensitive and lonely girl named Anna. She spends a summer in Norfolk where she meets the mysterious Marnie. Marnie shows Anna the meaning of true friendship—even if she constantly drifts in and out of Anna’s life.
Adapted from Joan G. Robinson’s novel of the same name, When Marnie Was There faced the ferocious undertow which resulted from Miyasaki’s brilliant The Wind Rises, Miyasaki’s retirement announcement, and responses to Studio Ghibli’s pause. This seems to be unfair because Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s film’s quality definitely compels viewers to take in account how much film fans will miss Studio Ghibli during its “brief pause.”
It might not have the energy of Yonebayashi’s awesome The Secret World of Arriety; yet, When Marnie Was There, is a solid exploration of friendship’s usual ups and downs that provides viewers hope about the artistic quality of an eventual reopening of Studio Ghibli.
8. My Neighbors the Yamadas (Isao Takahata, 1999)
My Neighbors the Yamadas’ widely acclaimed comic strip style is extraordinary. Yet, the viewers must remember that this comic strip style—certainly unusual in a Studio Ghibli film—adheres to an even more remarkable feature of the film: the plot.
The film is a fresh and openly critical satire of Japanese urban life. My Neighbors the Yamadas presents viewers with the hysterical adventures and misadventures of the Yamada family, who are challenged by the bustling city in which they live.
As the usual urban stress raises, so do the satire about topics such as familiar communication, paternalism, and the consecration of family in society. The satire presented in the film is hilarious and realistic, as viewers reflect about the place of family in an over-accelerated world.
7. Only Yesterday (Isao Takahata, 1991)
Targeted toward adults, especially women, Takahata’s Only Yesterday is a touching story of nostalgic and bittersweet evocations. Based upon Yuko Tone and Kei Okamoto’s manga, the film follows office worker, Taeko, as she faces the desolating scenario of reaching her thirties.
Twenty-seven years old and quite depressed—though not enough to notice the dangers of self-alienation and isolation—Taeko somehow escapes the familial pressure of marriage. Her family persistently urges her to find a mate before it is too late, but she resists their advice.
Leaving behind her daily routine, Taeko journeys across the countryside in which she spent her infancy. The locale represents and evocates key moments in her past, and it is her opportunity to remember who she really is in order to profoundly change her life.
6. The Cat Returns (Hiroyuki Morita, 2002)
It seems that Studio Ghibli has little problem producing spin-offs about one of the many lovely supporting characters found in their major films. However, this is not the case the cat character, Baron, from Whisper to the Heart (1995).
Born as “The cats’ project”—Studio Ghibli’s answer to a Japanese theme park’s persistent request about one short film featuring cats—The Cat Returns satisfied Whisper to the Heart’s fans’ increasing wishes about a film adapted from Shizuku’s novel.
Despite its obvious relation to Whisper to the Heart, The Cat Returns actually has an entirely different motif: the exploitation of the magic reduced to a product of Shizuku’s emerging talent in Whisper to the Heart. Undoubtedly, with this film, Hiroyuki Morita has proved his talent.
The film’s plot follows Haru, a shy high school student who helps a cat, but is captured and taken to a world in which she tries to escape. Facing the marriage of this Prince cat, Haru is trapped in a magical fantasy land ruled by these animals. Haru’s only chance of success is carried, of course, by her association with Baron the cat.