The Amazing Studio Ghibli Part 1: Pre-Ghibli and the 1980s

People following my Twitter know that recently most of my free time as of late has gone into playing the PS3 game Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. This absolute beauty of a JRPG has made me absolutely giddy at nearly every turn with its brilliant combat system and wonderful story. But what makes me even more giddy, more so than any of that, is the art of this game. It’s gorgeous, beautiful, stunning, and every other possible word along that same meaning. Level-5 has always done visually interesting games with their Professor Layton series, but they took it a bit farther for this one.

Somehow Level-5 got in good with the art gods and managed to snag the biggest thing that makes this game so visually amazing, managed to get what I’m sure nobody actually thought they’d be able to get: they got Studio Ghibli. One of the most accomplished animation studios in the world does the art for this gorgeous game and it shows, not just from their distinctive characters who share the iconic Ghibli design, but also from the sheer beauty of the landscapes and animals. Not only that but Ghibli even spared their best composer, Joe Hisaishi, to write the score. Layton’s writers and Ghibli’s everything else? This game is a god damned match made in heaven!

I am unnaturally excited every time I boot up this game, and it’s really put me into a Ghibli mood. So, here I am again with another attempt at written content! Let’s talk some Ghibli and their films, shall we? This will come in three parts, the first dealing with their beginnings and their films in the 1980s.

And yes, before I am asked, I have seen all of these. Two of them I only saw as these articles were being written, but I have seen every single one of these films. Let us begin after the break!


Before Studio Ghibli was a thing, there was only the now very well known Hayao Miyazaki. In 1982 Miyazaki, had begun writing a manga that was published in Animage magazine. He had published it there in hopes that an animation studio would pick it up and produce it into an anime. Eventually he was approached by Tokuma Shoten, who owned the magazine in which it was published. They suggested that instead of an anime, the manga should be adapted into a full length animated film. At first, Miyazaki refused but eventually changed his mind under the condition that he be the director of this film.

So they brought on a good amount of animators, including Hideaki Anno who would later go on to direct Neon Genesis Evangelion (a fact I did not actually know until I started researching for this article) and production on the film began.


(1985, directed by Hayao Miyazaki)

While not technically a Ghibli film, Nausicaa is still worth talking about simply because it is the movie that started it all. Without this film, there wouldn’t be a Studio Ghibli and I hate to even think of the parallel universe where that was a thing.

The film follows the adventures of Princess Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (LIKE THE TITLE OF THE MOVIE, HOW BOUT THAT) in a post apocalyptic world. It’s been one thousand years since a massive war almost wiped out mankind and covered most of Earth with what are called “toxic jungles.” These jungles have become home to giant mutated insects that pose a great threat to the surviving humans with settlements outside of the jungles. The air itself is even poisonous in these jungles. In other words, it’s not a fun place to live.

The biggest of the giant insects are the Ohmu, who devour everything in their path.

Eventually, Nausicaa gets involved with a large amount of political turmoil as another settlement unleashes an ancient weapon and tries to eradicate the insects with it. What unfolds is a movie filled with environmental messages and clever designs. It was originally brought into the west as “Warriors of the Wind” which went straight to VHS and aired on HBO. It unfortunately received the same treatment most anime got back then. The producers decided to cut certain parts out and change up the plot to make it into a more kid friendly movie. The result was not very good, and Studio Ghibli has since asked the world to forget it even happened. The movie was re-released uncut and redubbed in 2005, and is to this day, the reason for Ghibli’s strict “no edits” policy for western releases.

The movie did so well that Hayao Miyazaki (the man everybody knows) teamed up with Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki (the men nobody know) and established Studio Ghibli. The studio was named after the arabic name for a wind in the Mediterranean. This name was chosen because the studio wanted to blow a new wind through the Japanese animation industry, and from then on did a damn fine job of it.


(1986, directed by Hayao Miyazaki)

Following the success of Nausicaa and the creation of Studio Ghibli, they began work on their first film. Laputa: Castle in the Sky is a film about a boy named Pazu who’s dream is to find the floating city of Laputa to prove that his father wasn’t a crazed nutcase. Along the way, he’s joined by a girl named Sheeta. The two encounter pirates, the military, and robots on their way and eventually do make it to the floating city. Which happens to be one of the most beautiful settings in any of their movies, in my opinion.

The flying city of Laputa.

This one is Ben’s personal favorite Ghibli film, and for damn good reason. When I started really watching them, this was the first on my list. It’s got a great setting, fantastic characters, and the Disney dub even features Mark Hamill, which should be reason enough for anybody. Unfortunately, while the movie was a rather big success in Japan, it didn’t really do all that well in other countries. The only English dub that existed for a long time only played on airline flights to and from Japan, and the Disney dub we know today wasn’t recorded until 1998. Even then it wasn’t actually released until 2005.

Even so, Castle in the Sky is in fact one of their best, and the success in Japan allowed them to make their next two films.


(1988, directed by Isao Takahata)

Considered perhaps one of the most depressing animated films in existence, Fireflies takes place in Japan during World War II and follows a young boy and his little sister after the death of their mother. While most people consider it an anti-war film, many critics and even the director seem to think otherwise (though, what else it could be I haven’t the faintest idea). It’s sad, powerful, and downright angering sometimes. Roger Ebert even considers it one of the greatest war films ever made.

Despite all this, Grave of the Fireflies was not a success in the box office. This was not only because the harsh subject matter turned away many potential viewers, but also because it happened to come out at the same time as another film from Studio Ghibli…


(1988, directed by Hayao Miyazaki)

Released at the same time as Fireflies and on the exact opposite side of the emotional spectrum, My Neighbor Totoro was Ghiblis first marketing success. The movie follows a family having just moved into a new house and the two little girls who live there meeting a group of forest spirits known as Totoros. This movie provided the studio with their current mascot, and a never ending supply of iconic creatures to provide merchandise of, from Totoro to Catbus (who still creeps me the ever living hell out).

LOOK AT THAT MONSTROSITY. It haunts my dreams even to this day!

While the movie was again not a huge success internationally, it was a large enough success within Japan to completely overshadow Grave of the Fireflies. Outside of Japan, it was the first instance of Miyazaki’s harsh attitude towards any edits. He required that no part of the story be changed, all characters kept their original names (with the exception of Catbus, whose name was translated into English so they could have an understandable name), and no edits to the animation could be made. While an English dub existed and was released in 1993, the dub most people know nowadays was released by Disney in 2005.

This was Ghibli’s first big success and is often considered responsible for bringing Japanese animation into the international eye. Totoro is often compared to Mickey Mouse in terms of being iconic in the realms of animation. However, it still wasn’t enough to cement the position the studio has today. In order to achieve that they first had to go for one more film…


(1989, directed by Hayao Miyazaki)

The story of a young witch named Kiki who must go off and live on her own for a year to figure out what she wants to do with her life and powers. It was the first and still the only film by the studio to be written, directed, and produced by Miyazaki himself. Like Castle in the Sky, the original English dub was made specifically for Japanese airlines, but eventually Disney redubbed the movie and released it again in 1998.

For the record, Kiki’s cat Jiji is the best character in the movie.

While the Disney dub often comes under scrutiny by many fans, it’s still a solid film and actually used to be my personal favorite of the bunch. Kiki was Ghibli’s first massive international success, the Disney dub even going so far as being the most widely rented VHS in Blockbusters across America for its entire first week of availability. This film is often the one credited for being the one that put Ghibli on the map outside of Japan, and they were just getting started…

So join me again next week as we get into Ghibli’s films of the 1990s! Meanwhile, I’m gonna go play some more Ni No Kuni. You all stay beautiful until then, okay?