The Immersive Realism of Studio Ghibli

By  · Published on January 4th, 2017

An examination of the efficacy of Miyazaki’s worldbuilding.

One of the most distinct differences between good movies and great movies is how well they construct their respective worlds. This worldbuilding is what makes something like Tim Burton’s Batman great and Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever utter crap. In the former film, the director has fully-realized the world of his protagonist, he has imbued it with character separate from the story’s participants, and made it a living, breathing entity that pulls the audience completely inside it. We aren’t just watching the film, we’re experiencing it, that’s how vibrant, cohesive, and distinct the details are.

In the latter film, the director bought a bunch of neon spray paint and black lights and reduced the world to a campy caricature, a parody of what it had been, and as such the artifice was glaringly obvious, reducing the audience’s ability to suspend their disbelief and immerse themselves in the film.

Using Batman movies to introduce a video on Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli might seem like an odd thing to do, but the following essay from Asher Isbrucker deals with the revered animator’s ability to efficiently and effectively craft fully-immersive worlds, and so good is Miyazaki at this that I couldn’t find a pair of contrasting examples among his work. The first thing every single Studio Ghibli film does is to establish the veracity of its world, even if that world is drastically different from our own. The distinct Ghibli style and the fervent attention to detail Miyazaki and his animators employ help to make even the most fantastical realms real, they create a tactile link to the world we already know, and allow us to make the imaginative leap while barely noticing the transition. It’s a fine balance and not one every storyteller can strike so directly every time. Yet like the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, another master of magical and immersive realism, Miyazaki does, and it’s the key facet to the far-reaching impact of his films.

If you’re a Ghibli fan, a filmmaker, a writer, or anyone who enjoys great stories and how they come to be, you owe yourself this video.

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