How Studio Ghibli weaves tales of fantasy and environmentalism
When one imagines a Studio Ghibli film, images of beautifully drawn landscapes and mythical creatures come to mind. There are rolling lush green hills, river streams flowing with crystal-clear water, and talking creatures gifting a word of wisdom or two to the characters. These images alone give the viewers a glimpse of how Hayao Miyazaki looks at nature and its surroundings.
Stunning visuals aside, avid fans of Miyazaki’s works would likely notice the themes of ecological preservation in most of his films. I had to admit that I didn’t catch on to these messages when I first started watching them back in my high school years, but as I grew older and got more involved in beach clean-ups, I started noticing the messages of habitat conservation while rewatching his works. What I find fascinating about Miyazaki’s approach is that he almost exclusively portrays environmentalist messages through his films. In his interviews, Miyazaki rarely explores his own identity as an environmentalist. Instead, the influential animator reserves this focus for his films, emphasising these themes through colourful settings and inventive characters. The works of Studio Ghibli often highlight the importance of preserving the environment so that future generations will get to enjoy these landscapes for years to come.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
An exiled prince ravaged by the curse of an avenging deity and a girl raised by wolves work together to save a vulnerable forest from eradication. This film explores the consequences of greed and desire, and the resulting loss of humanity. This clouding of judgement is illustrated through Lady Eboshi and Jigo, with these character arcs creating a valuable moral lesson. Princess Mononoke shows that we should respect our fellow humans, as well as the planet and the life that it contains, while trying our very best to live side by side with one another. Every decision that we make will have an impact on the next set of events. Only with empathy can the circle of hatred and destruction be put to an end.
A thought-provoking work encouraging self-reflection.
Pom Poko (1994)
Don’t let these cherub raccoons fool you. I watched this film thinking I’d have a good laugh and came out of it with swollen eyes. Narrated in the form of a documentary, Pom Poko tells the story of a group of shape-shifting raccoons who are trying to prevent urban development from destroying their homes. This film forces viewers to empathise with animals who are directly suffering from the consequences of deforestation; many of them driven to extinction every year. How would we feel if we see our homes taken away without our permission?
Raccoons teach us how humans and nature can co-exist peacefully. Get tissues ready!
Spirited Away (2001)
This is the film that earned Studio Ghibli their first Academy Award in 2003. Spirited Away was not very in-your-face about environmentalism. Much of the characters were inspired from tales of Shintoism (indigenous Japanese faith), and how human consumption devastated the natural ecosystem of their once idyllic habitat, such as the river dragon spirit Haku. Much like Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away explores how greed and self-interest continue to destroy our homes. While it is inevitable that human population will continue to grow and we will have to use the Earth’s resources, perhaps we can find better ways to utilise them wisely.
How much is too much, before it’s too late?
My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
Contrary to the other works, which centre on capitalism and its devastating effects for Mother Nature, the main message of My Neighbour Totoro is that when children are taught from a young age to love Earth and the life it provides, they are more likely to care for the environment. This is portrayed through two sisters, Satsuki and Mei, discovering a camphor tree and meeting its mythical spirits. The film also paints the sad relationship between city urbanisation and the declining health of its inhabitants, revealed as the sisters’ family moves to the countryside in hopes of improving their mother’s health.
Cultivating the importance and love for Mother Nature in children will have long-lasting impacts on the longevity of Earth and its population.