Studio Ghibli on Netflix
Amy Butterworth shares some of the very best Studio Ghibli productions now available on Netflix.
Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation house renowned for bringing magic and charm to an international, inter-generational audience had, until recently, been adamant against licensing their films to any streaming platforms. This had been attributed to founder Hayao Miyazaki, self-proclaimed “man of the 20th century”, of whose company holds the belief that “presentation is vital, and particularly appreciate opportunities for audiences to experience the films together in a theatrical setting”.
However, fans who have either had to wait patiently for Film4 showcases, Picturehouse Vintage Sundays, or perhaps even buying a physical copy of the films, would have been pleased to hear that they have finally agreed to take the plunge into the 21st century by breaching the streaming world, unsurprisingly alongside streaming powerhouse Netflix.
Japanese animation gives you the opportunity to dip your toe into any and all genres your heart desires
Titles that may have tinged your childhood with wonder, as immersive magical realism abounded, are films like Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Princess Mononoke – these are just some of the titles you may have noticed appear on your Netflix. They are lauded for childlike whimsicality, while still being able to tackle more complex themes of man vs nature, freedom, identity and love. Lesser known titles (but nevertheless worthy of praise) now available to stream are Castle in the Sky (for those who appreciated Howl’s’ nod to steampunk aesthetics, this is one for you). Or perhaps if feelgood films are more your schtick, Kiki’s Delivery Service never fails to leave a Cheshire-cat (or Jiji the cat?) like smile on the audience’s face. However, an absence amongst this famed roster of films is notorious World War II film Grave of the Fireflies – if you are able to get your hands on this, do; the animation does not in any way hinder or act as a wall to the humanity of its characters.
Studio Ghibli’s insurgence into the mainstream will certainly provide a gateway for many newcomers to explore Japanese animation (more colloquially termed “anime”) for the first time. Being able to choose between a host of dub and sub options no doubt widens the appeal. However, to cohesively sum up “anime”, as its own medium, would be as if to reduce the entirety of western Hollywood productions to a singular film.
Thus, Japanese animation gives you the opportunity to dip your toe into any and all genres your heart desires. Whilst we have seen a rise of ‘adult’ cartoons in western media (Bojack Horseman and Archer immediately come to mind), anime got there decades before us, as animation never carried the same signifier of children’s entertainment – they’re miles away from Disney. And so, artistic styles vary in such intricate ways, even within the same animation houses: a Studio Ghibli film, oozing with vibrant colour, intricate shapes, detailed backgrounds and charm, is radically different from the dark, pallid colour scheme of psychological thriller series Death Note, chopped up with symbolic colour splashes and minimal backgrounds.
Studio Ghibli’s insurgence into the mainstream will certainly provide a gateway for many newcomers to explore Japanese animation
Anime may have had humble origins, with its first films dating from the early 20th century. Some wonder if Japanese animation’s lurid, bright colours can be attributed to the visual entertainment form of magic lantern show utsushi-e, where bright painted figures are moved across a projection screen. So it’s only apt that Japanese animation henceforth would be brushed with the remnants of this “magic”, whether inspired by technological advancements or commercial success of space operas propelling the mecha anime genre; or perhaps dazzling animation warrants fantastical tales.
Some might acclaim the late 20th century as the “golden era of anime”, mainly for its prolificity. However, with the ever-growing popularity of streaming, the 21st century means that there is more for people to watch, and more places to do so legally. Piracy has the potential to destroy the anime industry, but with viable and accessible streaming services like Crunchyroll and now Netflix, we can support the artists, animators, directors, in and post-producers, voice actors and more. Anime has always been seen as a bit niche, a bit obscure, but with Netflix’s wealth of choice and oodles of genres (from classic 90s mecha-cataclysmic series Neon Genesis Evangelion to superhero parody series One-Punch Man), there’s a little bit of magic for everyone in the family to enjoy.