Japan is a lively country, overflowing with life. It is filled with many aspects of interesting popular and traditional culture. I have chosen to focus on the popular culture aspect and write about two different films by one of it’s most famous exports, the animation studio ‘Studio Ghibli.’
Studio Ghibli rose to prominence in the West with Spirited Away [DVD]  in 2002/3 in the US and UK, but has been producing films for many years before that in Japan. Studio Ghibli has many animators and is largely known for the work of its two directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata who have produced the bulk of Studio Ghibli output though the tradition of animation sets to continue with the son of Hayao Miyazaki, Gōro Miyazaki directing the Ghibli films Tales From Earthsea [DVD], From Up On Poppy Hill [DVD] and the new TV series Ronja the Robber’s Daughter find the original novel here. In Hayao Miyazaki’s films it was said that he only allowed a maximum of ten per cent of his films to be computer animated and the bulk of it was hand drawn and coloured! This shows an incredible amount of skill, dedication and hard work which shows in the final product. When you compare the quality of the animation on Studio Ghibli films with their contemporary US or UK equivalents, you can really see the difference in the quality of the art work. My Neighbour Totoro compared to The Little Mermaid is a good comparison as they were both created at the same time (1988 and 1989 respectively). When it comes to animation they were streets ahead of the US and UK in Japan at the time, although the increasing use of computer animation makes this harder to compare today.
My Neighbour Totoro
My Neighbour Totoro [DVD] is one of my favourite Studio Ghibli fims. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki and released in Japan in 1988, it still holds today in the quality of the animation. The film is about two sisters, Satsuki and Mei who have an ill mother in hospital. They move to the country with their father in hope that the cleaner air would allow their mother to recover and come home. When out on an adventure in the garden Mei, the younger sister, discovers a tiny Totoro dropping acorns and that is where the story begins… This story is full of magical adventures with the two sisters and the large Totoro (a tree sprit creature) plus a crazy cat bus! It is a tale of love and adventure between two sisters and is really all about change. What is lovely is that there are lots of examples in animated films where moving house is seen as a stressful and anxious time for children (Toy Story is an example of this), but in My Neighbour Totoro despite the mother being ill in hospital and the family having to move to a totally different area, the girls embrace the change positively and have adventures. The film shows that a potentially stressful change such as moving house can be fun and full of adventures. As an example of the incredible detail used in Ghibli films; there is a scene just before Mei finds the small Totoros, where she sees some tadpoles and puts her hand in the water and they swim away, this scene which lasts a few seconds took a whole month to animate!!
When Marnie Was There
The second film I would like to write about was produced much later and is called When Marnie Was There [DVD]  When Marnie Was There is a story adapted from the book of the same name which is originally set in Norfolk but is set here in a rural area of Japan. This is a story about a girl called Anna who has to move to the country for the Summer to stay with an aunt and uncle in hope that her asthma will improve. When she is away, she uses a boat to sail across a lake to a mansion and meets a young girl called Marnie who dresses differently and looks as if she is from another time in the past. She continues to meet her and is concerned for her, as she cannot always find her as sometimes the house is shut up and deserted. She wonders if Marnie is a dream or something created from her imagination. She is very confused but in the end she finds out the truth which surprised me! Unlike most of the Ghibli output, this film is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi but still looks similar to Miyazaki’s artwork.