Given this adoration of Ghibli films and my near-obsession with documentaries, I don’t know how I managed to overlook the fact that these two wonderful things had been combined for the past four years. Honestly, I never thought to look. Given Ghibli’s reputation for being a little media shy, I wasn’t sure if they would agree to a documentary, much less one that was intended for audiences outside of Japan, but after seeing the name “Ghibli” pop up on one of my favorite documentary sites, I was happy to discover that I was wrong.
Made in 2005 (before Ponyo and The Secret World Of Arrietty made their debut), Ghibli – The Miyazaki Temple is a documentary by French filmmaker Yves Montmayeur that examines all things Ghibli, offering a peek into the minds behind the famous Ghibli films and a look at the people and places that have inspired them.
And despite its title as The Miyazaki Temple, this documentary actually pays a great deal of homage to not only legendary anime director Miyazaki, but the other directors and producers that have been part of the Ghibli journey. If anything, I would personally describe this documentary as being more about the philosophy behind Studio Ghibli films than a simple overview of the films and the animation process.
There is actually very little attention paid to the ‘nuts and bolts’ side of Studio Ghibli, with the documentary instead paying attention to the more intangible, artistic part of Ghibli that gives the studio and its films the charm they are so famous for.
While I’m sure the draw of this documentary to many will be the interviews with Studio Ghibli staff (even including an interview with Miyazaki himself), and those who have in some way played a part in bringing those films to life, this documentary is so much more than that. It has a richness, one that seeks a deeper understanding of the significance of the animated genre and the rich cultural history and beliefs that are so deftly woven into Studio Ghibli films.
In fact, Takashi Namaki, an anime critic interviewed for the documentary, had this to say about the Studio Ghibli films:
If your intention is to be accepted at the release, you ought to make a film like Disney or Hollywood with a storyline that’s easy to understand. No matter where it plays, or in what language, it will make sense. Neither Takahata nor Miyazaki takes this approach. They refuse to. They make a film. Then, if it wins the hearts of people overseas, they think that’s great, for sure. But that’s not their primary aim. That’s not a requirement.
One could argue that it’s this very complexity surrounding the Ghibli films that has won the hearts and loyalty of millions worldwide. While Japanese culture and centuries of Japanese beliefs are a cornerstone of Ghibli films, those very beliefs and customs transcend language barriers and cultural differences. Audiences are smart, and the Ghibli films treat them as such. Each film has a message, but audiences are also given room to come to their own interpretation and conclusion about what that message could be, and how it applies to both themselves as individuals and the world at large.
Whether you are a Studio Ghibli fan, a passive watcher of their films, or have any kind of interest in animation as a medium, I cannot recommend this documentary enough. It will allow you to look at the Ghibli films with new eyes, and have an even deeper appreciation of how animation and film can impact those who watch it.
(You can watch the documentary on the player below, or you can watch it here.)