Pre–Studio Ghibli Guide to Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata

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Over the last few months, I’ve become enamored with Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films. And yes I know I’m late to the game. The obsession started out as a way to find movies to both entertain my toddlers and myself during back-to-back Covid quarantines this past winter (sorry Cocomelon! you are not welcome here). This led us first to wondrous films like Kiki’s Delivery Service, Totoro (or Toto, as my son calls it), Ponyo, Howl’s Moving Castle and beyond into the films with darker edges like The Wind Rises, which my husband and I would watch after the kids went to sleep. Until I stumbled across this recent post from Vulture, it didn’t even occur to me to check out Miyazaki’s pre-Ghibli work. What a treat!

Studio Ghibli has created some of the most beloved animated films in the history of the medium worldwide. Yet here we are, nearly four decades after the studio’s founding, with much of the work of its two great directors — Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, etc.) and Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, etc.) — almost entirely unheralded outside of Japan and animation circles. That’s beginning to change, with American institutions like the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles holding retrospectives of both directors’ films and the distributor GKIDS bringing more and more of Miyazaki and Takahata’s extra-Ghibli works Stateside. But despite Miyazaki and Takahata’s outsize influence on the history of animation, many cartoon lovers still haven’t seen some of their most significant works, either for want of access or simply because they’ve never heard of them.

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