Monday, August 4, 2014

The woes of Studio Ghibli ultimately due to the sameness of their product

This is a rambling piece about how the feature work of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki has gone as far as it can. I specify the feature work here because Miyazaki's shorts are largely wonderful little tidbits that show what the features should have been doing instead of becoming a weird  repetition of themselves that are the features.

I need to make clear at the start I really do like if not  almost all of the films with my favorites being the atypical ones like Earthsea

I'm not arguing against the films or the studio, I'm simply stating my case that Ghibli's need to close down for a while isn't in my opinion so much the cost of making features, more it's they guilty of making features that simply are all variations on a theme. There is no diversity. And before you say it Yes there is a Disney look, or a Warner's look or a Fleischer look or a UPA look, but even with in their looks their was a variation- Hell even largely one man band Bill Plympton can sneak in variation in plotting if not in look.

Do keep in mind that this is not a deep treatise. I threw this together over the last 24 hours because the subject came up and I wanted to express my feelings. I probably should have worked longer and dug deeper to make my case, but I'm betting that anyone who cares is going to have a mental reference guide and know what I'm talking about. Think of this as an after dinner discussion rather than a full on debate.

Something is going on with Studio Ghibli. Either it’s going to be ceasing all film production or it’s going to be taking a break to regroup. What exactly is going on will be determined by who you listen to and which reposted news story you see. Either way after the latest film makes the rounds there is going to be some sort of break.

Personally I’m shocked it’s taken this long. I say that because in many ways they have been artistically spinning its wheels for ages. If you think about it is true, while they have been turning out good films that all look the same. All the films are some sort of variation of what Hayao Miyazaki would do, unless of course Isao Takahata manages to crank something out.  Mostly its a series of films that all look the same, all arc the same, are dully the same...

Yes, I know the studio has a look but this is ridiculous. Look at the vast majority of their films and you could swap them out Ponyo could walk in Laputa while The Cat could ride with Porco Rosso. All of the characters look the same. Everyone looks exactly like everyone else.

It’s all the same.

Take the look of the films farther all the films have this same look to their backgrounds-there is the same exact green of the trees and grass, the same blue of the sky. And all of the houses, all of the hills and trees are similar.

Actually the look is the least of the Studio’s problem, the problem is that story wise they are kind of dead. All of their stories are of a type. Almost all focus on girls or young women trying to make their way in the world.  Almost all of the films have some sort of fantastic creatures. There is always a ecological angle or/or a battle of the old and the new. I'm  speaking of generalities of course but if you look at the basics of plot there are very few variations (say Porco Rosso, Earthsea, Wind Rises, Grave of Fireflies) but mostly the plots are similar.

Worse the whole studio has hinged it's very existence on Miyazaki the elder  All of the films have had heavy over-site by the the master- to the extent that he wrote over two thirds of the output and has bad mouthed some he didn't (Earthsea) Nothing is done without his input with the result that most of the films are pretty much shadows of his work. He doesn’t go outside of his box (see the plot lines). The one time the studio did go outside of it, the Neon Genesis Evangelion like short, Giant War God Appears in Tokyo came and went. Yet despite blowing everyone who saw it's mind, it got no follow up from the studio. It was almost as if they didn’t know what do do with it or the creative break it represented.

At this point I'm not sure of the voices in the studio could even do anything original if they wanted. I mean there seem to be no new voices because they seem to be beaten down Hayao. Even Goro, Hayao’s son got into battles with his father. The only one who can change things up is Isao Takahata simply because of who he is and his films flounder.

And the result is the films fail because they are all unimaginatively similar, they can’t be singular since they have to rise to a certain Ghibli borg-like collective vision. And the ones that break with that vision are outcast.

A large part of this is the audience's fault. As a rule they will not embrace anything by anyone other than Hayao does. Yes, some of the films have made some money, but unless it’s Hayao Miyazaki the films seem to be dismissed out of hand or not do not generate the love of the classics like Totoro or Mononoke. Look at the reports of the films' box office, all of the one's that aren't done by Miyazaki are talked about how the box office would be better if he directed them. But in a weird way he did direct them but with other hands. People don't see it even if it's clear in every frame of every film.

As much as the high level of the art of animation that Ghibli is rightly credited with producing - its all the same art- its the same thing over and over again. Its almost a kind of cinematic Thomas Kinkade.

Don't get me wrong I love many of the films, but god damn it they are all the same.

Why does Ghibli have to close up for a while? Because they have been a one trick pony for so very long they really can't go anywhere else because with out a cute girl or a forest spirit the studio simply doesn't know what to do. They have followed Miyazaki's muse as far as it can go and now have run off the map or at least come to a fork in the road. What they choose to do now will ultimately decide their legacy for generations to come.

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