Beyond Totoro: the most awesome Ghibli-related projects


[All this week, Flixist is holding Ghibli Week by bringing you all sorts of Studio Ghibli related posts to celebrate the U.S. release of Ghibli’s newest movie, The Secret World of Arrietty, on Friday, February 17th! Check back throughout the week for lots of Ghibli-related goodness!]

Studio Ghibli has become famous for their own animated features like Spirited Away and Ponyo, but truth be told, the company, and the people that make up the company, have had their hands in way more stuff than just creating great animated movies under the name Studio Ghibli. The studio is often likened to being a “Japanese Disney” and while this comparison is not necessarily apt, there are times the level of influence the studio has could be reminiscent of the large American conglomerate.

Think you know a lot about Studio Ghibli? Well take a gander below for some of the coolest, and most surprising, projects that the people of Studio Ghibli have helped with their Midas touch.

Horus: Prince of the Sun (The Little Norse Prince or Little Norse Prince Valiant), 1968 

Horus: Prince of the Sun

Horus: Prince of the Sun takes place in the Iron Age of Scandinavia, when a young boy named Horus tries to fight off a pack of “silver wolves” and in the process accidentally wakes up a sleeping stone giant. The giant has a thorn stuck in its side, which Horus removes, which turns out to be a rusted old sword. Meanwhile, Horus’ father is on his deathbed and he urges Horus to return to the land that the family came from in the north – a land ruled by the wicked sorcerer Grunwald.

Horus: Prince of the Sun was the directorial debut of Isao Takahata, one of the later founders of Studio Ghibli and is now one of the main directors of the studio. Hayao Miyazaki, Yasuo Ōtsuka, Yoichi Kotabe, and Yasuji Mori, among others, worked as animators on the movie, providing input on storyboards and designs as well. Horus: Prince of the Sun is a unique experience in that it is the product of a group of young Japanese animators making a movie about Scandinavian myths in the late 1960s. (What.) At times the movie feels slow and sparse, to the point where it can be unsettling. While it’s a really strange little piece, you can feel the seeds of the Ghibli frame of mind beginning to form in the epic and magical grandness of the story, and the mixture of faith, mythology and valor.

Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, 1979

Lupin III

Various Studio Ghibli members, including Miyazaki and Takahata, directed several Lupin III television episodes before the studio was founded. Most of the episodes they did were in 1971, but years later in 1979, Hayao Miyazaki made his feature-length directorial debut with a Lupin III motion picture; Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro.

The Lupin III movies and shows revolve around the gentleman thief Arsène Lupin III, a descendant of Arsène Lupin, the master thief of French author Maurice Leblanc’s 1900s novels. In The Castle of Cagliostro, Lupin meets and subsequently rescues Clarisse, the princess of Cagliostro, from a forced marriage to The Count. What makes The Castle of Cagliostro so much fun to watch is Lupin himself. He’s a gentleman master thief, he’s sly and witty and goofy but highly intelligent. He’s also got a chivalrous streak that compels him to help those less fortunate than him – especially attractive women. If you haven’t seen The Castle of Cagliostro, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a totally different, and refreshing, work from Miyazaki.

Neon Genesis Evangelion, 1995

Neon Genesis Evangelion

This almost ought to go without saying, but if you haven’t seen Neon Genesis Evangelion by now, you need to fix that. Often considered one of the best and most successful anime shows of all time, Evangelion is an “apocalyptic mecha” action series that revolves around the paramilitary organization Nerv’s attempts to battle beings called Angels with giant mecha warriors controlled by teenagers. Maybe “giant mecha warriors” doesn’t sound like your cup of tea? Yeah, mine either, until I gave it a try. Evangelion is so much more that just robots fighting aliens. It’s about dealing with depression, the apocalypse, dangerous and secretive government organizations, religion and psychoanalysis.

Studio Ghibli helped to produce Evangelion, so while they might not have had too much of a direct influence on the anime itself, without them, this gem of Japanese culture may never have come to fruition, and the director of Evangelion, Hideaki Anno, remains a close friend of the studio.

L’Illusionniste (The Illusionist), 2010 and Les Triplettes de Belleville (The Triplets of Belleville), 2003

The Illusionist The Triplets of Belleville

The Illusionist and The Triplets of Belleville were both directed by French director and writer Sylvain Chomet. The Illusionist was originally written by French actor and director Jacques Tati in 1956. The Illusionist tells the tale of a failing magician, and a young girl who truly believes he has magical powers. The Triplets of Belleville is about a kidnapped young bicyclist and his grandmother and her friends who try to get him back.

Flixist’s own Xander Markham loved The Illusionist, and both movies have been heralded as excellent animated films, and the Japanese people have Studio Ghibli to thank for being able to find these movies in their country. Studio Ghibli, under its label the Ghibli Museum Library, have taken it upon themselves to find and distribute non-Japanese animated feature films – both contemporary and classic – within Japan.

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (Gurren Lagann), 2007

Gurren Lagann

Packed full of action, comedy, sci-fi elements and adventure, Gurren Lagann is a beautifully animated series where the Earth is ruled by the Spiral King, Lordgenome, who forces mankind to live in isolated, subterranean villages. Two boys in the underground Giha village, Simon and Kamina, end up breaking through to the surface after a large, mechanical “gunmen” crashes through the ceiling to their underground home. Yoko, a scantily-clad firebrand of a girl descends into the village after the gunmen, and the three end up forming a team. They eventually learn of Lordgenome’s evil actions and rise up against him.

Considered by some to be one of the best animes of the last decade, Gurren Lagann has a distinctive style that puts it a par above other recent works. Part of this because of Studio Ghibli, who collaborated with the Gainax Company on Gurren Lagann, doing finishing animation and in-between animation on the series.

Tekkonkinkreet, 2006


Okay, I’m going to let a little favoritism slip here: I love Tekkonkinkreet. It’s easily one of my all-time favorite animated movies. Ever. It tells the story of two orphaned brothers, Kuro (Black) and Shiro (White) who rule the mean streets of the surrealistic, dystopian future-world of Treasure Town with a violent iron fist. When a corrupt and vexing corporation called “Kiddy Kastle” tries to tear down the run-down part of Treasure Town where the boys live, they risk their lives, their souls and their brotherhood to protect their home.

All that, and it also looks gorgeous. I mean really, the opening sequence gives me chills. The way Treasure Town embodies both urban decay and false, colorful facades is mesmerizing. And you know what? That’s also thanks in part to Studio Ghibli. Ghibli created the background art for Tekkonkinkreet in collaboration with Studio 4°C and they did a fantastic job.

There are many, many more works that Studio Ghibli has had their hands in; I’ve only touched on a few here. I think there are a few things that this list points to about the studio. One being that they are incredibly influential – within the Japanese animation community especially. Another thing that I think that this shows just how dedicated the studio is as a whole to the medium of animation. They not only collaborate with other groups and friends to make amazing products, but they also distribute other people’s works in order to share their love and passion for animation. And what a difference Studio Ghibli has made on the world of animation, and of movie-making in general, because of that passion.