When TWWK Was There: Going to See Studio Ghibli’s Last Film

On a weekend in the fall of 2002, I went with a group of friends to watch The Ring.  I didn’t want to go (I’ll admit, horror movies scare me to death), but I went along anyway – and thank goodness I did, because playing at the same cinema, and consequently the movie I ditched my friends to watch instead, was Spirited Away.  It was the first anime I watched in theaters, and it remains one of my favorite movie viewing experiences.

I couldn't find my ticket stub (though it would have been for The Ring anyway - way to support the industry!). I did, however, find a stub for this classic.
I couldn’t find my ticket stub (though it would have been for The Ring anyway – way to support the industry!). I did, however, find a stub for this classic.* It wasn’t even worth spelling correctly.

I might say that watching that marvelous film hooked me on Studio Ghibli, but to be honest, I was already infatuated before that. Two years prior, Princess Mononoke introduced me to non-kiddy anime in a forceful, evocative way, and led me down the trail of wonderful Ghibli movies – I had seen most of their catalog even before I went to this film, and I considered myself an adoring Miyazaki fan.

So why is it that as When Marnie Was There, perhaps Studio Ghibli’s last film, reaches my city, I’m not particularly excited about going to see it?

For most of us, our obsessions decline in age – that certainly has been the case with me and Studio Ghibli, though I still support most of their films with an almost blind obstinance.  It’s more than that, though – it’s the declining quality of the studio’s work.  I’m glad Miyazaki left with a masterpiece like The Wind Rises, because I would have been unhappy if his last film had been the forgettable Ponyo or even the merely almost-great Howl’s Moving Castle.  Recent films by the other directors have largely been very good, but fall just short of “classic,” which is what almost every one of the first dozen releases by the studio qualified as.  The last film release from Ghibli, the Oscar-nominated The Tale of Princess Kaguya, sits on my DVD shelf, unopened from the day it was purchased. I regretted buying it almost immediately after I did so.

Perhaps I need to rewatch Whisper of the Heart, my favorite Studio Ghibli film; or the aforementioned Princess Mononoke, which I consider its finest; or My Neighbor Totoro, which my kids love almost as much as I do; or Nausicaa, which features as good a Christ figure as there is in anime.

At it’s best, Ghibli dug into the complexities of the human condition (Porco Rosso); showed the horrors of war as well as any film ever made (Grave of the Fireflies); presented the beautiful plainness and simplicity of growing up (Only Yesterday); stirred our desire for fairy tails and adventure (Castle in the Sky); encouraged us to overcome despair and circumstances (Kiki’s Delivery Service); and made us think about the love and pain that is family (My Neighbors the Yamadas).  For anyone who dismisses anime, or animation in general, as something that can’t convey emotion, intelligence, depth, and truth as well as live action can, Studio Ghibli is the incontestable response.

It’s too bad that that Ghibli left years ago.

Still, most of the studio’s films from recent years have been very good, if not masterly.  For every Ponyo and Tales from Earthsea there was an Arrietty and From Up on Poppy Hill that were thoroughly enjoyable and well-devised.

Here’s hoping that when I watch When Marnie Was There this weekend, it’s among Ghibli’s better efforts the last decade and not their worst.  And with a little luck (or return to craftsmanship), it’ll be even more than that, a celebration of what Studio Ghibli brought us, something that can never be repeated – apparently even by itself.

If you’re Austin this weekend, maybe we can watch together! Tweet or email me and we can see if we’re going to the same showing.

*Other beauties I found in my old ticket stub file include Big Daddy, The Vertical Limit, The Animal, American Pie 2, and The Legend of Bagger Vance, and Gone in 60 Seconds three times (though that one was totally worth it).

12 thoughts on “When TWWK Was There: Going to See Studio Ghibli’s Last Film

  1. “The last film release from Ghibli, the Oscar-nominated The Tale of Princess Kaguya, sits on my DVD shelf, unopened from the day it was purchased. I regretted buying it almost immediately after I did so.”

    Have you watched it yet anywhere at all? It’s very different from most Ghibli films, or at least the ones that most of us reading this (likely) love the most. If nothing else, it definitely deserves a fair chance.

    Just going to leave this here, it doesn’t “prove” anything but hopefully may pique your interest just a little bit: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_tale_of_the_princess_kaguya/

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    1. I am definitely going to eventually watch it – it looks really interesting. The reason I regretted buying it more has to do with my purchasing habits – this was an impulse buy, something I’ve pretty much left behind in regards to anime. Why did I cave in with this DVD when I haven’t even bought The Wind Rises! There’s the regret. 😛

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  2. Well, Marnie to me felt exactly like what you described in the paragraph about when Ghibli were at its finest (almost each and every one of those aspects is present, in fact), and it almost felt like a meta-work on bidding farewell to Ghibli itself. It’s definitely the most similar to Whisper of the Heart, IMO.

    And yes, Princess Mononoke is definitely my favourite Ghibli. The only anime film I watched as it aired in the cinema. Though at film festivals and conventions in cinematheques and such, I’ve seen most of the Ghiblis on the big screen.

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    1. I’m very pleased to hear that Marnie is reminiscent of Whisper of the Heart – my hopes are raised now!

      I’m so envious that you went to see Mononoke in the the theater! I didn’t even know what anime was when it premiered, but I saw the DVD day after day at Wal-Mart (I worked in the electronics department there) being advertised as the Japanese Star Wars (umm…not quite) – I’m glad that it drew me in!

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      1. LOL, that advertisement. Well, I’ve already seen Ghost in the Shell and Ninja Scroll on the big screen by then, and maaaybe Akira. on Thursdays, a television show covered upcoming movies weekly, and there was Princess Mononoke, and I had to go watch it. It only aired in 1 theatre in the country, so I went with my grandfather and a cousin or two. It was magnificent. I pre-ordered the DVD on Amazon too afterwards.

        Well, I hope you enjoy Marnie and don’t end up disappointed. I really liked it. I need to write my post on it, which I’ve had inside my head for about a month now, just didn’t have the time to write it down, especially as I might wait with publishing it until some more people get to watch it. It’s mostly like Whisper of the Heart in how understated it is. Well, we’ll talk more after you watch it, it’d be easier and there’d be less dancing around comparisons/spoilers.

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  3. I hope the film leaves good impressions on you so that you can report back to us. I myself have only seen a few Ghibli films, my faves being Laputa and Kiki. Arrietty was pretty good and Ponyo, though cute and fun to watch, ultimately not the same quality of work. Hope this goes well!

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