9 Darkest Implications In Studio Ghibli Movies

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It’s not uncommon to hear older generations complaining that modern children’s films lack the courage of older people, perhaps without considering that all films are a reflection of the eras that produced them. The best animated films aren’t determined by the decade in which they were made, but by how well they capture the many faces of humanity.



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Few studios have managed to look deeper into the human psyche than Studio Ghibli, whose creators aren’t afraid to explore fantasy and doom in equal measure. But what makes the Ghibli movies timeless are the underlying themes that dig deeper, digging into the primal fears that define humanity. It’s only by exploring these emotions that people can come out of them, and that’s just one of the reasons why Ghibli films are formative for so many audiences.

9 War turns participants into monsters (Howl’s Moving Castle)

Howl’s Howl’s Moving Castle is one of Ghibli’s most romantic films. Howl and Sophie are two souls who need each other, imperfect but fundamentally trying to be good people in a world that doesn’t make it easy. Given the strength of the romance, some nuances of the film aren’t appreciated on a first watch. Among them is a familiar anti-war sentiment that runs through nearly every Miyazaki title.

In this case, the taint of war is part of the world-building rather than the heart of the story. Wizards like Howl are called upon to fight in wars, and many of them have turned into literal beasts as a result. Only Sophie’s presence on the ground saves Howl from a similar fate. The suggestion is clear: war is fundamentally dehumanizing and recovery is nearly impossible without immense support.

8 Chihiro’s family is long gone, and they’re not the only ones (Spirited Away)

Taken away as if by magic is decidedly dark like magic, a film that doesn’t hide how terrifying growing up can be. Chihiro is trapped in a world populated by truly spooky spirits. But rather than cower in fear, Chihiro embraces her role in this strange new kingdom, hoping to save her parents from a cruel fate. Her parents were turned into cattle, their greed making pigs the moment they devoured the Ghibli equivalent of fairy food.

But Chihiro’s parents are far from the only pigs in the corrals. It is possible that each of these pigs was once a person. Viewers must wonder how many other children have been abducted. Maybe missing children have been lost in bathhouses for decades and barely noticed the passage of time. After all, when Chihiro and her parents finally leave the spirit world, the overgrowth on the way and the debris on their car suggest they’ve been gone for weeks, if not months.

seven We may never meet the people we loved the most (when Marnie was around)

When Marnie Was Here explores a theme that is difficult to name, a singular and haunting thought that crosses all minds at some point: the desire to have met and known someone who died long before his own existence. In Anna Sasaki’s case, that person is a dear relative. But before this revelation, the film can also be interpreted as a queer story.

Growing up as an outcast can make anyone wonder what life might have been like in another time or if they had a kindred spirit. Unfortunately, human beings are powerless to choose the decade in which they live. Sometimes it is only in a daydream that people can find another soul who understands them.

6 Civilization is nature’s fundamental enemy (Princess Mononoke)

Humanity is rarely the protagonist of Ghibli movies. In fact, more often than not, humanity is responsible for the destruction of the world. Nowhere is this theme better showcased than in Princess Mononoke. Every conflict in the film stems from humanity’s interference with the natural world, with devastating consequences. The boar attacking Ashitaka does so because an iron bullet cursed him. And in any other movie, Lady Ebisu would be the undisputed hero, a fierce warrior who created sanctuary for outcasts.

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But the price of this shrine felling an ancient magic forest. This suggests that, even with the best of intentions, human beings destroy the world that feeds them. As gloomy as this perspective may seem, it is offset by the sheer beauty of the world presented. Over all, Princess Mononoke wants humanity to keep trying, even if it’s ultimately a doomed attempt.

5 The world has become a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland, but humanity has yet to learn (Nausicaa)

On the surface, aspects of Nausicaa are optimistic. Set in a post-nuclear landscape, the story is a testament to human tenacity. Nausicaa lives in a realm that has persisted despite its proximity to the toxic jungle.

But humanity is still searching for a savior and still seems unable to achieve peace on its own. Even nuclear war could not teach people to get along with nature. There is reason to be optimistic, but the message is clear. People will have to work hard to be better, and most aren’t willing to do that.

4 Totoro can be symbolic of death (my neighbor Totoro)

While this popular fan theory was flatly dismissed by the studio, there’s no denying the odd connections between My Neighbor Totoro and a 1960s murder known as the Sayama incident. Sometimes creators weave unintended threads into their stories, but the correlations here are downright weird. The actual murder and the movie take place in Sayama, Saitama, less than a decade apart.

In Totoro, Satsuki tries tirelessly to find her missing little sister Mei. In reality, Yoshie Nataka, the older sister of the murder victim, tried to save her by paying a ransom to her captor. While these coincidences can be uncomfortable, the film hardly avoids morbid themes. The Cat-Bus stops at a station that translates to “serious road”, and the girls’ mother is chronically ill, seen only in a hospital bed. Although the overall story is optimistic, there is a promise on the horizon that the innocence of childhood cannot last forever, that it is as fleeting as summer in the countryside.


3 Creative genius is often misused to harm others (the wind is rising)

The wind picks up treads rough terrain as a biographical film based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, an engineer who designed two warplanes for the Japanese military during World War II, models that were later used in kamikaze missions.

These planes helped kill thousands during a war that Japan fought on the wrong side, but the film isn’t about the war so much as it is about a creator trying to bring a dream to life. However, his creation comes at the expense of death, and his life’s work becomes a tool of destruction. These complex themes are rarely explored in any medium, let alone animation.


2 Sometimes cultural divides are too big to overcome (Arietty)

Ghibli doesn’t believe in happy endings with the same conviction that other studios seem to. In Arriettyfor example, there must have been some temptation to end the film more happily, perhaps with humanity and the tiny Borrowers getting along despite their differences.

Instead, Arrietty and her family leave their home once they learn that the humans plan to exterminate them via pest control services. Basically, despite the bond that develops between a human boy and a borrowing girl, these two peoples seem unable to reconcile.


1 The younger generations carry the weight of the mistakes of the older generations (the tomb of the fireflies)

Ultimately, kids have to fend for themselves in every Ghibli movie. Never has this struggle been so literal as in the Grave of the Fireflies, often cited as one of the saddest films ever made. The two protagonists are children, and both suffer simply because they were born into a world at war.

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The result isn’t surprising, but it’s brutal, which makes it even harder to watch. the Grave of the Fireflies reveals a truth that many would be happier to ignore: when people destroy the world, it is the younger generations who bear the terrible brunt of that destruction. It is the future itself that is mutilated.

Next: 10 Best Studio Ghibli Heroes


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