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Studio Ghibli leaves timeless mark on animation, filmmaking

Studio Ghibli is a Japanese animation studio founded in 1985 by directors/animators Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata and producer and current president Toshio Suzuki. The studio has released 21 feature films and is one of the leading global names in animation. After nearly 40 years, Studio Ghibli has helped bring Japanese anime to a mainstream audience and is responsible for some of the film industry's most moving and visually stunning art pieces. 

The studio released its first feature film, "Castle in the Sky," in 1986 under the direction of Hayao Miyazaki. The film chronicles the adventures of two orphaned children, Sheeta and Pazu, as they pursue a legendary floating castle. The film introduces Studio Ghibli's recurring theme of child and female protagonists. 

Another example of this theme in Studio Ghibli films is "Ponyo," the 2008 story of a fish named Ponyo who uses her magic to turn into a young girl. While trying to escape her possessive oceanic father, she finds a pseudo-family on land with a young boy, Sōsuke, and his mother, Lisa. Ponyo's magical parents submerge the film's setting of an oceanside town entirely underwater, and Ponyo and Sōsuke end up separated from Lisa. The two must rely on their love for each other and their youthful resilience to save the town and protect Ponyo's ability to remain human. 

The English-dub version of "Ponyo" features voice actors such as Liam Neeson, Tina Fey, Noah Cyrus, Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon. This film's cast is just one example of Studio Ghibli's wide reach, which is represented in the countless other notable actors to be cast. 

Another example of this phenomenon is in the studio's most recent film, "The Boy and the Heron." The English voice actors include Robert Pattinson, Florence Pugh, Christian Bale, Mark Hamill, Willem Dafoe and Dave Bautista. "The Boy and the Heron" was the first Studio Ghibli film to earn a Golden Globe Award and is the second film to receive an Academy Award.

Studio Ghibli's first Academy Award was granted to "Spirited Away," released in 2001 and the studio's most commercially successful film. The film follows the young Chihiro after her parents engage with nefarious magic in an abandoned amusement park, turning them into pigs. Chihiro is left to her own devices to navigate a fantastical world with the help of Haku, an elusive spirit. The film explores themes of supernaturalism, identity and, once again, the insurmountable power of a child's bravery and compassion. 

One of the characters in "Spirited Away" is No-Face, a ghostly, black humanoid figure with a Noh mask as a face. The character has become one of the iconic symbols of Studio Ghibli, alongside many others. From the studio's official mascot, Totoro, from the 1988 film "My Neighbor Totoro," to Calcifer, the living fire from "Howl's Moving Castle," to Gigi, the cheeky black cat of "Kiki's Delivery Service," the studio has created numerous celebrated characters by which the studio can be recognized. 

Another recurring theme in Studio Ghibli films is the natural world. The studio visually communicates this theme through intricate settings and larger-than-life animations of terrain, including mountains, gardens, oceans, islands and forests. This balance between humans and nature is often ambiguous, with films like "The Secret World of Arrietty" portraying the proportional difference between humans and the infinitely smaller nature-dwelling "borrowers," while "My Neighbor Totoro" displays the enormity of nature compared to the inconsequential size of humanity. 

While many have speculated "The Boy and the Heron" to be Miyazaki's final film, the director has been successfully fooling audiences into believing in his retirement plans since the release of "Princess Mononoke" in 1997. However, according to studio executive Junichi Nishioka, the 82-year-old director is still full of ideas and does not intend to retire just yet. 

Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are responsible for some of the most influential creative movements of the 20th and 21st centuries. The director's passion for surrealism and complex storytelling, and his ability to tackle difficult themes through unconventional means all contribute to the studio's power. Studio Ghibli's legacy is defined by years of beautiful movies centering around themes of childlike wonder, courage and sincerity, as well as the relationship between humans, nature and the magical world. 


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