Not enough people have seen the early work of Studio Ghibli. This critically acclaimed Japanese animation studio is known as the home of living legend Hayao Miyazaki, the man responsible for Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, but the firm’s output extends beyond his whimsical, moody masterpieces.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Studio Ghibli released works such as Pom Poko, a bewilderingly surreal take on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, in which a community of raccoons get together to wage war against encroaching human settlements. Pom Poko (1994) was directed by Isao Takahata, the other superstar Studio Ghibli director who is sadly little known outside Japan. Takahata’s most famous work is Grave of the Fireflies (1988), a relentlessly cynical animated war drama about orphaned children attempting to survive the firebombing of Tokyo towards the end of World War II. Film critic Roger Ebert considers it “one of the most powerful anti-war movies ever made”.
So it’s both a blessing and a curse that a new set of seven films from Studio Ghibli, being released for the first time in India, don’t include Miyazaki’s most famous works. Instead, they’re a cross-section of lesser-known gems from the late 1980s and 1990s (including Pom Poko), and arguably a more representative set of the studio’s work than a lazy selection of recent hits.
The films are being brought to India by Sony Music and the distribution company Alliance Media and Entertainment. At present, they will be sold in special three- and seven-film box sets, priced at Rs 1,499 and Rs 2,999, respectively. The set of three contains Castle in the Sky (1986), My Neighbour Totoro (1988) and Pom Poko. The set of seven adds Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds (1983), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Whisper of the Heart (1995) and Porco Rosso (1992) to the first. Alliance Media will also sell a stand-alone DVD of French animator Michel Ocelot’s Azur et Asmar. All films are English-dubbed versions, and will not include the option of watching the original Japanese audio with subtitles.
Oddly, both the DVD boxes are mistakenly labelled Hayao Miyazaki sets, a misleading oversight.
Two of the seven films on the set are not Miyazaki movies—Pom Poko is a Takahata film, and Whisper of the Heart, a cheery slice-of-life romance film about a girl who writes alternative lyrics to John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads, was directed by Ghibli newcomer Yoshifumi Kondo. It was the first Ghibli film to be directed by someone other than Miyazaki and Takahata. Kondo was being groomed to succeed the two directors, but he died in 1998.
The set, however, is still a fantastic introduction to Miyazaki’s style and themes. Nausicaa is a still relevant, cautionary ecological tale, while Porco Rosso channels the animator’s geeky love for aeroplanes and alternative history. All the films feature his trademark whimsical style, the lovingly crafted fantasy worlds, and the strong feminist and pacifist characters.
But in spite of the pedigree on display, it’s hard to recommend these specific DVDs. The English dubs for these early films are gratingly bad, and oversimplify the layered, nuanced dialogue. A little more care in packaging would have made these box sets a must-buy, so don’t look their way for your first Ghibli-fix.
The Studio Ghibli sets are available in stores across the country.