TL;DR – Art, Story and Music, it is a studio that excels at it all
So it has been an amazing few weeks here in the great Down Under as local cinemas have brought all of Studio Ghibli’s (株式会社スタジオジブリ) films back to the big screen. This has meant that for the first time I got to see some of my favourite films on the big screen and it has had me thinking, what is it about these films that has engendered so much love around the world? For many people in the world, Studio Ghibli films are their first introduction into the world of Japanese animation or anime, and what an introduction they are. After much thought as to why they work as well as they do, for me, I think it distils down to one factor, on the whole, Studio Ghibli films are full of beauty. So today we are going to look at the different factors that make that so, by taking a broad brush stroke across Studio Ghibli’s entire catalogue from Nausicaä of the Valleyof the Wind¹ (風の谷のナウシカ) to today. To do this we are going to look at the stories, art, and music. Now while we will be talking about these components there may be some minor [SPOILERS] ahead for some of the films.
15) Game of Thrones – Ok let’s get this out of the way right from the start, is it as good as the book, no, but that’s ok, because for the most part it is a faithful adaption, for the most part. So I won’t go harping about Daenerys in season 2 because we got ‘And Now His Watch is Ended’, nor Jon Snow because we got ‘Hardhome’, though please come on get Dorne right in season 6 I implore you, please. There are so many moments that stand Game of Thrones apart from just about any TV series currently on the air, and a lot of that comes from the source material by George RR Martin, but a lot of it also comes from the adaption and from some seriously good casting (most of the time). No other show on TV currently has the power to create the cultural ripples like Game of Thrones, from the Red Wedding, to the Purple Wedding, to the death of a key player right at the start, it continues to show that it is not your standard fantasy work. It is a fantasy world but it is also an incredibly realized one and you can thank the production side of the show, which is for a TV show, is simply phenomenal, from the costumes, to the locations (now up to six different countries), to the sets, it is amazing quality given the budget, and the fact that they are able to actually create amazing battles is a testament to their work. Also it might be that they have the representations of every theory on international relations from Realism to Liberalism to Constructivism to Feminism all displayed warts and all. Is it a perfect adaptation no, but for the most part it is a faithful one, and trust me that is quite rare in this world, yes I am looking at you Dragonball Evolution and The Last Airbender.
14) Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Look there are a lot of things I could talk about here, the fact that it has one of the most diverse casts on TV at the moment, the fact that it has strong sympathetic characters, or the fact that it has some really interesting stories, but the key thing is that it is really funny. From Andre Braugher’s wonderful take on Raymond Holt the gay black captain that plays the straight man to Andy Samberg’s childish yet not annoying (mostly) Jake Peralta. Terry Crews is delightful to watch as Sargent Terry Jeffords, the mother hen to all the other detectives and the list goes on. Part of the charm of the show is obviously in the cast, but also, you can see the work of the creators throughout the show, and given their previous work was Parks and Recreation, they have a strong background in truly amazing comedy. There are so many great moments, from the turf wars with the fire department, to the wonderful interactions between Holt and Wuntch, to the Jimmy Jab Games, to a paintball episode that was actually fun to watch for a change. Brooklyn Nine-Nine shows people are more than happy to watch a diverse cast, if you have a strong cast, with strong writing, people will come on board. It has been so fun to watch so far, and I look forward to seeing where it will go in the future.
13) Daria – Literally the only good thing to ever come out of MTV, Daria was both a product of its time but also something quite timeless, well at least so far. It is the story of surviving high school, working out who you are, the pressures of parents, your identity, what it means to be black in a white world, life as an outcast, class, your future which depends on your parent’s income, love, loss and everything in-between. This is all told through the character of Daria Morgendorffer as she and her family move to the new town of Lawndale. While her sister Quinn is bubbly and immediately situates herself with the in crowd (to the point that she refers to Daria as her ‘cousin or something’), Daria is considered an outcast because she won’t play the social games like everyone else. With her best friend Jane she juggles jaded teachers, her overworked mother, the focus on the material and vapid, and everything the sick sad world of high school can through at her. She spoke for a part of society that did not really have a voice, and for that she is still relevant today. To finish let me leave you with one of the last line spoken in the show during the graduation – “However, given the unalterable fact that high school sucks, I’d like to add that if you’re lucky enough to have a good friend and a family that cares it doesn’t have to suck quite as much. Otherwise my advice is; Stand firm for what you believe in, until and unless experience proves you wrong. Remember, when the emperor looks naked, the emperor *is* naked. The truth and a lie are not sort of the same thing. And there is no aspect, no facet, no moment of life that can’t be improved with pizza. Thank you.”
12) Iron Chef (料理の鉄人) – If memory serves me right, I first came across Iron Chef late one night as I was channel surfing, hidden away on the public broadcaster SBS. It was a wonder to discover and a show that I would always try to catch, and probably was the instigator for my want to visit and experience Japan. The premise of the show is that Chairman Kaga, wanted to taste the best food in the world so he created his Kitchen Stadium “to encounter new original cuisines which could be called true artistic creations”. So he has his Iron Chefs (Chinese, Japanese, French & Italian) battle challengers from across Japan and the world, they cook for one hour, the food gets judged by a new panel each week (bar the late Asako Kishi who seemed to be always there), and who gets the most points wins. There is always a debate as to whether you should watch the dubs or just watch the subtitles the show in its most ‘pure’ form. Honestly for me I can take it either way, but if you don’t watch the dubbed version you are missing out on a truly amazing collision of Japanese culture and high class camp. So sure, once you watch a lot of the show, you can see that there is a lot of framing and staging in the show, but who cares, the food is amazing, or at least interesting, the commentary is top class, and you will not regret watching this show, well maybe the 1000 year egg battle, maybe. So here’s a yellow capsicum to you Chairman Kaga, it was a great ride, and the future will always be brighter thanks to the show, now if only you would get around to releasing them on DVD/Blu-ray/Netflix at some point, please and thank-you.
11) Grand Designs – Grand Designs is a very simple premise, I’m about to build (or renovate/rebuild/restore) a house, ok let’s watch you build that house, see really simple but boy is it so much more. It is people’s dreams, their ideas, some of which they have been planning all their lives. Because of this you become invested in their stories, you follow their highs and lows, when the glazing is inevitable wrong, when the groundworks always cost more than quoted, or when someone falls through the roof live on camera. It is because you empathize with people building the houses (mostly), which given these are usually multi-million dollar builds is quite the achievement, you want to see them succeed, and you feel form them when things go wrong. Of course it helps that they have a “something has just gone wrong” music, and when that plays early in the episode you know this is going to be a roller-coaster of emotion. Grand Designs more than anything on this list is all about the presenter, and in the original UK version that would be Kevin McCloud. McCloud is in many ways a pompous ass, self-righteous in his own beliefs, and will outright state, ‘this building will not work’. At this moment you would think McCloud is a bit of a dick, but he’s not, he is someone with a lot of passion and heart, and has a clear idea about what will and will not work, and inevitably he will be wrong, and he will own it. Every house is different, every house is a masterpiece and I can wait to see what is next.