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Challenging the idea of Ghibli as ‘children’s films’

In this article, Sarah Olive considers some factors that might lead us to challenge the identification of Studio Ghibli's works as 'children's films'.
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© University of York

Here are some of the answers we came up with in response to the previous discussion. Do they match or differ from yours?

  • The voice-over in the video chart describes the way in which seeing Kiki overcome all the challenges, personal and external, is part of what makes this film a treat for all audiences’, suggesting its widespread appeal.

  • On another occasion the narrator refers to the ‘hefty amount of blood’ and chooses to screen a clip of a beheading scene in Princess Mononoke, invoking the moral panic of the 1990s about video nasties and their influence on children’s behaviour, debates about the appropriateness of screen violence for consumption by children and content ratings systems more generally. It is worth considering that some writers on anime have treated violent action as one of its defining characteristics.

  • Graveyard of the Fireflies is another film in the list which features children protagonists but in telling the harrowing story of one family during WWII, in particular the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is anything but ‘childish’. Although its director renounced claims that it is anti-war and nuclear disarmament propaganda, some continue to argue its ideological intention and effect. This might set the film at odds with those definitions of children’s film that are predicated on light-hearted entertainment.

  • The narration invokes Academy Awards nominations and prizes for various Studio Ghibli films, such as Spirited Away in 2003. On the one hand, such prestigious awards such as the Oscars can signal and create a wider audience than children. On the other, their award for best animated feature film rather than best picture, can be seen to problematically silo, away from the mainstream, content for perceived to be for niche audiences (children as well as, in the case of Japanese Studio Ghibli, non-Anglophone countries and cultures).

  • One additional exercise you could do to help you think about this further is to explore how many animated films have been awarded, for instance, Academy Awards outside of the animation category? What are the criteria for best picture? Do those criteria directly or indirectly exclude animated films? How many best picture awards have been made to non-anglophone films? (n.b. there is a separate category for best foreign language film at the Academy Awards, though defining ‘foreign language’ should not be unproblematic in a country where Spanish is a de facto second language).

  • Mentions of such awards can be used to denote that the film’s quality is better than that usually expected of children’s films, which raises a set of questions concerning our assumptions about children’s films; what sorts of artistic creations children deserve; and what sorts of things children are capable of appreciating.

  • The narrator explains that Laputa Castle in the Sky is based on Gulliver’s Travels. Although adaptations of Jonathan Swift’s work have been made for children, perhaps because the fantasy elements are seen to have wide potential and appeal, his 1726 work is a prose satire on human nature and parodies the travel writing popular in his day. It is regarded as a classic of English Literature – something that usually denotes, and arguably causes, lack of popularity with a wide and inclusive readership. Given that in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries Gulliver’s Travels has an elite readership, Laputa Castle in the Sky might be considered to be underpinned by ‘grown up’ literature and to appeal to adults who will recognise the literary allusions, even if doesn’t depend on this recognition for sales and success.

© University of York
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Pictures of Youth: An Introduction to Children’s Visual Culture

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