Studio Ghibli is one of the most renowned Japanese animation studio in the world. Famous for high quality story and animation, the works of Ghibli were critically acclaimed and had received various awards, including the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for Spirited Away (2001). Often Ghibli films are regarded as among the best that anime can offer, insofar as “anime” is understood as “Japanese animation.” However, how do the creators at Ghibli themselves view their position(ing) in the field of Japanese animation? There is a certain brand of narrative that can be explored further.
The Narrative of Manga Eiga vs. Anime
The core creative minds of Studio Ghibli had been known to keep some distance from the term “anime.” Director Hayao Miyazaki in particular, dislikes the word anime prefers his works to be referred as manga eiga (meaning something like cartoon or drawn film, rather than film adapted from Japanese comics). Such a stance implies that anime can be considered a distinct category within the field of animation, and Ghibli’s films are not a part of that category. What makes the difference between Ghibli’s films and anime in this view?
Manga eiga was actually one of the older terms in Japan to refer to animated films before the word anime became more popular. According to Thomas Lamarre (2009), manga eiga was particularly associated with the theatrical animated films of the animation studio Toei Doga in the 1960s. Toei Doga aspired to make animated films that can rival the films of Disney, and thus, the studio made their films with full animation just like Disney films did (you can learn the difference between full animation and limited animation in this article).
Ghibli’s senior directors Miyazaki and Isao Takahata used to work at Toei Doga, and they held the belief that full animation is true animation, the ideal form for animation that would be the key to produce animated works with cinematic quality. By picking up the label of manga eiga, Miyazaki positioned the works of Studio Ghibli in the lineage and as inheritor of Toei Doga’s aspiration for cinematic animated features through the use of full animation. On the other hand, the mainstream Japanese television animation industry, which is more closely associated with anime, was developed through the use of limited animation techniques which allows them to be made at lower costs. Thus, at the foundation of the narrative of opposition between manga eiga vs. anime, there is a narrative of opposition between full animation vs. limited animation; between true works of art versus cheap commercial products.
As if to underscore that opposition, in 2004 Ghibli held an exhibition about “the complete history of Japanese manga eiga from its birth to Spirited Away.” The exhibition included works of animation that are regarded to have been produced with the vision to comply with the standards of full animation, including the films of Toei Doga. Meanwhile, many well known “anime” works were not featured in the exhibition.
This is not to say that the distinction between manga eiga and anime as narrated by Studio Ghibli’s creators are more accurate or true. But through understanding this point of view, we can gain insight on what kind of aspiration and idealism form the basis of their understanding regarding the art of animation. On the other hand, the narrative of manga eiga vs. anime is not without its critic. In a collection of essay and interviews titled Subete no Eiga wa Anime ni naru (2004), the director of Ghost in the Shell Mamoru Oshii expressed his scepticism to Ghibli’s view that animation can be like cinema. On the contrary, developments in the use of computer graphics had led Oshii to believe that cinema are increasingly becoming like animation.
In another note, Lamarre is concerned to how the narrative of opposition between full animation vs. limited animation had neglected a history of dialogue between them. For Lamarre, limited animation is no mere cost-cutting measure, but have its own artistic values and experimentations. Quoting animation critic Takuya Mori, he asserts that limited animation can blur the distinction between commercial and experimental productions. Lamarre also sufficiently demonstrates in his book that Ghibli’s films themselves did not rely purely on full animation, but also make use of certain limited animation techniques for certain artistic purposes that have their own meanings.
Amusingly enough, recently Takahata gave a lecture on the influence of classical Japanese painting on manga and anime (Takahata believes in the lineage of Japanese animation from medieval picture scrolls, which shows in his film The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013). The mention the word anime rather than manga eiga in the lecture’s title, perhaps, is at least telling that the general public is more familiar with the former term rather than latter after all.
To be continued on page 2