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January 20, 2024
By Zoe Crombie.
As one of, if not the, most popular anime studio in the world, Studio Ghibli has attracted attention from academics, authors, and journalists globally – most recently, the book Now Go: Studio Ghibli and Grief Explores the studio in an original and highly personal way. Relating much of Ghibli’s oeuvre to personal experiences of grief and loss, this book serves as a more subjective interpretation of the studio’s artistic power.
One of the reasons that Studio Ghibli’s oeuvre has become so globally popular is that its films are open and unique enough to be interpreted in a myriad of ways by viewers from all walks of life. Though some views certainly crop up more frequently – appreciations of their delicious looking food or strong female protagonists, for instance – others are less common, such as the topic addressed by journalist Karl Thomas Smith in his short, sweet, and highly personal book.
Now Go: Studio Ghibli and Grief is a new release from the indie publisher 404 Ink for their Inklings series, predicated on ‘big ideas’ in ‘pocket sized books’. These aren’t strictly texts on films or media alone – one explores queer Greek myths while another investigates the complex identities of adult adoptees, for instance – and this diversity can also be found in Smith’s own book. Smith’s book is part anime analysis, part personal essay. It focuses on the emotional connection that many people feel to their films rather than a more rigourous exploration of their history, influences and techniques.
Smith has theorised a range of approaches towards grief by looking at Ghibli texts. These range from global responses in environmental parables to natural devastation. Princess Mononoke You can also find out more about the following: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind The types of grief that can be found in more child-oriented films like My Neighbour Totoro You can also find out more about Kiki’s Delivery Service. Primarily, this book emphasises that the concept of ‘grief’ isn’t nearly as simple as it’s often made out to be, and that films from directors like Hayao Miyazaki understand this, basing their fantastical texts in a world of complex emotional realism.
However, the central thread that ties all of these ideas together is Smith’s own experiences of grief – specifically, the death of his grandfather, his first encounter with mortality that ultimately contributed to demons he would experience later in life. Reminiscences relating to this fraught time in his life are woven throughout the majority of the book, and it’s easy to see how Ghibli viewing experiences can be tinted by this lens. The book, in this sense, encourages readers to reflect on their own relationship with Ghibli. This is perhaps more than other books that discuss the studio’s films in an objective manner.
There’s some great food for thought in each of the chapters of this book, and thankfully Smith never takes the easy way out in simply identifying ‘dark’ themes in Ghibli movies. For example, he doesn’t just focus on emotionally heavier texts like Grave of the Fireflies It rejects outright the tired idea that Totoro is a Shinigami (God of Death) leading the children into their doom. However, while part of the appeal of the book lays in its short length, it does feel as though certain texts or ideas could have been elaborated upon further – there is little to no mention of the life-giving and death-bringing capabilities of Princess Mononoke’s benevolent yet fundamentally unknowable forest spirit, which I found to be a missed opportunity.
The book is unique in its personal approach, which is its greatest strength, but also its biggest weakness. There are many books on the studio, but this one is the most personal. While it allows for beautiful musings on Smith’s own experiences and distinctive readings of characters like Kaonashi (No-Face) from Spirited Away As avatars of grief, this can also lead sections that ramble a bit, as if the author himself is working out these complex feelings on the page. This problem is also exacerbated when there are minor spelling and grammar errors. This writing style, though it may cause controversy, will likely be particularly poignant for anyone who has recently experienced something similar.
Then, you might find this interesting Grave of the Firefliesesque chaser for the other major non-academic Ghibli book released this year – Ghibliotheque’s child-friendly The World of Studio Ghibli – Now Go This is a unique contribution to the pantheon on writing about the studio. As a humble release that can be devoured by enthusiastic readers in an hour or so, this is worth picking up for any fans of Ghibli – especially as you’ll be supporting an upcoming indie publisher in the process.
Zoe Crombie, PhD candidate and associate lecturer at Lancaster University, is a Studio Ghibli expert. Now Go: Studio Ghibli and GriefNow you can order 404 Ink.