A Brief History of Studio Ghibli

By Kat Lawson

In honour of Hayao Miyazaki’s 74th birthday yesterday, we’re taking a brief look at the history of one of the world’s most famous production companies outside of Hollywood: Studio Ghibli.

Founded in June 1985 in Tokyo, Japan, with funding from Tokyo based publishing company Tokuma Shoten, Studio Ghibli was the brainchild of Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki. The success of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, a 1984 anime feature film directed by Miyazaki and produced by Takahata, with Suzuki also serving on the production committee, prompted the trio to set up Studio Ghibli for their next production: Laputa: Castle in the Sky which was released in 1986.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is widely considered to be Studio Ghibli’s first production, and is often included in collections of the studio’s work but it was actually a co-production between Tokuma Shoten, Hakuhodo and Top Craft, and was released a year prior to the formation of Studio Ghibli.

The name Ghibli refers to the Arabic name for the sirocco, also known as the “Mediterranean Wind” or “Hot Sahara Wind”, the studio’s intention was to “blow new wind through the anime industry.” (The Birth of Studio Ghibli: 2005). The name also pays homage to the Italian war plane the Caproni Ca.309, nicknamed Ghibli, representing Hayao Miyazaki’s love of both Italy and planes. In Japan the name is usually pronounced ‘jiburi’ whilst in the West it is more commonly pronounced ‘geeblee’ or ‘giblee’.

The original intention of Studio Ghibli was to produce only feature films based on original work, although the studio has produced a TV film, numerous short films and TV commercials as well as its 20 feature films.

In its 29 year lifespan Studio Ghibli has enjoyed massive success with many of its films on both the domestic and global film markets, with nine of their feature length films amongst the twenty highest grossing anime films of all time. (1.Spirited Away, 2. Howl’s Moving Castle, 3. Ponyo,5. Princess Mononoke, 6. Arrietty 7. The Wind Rises, 12. Tales from Earthsea, 14. From Up on Poppy Hill, and 19. The Cat Returns)

The studio’s first real Box Office success wasKiki’s Delivery Service which became the highest grossing film of 1989 in Japan. The film was the studio’s fourth release, following Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), Grave of the Fireflies and My Neighbour Totoro (both 1988), although the studio’s third release My Neighbour Totoro has enjoyed more success and had more of a cultural impact on the international film market, frequently featuring on lists of top non-English language films, and top animated films. The studio also had the highest grossing films of 1991, 1992 and 1994 in Japan with Only Yesterday, Porco Rosso and Pom Pokorespectively.

However, Studio Ghibli’s biggest success came in the form of 2001 feature film Spirited Away, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Toshio Suzuki. Spirited Awaybecame the highest grossing film ever released in Japan, finally knocking James Cameron’sTitanic off the top spot, as well as being the first film to gross $200million before opening in the USA. The film also received success and critical acclaim on the global film market becoming the only anime film ever to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, as well as the only non-English language film ever to win the award.

In August 2014 Studio Ghibli announced that they were temporarily halting production following the retirement of founding member Hayao Miyazaki in 2013, the company claim to be re-structuring and re-evaluating in the wake of Miyazaki’s retirement. Miyazaki continues to work within Studio Ghibli, working on the Ghibli Museum, set up in 2001, as well as working on his own Manga projects. This has lead to rumours that Studio Ghibli will never produce another feature film, although Miyazaki maintains that his intention was not for Studio Ghibli to end production, instead he wanted to retire, making room for other anime writers and directors to emerge.