Studio Ghibli is possibly the most renowned animation studio from Japan, and is often referred to as the Disney of Japan. Personally I think that is an understatement. Sure Disney still make some great films, and their work with Marvel (and potentially Star Wars) is to be commended, but I would say they’re no Studio Ghibli. People still talk about that moment in Bambi or certain scenes in The Fox and the Hound, but these pale in comparison to some of the heart wrenching moments that are present in the works by Studio Ghibli, and this is coming from someone that can be considered to have a heart of stone.
So here is a list of of what I deem the most depressing moments of Studio Ghibli. Expect Spoilers!
5. Howl’s Moving Castle – Howl’s return from fighting
I admit this is a bit vague, but I refer to the moment where Howl returns after fighting off the various bombers which are carpet bombing the nearby city, as Sophie witnesses the absolute devastation that is taking place below and the inferno Howl is now causing above. Sophie awaits in sheer horror at what is taking place, to then discover a badly wounded Howl still in his bird form, worried whether he’ll be able to turn back to his human self or even if he will survive at all.
4. Princess Mononoke – The corruption of the boar God
There are many unhappy moments that occur in Princess Mononoke, but for the moment that stands out is the one surrounding the now blind boar God as he is manipulated into heading towards the Forest Spirit. Meanwhile San is desperately trying to stop him knowing the devastation that will occur if Jigo’s men make it to the Forest Spirit, all the while the corruption is taking hold of San progressively weakening her in the process.
3. Kiki’s Delivery Service – Jiji stops talking
The point in the film at which Jiji stops talking is symbolic of of Kiki’s journey and is meant to portray that Kiki has matured to the extent where she no longer needs to talk to her cat. However that doesn’t make it any less upsetting, as the reason why she has matured is because of the recent problems she was facing at that moment. The scenario only added to her isolation that she was experiencing in a foreign city miles away from her home and family, and now her best friend has just abandoned her. The only upside is that she does get over it due to her friendship with Tombo and regaining her powers.
2.1 The Wind Rises – The Great Kanto Earthquake
I have split this entry into two parts, mostly because the film is so recent, and in the UK at least had a fairly limited distribution (I had to travel to another city because it wasn’t showing in mine), therefore it is unfair to give away the third act of the film.
This part though was evident in all of the trailers and takes place fairly early on in the film. The destruction that takes place isn’t as bad as what is depicted in Grave of the Fireflies but the way it is portrayed is very effective, especially the use of the human vocals for the sound effect of the ground bellowing as it destroys everything on top of it.
2.2 The Wind Rises – Spoiler!
You have been warned!
The Wind Rises has been described by some as a mix between the aerial playfulness of Porco Rosso and the desperation of Grave of the Fireflies, and to a point that is correct. It is is not as devastating as Fireflies but it is no happy ride either as the ending can definitely be considered as bitter sweet. The film is mostly about Jiro’s dream of making the perfect aeroplane and his journey to achieve this goal. In the process he also manages to find the love of his, Naoko. Unfortunately this is not without its complications. His dream is largely commandeered by Japan’s military interests, but it is after Jiro reunites with Naoko and expresses his feelings for her that he learns of her present battle with Tuberculosis, one that she is not going to win, meaning that all their time together is precious.
This takes a particularly dramatic turn when Naoko has a lung aneurism whilst out painting and she only gets worse from there. You have the suspicion that she won’t survive, and this is indeed the case as during the moment when Jiro’s dream comes true it is indicated that she has just passed. This is followed by the terrible defeat that Japan faced, but also the destruction of every single craft based on Jiro’s design.
1. Grave of the Fireflies – All of it.
I know it is cheating slightly to include an entire film, but if you have seen Grave of the Fireflies I think you will understand. The film depicts a brother and sister and their struggle to survive during the final months of World War Two, by this point the United States are doing their utmost to bomb Japan into total submission. In the West we rarely hear about those on the “other side” who suffered during the war. The film isn’t necessarily an attack on America, but more of a depiction of the absolute horrors of war which everyone can face, no matter which side you are on. This is a film with no silver lining, no bitter sweet ending. Seita and Setsuko situation starts off as making the best out of a bad situation to pure unmitigated pain and sorrow. It is a film that everyone needs to see, but I understand if you can’t bring yourself to give it a second viewing.
Honorable Mention: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch – The Death of Oliver’s Mother
I put this as a bonus as whilst Studio Ghibli were deeply involved with the creation of this videogame, Level 5 (the creators of the game) also had a say on the story, so I am uncertain where the decision was made for this gut wrenching decision to be made. But it was necessary for the story as it is what propels the narrative and is the main motivator towards Oliver’s decision to journey to the other world.