Where Are the So-Called Fans?

It's interesting. Everyone is kvetching about Studio Ghibli closing its doors, and when I announce that there may be another movie in the works...crickets. Hayao Miyazaki's last feature film plays in US theaters...crickets. Isao Takahata's last feature also plays in theaters...crickets.

And then there's the curious fact of Goro Miyazaki's Ronia, the Robber's Daughter, and Hiromasa Yonebayashi's When Marnie Was There.  Absolutely no buzz for either of those. It's a safe bet that Marnie won't even make a million dollars in its upcoming US theatrical run. From Up on Poppy Hill and Tales of Earthsea didn't.

And don't even get me started on the pre-Ghibli films now available on DVD: Horus, Lupin III, Panda Go Panda, Sherlock Hound. Have any of those home video releases sold over a thousand copies? Over a hundred?

Exactly where are these Ghibli fans I keep hearing about? Were they really only Spirited Away fans, or Totoro fans? The whole scene appears to have peaked in 2011, when Arrietty was released in the States, and support has melted away ever since.

I've had this theory that Japanese animation came into vogue in the 1980s because American animation, and particularly Disney, was sorely lacking, leaving a void to be filled. With the success of Pixar, the Disney renaissance, and the dominance of Hollywood studios, that void no longer exists. People aren't looking for alternatives anymore. They might consider something different, animated movies from Japan or Asia or Europe or the UK, only as long as they fit into the existing Disney/Pixar paradigm. If not, no thanks, not interested.

I have to say that I'm a bit surprised by this. I had expected a sizeable Studio Ghibli fan community by now.  Most of the studio's major films are available on home video, as well as much of the pre-Ghibli Miyazaki-Takahata catalog. And yet, nobody is biting. Very strange, and I don't have an easy answer to explain it.

Maybe it's just the warm weather outside. But it does feel like the end of the party. Perhaps my "Conversations on Ghibli" book(s)* will serve as the final capstone of the era, a chronicle for future generations. Oh, well. If so, it was a great party. We had fun.


*I've been working to translate the Ghibli Blog essays and reviews into book form, which keeps growing and growing. We might end up with two books by the time we're done. And there's a stack of manuscripts to work on after that's done. Whee! Can I have a grant?


Stephen John Smoogen said...

Well some of us don't live near any of the places these theatrical releases are at.. and adding a couple hundred dollars in travel expenses to get to them is not really something we can do.

On the other hand, I have picked up every video released you have mentioned (some a couple of times as I have given them out as Xmas presents.)

The main thing though is to realize there are likers of Ghibli and fans of Ghibli. Likers of Ghibli will pick up videos when they have a reason to.. (having kids and daughters most especially for most of Miyazaki movies) This group changes every year or two which means that you have to constantly tell them in a new way because however you talked with the last set isn't how the next set does. Some of these people will become big fan(atic)s of Ghibli but most will buy a DVD or two watch it with their kid if they are interested and go onto something else. [This is pretty much the same with Disney and all other animations.. very very few Americans are fans of Disney/Pixar/Sony/etc. They may like it and remember it but they aren't going to see everyone even if they don't have kids anymore.

The two problems with fans is that we expect a lot more people to be as excited as us and that fandom for something is self-perpetuating and growing. The reality is that Disney spends 10-100 millions of dollars in advertising every year to make sure it doesn't get forgotten (which sounds silly but in reality is more truthful than we would like).

So thank you for doing your part in keeping Ghibli alive. Don't expect the road to be ever easy. Without people like you, it would get forgotten much quicker than we would like...

I Make Comments said...

Eh, I wouldn't worry about it so much. Just because some of these films aren't getting many comments on your blog doesn't mean that nobody's talking about them. Take Princess Kaguya, as an example. It was loved dearly among certain circles of film critics. When it came out on Blu-ray, I showed it to a bunch of people, and they all thought it was an amazing movie.

Just because there isn't a massive mainstream cultural buzz about Ghibli, doesn't mean that fans aren't out there. I know several people in my circle who are quite fond of Ghibli. There are certainly people on the internet that still talk about these films.

The thing is, most of the Studio Ghibli films age very well. They are going to be remembered as classics in animation. Classics are rarely the most popular thing when they come out. But they have lasting power that allows people to keep coming back to them.

And honestly, I'd rather see Studio Ghibli go out strong than see them try to preserve a legacy, making weak imitations of Miyazaki films. Their film catalogue, is already unrivalled by any animation studio on the planet. That's enough for me.

But it would be pretty cool if Takahata can see one final film through to the end of production.

Alexander Lockwood said...

I guess you and I will be the only ones in the theater opening day for Marnie. And I was sooo happy to catch a screening of Princess Kaguya and two for The Wind Rises in theaters. I must say, your review for The Wind Rises is hands down my favorite article on your blog. Hope to see that in your book.
A few weeks ago I was able to sit down with my new copy of Horus and enjoyed it immensely! Nice commentary btw! :) The quality of the disc has me seriously considering a Sherlock Hound and Panda purchase as I doubt those will get a blu-ray release. And I have the Lupin III blu-ray on preorder now! Us fans do exist! But yes, the enthusiasm from others seems to have died down a bit as of late.

Anonymous said...

The lack of interest in pre-Ghibli work baffles me. There's so much more before the 1980s, but no one cares at all. Then again, old school anime is a niche within a niche here in the US, so that's little surprise.

It's weird, people claim animation in the US is going through this great renaissance, but I find these new films are commercial successes only, not artistic triumphs. It's all the same and rather unexciting for me personally. All franchises and sequels and half-baked comedies with nothing much to offer but an hour and a half of distraction. Even the beloved Frozen was just average, certainly not as great as something like Bambi or Beauty and the Beast.

Even if a great deal of these fans are not interested in the fuller context of Ghibli, I don't think this is the end of Ghibli interest in the US. Perhaps there will be a resurgence later on, a rebirth of critical interest at least.

Lobo said...

Honestly, I think it's largely due to the stigma animation still has as being "for kids." And then anime has the stigma of being "weird" and "not for kids" so it's got even more of an uphill battle. I know tons of people who still tend to dismiss Pixar despite the mountains of critical praise their films have received. The public at large still just isn't super accepting of animation as a serious medium so almost anything that isn't from one of the major studios gets overlooked.

It also probably doesn't help that Ghibli's films haven't exactly been getting a very wide release in theaters. I'm from Los Angeles, but I go to school in Alabama, and when I wanted to go see The Wind Rises in theaters I had to drive like 45 minutes away because only one smallish theater in my area was showing it. And with The Tale of Princess Kaguya, as far as I could tell it didn't open anywhere within a hundred miles of me in Alabama and by the time I got home to LA for Christmas Break it was already out of theaters (finally got in on DVD about a month ago and thoroughly enjoyed it).

JC said...

I don't know *anyone* personally as passionate about Ghibli films as I am. I live in Japan, and the number of anime appreciators at all that I've met here are...maybe 2? And those were both Naruto fans. A friend of my wife (an artist herself) is the only other person I've met who has an appreciation for Ghibli and anime in general.

My wife jokes about my Ghibli otaku-ness (but she's game to watch the movies when I drag her along). My son (13 now) hates Ghibli with a passion (though he loved the movies when he was much younger...he's just stubborn). I *never* collect anything, but my exception is Ghibli blurays/dvds. I buy them on as soon as they are available. I go see them in the theater regardless of no subtitles. We even went to see the Mononoke Hime play when it came to Tokyo! (it was terrible and we left half way through)

Anyway, my point is that those of us who care deeply about what the Ghibli team has produced over the decades are a very small minority. I think you are right that there are some people who have seen Totoro or Spirited Away (usually due to having kids) and while they may have fond memories that's about it.

I just keep hoping that I'll meet someone who truly shares this passion and we can totally geek out about it. But it seems unlikely. Hopefully my grandkids will appreciate their grandpa's good taste in movies someday.

And there's always the hope that some new blood will show up and start making great movies again (Satoshi Kon...why did you have to go so soon!). I don't care if they are popular, I just want to see great art made.

StephenM said...

Well, apparently there's a few of us out here. I, for instance, drove an hour to see The Wind Rises in theaters twice, and drove 45 minutes to see Tale of Princess Kaguya once. Both were first-day-available Blu-Ray/DVD-combo purchases for me. I also eventually caved and bought the Horus DVD--which is excellent, btw. I even own Miyazaki's Starting Point book, and have been considering buying the second one for ages.

But there's a limit to how much I can get right now. I'm a college student and am poor, and paying for these things is a real splurge for me. And to be honest, there are other ways of watching some of these movies rather than paying for them. I'm interested in the Cagliostro DVD, but I do already have a download, and as I said, I'm poor, so it'll have to wait. And the Lupin III series is all up on Hulu, as is Panda Go Panda I believe, so there's not much need to buy it. Plus most of the big Ghibli movies are available at the local library if I get a hankering. (I suspect that's how most parents look at them--easy to rent when you want them. Unless they're fans themselves or their kids directly request them, they're not going to spend a bunch on Ghibli movies.)

The fan community on the torrent sites you link to always seems pretty robust to me, though. There were always plenty of seeders to get whatever I needed. And unfortunately, while this community is great about spreading the love and maintaining access to unavailable material, it probably influences many users involved not to actually spend money on the discs when they've already got the files.

Anyway, I'm obsessed enough that I spend time writing my own in-depth, long-winded reviews on Miyazaki, so check out this one if you have a mind:

Jonathan Walmsley said...

This again huh, I'm sure you lamented this lack of popularity at some point in the relatively recent past. Why is it so surprising and more tellingly, important?

Anime itself is a niche in the west, no matter how popular it may appear on the interwebs - to the average working joe they know as much about anime as I do about particle physics, which is nil.

Then Ghibli is a niche within a niche, and pre-ghibli Miyazaki and Takahata a niche within a niche within a niche. This stuff doesn't get the popular mainstream attention of say a Toy Story or Frozen because there isn't a multi-million dollar marketing campaign out here to ensure that happens.

Besides, why does it matter how well-recognised or appreciated something is to the general public? They are hardly a barometer of quality here. All that matters is that you, as an individual, appreciate the superb artistry on display and that if you want to, share it with as many people willing to listen around you (which is what this blog is an extension of I’m sure). But leave the masses out of this, most don’t really care enough about film in general, never mind animation specifically and then anime beyond that to really give a rat’s arse, excuse my French.

Ghibli is popular enough in Japan itself that it’s been able to sustain itself and make more movies, and that’s all that has really mattered in terms of financial reasons. In the West, even Spirited Away hardly did gangbusters compared to even the worst Pixar film, so international revenue has hardly been that important.

I might be mistaking you, perhaps you are more specifically vexing about the lack of support so called Ghibli fans show the movies, but then not everyone has a blog or is into social media and feels the need to spread the word to anyone and everyone. Is it not enough to watch the movie and enjoy it and appreciate it on an individual level and, if you want, share it with those you know and think might appreciate it? If you meet others that share your appreciation, great, that’s something to value, and if a fan community develops naturally, that’s great too, but they’re not necessary for something as artistically amazing as Ghibli’s works (or any great work) to still be great art. Whether everybody loves it or just one person, great art is still great art and that should be enough in my own opinion. Time will be the true test, and so far, Ghibli’s films (and many of the pre-works) age remarkably well.

Christian Kent said...

I couldn't agree more. As an animator, myself, this is particular disheartening. I recently saw Marnie and it just wrecked me. I can only dream of creating something so majestic, and knowing that even if I did it would be largely ignored is almost enough to convince me to throw the towel in.

Grega bitežnik said...

I also watched Marnie and while I was very impressed with its artwork, animation and most of the sound design I have to say that the script was terrible - especially the dialogues. I have to really think hard to find another movie which had such badly developed characters and so much nonsensical situations. Bland, boring and pretentious ( in that I feel it tried to do much more than the writer/director was capable of ). The true heroes of the movie were the animators but as for the creative force behind the movie I feel they are not ready to do such big projects. I had a bunch of friends and family watching this with me - all of us are huge ghibli fans ( yes also Takahata and the lesser known Miyazaki stuff ) - but everybody thought it was terrible. And we were not trying to compare it to Miyazaki but were only hoping for a good film. It was not.
If this keeps up I have no problem if the studio dissolves - maybe it would be an opportunity for new exciting things.

Panino Manino said...

The Ghibli we love to love and talk about in reality means "Miyazaki,Takahata and Kondo", that's why with each day your traditional Ghibli fan will look more towards the past instead of the future.

I don't have the tiniest bit of hope in Goro, but who knows, Ronja can be good. I'm about to start watching it but as for Marnie... I already watched and you excuse me if I say that it is "garbage". It's sad and depressing see something with the brand Ghibli as bad as this movie is. Pure cringe nonsensical melodramatic drama.

Adrienne said...

I must concur with what others have said about Ghibli and pre-Ghibli films being somewhat niche, even for people who have seen a couple of the films (at least here in the US).

You all are lucky. I'm a sailor stationed in a little God-forsaken town when I'm not on a 6-9 month deployment, where it's hard to see these films in theaters!

In my mind, I never considered Studio Ghibli films (Or Satoshi Kon's for that matter) to be "anime", and I feel like most anime fans also feel this way. Ghibli films don't go to the (for lack of a better word) "pornographic" excesses of anime or hollywood films. The worldview and sense of timing in the Ghibli films are very different, and don't really inspire the kind of neurotic obcession that sustain most other fandoms. Ghibli films don't exite sexuality or glorify violence, and they aren't vehicles to sell toys. They aren't edgy with soap opera plot twists or filled with snappy one-liner dialogue. They're not "cool." Miyazaki's films in particular always make me feel "purified" in a way. They have a cleansing effect. I'm a really hypersensitive person (then God, why did I join the military?!), and most anime (whether happy or sad in content) leave me strangely depressed at the end.

Hardcore Ghibli fans are few and far between. I have yet to meet anyone in person I could have an informed conversation with about anything Ghibli related, but can find people to talk with about "Attack on Titan". So.. I think people who have seen them respect and appreciate these films on one level, but prefer to talk about works that appeal to their "baser" instincts? I dunno, sounds arrogant as hell, but I think it's true.

Grega bitežnik said...

Panino: that was exactly my reaction. The melodrama was so bad that it felt like a comedy/satire of the genre. It was so superficial that not even the worst hollywood 3d cartoons come close.

Adrienne: beautiful thoughts! Precisely my reasons on why I love these movies so much. They go beyond the superficial "happy/sad" stuff which is present in most of our culture ( worldwide ).
There is a clear push in the media for neurotic inducing shows. For obsessions and fetishes and mechanization of desire. It is a sickness. This is most apparent when looking at children who have more and more mental problems, almost no emotional life and use little imagination.
These movies go against this sick trend and offer a much more positive vision of humanity.

Hanna said...

I am working at a tech camp for kids this summer and one day a week I wear my Ghibli shirt and almost all of them know what it is and praise me on it and start talking to me about ghibli vs. when I was their age it felt like no one in the states knew what Ghibli was. I honestly believe their movies are a treasure for humanity and will be cherished as long as organized society exists.

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