The Enduring Appeal of Studio Ghibli

by Melanie Totenberg

If you’ve never heard of Studio Ghibli, you’ve probably at least seen merchandise or Japanese handcrafted items that feature its most endearing and popular characters in Japanese stationery shops, supermarkets, or book shops. Totoro and No Face tend to be especially common. You might be wondering about the appeal of these characters. We’ll briefly walk you through the history of Studio Ghibli and hopefully answer why these characters continue to be popular today.

Studio Ghibli soot sprites

Studio Ghibli is an animation studio founded by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata in 1985. Over the years, the studio has developed beloved original films with recurring themes on the destruction of nature, the importance of friendship and family, and the reflection of Japanese culture and history. Many of their films have been released globally to much acclaim. One film, Spirited Away, was even awarded an Oscar in 2001.

The most popular Studio Ghibli films are My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. They also happen to be the movies you’ll see the most merchandise from outside of Japan. So why do these movies continue to appeal to generations? All four films cover young protagonists who go on thrilling journeys of self-discovery. The fantasy elements and interesting character designs create a memorable viewing experience, while the familiar story elements help keep the story grounded and relatable. If you have yet to watch a Studio Ghibli film, start with one of the four mentioned above. Though the films feature young protagonists, older audiences will find the stories and themes still resonate.

Common characters featured in merchandise are Totoro and the Catbus from My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki and Jiji from Kiki’s Delivery Service, and the soot sprites and No Face from Spirited Away. Many of these characters are popular because of their cute and unique designs making them an obvious choice to adorn everything from clothes, accessories, kitchenware, and stationery.

Catbus Studio Ghibli

Now that you’ve learned more about Studio Ghibli and its colorful cast of film characters, perhaps you’d like to bring some of the magic from its films to your kitchen. The Bokksu Boutique carries Japanese handcrafted items that will make you feel like you’ve scored a ride on the Catbus from Totoro. The Totoro Snack Bowl is a beautiful glossy bowl inspired by traditional Japanese lacquerware decorated with illustrations of Totoro and his friends. The Catbus from Totoro Plate Set is made of bamboo and comes with a matching spoon and fork. The plate is carved in the shape of the catbus with added details like the soot sprites and Totoro himself. These items also make great gifts for the Ghibli fans in your life. 

Studio Ghibli’s films continue to delight many years after their release, and it’s no surprise why. The imaginative stories centered on serious themes like growing up, self-discovery, accepting change, dealing with loss, and respect for nature are still relevant today. Not to mention the hand-drawn animated characters are unique and full of personality. These films continue to spark the imaginations of generations, young and old, and we hope that they will inspire you as well.

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