Thursday 7 August 2014

Studio Ghibli's Future: What's Next for the Revered Studio?

After all the craziness that rose up recently over the alleged closure of Studio Ghibli, I was going to write an editorial mourning its closing and celebrating its legacy. Fortunately, those reports have been debunked and Studio Ghibli is still open, albeit not quite as we knew it. A restructuring is imminent and the prospect of closing down its production team is not far fetched. So now that the three people who have managed the studio for 29 years (Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki) have retired, what's next for the celebrated studio? And what can they do to avoid shutting down? We'll take a look at how things have been running and how the studio can improve those things and re-emerge as a stronger studio, ready to look into the future and continuing to provide audiences with stellar motion pictures.

No more 'One Man Show'

Ghibli's "Big Three": Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki and Isao Takahata.

One of the first things known that come to mind when you think of Ghibli, and perhaps one of its biggest flaws, has been that it, largely, has been a one man show. Even though, many individuals have directed Ghibli films, none of them carry the same weight as Hayao Miyazaki. Both in its native Japan and in the western hemisphere, Miyazaki's films are a bigger draw than any of the other films put out by the studio. Just look how much his last film, The Wind Rises, grossed at the Japanese box office ($113 million) against Takahata's, The Tale of Princess Kaguya ($22 million), and you can see that people don't really care for films that are not directed by him. The fundamental problem here is that there was never a clear successor (or successors) to Miyazaki. Neither Goro Miyazaki nor Hiromasa Yonebayashi had positioned themselves to carry the Ghibli brand after Miyazaki's retirement. That's not to say we need someone to copy Miyazaki's style, but rather to create distinct films that audiences will recognize as belonging to the studio. Unfortunately, with Miyazaki's retirement, Studio Ghibli is now in a similar situation to that of Disney Animation after Walt died. The lack of clear successors is a problem, because people are stuck copying a style instead of creating and nurturing their own. If Ghibli wants to succeed in this next phase, they need a variety of individuals that can nurture their own style and not rely on just one individual to succeed.

Better and faster licensing/distribution deals

Japan has the joy of enjoying a new Ghibli film almost every summer, but the rest of the world needs to wait a frustrating amount of time until the film reaches them. In a modern world where almost every film gets released simultaneously (or very close to its original release date) all around the globe, it works against the studio that most of the world has to wait an insane amount of time to see their films. After all, a subtitled/dubbed version of the film can be done rather quickly, so it's not too far fetched for a Ghibli film to arrive quicker to the rest of the world. Also, they need to improve their licensing deals with worldwide distributors. While Disney introduced Ghibli to the western hemisphere, in recent years they've being doing a pretty poor job distributing these films both theatrically and on home video. They ultimately dropped their distribution deal, which passed onto GKIDS, but in terms of home media, they are very slow and show no signs of improving. I think Ghibli needs better distribution deals, where the distributors can release their films with an appropriate marketing campaign and with release dates closer to the Japanese one. Also, they need to broaden their licensing deals to other parts of the world, like Latin America. I live in Ecuador and there's no distribution whatsoever for Ghibli films. The only way to see their films is through bootlegged copies (I don't condone piracy but when there's no other way, what can you do?). It's imperative for the studio to build a worldwide brand as recognizable as Pixar or Disney if they want their films to succeed outside of their homeland.

Make the audience care

Now this is the trickiest part of the situation. For all the awe and admiration that Ghibli films earn, that doesn't often translate into money. And, unfortunately, money is what is going to be needed to keep the studio afloat. Outside of Japan, Ghibli films make very little money and that's because the audience don't really care for the films. Yes, the animation community shows its support for the studio, but in terms of money, we are the minority. When the films arrive to Europe or the US, their box office receipts are very paltry to say the least, making their financial situation difficult. So how can the audience be made to care more about these films? Well, as I stated above, faster and better licensing deals are one way to pique interest in the films, but a well done marketing campaign can also go a long way. The truth is: audiences are unpredictable and, no matter how good a film is, sometimes they just don't respond to it. However, if the conditions improve, there's a chance that these films can gain more exposure around the world.

Closing thoughts

Ghibli's hiatus can be seen as a positive thing, as the studio may be preparing for their next step after Miyazaki's retirement. A restructuring is paramount if the studio wants to survive and build the next generation of Japanese animators and filmmakers; a generation that has a great legacy to live up to, but, with the right training and nurture, one that can make Studio Ghibli a powerhouse studio known all around the world, just like its US counterparts are. Let's just hope that this step back won't mean the closing of this great studio, but rather the rebirth of a stronger one.


  1. Well said sir ...
    but also you need to consider this time is really challenging for studio ghibli and any studio in the world that makes a traditional animated features in general .
    studio ghibli is one of the few studios that still make a hand-drawn animated films and as it seems this days are very challenging for this type of animation with CGi's raising strong and dominating this genre in the eyes of the audience and industry , even Disney thrown away their way in traditional animated movie to fully 3D movies is clear message of what people demanding these days , Especially that they gives money to what gives their children a good time and in that aspect traditional animation is weak .

  2. Munir Abedrabbo7 August 2014 at 19:23

    That's true. The precarious state of traditional animation is also a factor against Ghibli.