Studio Ghibli’s Mastery of Realism

From sound to space, the animation studios’ fantasy films balance themselves out with gorgeous realism.


Rebecca Perez

Studio Ghibli, the profound Japanese animation studio founded by Hayao Miyazak in 1985, is one of the most celebrated animation studios in the world. Producing stunning movies such as My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away, Ghibli has one of the greatest movie roster lists of all time.

Specializing in fantasy, Ghibli has produced films featuring incredible creatures, often rooted in Japanese folklore, that drive each unique world. The characters of each Ghibli film are distinct, relatable, and undeniably human. The beauty of the movies gives each character their own special goal and story, allowing them to interact with one another in an amazing way.

Ghibli boasts an incredible range of movies, from the most outlandish, fantastical films, to movies that are rooted in the human experience. Fans are satisfied with the diversity of storylines and characters that have been created by the studio.

While Ghibli is known for its unique storylines, fantastical creatures, and flawless animation, the element of immersive realism in their films often goes underappreciated. The inclusion of realism in the immersion of an artificial environment is something that Ghibli undeniably excels at. Their films feature animation that is so exceptionally realistic and human, that you have no choice but to believe that each world is real.

A brief history of Studio Ghibli - TokyoTreat Blog

The artists at Ghibli have shown an expertise in immersive realism, especially through their process of animating movement. When representing the act of running, the animators consider the motivation of each character and give them a unique way of running. 

Whether it be Chihiro’s terrified sprint from No Face, Ponyo’s ecstatic glide across the waves, or Satsuki’s desperate run to find her sister, each character has a special motivation and way of moving. Having a distinct running style helps to ground each character in reality, even if they are running through worlds that exhibit next to no reality at all.

Along with movement, the animators illustrate realism through their backgrounds. Every background of a crowd has actual people in it. The animators have taken the time to flesh out different faces and personify the different people in the background. The imagery of real people, again, gives Ghibli films that realistic edge despite their imaginative worlds.

While Ghibli animators have put an emphasis on visual realism, the sound team also helps to play a part in audience immersion. Each film has its own unique sound design that helps deliver the illusion of physics into their imaginative visuals. Whether it’s the violent sounds of conflict from Princess Mononoke, the bustling city in Kiki’s Delivery Service, or the serene wind in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, each Ghibli film establishes an identity through sound. These audio designs contribute to each world, and juxtapose the whimsical visuals with firm realism.

Overall, Studio Ghibli has perfected a precise blend of fantasy and reality. No matter how outlandish and wild the films may be, the flashes of the real world shine through the mystique. 

With a new Ghibli film being released this year, all I can do is encourage everyone to watch it; if not for the storyline or characters, then for the stunning worlds sprinkled with real life.