To Talk About the Bad Studio Ghibli Films
Hayao Miazaki’s profound love for airplanes, which we see throughout many of his films, is frank even in the name of Studio Ghibli. The Caproni Ca.309 "Ghibli" was a fighter plane used by the Kingdom of Italy on the African Front in World War Two. Fun fact, the plane that is used by Donald Curtis, the antagonist in “Porco Rosso” (1992).
Also a fun fact, “Porco Rosso” is not a bad film. “Porco Rosso's” beautifully choreographed action and animation is some of the best that we’ve ever gotten from Ghibli. Perhaps it takes a certain appreciation for Golden Age of Hollywood WW2-era noir films to appreciate the love letter that “Porco Rosso” is supposed to be, with constant references to films like “Casablanca” (1942) littered throughout it. But the high praise that I can spill for “Porco Rosso” is not my universal sentiment for the entirety of Studio Ghibli’s filmography. As a matter of fact, there are many not-so-good Studio Ghibli films which many people probably haven’t ever heard about.
“Ocean Waves” (1992) is a made-for-television, low-budget romantic drama that was directed by neither Hayao Miazaki nor Isao Takahata, and was meant to be a short and cheap film created by the studio’s youngest animators. With a runtime of 72 minutes, it is the shortest Ghibli film they’ve ever produced, yet it is a terribly paced and uneventful picture that feels like an eternity. It has a grounded and simple setting which has to go further to achieve the audiences’ interest, and it falls short in that regard for a number of reasons. Taking place in Kōchi, the film centers around a love triangle between two high school best friends, Taku and Yutaka, both competing for Rikako, an attractive and mysterious transfer student that has entered both their lives.
The story, summed up, is two friends falling out over a troubled girl who never liked them to begin with, not to mention the many issues and rumored issues that they get into over her. Then several years later, upon reuniting as a class, Yutaka claims that he used to be angry at Taku for not pursuing Rikako because Taku lost a chance at love because of him. The film ends with Taku realizing that he had always been in love with Rikako, the final shot being him smiling. We the audience, however, are not smiling. “Ocean Waves” is unrewarding, failing in delivering a worthwhile message. If it teaches any lesson, it would probably be to not waste your time chasing a one-sided relationship, or perhaps don’t break your bond with your friend over a girl.
At least one can speculate a meaning from “Ocean Waves,” unlike Ghibli’s worst rated film, “Tales of Earthsea” (2006). If “Ocean Waves” was a stroll on a beach, “Earthsea” is a marathon in the desert. The film is supposed to be a challenge to nihilism. It shows a world in which there are terrible things that people do, and that even in such a world, we are able to derive purpose in ourselves. It’s a worthy message that, if not executed correctly, could leave the audience discontented, and to that, “Tales of Earthsea” does discontent.
Although Lamarckism has had no credibility since the late 1800s, Studio Ghibli still decided to give this film to Miyazaki’s son, Gorō Miyazaki, who had never directed a film before at that point. “Earthsea's” biggest problem, apart from its length, is the half-baked philosophical argument that it embodies, with our main character Arren attempting to have optimism and purpose against the villain's cynical and destructive way of thinking. It strays time and time again from the source material to the point of being a different story altogether. The books, by most accounts, do not struggle in presenting a well made argument against cynicism. Such a message is so congenial with Ghibli’s type of storytelling that it would seem hard to mess up.
This is not an attempt to pour cold water on things that people like. This is an honest look at what makes some of their films so good by looking at what makes others so bad. Watching them gives you a greater appreciation for the art of animation, and although I wouldn’t recommend them in the traditional sense, for the most dedicated fans, they are not the worst movies in existence. As a person who has gone out of their way to watch more films from Ghibli than the average person probably cares for, I can say that they are interesting art pieces, and more interesting in how often they are looked over. Blemishes are on all artist’s portfolios, but they still make them what they are, so I guess take this as a celebration of them.