Studio Ghibli Layout Designs Exhibition

Last month, Ry and I visited the Studio Ghibli Exhibition at the Shatin Heritage Centre! You may notice that we’re wearing 3 different outfits in this post…that’s because Ryan looked at every single image for such an immense amount of time that we essentially visited one gallery on every visit. Just to give you an idea of how much Ryan loves Studio Ghibli films, he did his dissertation on it…his degree was in archaeology. ‘Nuff said.

Now let’s get started! We arrived to be greeted by a family of raccoons from Pom Poko 😀

studio ghibli layout designs exhibition, hong kong, anime, pom poko 2

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the works of Studio Ghibli, here’s a little background information. Studio Ghibli was founded in 1985 when Miyazaki Hayao brought together Takahata Isao and producer Suzuki Toshio to make animation films the way they wanted to make them, unhindered by external studio pressures. Studio Ghibli is the finest animation company working today and the most profitable outside of Hollywood – even Pixar are huge fans! In Japan, their films regularly break box-office records and run in cinemas for months. On the international stage, they are highly regarded, having won numerous prestigious awards, including the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for Spirited Away (2001), the only non-English-language film to have won in this category.


The name “Ghibli” is an Italian noun based on the Arabic name for the Mediterranean wind. The idea being that the studio would “blow a new wind through the anime industry.” Miyazaki and Takahata have long been celebrated in Japan as visionary directors and icons in the field of animation. The studio has produced 20 feature films, several short films, television commercials and a television film. They also worked on one of Ry’s favourite games, Ni no Kuni. Eight of Studio Ghibli’s films are among the 15 highest-grossing anime films made in Japan, with Spirited Away being the highest, grossing over $274 million worldwide. Three of their feature films are in the top-ten-grossing non-English-language films of all time.


Ghibli proves that cinema can be art, with films that touch the soul, delighting everyone from toddlers to pensioners. Although their films can be radically different in content or tone, there are many common themes. A key theme is environmentalism and the way that mankind interacts with nature. Earth is often portrayed as suffering as a result of human ignorance. Technology is not necessarily a bad thing, but we must consider how it’s used and to what extent.


Another theme is flying, which offers a freedom unrestricted by gravity and allows the animator to work in a completely uninhibited environment. Furthermore a child or young adult functions as the central protagonist of many Ghibli films. This serves a number of purposes. Children are more open to the kind of fantastical worlds that are portrayed, unencumbered by the logic and reason that blinds their parents. They are a liberating force that allows anything to be possible. Sometimes the child is used as a way of observing adult atrocities through younger eyes.


Anthromorphism (animals adopting human characteristics); zoomorphism (characters having the form of an animal) and metamorphosis are all prevalent themes in many Ghibli productions. Additionally their fantasy films often evoke the notion of worlds that exist within our own, but we are oblivious to them. The sense of wonder gained from glimpses of these other worlds is normally seen through the eyes of young adults, children or the very old.


Another theme is Shinto, an animistic religion that sees gods and spirits in everything, resulting in a respect for human harmony with the natural environment. Social community is also of interest as both Takahate and Miyazaki were prominent members of the workers’ union at Toei studios. Their commitment to social justice is apparent in the communities that populate their films i.e. collectively aiming for a common goal and making the best of things. Finally European Influences (e.g. Scandanaivan towns, Mediterranean islands, British cities, Welsh mining towns and European market squares) and Japanese culture (e.g. school life, food, trains) are common aspects in Ghibli films. Japan is a society that has managed to retain its customs, practices, food, clothing and etiquette, even in the face of Western hegemony.


A ‘layout’ is considered as the blueprint of animation film. It consists of the director’s drawing of a scene with a number of codes to give directions to the animator and cameramen. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos in the first two galleries, so you’ll have to check it out for yourself if you’re in HK, as the work is absolutely mind-blowing!


The third and final gallery was photo friendly though! 😀 It’s much smaller than the other galleries, showcasing posters of 15 Studio Ghibli films with a Totoro that looks 3D when taken from a certain angle…but it looked a bit lame and the queue was long, so we didn’t bother.


There wasn’t a queue for a couple of snaps with Ponyo though! 😀

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Now, let’s check out those film posters!

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) (Although released in 1984, before Studio Ghibli was founded, the film is considered to be the beginning of the studio and is often included as part of the Studio’s works)

“Warrior/pacifist Princess Nausicaä desperately struggles to prevent two warring nations from destroying themselves and their dying planet.”


Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)

“A young boy and a girl with a magic crystal must race against pirates and foreign agents in a search for a legendary floating castle.”


This is Ry’s favourite! 😀


Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

“A tragic film covering a young boy and his little sister’s struggle to survive in Japan during World War II.”


My Neighbor Totoro (1988) – My favourite! 😀

 “When two girls move to the country to be near their ailing mother, they have adventures with the wonderous forest spirits who live nearby.”


Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

“A young witch, on her mandatory year of independent life, finds fitting into a new community difficult while she supports herself by running an air courier service.”


Only Yesterday (1991)

“A 27-year-old office worker travels to the countryside while reminiscing about her childhood in Tokyo.”


Porco Rosso (1992)

“The adventures of “Porco Rosso”, a veteran WW1 pilot in 1930s Italy, who has been cursed to look like an anthropomorphic pig.”


Pom Poko (1994)

“A community of magical shape-shifting raccoons desperately struggle to prevent their forest home from being destroyed by urban development.”


Princess Mononoke (1997)

“On a journey to find the cure for a Tatarigami’s curse, Ashitaka finds himself in the middle of a war between the forest gods and Tatara, a mining colony.”


My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999)

“The life and misadventures of a family in contemporary Japan.”


Spirited Away (2001)

“In the middle of her family’s move to the suburbs, a sullen 10-year-old girl wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches, and monsters; where humans are changed into animals; and a bathhouse for these creatures.”


Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

“When an unconfident young woman is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch, her only chance of breaking the spell lies with a self-indulgent yet insecure young wizard and his companions in his legged, walking home.”


Ponyo (2008)

“An adventure about a five-year-old boy and his relationship with a goldfish princess who longs to become a human.”


The Wind Rises (2013)

“A look at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II.”


The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)

“An old bamboo seller finds a princess, the size of a finger, inside a stick of bamboo.”


If you’re in HK, head down to the Shatin Heritage Centre before the exhibition ends on August 31st!

We promise you won’t be disappointed! 😉



6 thoughts on “Studio Ghibli Layout Designs Exhibition

  1. Ahh I was deliberating whether or not I should go to this exhibit- but after reading your post I think I’m convinced that I have to pay a visit !

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