Truth be told, I didn't grow up watching a lot of Studio Ghibli movies, or any at all for that matter. Not until I was just about grown did I become familiar with Japanese animation studio that has produced some of the most beautifully animated and thought out movies in its 35-year history. Since then, however, I've come to know and love quite a few of the movies from the studio's co-founder and lead director Hayao Miyazki, who released classics like Spirited Away.
And since the Studio Ghibli collection is streaming on HBO Max (at least in the United States), I recently decided to introduce my young children to wild and imaginative world of the famed Japanese animation studio in hopes that they stories and their messages would take hold of their hearts and imagination. Over the course of the past few weeks, I've shown my 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son three of Studio Ghibli's most popular productions including My Neighbor Tortoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, and the aforementioned Spirited Away, and decided to record their thoughts on each movie.
Kiki's Delivery Service Has Presently Replaced Frozen II In My Daughter's Heart
I first introduced my daughter to Hayao Miyazki's Kiki's Delivery Service back when she was not quite a year old, so she doesn't remember any of it. When HBO Max launched in late May 2020 one of the first things I did was watch it with my now 4-year-old daughter and her 2-year-old brother, and she has been obsessed with it ever since. There's just something about a young friendly witch helping out people in need that resonated with my daughter. Well, either that or the fact that Kiki and her talking cat Jiji look pretty cool flying around on their different adventures.
As soon as Kiki's Delivery Service ended, my daughter wanted to watch it again, which is something she hasn't done since Frozen II and Frozen before that. And although it was too late at night for her to pick up with Kiki's adventures, my daughter was right back at it the next day, watching the Studio Ghibli classic two more times one in afternoon and once more the next day. Once again, this is something she hasn't done since she fell in love with Anna and Elsa. If she sees a picture (or if I say Kiki out loud), my daughter demands that we watch the movie. It never stops.
Kiki's Delivery Service Was My Son's First Experience With Anxiety
My son, on the other hand, had his first experience with anxiety after watching Kiki's Delivery Service for the first time. There's a scene near the end of the movie where Kiki's friend and admirer Tombo is hanging from an airship that has gone out of control. You would think that my son would be anxious about that part of it, right? Well, he was actually more upset about the police car attached to the airship's rope, especially after it falls off into a fountain hundreds of feet below.
I am willing to bet that most people who have watched this movie forget that a police car fell from the airship, but not my son. As soon as the car fell he started asking about it with questions like, "Why is the police car in the water?" for quite some time. That night, he woke up like at like 3 or 4 in the morning, and over the monitor I could hear him say, "What about the police car that fell in the water?" This went on for the rest of the weekend, and still comes up from time to time. If he sees a picture of Kiki or sees a pool of water, he often asks about the police car in the water. I don't think he'll ever recover.
My Son Was Terrified By Spirited Away, But My Daughter Was Intrigued by The Spirit Realm
My son was barely getting over his fit of anxiety from Kiki's Delivery Service when I introduced him to Hayao Miyazki's 2001 otherworldly masterpiece Spirited Away. By the time Chihiro's parents crossed over to the Spirit World and were transformed into a pair of pigs, my son was bowed out and went off to play with toys away from the madness on the screen. My daughter, on the other hand, was entranced by the sights, sounds, and wonder of the movie's detailed and strange world.
There were times when my daughter grabbed my arm or covered her face (especially when No-Face would appear on screen), but not enough to not see what was happening on screen. I found her walking that fine line between fear and curiosity, and as a parent, that was one of the most exciting things I've witnessed. Over the course of the movie, my daughter was asking all sorts of questions about the characters, their actions, and what was going on in this fantastical world that was unfolding before her very eyes.
The Stink Spirit Scene In Particular Was My Daughter's Favorite Thing About The Movie
About halfway through the movie, when Chihiro is now going by "Sen" and working in the bathhouse after pleading with Yubaba, we're introduced to a "Stink Spirit." This important scene shows the true nature of many of the film's major characters and also offers a dash of social commentary to the mix for a fun and meaningful moment.
And while my daughter is too young to understand that the filthy and trash-filled blob is an allusion to the pollution and a lack of being environmentally-conscious in the real world, she was mesmerized by the spirit's appearance and the way that Sen and the rest of the bathhouse workers came together to pull the thorn (and all that trash and gold) from the spirit's side, freeing him in the process. As the spirit flew away, my daughter laughed, called it a dragon, and asked to watch the scene again.
My Neighbor Totoro Was Equal Parts Fascinating And Terrifying In My Kids' Eyes
And then there's My Neighbor Totoro. Like with Kiki's Delivery Service, I long ago introduced my daughter to Hayao Miyazaki's 1988 iconic film about two young girls who befriend a magical beast and other spirits in rural Japan. But with my daughter's young age at the time I knew she wouldn't remember the adventure, so I made sure to watch it with her again as she got older. Surprise, surprise, both of my kids were equal parts terrified and fascinated by the story and its masterful animation.
I don't know if it's the concept of having a movie focus on two young girls that grabbed my kids' attention or if it was the fantastical world that they explore the unknown with Totoro, but they were transfixed by what they saw throughout the work of art. They didn't talk much aside from a few questions or yelling about the Catbus (more on that in a bit), so I think it's safe to say that it was a hit with the kids. But just for good measure, I will show it to them again when they get a little older.
Both Of My Kids Won't Stop Talking About The Catbus In My Neighbor Totoro
Now onto the business of the Catbus from My Neighbor Totoro. Although only featured in a few scenes throughout the movie, the Catbus is pretty much all my kids could talk about during and after the movie. My son, who's a few months shy of his third birthday, put down his toys and just stared at the screen whenever the bus was shown. It didn't send him down a spiral of anxiety like the police car in Kiki's Delivery Service, and he did run away like he did during the beginning of Spirited Away, so I think that's a success.
My daughter, is more fascinated by a Catbus than anything else from the movie, which is saying a lot considering the fact the movie is about two sisters living with their dad in the countryside while their mother is sick in the hospital. I don't know if the idea of having a catlike creature being used as a mode of transportation will cause her to look at things differently and expand her growing imagination, but I hope it gives her a short escape from the world and helps her understand that sometimes things don't require explanation.
Watching three of the most beloved Studio Ghibli films with my kids has been a great experience so far, and I think we'll continue making our way through the extensive catalog of titles on HBO Max in the weeks, months, and years to come. With so many movies to choose from, there are plenty of memories to make with the three of us (four once my youngest daughter gets a little older) together on our couch. And you can too with all the titles streaming on HBO Max.