What a way to kick start the Studio Ghibli Film Festival.

For those who were eagerly awaiting to view their favourite child-friendly Studio Ghibli film, My Neighbor Totoro, on opening night, it must have been quite confronting to be faced with a rather dark short film created by Hayao Miyazaki for the song, On Your Mark, by the famous Japanese soft-rock duo, Chage and Aska.

Chage and Aska’s song mentions riding bicycles and a “hill of dreams”, so you can imagine the stupefaction once it’s revealed that Miyazaki’s On Your Mark is set in a dystopian reality and opens with masked policemen brutally raiding a congregated cult base, which eerily resembles Japan’s infamous terrorist group of the nineties—Aum Shinrikyo. The lyrics for the original song, in full, leave an impression of hope and comradery expressed in an incredibly pure and optimistic light. However, Miyazaki’s animation continues with a pair of policemen discovering a severely injured and chained winged creature held captive by a religious cult group. Both men decide to rescue her, but a nuclear emergency support team quickly whisk her away for confinement and testing purposes. Unsettled with this outcome, the police duo hatch an elaborate infiltration plan. After taking out all staff at the lab with gas, they escape with the girl who eventually finds freedom in the endless skies above, as the two men drive across the open fields.

Many may have been perplexed by Miyazaki’s exploration of terrorism and science fiction in the world of On Your Mark, especially considering his predominantly fantasy consistent portfolio. However, taking into consideration that this animation was released in July of 1995—mere months after Japan’s horrific Tokyo Subway Sarin Attack—it may be surmised that Hayao Miyazaki attempted to pay tribute to that devastating event with this animated short film. The flick offered hope during the terrifying actions of domestic terrorism by the Aum Shinrikyo.

After the confronting vividness of Miyazaki’s On Your Mark, it was delightful to enjoy the light-hearted and lively Ghiblies Episode 2. It runs for around twenty minutes, featuring a collection of short whimsical animations highlighting the ordinary events of everyday life. It was refreshing to see Studio Ghibli step out of their usual perfectly edited animations to showcase hilariously cheeky and slightly playful sketches instead.

Finally, we revisited My Neighbour Totoro, Studio Ghibli’s second film, released in 1988, only two years after its first animation, Castle In The Sky. My Neighbour Totoro tells the adventures experienced by sisters, Satsuki and Mei, after they and their father relocate to a timeworn house in the country, allowing for an easier commute to their hospital-bound mother. Both Mei and Satsuki befriend Totoro—the most adorable melancholy woodland creature. This charming children’s film immediately captivates the audience with its characterisation of sweet simplicity. From depicting two very realistic sisters who stick with each other through realistic quarrels—to Totoro reminding us all how truly enjoyable and satisfying the pitter-patter of rain on an umbrella top is.

Much can be gained from revisiting this classic animated film. Firstly, Totoro can easily be pinned as the most precious superhero as he helps nature flourish and summons the grinning cat bus to help Satsuki find and rescue Mei. Secondly, a little bit of laughter and happiness may easily be the key during uncertain times. And finally, Studio Ghibli soundtracks should never to be overlooked.

Hearing My Neighbour Totoro‘s ‘Path of the Wind’ for the first time in a very long time, had me spiralling down memory lane. As a child, I adored Studio Ghibli’s creations—this love can easily be compared to the affection of a booklover; not only are they encapsulated by the journey captured between the covers, but they love the smell of the pages, the sound of each flip and the satisfaction of a book when it folds together. Not only do I love the adventure that each Studio Ghibli film whisks me away with, but I have a deep fondness for the beauty of each intricate detail included— how swiftly the animation flows, the lessons provided and, of course, the mesmerising music conducted for each film.

Revisit the magic of Studio Ghibli, or enter the world for the first time, by enjoying the Studio Ghibli festival—running until September 20.