In this series, Yu Kawa Shizuka and Ryunosuke Goji discuss the meaning of watching Ghibli works on screen in the age of streaming. Here is the second part.

YKS (Yu Kawa Shizuka): Through the previous discussion, I think we have arrived at one unique question: how we tackle the issue of “dynamic range” in feature animation film. Mr. Goji pointed out the sophistication of its sound(scape) design. I was fascinated by the sheer scale of sound pressure and its visuals. An ordinary setup and space at our home can hardly provide the faithful reproduction of refined sound(scape) design or scale of sound and visuals. The data volume of BluRay simply can’t compare with the data volume of the original film print or DCP material for theatrical presentation. I think Miyazaki advantageously used the full dynamic ranges of the theatrical presentation, sometimes in a very subtle manner but sometimes very baldly. We need to think about the great gulf in the technical issues and data volume between the theatrical presentation and home viewing.

Maybe I should clarify what I mean by dynamic ranges in animation feature films. First, it refers to a range of audio design from the intricate sound to the sound with enormous sound pressure, as we have discussed in the previous part. Another aspect of the dynamic range in the animation film is the range of expressions, – from very delicate drawing techniques to big, impressive action sequences like that of Catbus. To these two aspects, I would like to add, there is an issue of the context these audio and visual expressions are embedded. The discussions made me realize the importance of this third aspect.

For the sake of discussion, I would like to draw a comparison between ”Totoro” and ”Space Battleship Yamato”. In “Totoro”, we don’t see any of those “big”, “gigantic” visuals, like those in “Spaceship Yamato”, like that big Spaceship Yamato traveling in the vast cosmic space. The word “Yamato” itself leads to an association with a grandeur concept like “nation” – “Yamato” being the ancient name of Japan. You may be tempted to associate Totoro’s setting with a somewhat cosmic, or new-age type of perspective, where the Totoro is spiritually connected to the large camphor tree. But when you are watching the movie, you really don’t get that sort of feeling. Totoro , when it appears for the first time on the screen, it is sleeping in the hollow cave in the tree. Totoro is a presence having both feet on the ground, so to speak. Totoro held the ritual during the night, and grew a giant tree from an acorn in the blink of an eye. Totoros took Satsuki and Mei to the sky, hovering over the earth during the night. But all these fantastic scenes are turned out to be a dream, or so it seems. Miyazaki ambiguously left the scenes as they are. It is fascinating to think what “three meter radius” suggests in terms of Ghibli and Miyazaki works.

In March 2019, I saw “Nausicaä” on the big screen. It was during the film festival in Chofu in Japan. I was amazed at the sheer scale of “Ohmu” on the screen. In “Nausicaä”, the story revolves around the international conflict between the small kingdom of the Valley of the Wind and the military empire of Tolmekia. Ohmu is the vital presence in the story: at the beginning, Nausicaä embraces the Ohmu’s shell, while at the climax, the enraged Ohmus violently march into the Valley. During the production, Miyazaki’s team used a technique called “Gomu-Maruchi (1)” to create the animated Ohmus. In this technique, the shells of this giant creature were concertedly animated by the pieces of rubber. When I had watched the film on small screens, I had never realized, but the technique has such a unique aspect,  the “tokusatsu”-like effect, when seen on the big screen.

While the plot demanded the unique “tokusatsu-like” method to animate the adult Ohmus, the story also focuses on how Pejite uses the baby Ohmu for his plot. Here, Miyazaki depicts how the small Ohmu is used by humans as a means to political end in detail. As in the comment by Suzuki, the baby Ohmu can be within the “three-meter radius”. But the adults Ohmus are much larger in scale, larger than the size of human scales, and the main players of the Daikaisho, the deadly disaster to humans.

Miyazaki took extra care to draw and animate these baby Ohmu and adult Ohmus, especially paying attention to the difference in sizes. This reminded me of his new work, “Boro the caterpillar (毛虫のボロ, 2018)“. In this short, he focuses on the world of small insects. This world is even smaller than the sizes ranging from the large Ohmus to a small baby Ohmus, and such a minute world may not be embraced by the world of humans or even baby Ohmus. However, to Miyazaki, the world in the scale of nations to the world of insects are all interconnected and interacting in the same plane. He uses the apparatus – the screen – to explore the dynamic range of such worlds, and the expressions and techniques of animation and the theme of the story are bound tightly to this apparatus.

If we observe the animation art in Japan from the viewpoint of “3 meter radius”, we also see the importance of animation works (films) of today.  For example, I think the works by Kyoto Animation Studio, especially by its prominent director, Naoko Yamada, are particularly unique.

In “K-On!” anime series, Yamada employed so-called “Nichijo-kei (slice-of-life) (2)” approach, exploring the everyday happenings in the world of protagonists in such a very detailed way, to impart reality to the work.  This “Nichijo-kei” may be considered a descendent of the 70’s TV anime series, such as “Heidi, Girl of the Alps (アルプスの少女ハイジ, 1974)“, “3,000 Leagues in Search of Mother (母をたずねて三千里, 1976)“, and “Anne of Green Gables (赤毛のアン, 1979)“, though using much elaborate technique. As you know, Miyazaki and Takahata have involved in these 70’s anime series. In “Nichijo-kei” anime, nothing spectacular happens. But by describing the incidents around the principal characters very microscopically and vigorously, Yamada achieved the expression of almost minimalistic feel.

After achieving artistic success in “Nichijo-kei” approach in “K-On!” series, Yamada went on to direct theatrical animation works, “A Silent Voice (聲の形, 2016)” and “Liz and the Blue Bird (リズと青い鳥, 2018)“. In these works, Yamada successfully created the world filled with the “presence” or “tone”, “atmosphere” around the characters. It is not only the world of “3 meter radius”, but also the delicate feel of “air” or “aura” intimately wrapped around the character – and Yamada aimed to articulate “far-ness”, “near-ness” or “depth” of the “air” with unsurpassed elaboration. Yamada’s team consisted of many talented artists: Futoshi Nishiya, Kazuya Takao, Naomi Ishida, Akiyo Takeda and Hiroyuki Takahashi. They all contributed to this achievement. I think this is one of the pinnacles of the animation art.

In “Totoro”, Miyazaki delicately captured how Mei reacted to the ordinary happenings around her. In this sense, the approach is quite “Nichijo-kei”-like, and minimalistic. This type of animation art has been passed down to other animation studios in Japan, and the art is still being resurrected today. We can appreciate this art, technique, the expanded width of the dynamic range of the expressions, and elaboration of minimalistic expressions, in the long history of Miyazaki’s animation, “Nausicaa”, “Totoro” and other theatrical works. And I believe that his “Boro” can be placed as the leading point in this history, the history that is still evolving.

Ryunosuke Goji, camphor tree, 2016, 242 mm x 318 mm, oil on canvas

RG (Ryunosuke Goji) : I may be jumping into the conclusion a bit hastily, but I think we can say there is definitely something that can be only expressed and/or appreciated by the audience with the dynamic range offered by theatrical screening. And this prompts critique and evolution. Then, I think there are many things we can experience only through the viewing with the resolution high enough to reach this kind of appreciation. As I will explain later, I felt the “Nausicaä” I saw in the theater seemed to be something totally different from the same work I had watched over the years on small displays. Or I should say, it was totally different. It’s not something like, “Yeah, the screen is big, the sound is louder, we can enjoy the movie more on the big screen!” If the viewing environment is different, the experience is different. If the experience is different, then the impression about the work is different.

Generally speaking, we can have a “better” experience if we watch the movie in the theater equipped with a better screen and a better sound system, rather than watching it on the small TV set and speakers in it. On the other hand, even if we didn’t watch a movie in the best environment possible, once we watched the movie, we feel we did watch the movie. Whether we watch it on TV at home, with commercial breaks, in the well-lit room, or we visit the theater, pay the admission and watch the movie, there is no difference in the fact that “we watch that movie”.

But watching “Nausicaä” on the big screen in the festival, I began wondering the validity of such a thought, “there is no difference”. Honestly, the work, the images I repeatedly watched on TV, DVD or BluRay were totally different, world-apart from the movie I saw in the theater. Now I ask myself, if there is anything concrete about the work I saw regardless of the viewing environment, like, “yeah,  “Nausicaä” is about …”

For example, take “The Valley of the Wind”. That village may be a product of anthropological thought experiment by Hayao Miyazaki. But I have never thought that the people living in the village were drawn and animated with such realism and density. I was really surprised. Every frame depicting the life in the village, from the newborn baby to the elderly, cannot be separated from the social aspect (world view) of the Valley of the Wind, but each has its own meaning. It is a slowly decaying society and its people know it. Even though they accept that fact, they still try to pass down the society and the place to live to the younger generation. And each individual has his/her will to live. The dynamic tension between the society and the individual, a kind of whirl of the will, can be seen throughout the movie. This attitude is totally opposite to the attitude commonly seen today: we consume many of the movies through signs. I believe you can experience such an encounter with “the new world” only on the big screen.

However, we need to say affirmatively, ‘the work “X” is what it is’, regardless of the mode of appreciation. If we say the work is different when you see it under different circumstances, I fear that may lead to an opinion such as “if you haven’t seen it in the theater, you really didn’t see it”. Such an opinion may be worthwhile to think over. But we are no longer living in the era of “movie theater, video rentals, or TV broadcast”. Today, visual media are omnipresent and diverse. Such an attitude will limit the possibility of making and seeing the movie altogether.

After I experienced “Nausicaä” in the theater, I’ve been wondering how we can express the significance of screening the work in the theater, which has been distributed widely through various package media (and maintaining availability of such an experience) in words. What I am trying to say is, the theatrical presentation is not “a mere luxury”. and it should be possible to articulate the significance of the experience from a little bit different viewpoint. And when people share such an idea as a common conception, it may open up new possibilities to view the visual works from various different angles. I believe such a discourse is necessary today.

However, I do feel some frustration. For example, what I experienced while watching “Nausicaä” in the theater may be something “not surprising” to some people. They may say, “You can feel these things on the BluRay. They are obvious, aren’t they?”  A person can claim that his/her theatrical experience can be much more, more vivid, more expressive, than disks or TVs, even if he/she did feel it was totally different, people may react rather half-heartedly, saying “yeah, that may happen, sometimes, I guess”. Then, you may ask, how such a claim can be different from the old, ordinary conception of the classic purist, who says “you can’t say you saw a movie until you saw it in a theater”.

Here is my hypothesis; in addition to “expanded dynamic range”, “presence of the others around you” may be the key. When you are watching the movie in the theater, a stranger is sitting next to you, and this stranger may be making noises while trying to reach popcorn. Or there may be a group of teenagers whispering and giggling nearby. The guy in front of you suddenly sits up straight, blocking your view. I think people today consider this sort of viewing environment as issues of “lack of civility”. Some think they should not be allowed in theaters. On the other hand, we also desire the sense of “sharing the same thing with the others”. Like, chatting live on Twitter or Facebook about the live-stream TV. There is a stranger beyond the screen, and we like to feel the presence of such “the other”.

Maybe I am stretching the discussion a little bit too far. But I think we should be more articulate than classic “you can’t say you saw a movie until you watch it on a big screen in a big theater” type of discourse. “Expanded dynamic range” is one of the key aspects very fundamental. Then, from there, we may be able to build a case for “theatrical presentation”. Of course, we should consider the possibility of creation and appreciation regardless of the size of investment in production and reproduction.

Ryunosuke Goji, camphor tree, 2016, 1303 mm x 970 mm, oil on canvas

YKS : As we discussed earlier, Hayao Miyazaki once said “watching an animation film, once is enough”. I have been asking this question to myself for a long time: what does it mean? If you interpret it literally, you may end up with something akin to statements like “watching the movie in a theater, which is equipped with luxurious visual and audio systems, provides the ‘better’ experience than watching it on home TV set with its internal speakers”, or “you can’t say you saw a film until you watch it on a big screen in a theater”. That sounds like Miyazaki demanding the audience to see his works in the best possible environment. But the discussion so far made me realise that he may have a reason or a motivation more aggressive than such reasoning from the very start.

For example, let’s look at a character, the wolf goddess “Moro”, in Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke (もののけ姫, 1997)“. Moro is a guardian of the forest of the Shishigami, but humans led by Lady Eboshi are trying to annihilate them to gain the rich resources in the Forest. Moro is with San all the time, and is larger than 5 meters. So, Moro is so large, it does fit in the screen size. Needless to say, Moro is a symbol of the “other species” which becomes extinct by the humans trespassing their living space. Though Moro is the wolf goddess, it reminds us of the Japanese Wolf, which has become extinct, from its figure and demise. Like Ohmu in “Nausicaä”, Moro is a big presence from the human’s perspective, and when it appears on the screen, its sheer presence overwhelms the viewer.

In “Nausicaä”, there is a flashback in which her father discovered Nausicaä nursing the baby Ohmu hidden in the  hollow cave of the tree and took the baby Ohmu away from her. In these scenes, Miyazaki tried to convey that these creatures like Ohmu and Moto are not allowed to live in a world which humans trespass. The ending of “Mononoke” is filled with such sadness. Miyazaki infused Ohmu and Moro with a moment that prompted the audience to experience “encounter with the new world”. And he needed a “screen” to express such a moment.

In reality, we see lots of toy figures etc. of Ohmu. But I think Miyazaki wanted to draw a character whose large size denies the repetitive consumption as visual representation and possession. The large size of the Ohmu and Moro resists being copied and consumed in a small screen. If you re-read the narrative of these movies, you realize that these characters are not meant to be copied and reduced into a size of a palm of our hand.

In “Wind Rises”, Jiro Horikoshi, our protagonist, visits the German aeroplane manufacturer, Junkers. In this scene, we see the doors of the hanger open, and this huge plane appears. When they shot this scene, they used physical cels to the plane. In this digital age, how come they inserted the scene that uses cels? It requires a lot of labor, like that scene of Ohmu using “Gomu Maruchi”. Maybe, it effectively creates the sense of physical and sheer presence of the plane, expressing impossibility of being “owned”.

In the “Totoro at 40”, Goji pointed out “impossibility of being owned” in the Ghibli characters. In Miyazaki’s works, the characters are created with emphasis on size difference in relation to “othermess” to humans. You see that in Totoro. This scale, the dynamic range, requires the big screen.

Ryunosuke Goji, monstera, 2016 1120 mm x 1620 mm, oil on canvas

Yu Kawa Shizuka^
Musician. Photographer. Founder of music label cucuruss. Yu Kawa Shizuka’s music explores the possibility of a speech synthesizer, and de/reconstructs the sonic boundaries of text/speech/sound. His recent project is “Armadilllllllidium vulgare”. His latest work, “minamiarupusunotennensui”, is available here.
Music: bandcamp, soundcloud
Photography: note, tumblr

Ryunosuke Goji^
Artist (Oil Painting). Recent exhibitions include: “~” (Solo exhibition, Youkobo Art Space, Tokyo, 2018), “Pangea on the Screen” (Group exhibition, TAV Gallery, Tokyo, 2020).

Murderous Ink


(1)^ “Gomu-maruchi” is a rather novel unique technique employed to animate “Ohmu” in “Nausicaä”. The animation of Ohmu required the synchronized repeating motion of many parts of the Ohmu’s body, and at the time, the animators couldn’t wiggle the pieces satisfactory with the conventional techniques. So they devised a contraption that uses pieces of rubber to hold the each parts of the Ohmu’s body in place while they could move them as if the Ohmu is in motion. You can see this in action in this video.

(2)^ “Nichijo-kei” is a rather unique term to describe a certain genre/tendency of Japanese anime. The Wikipedia entry and this page may or may not be helpful.

The header image: Ryunosuke Goji, monstera 2016 (section)
All the images are courtesy of Ryunosuke Goji. Unauthorized use of the images in this post is prohibited.