How does Studio Ghibli achieve such immersive realism in their films?

Chihiro—a cel-drawn caricature of a little girl—taps her feet into her shoes as she scuttles out of the boiler room. This small detail could easily be overlooked, but it isn’t. In fact, details such as these abound in the films of Studio Ghibli, exemplary of their masterful approach to animation. These small details provide what I refer to in this video essay as immersive realism. 

Studio Ghibli has consistently created the most compelling animated films I have ever seen, in part due to their immersive realism. Despite the fantasy and magic, Ghibli’s films consistently feel tactile and realistic. In this video essay, we explore how Studio Ghibli consistently achieves immersive realism in their films.

"Anime may depict fictional worlds, but I nonetheless believe that at its core it must have a certain realism. Even if the world depicted is a lie, the trick is to make it seem as real as possible.

Stated another way, the animator must fabricate a world that seems so real, viewers will think the world depicted might possibly exist."

—Hayao Miyazaki
Starting Point

Ghibli films
  • Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 1984)
  • My Neighbor Totoro (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 1988)
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 1989)
  • Only Yesterday (dir. Isao Takahata, 1991)
  • Ocean Waves (dir. Tomomi Mochizuki, 1993)
  • Whisper of the Heart (dir. Yoshifumi Kondō, 1995)
  • Princess Mononoke (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 1999)
  • Spirited Away (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
  • Howl’s Moving Castle (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 2004)
  • From Up on Poppy Hill (dir. Gorō Miyazaki, 2011)
  • The Wind Rises (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 2013)
Additional footage
  • The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (dir. Mami Sunada, 2013)
  • “The Making of Spirited Away” & “Spirited Away: Behind the Microphone”, Spirited Away DVD special features
  • The Lord of the Rings (dir. Ralph Bakshi, 1978)
  • Fire and Ice (dir. Ralph Bakshi, 1983)
  • American Pop (dir. Ralph Bakshi, 1981)

Mary Lattimore


Starting Point Turning Point by Hayao Miyazaki