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Studio Ghibli Comes to RISD

05/15/2012

A still from Studio Ghibli’s Academy Award-winning film SPIRITED AWAY (2001).

When Associate Professor Nicholas Jainschigg 83 IL first nominated renowned Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli for an honorary degree, there was enormous enthusiasm for the idea but little hope that the notoriously private and celebrity-averse studio would actually accept – especially since the honor requires recipients to attend RISD’s Commencement ceremony to accept the award in person. After all, the studio didn’t even send anyone to the Academy Awards when its film Spirited Away was nominated for (and won) Best Animated Feature in 2002.

But convinced that shared principles – an emphasis on craftsmanship and respect for the natural world – make RISD and Studio Ghibli natural allies, President John Maeda asked for assistance from noted Japanese fashion designer and RISD alumna Tae Ashida 87 AP, who runs the high-profile fashion company Miss Ashida.

Studio Ghibli regularly declines requests from groups all over the world and is very careful about the distribution of its films. In the past, it famously sent Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein a katana sword with the message “no cuts” when he suggested edits to Princess Mononoke prior to its American release. Ghibli believes strongly in the quality and craftsmanship of their films; in maintaining the integrity of their sometimes non-linear narratives; and in having the freedom to critique capitalism and globalism while exploring themes of pacifism, feminism and the relationship of humanity to nature and technology. Long considered pioneers and great treasures in Japan – and admired all over the world – the principals of this animation studio are uninterested in accepting accolades.

Only Yesterday
A still from ONLY YESTERDAY 

Given this, Ashida knew she’d have her work cut out for her when she agreed to reach out to Studio Ghibli on RISD’s behalf. But she also admits to being optimistic from the beginning. “I suppose I always feel that artists speak [the] same language,” she says.

A mutual friend, Nozomu Goshi, creative producer in the Corporate Strategy Planning Division of The Oriental Land Company, introduced Ashida to Suzuki and his staff, who were very receptive to learning about RISD, which is not well known in Japan. “When I first met them I really felt that we shared many things,” Ashida says. “I knew they would appreciate the principles of a RISD education.” Also crucial was acknowledging the studio’s collaborative achievement by awarding the honor to Miyazaki, Takahata and Suzuki as a group. “All artists need a partner like Mr. Suzuki,” she says, adding that he “comprehends both Mr. Miyazaki and Mr. Takahata more than anybody else in the world.”

In the end, Ashida’s efforts definitely paid off: director and animator Hayao Miyazaki, his colleague and mentor Isao Takahata and producer Toshio Suzuki have agreed to accept the honor, with Suzuki coming to RISD’s Commencement ceremony on June 2 to collect the honorary degree on behalf of the studio. As part of his visit to Rhode Island, the celebrated Studio Ghibli films Spirited Away (directed by Miyazaki) and Only Yesterday (directed by Takahata) will be screened in their original Japanese (with subtitles), accompanied by a discussion with the producer.


The screenings of the Studio Ghibli films are being presented in partnership with the  Providence Children’s Film Festival. The event takes place at the RISD Auditorium on Thursday, May 31 and is free and open to the public, but tickets to each screening must be reserved in advance (using the following links):  Spirited Away will be shown at 5:30 pm, followed by a Q&A with Toshio Suzuki at 7:30 pm and the screening of Only Yesterday at 9 pm. 


tags: alumni, entertainment, global, students

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RISD has a long history of offering Saturday and after-school classes for children and teens, as this photo from c. 1910 confirms.