Tuesday 17 April 2018

The Books which Inspired Studio Ghibli Films

Amanda Kennedy

It may surprise you to know that many of Studio Ghibli's catalogue of films originate from literary sources. Howl's Moving Castle and Arietty are among the adaptations most people are aware of, yet we've discovered that 13 of the studio's 22 feature films find their origins in books.

Here is a list of those films which have been adapted from the printed page for anime by the Japanese giant of animation.

Grave of the Fireflies

This semi-autobiographical short story was written by the by Japanese author Akiyuki Nosaka in 1967 (later published as a novel including other short stories) and was adapted for the big screen by Studio Ghibli in 1988. This is a heartbreaking story, both on the screen and the page, as it is based on the author's experiences before, during, and after the firebombing of Kobe in 1945.

Kiki's Delivery Service

Kiki's Delivery Service is based on the popular Japanese children's novel, Witches Express Home Delivery (魔女の宅急便 or Majo no Takkyūbin in Japanese) which was written by Eiko Kadono and illustrated by Akiko Hayashi. First published in 1985, the novel won numerous literary awards in Japan and was adapted as the anime feature we know and love in 1989.

Kadano has written four more novels and a book series, the most recent of which was published in 2009.

Both the book and the film follow the same basic story: Kiki is a thirteen year old witch who must spend a year on her own in a town without other witches, accompanied by her black talking cat, Jiji. The film version has a much deeper story than the simpler children's book.

Something interesting to note is that the Japanese word takkyūbin (宅急便, literally home-fast-mail) is a trademark of Yamato Transport, though it is used today as a synonym for takuhaibin (宅配便, literally home-delivery-mail). Although permission to use the trademark was not required under Japanese law, the publishers of Witches Express Home Delivery chose to request this from Yamato Transport. Not only did the company readily approve the use of their trademarked word, they enthusiastically sponsored the anime film version of the book, particularly as their logo uses a stylised black mother cat transporting her kitten, which alludes to Kiki's black cat, Jiji.

Only Yesterday

The 1991 movie, Only Yesterday, is based on the manga novel of the same title by Hotaru Okamoto. Unlike many other Ghibli movies, this is a drama written for adults about the nostalgic daydreams of a young Japanese woman who has travelled from busy Tokyo for a stay in the countryside.

Ocean Waves

Ocean Waves is also known as I can Hear the Sea, and is based 1990 novel of the same name by Saeko Himuro. The film was made for television in 1993, and follows the same plot as the novel, in which a love triangle is formed between two good friends and a new girl who transfers to their high school from Tokyo.

Whisper of the Heart

Whisper of the Heart (known in Japanese as 耳をすませば or Mimi o Sumaseba) is a romantic drama with fantastical elements based on the manga of the same name by Aoi Hiiragi. The plot follows the life of a teenage bookworm who discovers the books she borrows from the library have all previously been read by the same boy. She begins to fall for this mysterious stranger, then a mysterious cat guides her to a shop where she meets someone who inspires her to write.

My Neighbours the Yamadas

This movie is based on a comic by Hisaichi Ishii that has been running in the Asahi newspaper since 1991, a collection of these strips has been made into a book.

Both the movie and comic strips present short "slice of life" episodes depicting the adventures of the Yamada family.

The Cat Returns

This is based on the novel Neko no Danshaku by Aoi Hiiragi, and may be considered a spin-off from Whisper of the Heart since it features Baron the cat, from the latter's plot.

Unlike Whisper, this is a more fantastical story in which a young girl rescues a cat while on her way home from school, only to find that she is honoured by the royal cat family and destined to become the next cat princess!

Howl's Moving Castle

This is based on the fantasy children's novel of the same name by Diana Wynne-Jones which was first published in 1986. It is the first of the Howl series of books, which also includes Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways, and bears several differences in plot.

In both the film and novel, the story follows a young woman named Sophie who is cursed by The Witch of the Waste to become an old woman and is unable to speak of it. In order to avoid her family, she heads out of town and becomes a cleaning lady for the wizard Howl, making a pact with the fire-demon Calcifer who promises to reverse her curse if she agrees to find a way to destroy the pact between him and Howl.

Tales from Earthsea

This movie is loosely based on a combination of plot and character elements from the first four books of Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, and Tehanu), and is named after the collection of short stories of the same name.

It was directed by Hayao Miyazaki's son, Goro and is the only one of the Ghibli movies to receive a "rotten" rating on the film score site, Rotten Tomatoes. Although Le Guin initially stated that she considered it "a good movie", she later expressed her true feelings in an open letter to Japanese fans on her website.


Arietty is based on The Borrowers by Mary Norton, about a family of tiny people who live secretly in the walls and floors of a typical household, borrowing items from humans to survive. Norton's novel is considered a classic children's story in the UK, and was originally published in 1952.

The Wind Rises

This film is adapted from Miyazaki's manga of the same name, which was in turn loosely based on both the 1937 novel The Wind Has Risen by Tatsuo Hori and the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Mitsubishi A5M fighter aircraft and its successor, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, which were used by the Empire of Japan during World War II.

When Marnie was There

The feature animation is based on the novel of the same name by Joan G. Robinson's 1967 novel of the same name, though the Ghibli version transports the setting from Norfolk in England to Hokkaido in Japan.

It is a gentle ghost story about a young misfit named Anna who has no friends and lives with foster parents. One day she meets a mysterious young girl named Marnie by the sand dunes, but soon Anna realises that her new friend is not all she seems to be.

How do you Live?

This final film (which could potentially be Miyazaki's last) is scheduled to be released in 2020, amd is based on the book of the same name by Yoshino Genzaburo. Originally this book was begun by the author Yūzō Yamamoto, who sadly passed away due to a sudden illness before he could complete the work which was due to be the final in the serial Nihon Shosan Bunko Bunko. Genzaburo took over to complete the novel which was finally published in 1937. Following the conclusion of World War II, the book underwent several changes and was republished in 1945 by Mira-sha. It has become a popular work in the study of the Liberal Arts in Japan. 

Which of these novels and manga have you enjoyed reading? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Amanda Kennedy / Book Blogger, Writer & Editor

Amanda is a lifelong learner and book lover who lives in the North of England with her family and several cats. She writes book reviews, literary news and bookish articles here on All My Pretty Books.

To learn more about Amanda's own work, visit her personal website.


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