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Surrealism in Studio Ghibli Films

Proof of Concept Presentation

Paris Lucke
Proposed Dissertation Enquiry
For my dissertation I’d like to explore Surrealism in Japanese Animations. I
would like to look into the beginnings of surrealism and the psychology of it by
looking into Freud’s and Jung’s theories of the conscious and subconscious. I
will look into how these theories changed art by looking at surrealist figures
such as René Magritte, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, André Masson and André
Breton and how they apply these theories to their work (automatism). I will
then research how surrealism is applied to film making in addition to
discussing how postmodernism relates to it (non linear narratives and
escapism). Then I will look into high culture and the debate of what is art?

I want to then look from the West to Japan, how surrealism spread to Japan
and talk about Japanese surrealists. Then I will look into Japanese animation
history talking about the war lost to America and the Disney animations they
imported, kamishibai (paper plays on bikes), Mighty Atom (aka Astro Boy),
Japanese society (hikikomori and otaku) and their need for escapism and
confinement to anime.
Proposed Chapter 3 Case-Study
Before introducing Studio Ghibli, I will discuss Hayao
Miyazaki’s importance to anime history and about anime
having to update to keep up with postmodernism which
began to dominate artistic sense around the world. Then I
will discuss Miyazaki’s film making techniques and how that
contributes to the story as well as surrealist techniques
before mentioning Ghibli’s reputation that aligns with
surrealism and postmodernism also mentioning about
animation as a medium for surrealism will be discussed -
how it effects and strengthens the story’s themes in contrast
to live action footage. Then I will move onto my three Ghibli
case studies: Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro and
Howl’s Moving Castle.
Key Themes

Surrealism, psychoanalysis, dreams/dreamworlds,

conscious/subconscious, postmodernism, avante-garde,
anime, hyperrealism, escapism, history, culture, society,
film theory, children, spirits, nonlinear narratives.
Proposed Theoretical
Frameworks and Their Theorists

Sigmund Freud - Psychoanalysis and the Uncanny

Jung - Psychoanalysis

Baudrillard - Hyperreality

Postmodernism (avante-garde, non linear narratives,

postmodern art)
5 Big Books and Why
Studio Ghibli: The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata by
Colin Odell & Michelle Le Blanc
It discusses the films from Studio Ghibli and offers an insight that can be
linked with Surrealism such as why child characters are often used (free spirits)
and the creatures they interact with, worlds within worlds, why flying is a
common theme. It also contains film reviews, discusses Japanese culture and
the theme of struggling between tradition and modernity.

The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud

Surrealism’s technique of automatism is influentced by Freud’s theories, in
'The Interpretation of Dreams' Freud explains his ideas about the unconscious
by studying the relationship between dreams and waking life.

What Freud Really Said by David Stafford-Clark

This book discusses and explains Freud's words and has a chapter based on
Freud's book 'The Interpretation of Dreams'.
5 Big Books and Why
Surrealism and Cinema by Michael Richardson.
Because it discusses the influence surrealism has on film by talking
about Surrealist's concerns and intentions for film making.
“Surrealists are not concerned with conjuring up some magic world
that can be defined as ‘surreal’. Their interest is almost exclusively in
exploring the conjunctions, the points of contact, between different
realms of existence.” (Page 3).

Simulation and Simulcra by Jean Baudrillard

This book distinguishes why the two terms that are often put together
are different. Dada was anti art - defiant art during the rage of WWI
revelling in chaos, the most famous participant would be Marcel
Duchamp with his 1917 piece ‘The Fountain”. Surrealism on the other
hand is about psychoanalysis - exploring the subconscious mind and
putting man and woman back in touch with it.
Other Books and Why
Otaku Japan’s Database Animals by Hiroki Azuma
His book was mentioned in the Otaku documentary, Azuma is a Japanese
film critic who in his book discusses postmodernism and anime, I am
looking at this book in more detail than the documentary briefly does.

Dada and Surrealism by David Hopkins

This book distinguishes why the two terms that are often put together are
different. Dada was anti art - defiant art during the rage of WWI revelling
in chaos, Surrealism on the other hand is about psychoanalysis - exploring
the subconscious mind and putting man and woman back in touch with it.

What is Surrealism by André Breton and Franklin Rosemount

The book's introduction explores what the first principals of Surrealism
was according to André Breton the writer of the first manifesto on
Other Books and Why
A Companion to Dada and Surrealism by David Hopkins.
There is a chapter in this book which discusses Dada and Surrealism
in Japan.

Surrealism by Michael Robinson

This book is like a surrealism exhibition in a book, it contains much
work and explains their techniques, for example: the battle of fishes
by André Masson (1926).

Surrealism The Dream of Revolution by Richard Leslie

This book follows the development of Surrealism from its roots in
Dada to its later international manifestation and influence on abstract
expressionism, cubism and pop.
3 Journal Articles and Why
Simply Psychology: Carl Jung -

This article compares and explains Freud’s and Jung’s theories on Psychoanalysis.
Jung was an important student to Freud but the pair parted ways.

A brief introduction to C.G. Jung and Analytical Psychology - http://

This article explains Jung’s theories in more detail with supporting quotes - it is a
good introduction to Jung and where to look for research.

Shinto Daydreams -

This article addresses Miyazaki’s approach to Miyazaki’s film making and storytelling
techniques as being outside of the mainstream.
2 more Journal Articles and Why

Everything you need to know about Studio Ghibli -
This article talks about Studio Ghibli’s film reputation in the
animation industry.

Reality Within and Without: Surrealism in Japan and

China in the Early 1930s -

This article is a good starting point for understanding how

surrealism was brought into Japan.
2 Websites and Why
Introduction to Surrealist Film by looking at key ideas,
fundamentals, the beginnings of surrealist films (films that inspired
such as The Cabinet of Dr Caligari), aesthetics etc.
This website looks at how surrealism has influenced the animation
industry and has a section on Studio Ghibli.
1 Documentary and Why

Anime and Otaku - Down The Rabbit Hole

This documentary explores the history of animation

in Japan, Japanese society and talks about American
influence on Japanese animations.

Part 1:

Part 2:
Video Essays (Mini Documentaries) and Why
The Immersive Realism of Studio Ghibli -

Talks about animation as a medium and how it empowers the studio’s films.

Hayao Miyazaki and the art of Ambivalence -

This video discusses mainly Spirited Away among other Ghibli films the
way Miyazki engages with the feeling of ambivalence - a key feeling of
reacting to surrealism.

Hayao Miyazaki What can you Imagine? -

This video discusses the documentary “The Kingdom of Dreams and

Madness” which is about Miyazaki making his last film in his 70s, we hear
from Miyazaki his process of film making, he draws storyboards first and
adds dialogue much later, he shows an audience what to feel rather than
tells them. He doesn’t make films to tell stories, he draws the realities he
wanted to experience, which he brought to life through animation.
Key Images and Why

This shot from Spirited Away is This scene in Spirited Away is a

an example of Surrealism in strong example about why this
film is Surreal which will be
anime, the uncanniness of these
linked with the ‘Art of
characters, the giant baby, the
Ambivalence’ video essay and the
crow with Yubaba’s head, Yubaba
Studio Ghibli book. Also
floating, the heads on the floor - illustrates the surreal character
this shot alone is surreal. spirit ‘No Face’.
Key Images and Why

My Neighbour Totoro is about two girls who

move home with their father and to their
This image is useful for
surprise they discover that they share this
home with some rather unusual creatures and displaying the surreal
forest guardians for neighbours that the girls
characters of the film,
call Totoro, this image is useful for illustrating
the youngest girl (Mei) finding the surreal the ‘Catbus’ and ‘Totoro’.
world of the forest guardians.
Key Images and Why
Battle of Fishes, 1926 by André Masson is an
example of how automatism as a techniques is
used. He poured glue on a canvas “automatically”
and put sand over it, then he removed excess
sand and started adding paint and lines until the
image manifested itself to him.

The image is fish being attacked by birds as if

being viewed through water.

Japanese Surrealist
Tetsuya Ishida’s dark
surrealism paintings of
himself as a salary man -
died 2005 aged 31.
Anime and Otaku Down The Rabbit Hole Part 1. (2017). [user-generated content online]. Creat. Knudsen, F. 18
February 2017 At:

Anime and Otaku Down The Rabbit Hole Part 2. (2017). [user-generated content online]. Creat. Knudsen, F. 02
March 2017 At:
Azuma, H. (2009) Otaku Japan’s Database Animals. University of Minnesota Press.

Freud, S. (1976) The Interpretation of Dreams. London: Penguin Books.

Geist, M. (2013) ‘A Brief Introduction to C.G. Jung and Analytic Psychology’ In: The Jung Page 27.10.13 At:
analytical-psychology (Accessed on: 03 February 2018).

Hayao Miyazaki and the Art of Ambivalence | Video Essay (2017). [user-generated content online]. Creat. Joel, B. 11
August 2017 At:

Hayao Miyazaki: What Can You Imagine? (2016). [user-generated content online]. Creat. Thompson, JD. 04
September 2016 At:

John. (2011) ‘Everything you need to know about Studio Ghibli’ In: 22.11.11 [online] At: http:// (Accessed on: 03 February 2018)
McLeod, S. (2014). ‘Carl Jung’ In: simply [online] At:
(Accessed on: 03 February 2018)

Oddel, C and Le Blanc, M. (2009) Studio Ghibli The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Kamera Books.

O’Leary, R. (2013) How Surrealism has Influenced the Animation Industry. At:
(Accessed on 03 February 2018)

Park, N. (2003) ‘Shinto Daydreams’ In: the [online] At:
(Accessed on: 04 February 2018)

Richardson, M. (2006) Surrealism and Cinema. New York: Berg.

Stafford-Clark, D. (1965) What Freud Really Said. London: McDonald & Co.

The Art Story. (n/a) Surrealist Film At: (Accessed on: 03
February 2018)

The Immersive Realism of Studio Ghibli (2016). [user-generated content online]. Creat. Isbrucker, A. 23 November 2016

Wu, C. (2014) ‘Reality Within and Without: Surrealism in Japan and China in the Early 1930s’ In: 10.14 At: (Accessed on: 03 February 2018)
Illustration List
Figure 1. Surreal Still from Spirited Away. (2001). [Film Still] At: https:// (Accessed on: 03
February 2018)

Figure 2. Chihiro and No Face. (2001). [Film Still] At:

hayao-miyazakis-spirited-away-coming-back-to-us-theaters/ (Accessed on: 03 February

Figure 3. Mei discovers surreal world of Forest Spirits. (1988). [Film Still] At: https:// (Accessed on: 03 February 2018)

Figure 4. Surreal Characters of Totoro. (1988). [Film Still] At:

wiki/File:Neighbor-totoro-catbus_645700.jpg (Accessed on: 03 February 2018)

Figure 5. André Masson. (1926). Battle of Fishes. [online] At:

collection/works/79309 (Accessed on: 03 February 2018)

Figure 6. Ishida, T. (1998). Untitled. [online] At:

(Accessed on: 03 February 2018)