Studio Ghibli films are a global phenomenon, with children as well as adults all over the world regularly citing them as some of their favourite cinematic experiences. Ranging from My Neighbour Totoro to Spirited Away, Japanese pioneer Hayao Miyazaki has created a magical body of work that never fails to mesmerise those who witness its beauty.
Miyazaki’s work was properly introduced to western audiences after the unprecedented success of Spirited Away, his magnum opus. A brilliant interpretation of the coming-of-age genre which is told through the story of a young girl who finds herself surrounded by uniquely scary spirits, Spirited Away is often regarded as the greatest animated film ever made.
However, even before Spirited Away, many American audiences as well as distribution companies were interested in signing a deal with Studio Ghibli for licensing rights. They had already reached an agreement with Disney back in 1996 but it wasn’t ideal at all since Disney altered many elements of the original films, changing the endings and even adding additional dialogue.
Disney even prevented their own shops from selling Studio Ghibli merchandise so that customers would be drawn to their own films more. A similar altercation happened regarding Miyazaki’s 1997 eco-critical epic Princess Mononoke which is now evaluated as one of the finest artistic endeavours Studio Ghibli ever embarked upon.
When Princess Mononoke was gearing up for a release in the United States, Disney’s subsidiary Miramax stepped up to handle the distribution process for Miyazaki’s gem. Weinstein was infamous for butchering the final products of artists in accordance with the logic of the markets, ensuring that what he was putting out was the most commercially viable commodity.
To prevent him from doing such things, a Studio Ghibli producer even sent Weinstein a samurai sword with a note which read: “No cuts.” Weinstein was probably even more motivated to botch the film after that and wanted to cut the film down to 90 minutes but Miyazaki refused to budge. The producer threatened Studio Ghibli executive Steve Alpert, saying: “If you don’t get [Miyazaki] to cut the fucking film you will never work in this fucking industry again! Do you fucking understand me? Never!”.
Thankfully, Miyazaki had the final-cut privileges according to their deal and saved his work. According to Miyazaki, the producer constantly bombarded him with requests to cut the final product but the Japanese filmmaker remained adamant. He is now proud of the fact that he stood his ground, claiming: “I defeated him”.