Japan Center co-Directors Mariko Yokosuka and Kyoko Takano share their experiences in bringing Studio Ghibli to ASIJ for the enjoyment and education of our students.
When we asked students what kind of guests, speakers and initiatives would help them understand and connect to Japan and its culture, their answer was “Anything Studio Ghibli! The Ghibli Museum, their films, anime production, creative process…anything!” Studio Ghibli films display the rich heritage of Japanese culture, values and belief systems with their vivid and imaginative animations. With the number of Ghibli fans here at ASIJ, it was a no-brainer for the students—Studio Ghibli, and all that it represents, hits close to home. As the Studio and Museum are located in Mitaka, in close proximity to the school, it seemed like fate. And so we reached out to them.
Contacting Jeff Wexler, Studio Ghibli’s International Division Chief and current ASIJ parent, we were met with an energetic, knowledgeable and passionate professional whose mission is to bring Studio Ghibli films to the world and to give people of all ages a way to experience art like they’ve never experienced it before. After many hours of meetings, phone calls and email correspondence reaffirming our shared intention to make this effort all about the students and student learning, while respecting and honoring the Studio’s vision, “Studio Ghibli Week at ASIJ” was launched.
In an effort to raise the Ghibli spirit and “Ghiblify” the school, prior to the special week at ASIJ, we worked with art teachers from both divisions and the high school Manga Club to host “What is your world of Ghibli like?” and “Who is your favorite Ghibli Character” student art exhibitions. Beautiful, captivating and original student artwork filled the high school and middle school lobbies as well as digital screens all over campus.
It was with great internal support from the school leadership that the we rolled out a combination of events developed to appeal to different groups of students. Studio Ghibli Week at ASIJ kicked off with assemblies for both high school and middle school divisions. High school upperclassmen had the opportunity to hear Jeff discuss “How Did I Get the Job Bringing Studio Ghibli Films Overseas”—a career-focused question-and-answer presentation on what skill-sets are necessary in a professional job. Jeff also spoke about what his career path looked like, including some personal stories on his passions and dreams from his high school days. Jeff’s genuine and candid talk enhanced the notion that fate is often determined by your passions.
During our middle school assembly, titled “Making Your Friends Fans of Studio Ghibli,” Jeff prompted students: “You have my job. How do you tell your friends and the world about Ghibli films?” He engaged the students in a discussion, identifying together the essentials and the tools you would need to bring Ghibli films to a global audience—all of which can be applied to any job or career. Students openly asked questions regarding the most challenging problem Jeff has faced and how he overcame it. In his responses, Jeff incorporated authentic examples to answer the many questions. There was also time to touch upon the “behind-the-scenes” action at Studio Ghibli!
Following these assemblies, Studio Ghibli generously provided for private ASIJ film screenings of The Wind Rises for the high school and Pom Poko for the middle school with English-dubbed versions of each film—something which can be rarely found in Japan. This was ASIJ’s first-ever after-school film screening, welcoming an overwhelming turnout of students, faculty and staff taking advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Ghibli Week didn’t end at the screenings. After taking the weekend to reflect on the film, students were asked to reveal their movie-critic savvy by presenting their “what it really means” theory to their peers in a discussion led by Jeff. He pushed students to respond to thought-provoking questions such as “Do you think you really know what the films mean?” and “Can you see past the basic story and plot to find deeper themes and messages?”
In order to maximize Studio Ghibli Week’s educational impact, we also created a combined Japanese Seminar and Japan Studies in-class Ghibli session. In the combined session, Jeff’s friendly yet thought provoking way of facilitating the discussion allowed students to look deeper into what was being portrayed in The Wind Rises.
The final piece of the Studio Ghibli Project will continue in Ryosuke Suzuki’s (High School Japanese Teacher) Media Literacy Class. The students have an unprecedented opportunity to collaborate with Jeff throughout the semester. The first part of the course is designed to provide students with hands-on experience in Japanese-English translation and subtitling using Studio Ghibli films. They have a chance to learn about the subtitling process from Jeff who, as part of his position with Studio Ghibli, oversees the production and distribution of the English versions of Studio Ghibli’s films, and his colleague Taro Goto, a professional in subtitling, translation and interpretation. Currently the students are working on creating their own English subtitles, first for selected scenes from The Wind Rises, and then for another Studio Ghibli film, before moving on to creating their own media during the second half of the semester. Jeff will come to class periodically to consult with students as they develop their subtitles.
Reflecting on his time here, Jeff says “Studio Ghibli Week at ASIJ proved to me what I suspected—ASIJ students are deep thinkers who can express their ideas clearly and confidently. I was honored to present two of the Studio’s films, to hear interpretations and then discuss very intelligent questions from the students, and to have the opportunity to share some of my philosophy of works as a professional. The Studio Ghibli-themed artwork was also very impressive; in this digital age, I was delighted to see the warmth and passion that can be so well-expressed by hand-drawn art. I am tremendously grateful to Yokosuka-sensei and Takano-sensei of the ASIJ Japan Center, and their colleagues in The Center for School-Community Partnership and in other ASIJ departments, for their intense collaborative efforts to bring another part of Japanese culture to ASIJ.”
ASIJ and the Japan Center would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Jeff Wexler and Studio Ghibli for this momentous collaboration. Student feedback on Studio Ghibli Week at ASIJ speaks for itself on how appreciative we are for Jeff’s work .
“I thoroughly enjoyed the session. It made me think more about the movie through historical context and emotions. Usually I just watch and enjoy Miyazaki films without going deeper into the meaning, so this session made me think outside the box, and put me in a position which I wasn’t used to. But I liked it because it was very thought-provoking and made me think about things that I’ve never thought about when watching one of his films. It was also really interesting to learn about the subtitle industry as I was unaware of the long process it had to go through.”
“I thought it was a good way to develop an understanding of Japan and US relations. Looking at history and culture through films is a very good way to learn and ASIJ should have more of this kind of interactions in the future. Having a guest speaker, who is not a teacher, is interesting because you can look at the content from a different lens. Thank you for your hard work.”
“I thought the Studio Ghibli session was a very well put together discussion and it provided me with an open mind to Japanese culture. As a new student at ASIJ, that was a great first impression on how Japanese culture and creativity is expressed through such films. I definitely enjoyed it!”