The Start to the Movie Marathon
Recently, I found out that all the Studio Ghibli films are available on HBO (at least in the USA where I live. It may be different for you) and this, of course, led to a whole lot of binging of them. Having been thinking about Breath of the Wild again due to the Zelda anniversary and the painful news of there being no news about the sequel during the recent Nintendo Direct. This meant that I was thinking about Breath of the Wild and Ghibli at the same time and while I knew that there were clear places where the game had taken inspiration from Ghibli films, it was actually more than I had ever noticed before.
With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to look over some of my findings! I might have noticed something that you didn’t, after all! Not only that, I think that by looking at these connections, we might even be able to make a handful of guesses on what this might mean for the Breath of the Wild sequel because I am starved for information about it. Let’s go movie by movie to do this. Fair warning, though, I don’t intend to talk about all the films, just the ones that are most relevant. I mean, My Neighbors the Yamadas doesn’t exactly have much in common after all! There were also some other films that I won’t mention here where I might have seen a connection, but it was one that I didn’t feel that I had enough to say about. Feel free to tell me any details that you noticed yourself, though!
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1987)
Alright, so Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind isn’t technically a Ghibli film since it was made before the studio was founded, but it’s often added into Ghibli collections due to a large crossover of staff and the fact that it is a Miyazaki project (both the original manga and the film itself). For the sake of my findings, I’m going to keep this one short and sweet, both due to this film being shaky in qualifying and because there’s not a huge amount to talk about here.
Nausicaa has a lot of what would become known as the Ghibli style in it, but it’s clearly still forming as this is one of the earliest movies that we’re going to talk about. However, I think that the strongest connection it has with Breath of the Wild is the similarities between the two princesses that can be found in both of these. Both Zelda and Nausicaa are exceptionally smart young women, conducting research into the mysteries of the world around them. Nausicaa is doing it with poisonous plants, while Zelda is looking into things like the divine beasts and the shrines. Unfortunately, we only get to see a little bit about this out of the both of them because circumstances keep them from completing their work. I also found it interesting that the amount of agency that they are given by their fathers has shaped them into drastically different characters. The way that Zelda is confined to a specific role and kept from helping out in the ways she thinks she would be most useful places her in a state of frustration, both with her destiny and herself. Contrary to this, Nausicaa has been given a lot more freedom to figure things out for herself and take a more active role, giving her a much more cheerful deposition (at least until things take a turn for the worse). I could easily see a reinterpretation of either where they could have the other’s mindset due to the situation that surrounds them.
The other similarity that stood out to me was the way that there could be poisoned land found in either one. However, that land is much more expansive in Nausicaa, due to the spreading of the vast poisonous jungle. In Breath of the Wild, it’s really confined to just a few places where there’s a dark sludge overtaking things, though I find myself wondering how much more this sludge would be spread around if Ganon wasn’t confined to the area of the castle by Zelda.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2005)
Howl’s Moving Castle was one of my favorite Ghibli films growing up, likely because it was only the second one that I ever saw (and because, dang, is Howl pretty). There’s also not a ton that matches up here either, but I chalk that up to the way that Howl’s Moving Castle is not only adapted from a book, but is also a more contemporary fantasy film rather than high fantasy like some of the others that I am talking about. The thing that stood out to me right from the start of the movie was the way that the titular moving castle felt a lot like one of the divine beasts. They don’t share very many aesthetic similarities, since the beasts seem to be made of stone and the castle is a beast of metal and steam, however, the opening shots of the moving castle lurching across the picturesque fields of the countryside reminded me so much of the way the beasts were rampaging about in their own corner of Hyrule. They’re even within sight of towns, much like the castle passes by Sophie’s hometown at the start of the film.
This film is also the one that perhaps brings up the horror of war more than any of Miyazaki’s other films (topped only by the brutality of Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies). Most of that is due to the film being a direct commentary on America’s actions in the Iraq War. Yeah, I didn’t notice that as a kid either, but now, I totally see it. In Breath of the Wild we see the horror of war as well, although it is much more muted, due to it only being seen in flashbacks and the world design. However, what we do see about the battle for Hyrule (setting aside Age of Calamity) is that is was a brutal struggle and it left a lot of places completely devastated. In Howl’s Moving Castle, we get the similar case of being in the thick of the action when bombs fall or we see Howl engaged in battle with Sulliman’s forces.
Speaking of henchmen, for a bit of a lighter similarity between the two, the Witch of the Waste has these kind of gross and gooey henchmen that she sends after the main characters. These felt to me like a less grotesque version of the blight bosses that you find in each of the divine beasts. The only difference? The Witch of the Waste’s henchmen aren’t all gross and dripping their goop everywhere.
Castle in the Sky (1991)
Castle in the Sky is one of the fantasy films from Ghibli that gets a little overlooked. Sure, people bring it up, but as the first one, it tends to get overshadowed by the later films. However, when I think about all the movies that I marathoned recently, Castle in the Sky is the one Ghibli film that felt the most like Breath of the Wild to me. It might not be the one with the biggest aesthetic or thematic similarities, but the feeling of it was too much like Breath of the Wild for me to ignore. It’s simple in the story department, and so is Breath of the Wild, but that’s okay. They’re ultimately about a determined boy doing his best to save the princess. Sure, the threats in Breath of the Wild might be a bit less immediate and a bit larger in scale than in this Ghibli title, but it still has that feeling to it.
Beyond that, though, there’s still some similarities that stood out to me on a more basic level. The most obvious is, of course, the line you can draw between the Breath of the Wild guardian enemies and the guardian robots of Laputa. There’s not really a consistent design between the two of them on a basal level, but when it comes to the way that they are presented in the game and the film, there’s a lot to connection there. The robots of Laputa are mostly dormant, but the one that we see as active and walking around is covered in moss and plants as it tends to the garden. I’m sure you can all see where I am going with this in terms of this with the way that many of the guardians in the game are either sunken into the ground or covered in foliage. Perhaps my favorite place where you can see this is in the field that is littered with the remains of guardians, all of them dormant and overgrown.
There are some other minor similarities such as the fact that the pirate Dola’s ship is a little birdlike and you could connect that to Vah Medoh, but that’s really stretching things so I’m to going to go there. However, I am going to bring the divine beasts into this for a moment. In both Breath of the Wild and Castle in the Sky we see an intertwining of magic and technology. Both feature an ancient advanced civilization but their “technology” presents more like magic. Nothing wrong with that, but it does bring forward an interesting similarity that in both of these that magic is connected to stone, which I found really interesting. In Castle in the Sky, it’s black stones that are able to float and a very powerful crystal. In Breath of the Wild, the divine beasts, towers, and shrines are clearly made of stone and yet they hold some sort of a great power to them. Real nifty stuff.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Lastly, there’s the big one that I’ve been itching to talk about, Princess Mononoke. I’ll get more into why I’m so excited to talk about this one later, but for now, let’s go over what’s so similar to Breath of the Wild and Ghibli in it!
Firstly, we have a few superficial similarities, as we do with all of these movies. The biggest one is definitely the Koroks clearly having some level of inspiration coming from the little white forest spirits of the trees of Mononoke. Both are small, cute, and little forest guardians. Also, I love both, but that’s beside the point. Then we have the Lord of the Mountain that sometimes shows up in Breath of the Wild and you can hitch a ride on. The obvious parallel in Mononoke is the forest god which takes a deerlike form during the day, creepy face and all. Also, the possessed boar at the beginning of the movie reminds me a lot of Calamity Ganon’s final boar form, but there’s not much to them beyond that. Plus Ashitaka rides a deer for a lot of the movie and you can technically ride deer in Breath of the Wild if you want to live out your Mononoke fantasy.
However, for the deeper cut of connections, I am going to have to get into some rampant speculation so let’s move on.
The Part When I Speculate Wildly!
When I started this piece, I promised you that I would give some guesses about what these Ghibli movies could tell us about Breath of the Wild 2, so it’s about time that I delivered on that. I mentioned earlier that Castle in the Sky was the movie that felt the most like Breath of the Wild to me. Well, from what we have seen from the teaser that Nintendo gave us, I have a strong feeling that the sequel will feel much more like Princess Mononoke. This might get a little “conspiracy corkboard”, but hey, when Nintendo isn’t giving up info then all we have is rampant speculation that will surely leave us let down later!
So, it was after watching Princess Mononoke that I felt the strong sense that Breath of the Wild 2 would be a lot more like it, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. So I did the only reasonable thing that I could do: I watched the Breath of the Wild 2 teaser twice before going through it frame by frame. Yeah, I know I sound crazy, but stay with me here. It was in going through the teaser frame by frame that I found these two images.
What Does it All Mean for Breath of the Wild and Ghibli?
What does this mean? Well, the arm being grabbed here is Link’s for sure. I went back and frame by framed over every shot of him and Zelda that we have and Zelda’s sleeves are much puffier and white, which you can see in the shot where she lifts the torch. You can also see Links sleeves very well in the other image, proving that he’s the one being grabbed. Well, there’s clearly something up with Link’s right arm in the other image. It’s glowing and seems to be causing some level of pain or at least discomfort for him. If you recall the plot of Princess Mononoke, Ashitaka is pushed into the story by a similar sort of incident. After a run in with a boar god that has been driven mad with rage, his arm is infected with that hatred which slowly spreads over him and will eventually kill him. I can’t help but think that something similar is happening to Link here. Perhaps he has been grabbed by this mummified husk and some sort of curse has been placed on his arm which may cause him to be in trouble, potentially even sidelining him entirely.
But, if Link is sidelined what could that mean? Well, one thing that I saw a lot of people get excited about when this first came out was Zelda’s new haircut. I don’t blame them, it’s absolute adorable and I really think it looks great on her! But, if we’re going to compare it to our Ghibli films… It’s very similar to the haircut that Kiki, San, and Nausicaa all spend their entire movies rocking (just with an added braid). That’s not even counting Sophie and Sheeta who both keep their long hair in braids for most of the movie, until circumstances lead to their braids getting cut off into a similar short cut.
Why does this happen? Short hair is better suited to action than long hair that can get in the way or get caught in things. Hell, Sheeta does get caught at one point because someone’s able to grab one of her braids! So, if I’m going to do rampant speculation, I’m going to go all in. I remember seeing a few people pointing out that this could mean the option to play as Zelda at points in the game when the teaser dropped, but I’m going to be bold and think that we’re simply playing as Zelda this time around because Link will be completely indisposed. We already had hints of Zelda wishing that she could have been the one who was chosen to wield the sword in the first game and given that freedom. Well, now she possible could be doing just that, and honestly, there’s some great story that you could weave around this. For example, since this is a Zelda that has already been saved by Link, we could have a story about her vowing to save Link herself because he already saved her once and she feels the need to return the favor.
For more Breath of the Wild speculation, click here!