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Wow. In a Huge Turnaround, Studio Ghibli Films Will be on Streaming in 2020

Bravo HBOMax

I’m a fan of animation, and especially since I have a small human living in my home, I’d like to watch more than endless reruns of Sofia The First. My child loves witches and cartoons, and I’ve been listening to the Miyazaki filmography series over on the Blank Check With Griffin and David podcast, so I thought we could try out Kiki’s Delivery Service.

I search on Netflix. Nothing. Hulu. Nothing. I looked through others and found … nothing. I resigned myself to renting it on Apple movies … and found nothing. Not even to purchase. It turns out that Kiki’s Delivery Service isn’t available to stream anywhere. Nor is any Studio Ghibli film. This deliberate inaccessibility is a conscious choice.

At least it was until today, when it was announced that Studio Ghibli’s entire catalog will be available on HBO Max. This is actually amazing. When I started writing this article before this news came down, I was sure we’d never see the day. But I was happily proved wrong.

The Studio Ghibli catalog has been through many owners here in the US, with distribution deals via Miramax, Disney and even Troma films being the vehicle by which American audiences saw the work of legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki. Many of these versions were subpar, with the dubbed versions edited and rewritten by US studios to be very different from the artistic intent of Miyazaki.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was butchered down to an unrecognizable 95 minutes. And Miyazaki was so disappointed by the American treatment of his film that when Harvey Weinstein wanted to edit Princess Mononoke, a Ghibli associate sent the now-infamous producer a samurai sword and a note reading “No cuts.”

Miyazaki is understandably protective of his work. He limits merchandising, he takes his time with his films. That uncompromising attitude seems to be one factor in the shut down of Studio Ghibli itself, although it’s been revamped under new leadership now. And now that the rights to all his films are consolidated under the new banner of GKids in America, he’s being even more protective.

According to a piece by Matt Patches on Polygon,  just a few days ago, it was settled knowledge that GKids and Miyazaki don’t ever intend for his film to be available to stream. The films of Miyazaki were to be available only for purchase and in selected theatrical re-releases. Here’s what the reps told Polygon when asked for comment:

“Studio Ghibli does not make their films available digitally, whether for download or streaming, anywhere in the world,” a GKids representative told Polygon over email earlier this year. “They continue to believe that presentation is vital and particularly appreciate opportunities for audiences to experience the films together in a theatrical setting.”

My thoughts on that? It was stupid.

I would understand if Miyazaki didn’t want his films available for home viewing at all. If he, or Studio Ghibli/Gkids, are committed to a pure theatrical experience only, then don’t sell you movies on DVD. If you think your movies are so special that you don’t want people checking their phones or pausing them to pee, keep them in the vault. I can respect that even if I think it’s silly. But having them only available in hard copy and not on streaming based on the idea streaming is somehow inferior destroys that argument.

And now I guess the argument is over. And this is great!

Art is meant to be enjoyed, and once it’s out in the world, it’s a jerk move to try and control how people enjoy it. The old attitude was as backward as hating fanfiction or thinking that Marvel movies aren’t “cinema.” It was pretentious gatekeeping and it made me want to never waste my time or money on these films. But now that’s changed—or it will change when HBOMax launches in 2020.

I know what you’re thinking: just go buy the movies or go to the library. Well, I’m not going to spend extra money on a movie I don’t know I’ll watch again. And please ask someone you know how much they relish an extra trip to any store with a toddler and you’ll understand why I rely on streaming for family entertainment. Also, we have a finicky BluRay player, but we barely use it, and we’re not alone. Fewer and fewer households have DVD and BluRay players as the transition to total digital media continues. That means fewer and fewer people with the means to even watch these films.

I was so confused by Miyazaki’s hatred for streaming and it was a crying shame that Miyazaki and GKids didn’t want their art seen and enjoyed by as many people possible, but now I bet the Ghibli catalogue will be a huge selling point for HBOMax. It certainly is for me.

Ghibli seems especially happy with the idea that HBO Max is a higher level of streaming: Studio Ghibli chairman Koji Hoshino says, “We are excited to be working with HBO Max to bring the complete collection of Studio Ghibli films to streaming audiences in the U.S. As a premium content brand, HBO Max is an ideal home for our films.”

I’m so thrilled that I’ll be able to enjoy these films easily starting next year, but I’m sad it’s taken this long and that I’ll have to wait. In the meantime, I guess it’s back to Sofia ….

(image: Studio Ghiibli, via: IndieWire/EW)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.