Bending reality; giving life to imagination. Animation is special because anything is possible within the worlds that are created from scratch. But with superpowers, fantasy and marvelous fictional inventions taking centre stage, contrasting simple scenes hold such immense power in grounding the surreal. In a medium not exactly known for its subtlety, these small, calm scenes stand out even more, giving a sense of melancholy, comfort or quietness.
Studio Ghibli is undoubtedly the master of simple moments, using a lack of dialogue to give the characters and ourselves a chance to calm down and allow for reflection. Spirited Away’s train scene takes the time to build a world more vast than we imagined, with histories of characters that we will never know. When I see the silhouette of a little girl staring back at the train, all I can do is wonder about her story. There’s a clear sense of emptiness and quietness, as day turns to night and we just feel the passage of time. There’s something utterly mesmerizing about watching the train leave behind the endless seas and simply move forward, into the unknown.
If there’s anything else Studio Ghlibli has mastered, it’s food. Oh, the universal happiness of just digging into something delicious, of watching people enjoy be satisfied by their meals, of seeing food being made piping hot. In a story not explicitly about food, there’s really no need to show people cooking and eating, but Ghibli does it anyway. The characters unwind, enjoy a cup of tea, create something mouth-watering because there’s nothing that grounds a film in reality quite in the way food does. It grants us a unique sense of satisfaction because it’s a fundamental truth – we, as living beings, must eat.
When you put both food and a lack of dialogue together and you get one of my favourite scenes of all time, Boku Dake ga Inai Machi’s breakfast scene. This absolutely gorgeous scene is so unembellished, yet so effective – Kayo sees the warm, home cooked meal prepared Satoru’s mother, and recounts all the thoughtless, bare-bone meals that are all she has ever known. The result is absolutely heartbreaking – tears roll down her face before she can even fully process her feelings. A full minute is spent just to focus on her emotional state, and it’s painfully effective.
Simple scenes are primed for these emotional moments, because they can focus solely on a character’s thoughts or feelings. Here’s a great time to bring up a series I will never stop recommending – San Gatsu no Lion. Among the many, many things San Gatsu does so incredibly well are the intimate moments, where characters spend time together or just be there for one another when they are in a vulnerable state. My favourite example of this is ladybug bush part 3. The chapter follows Rei and Hina as they go to a library. Hina happens to notice that the Kanji for ladybug translates to heavenly path, and wonders why. Rei carefully brings her a ladybug and tells her to stick her finger out, allowing it to crawl to the edge and fly off. Looking at the ladybug flying towards the sun, Hina releases her pent up emotions as Rei stands by her silence. This scene is so cathartic for me. It isn’t just comforting, it’s almost healing.
But there’s another big reason why these simple scenes work so well – subtext. If you want to see this work at its best, I implore you to watch Natsume Yuujinchou. It is absolutely filled with these stunning little special moments. The one I want to highlight comes from the ending of an episode titled Touko and Shigeru, the couple that adopt our titular Natsume, who can see yokai or spirits. Touko sees the crow she has always seen alone, and wonders why it’s always alone. When Natsume returns, she remarks to him about the crow, and he immediately responds by saying there are actually two crows. She looks back and sees only a single crow flying off as Natsume comments that the two are flying together. She smiles at the crow with a knowing understanding and simply says,
“I see, I’m glad. You’re not alone, are you?”
There’s so much in those words. Touko realises Natsume sees things she cannot, accepts this and most importantly, she believes him.
I think it has become obvious at this point that there’s an underlying theme when it comes to these scenes – a focus on characters and how they feel. But there’s also those scenes which just serve as relaxation – it’s a s t h e t i c. Scenes of rain immediately come to mind, and are the most comfy thing ever to look at. Garden of words is iconic for its beautiful rain shots, and for good reason. The light pitter patter as we are shown shots of the surrounding area, ah it makes you want a hot cup of tea!
I love small moments, whether they are used for quietness, emotional resolution or pure relaxation. There really is beauty in simplicity, and these scenes help anime shine even more.
Images used are not my own and are used for commentary purposes.
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