Even Rarer Than a Unicorn

Last week, I wrote about the art & music in Studio Ghibli movies. I also touched on where some of the stories came from, but I didn’t have time to explore another major influence on Studio Ghibli’s work: folklore.

Japanese folklore is woven throughout every one of their movies. The Kodama, or tree-spirits, that populate the forest in Princess Mononoke also feature in The Tale of Genji, written by Murasaki Shikibu over 1,000 years ago. Countless other people have already written about the many, many spirits depicted in Spirited Away. Anyone who’s a fan of Pom Poko might enjoy reading more about the the bake-danuki, who are shape-shifting tanuki. Myths & folklore are stories that have proven they can stand the test of time. It makes sense that people would reuse & rework them as a form of cultural shorthand.

Kodama My work also features Kodama; Lady Murasaki & I are practically twins!

Folklore is a basis for countless modern children’s tales, not just Studio Ghibli ones. It can be used in so many ways & incorporates so many styles! For example…

Some play with the ideas found in folklore. Marcus Ewert & Susie Ghahremani’s picture book She Wanted to Be Haunted is the most Ghibli-like in that regard.

Some tell the story directly, like in The Princess and the Warrior by Duncan Tonatiuh. Some tell it with a few key changes, as Sanjay Patelas does in Ganesha's Sweet Tooth.

Some use folklore as a jumping off point to not only tell a story, but teach about a culture. In Mooncakes by Loretta Seto & Renné Benoit, we get to see how one family celebrates the Chinese Moon Festival as a framing device for telling several traditional Chinese stories about the moon. I can remember my teacher reading A Story, a Story by Gail E. Haley to me when I was so small, so small, so small. This book opens with a page of information about “Spider Stories” & how African storytelling uses repetition for emphasis. It has stuck with me ever since!

Some take characters from folklore & put them into new stories, as in Rabbit Moon by Jean Kim.

Some will retell a familiar story in the style of a different culture, as a way of introducing something new alongside something familiar, as Tomie dePaola does in Adelita

Some do a little of everything with folklore. Some, like Walter Elias Disney, have built empires out of it.

Soot sprites ... and the Soot Sprites rejoiced.

What fantastic folklore have I forgotten? Let me know on Ko-Fi

I would like to reiterate my policy that all reviews are unpaid & unsolicited. I am a preschool teacher who loves to read, I can only go so long without talking about books!

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