Nissan Seminar: Animation, Animism and Auras: How Disney and Ghibli Changed the World

Convenor(s): Dr Jennifer L. Guest, Dr Linda Flores, and Professor Bjarke Frellesvig

Speaker(s): Professor Susan Napier, Goldthwaite Professor of Rhetoric and Japanese, Department of International Literary and Cultural Studies, Tufts University

These seminars will occur live and will not be recorded. Unauthorized recording is strictly prohibited.

Please click on the seminar title to register in advance and receive the meeting details.

Animation, Animism and Auras: How Disney and Ghibli Changed the World

Susan Napier is the Goldthwaite Professor of Rhetoric and Japanese at Tufts University. Previously she held the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Chair at the University of Texas. She  has also taught at the University of London and been a visiting professor at Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, the University of Sydney and a visiting scholar at Keio University in Tokyo. At Tufts she teaches a variety of courses including a seminar on Miyazaki Hayao, a cross cultural examination of apocalyptic and post- apocalyptic films, and a cross cultural comparison of Walt Disney Studios and Studio Ghibli..  She is the author of many articles and five books, the most recent of which is Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art, published in 2018 by Yale University Press. The book has been translated into ten languages. 


The topic of my talk arises from my ongoing book project “The World According to Ghibli: How a Small Japanese Animation Studio Challenged Disney’s American Dream.” The  book compares what the scholar T.L. Mollett  terms Disney’s “ all-inclusive utopian vision of America,” a vision based on belief in hard work, a binary vision of good versus evil and a happily ever after closure involving anthropocentric heteronormative romance, with what I call the Ghibli World View, a more complex and nuanced vision based on a tolerance for ambiguity, acceptance of loss and a celebration of human interconnectivity with the natural world. At the same time the two studios share an attitude toward how they use the medium of animation that is surprisingly rich and complex. Today’s talk will discuss the differing relationships and sometimes surprising similarities  between Disney and Ghibli’s use of  animism and animation and how this complicates Walter Benjamin’s concept of the aura in mass media.