I was watching “Whisper of the Heart” (耳をすませば) with my daughter. It was a rare case where she had seen the movie before, and I had not. So she was happy to give lots of spoilers: she would explain which character was good, which was evil, which two would fall in love together, etc.

It’s a great positive movie, and thought, what makes it so special and fun to watch? What makes all Miyazaki’s movies special? What makes Japanese things special, for that matter?

I think it’s attention to detail.

Studio Ghibli’s animation is decidedly not photo-realistic, but the details of the plot, of the characters’ interactions and of the drawings are incredibly intricate. “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “My Neighbor Totoro” are some of my daughter’s (and my) favourite movies. Sometimes, it seems that the details are all there is in these films – there is no clear overarching “moral of the story”. In “Totoro” in particular, it seems like nothing is happening in the plot. We are just looking over the shoulder of a family that is living its everyday life. But of course, this very everyday life of the two girls and their parents is full of magic. It’s just that the adults are not seeing it. So in these movies too, the magic is in the details that are right before our eyes.

For me personally, working on small details is the best part of any project. When I paint, take photos, practice kendo, teach or do research, nailing down the nuances is where fun is. Stages like overall initial planning and making sure the details fit together in the big picture are necessary, but they are not so enjoyable.