Studio Ghibli COUP: who, what, and what to wear
Poster for Grad COUP designed by thesis student and Catalyst staff writer Chloe Rusek. Photo courtesy of Gaby Batista.

Studio Ghibli COUP: who, what, and what to wear

Call Kiki to deliver your costume for the 2024 Graduation Center of the Universe Parties]  (COUP). This year’s theme is Studio Ghibli, a Japanese Animation studio company founded in Tokyo and known for its breathtakingly artistic animation movies. Grad COUP will be hosted by thesis students McKenna Mooney, Gabriella “Gaby” Batista and Rosa Martinez. 


Studio Ghibli was founded by Hayao Miyazaki and Takahata Isao in 1985. Miyazaki graduated from the University of Gakushuin, Tokyo in 1963 with a degree in economics. Miyazaki met Isao while working as a level-entry animator at ToeiStudios, the largest animation producer in Asia. Miyazaki continued to climb the ranks in the company and worked closely with Isao. The success of their first film, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), propelled the pair to form a more permanent bond with the founding of Studio Ghibli a year later. The word Ghibli has an Arabic etymology meaning “a fiercely hot wind.” 

However, a badly edited version of Nausicaä, under the title Warriors of the Wind (1986), tanked in the United States and Miyazaki did not permit his films to be produced in the West for ten years. In 1996, Walt Disney reached a deal with Studio Ghibli that Disney could release the films as long as no editing was done. The following year Studio Ghibli released its first hit, Princess Mononoke (1997). The studio’s most successful film, Spirited Away (2001), won an Academy Award for best animated feature film in 2003. The studio’s most recent film, The Boy and the Heron (2023) drew 1.3 million viewers and surpassed box office numbers of Miyazaki’s previous films. 

Not sure what to wear?

For anyone looking for costume ideas, Ponyo (2008) is a great place to start. The film depicts a five-year-old boy named Sosuke who befriends Ponyo, a goldfish princess. Ponyo longs to be human after falling in love with Sosuke. Ponyo, as a human, wears a red short-sleeved dress and white bloomers.  Any red T-shirt or plain red dress will do. A shirt could also be cropped if one wishes to “adultify” the look. Amazon sells white lacy bloomers for $12 here. Any white shorts could also be used, and the Catalyst encourages attendees to thrift or use what they already have in their closets. Ponyo’s mother is Gran Mamare, the Goddess of the ocean. She wears a long white or light blue long-sleeved dress and matching earrings, necklace and hair crown that is gold with red oval stones. Amazon has bodycon white dresses between $20-27 here. One could also easily thrift this costume with any long or short white or blue dress. The jewelry could be any gold necklace and dangly gemstones. 

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) follows Kiki as a young witch during her first year of independence, during which she discovers who she is in terms of fitting into her community and starts an air courier service. Kiki has short black hair and wears a distinguishable red big bow tie around her head. She wears a short-sleeved purple dress and rides a broom. Walmart sells a red bow for $1.89 here. One could pick any purple color-blocked outfit and add a prop broom from Party City. Kiki is a great couples costume, with someone dressing up as Jiji, Kiki’s black cat and most trusted confidant.

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) is the story of Sophie and her friendship with a wizard named Howl while she combats a curse by the Evil Witch of Waste that negates her youth. Sophie as an elderly woman has long gray hair in a braided ponytail. She wears a brown sun hat with a pink ribbon and a long green dress. One could wear any beach hat and tie a pink $1.89 ribbon from Walmart around it. A sunhat for $10 at Walmart can be found here. Any green dress will work and one can wear their hair in a braid. Howl wears a white button-up shirt and blue pants or jeans. He wears green dangle gem earrings and a blue gemstone necklace. Amazon has a $10 bag of crystal pendant necklaces that can be worn for any occasion. 

The Cat Returns (2002) centers around a high schooler named Haru, who rescues a cat from the street.  Unbeknownst to her, the cat is a prince named Lune.  Out of gratitude, Lune asks Haru for her hand in marriage and Haru is whisked off to the Cat Kingdom. Haru wears her brown hair in a bun, a short-sleeved white shirt under a blue tank top dress and a red ribbon tied in a bow in the front. A red hair bow with a clip in the back can be attached to the blue dress. One can use eyeliner to draw on whiskers and a cat nose. Cat ears can be purchased at Walmart or Party City. Lune wears a beige top hat and a matching suit. He has a blue bow tie and a red vest. A beige mini jacket and gray/sand-toned pants can be found at a thrift store. A red tank top or shirt can be used for the vest. Blue ribbon or bow can be found at Walmart, Party City, or any craft store. The top hat can be made from a cardboard box that can be later used for moveout. 

The whirlwind romance in the 2013 film The Wind Also Rises follows the story of Jiro as he studies to be an aeronautical engineer in Japan during World War II. Jiro wears a white button-up shirt and white pants with a brown belt. His distinguishing feature is his safari hat, which could also be made using paper by following a YouTube tutorial here. Nahoko, the love interest in the film, wears a yellow long-sleeve baby doll dress, a white apron and a sun hat with a pink ribbon. Any yellow top and skirt or dress could work. A white apron can be found at most thrift stores as well as Amazon or Walmart. White tights and any boots also would make the costume recognizable. 

The Hosts

Mooney, Martinez and Batista, who is also editor in chief of the Catalyst, were surprised that their COUP idea had won. Now, for their last New College COUP, they will plan the party of their childhood dreams. “It was a big part of our childhoods, and it was like that for a lot of people,” Mooney told a  Catalyst reporter.  “I think Studio Ghibli influenced a lot of people’s childhoods, just with its whimsical nature.” It is bittersweet for New College’s class of 2024 as they reminisce about their childhoods at their last COUP before going out into the world. 

This is not the first event based on the Japanese animators’ work.In 2013, students organized a Studio Ghibli Halloween Palm Court Party (the former name for COUP), an event students can learn more about through the New College Student Alliance (NCSA) archives. The current COUP hosts hope to gain some inspiration from their predecessors, while also adding a bit of their own flair. 

This COUP will offer revelers a muti-faceted experience. “There are lots of theories that all of the movies exist within the same universe. So it’s very easy to make this a cohesive theme, even though each location will have a different vibe,” Mooney said. The hosts will be hanging decorative soot sprites hidden around each location of the COUP. “If you take a picture with one, find one of the three hosts—myself, McKenna and Rosa—and  you will get a little treat or gift,” Batista said

The hosts had art commissioned by students and sold the artwork at Newstock, a live music festival held on the New College campus where students are vendors of art, clothes and other items.. 

Mooney and her partner will be dressing up as the two cats from Kiki’s Delivery Service. “My partner is going to be Jiji so she’s gonna be like a black sleek cat. And I’m going to be Lily, a fluffy white cat. So we wanted to do something partner coordinated” 

“I’m very excited and I’m hosting with two of my best friends. So I think we work really well together and I hope that everyone can explore the world of Studio Ghibli,” Mooney said with a smile. 

The Old Mail Room: Howl’s Room 

The Old Mail Room (OMR) will be based on Howl’s bedroom from the film, Howl’s Moving Castle. In the film, Howl’s room is filled with gold trinkets, plants, jewelry and eclectic furniture. The hosts plan to hang battery-powered candles and garlands from the ceilings to give off the maximalist feel of Howl’s room. There will be tea lights in the mailboxes.  There will also be a Calcifer fire, the castle’s resident fire demon from the movie, taped on the walls. The OMR will have student DJ sets playing. 

“It’s really cool because the paint in there is sort of glowy, so we’ll have black lights in there to really make the colors pop,” Batista said. Utilizing items already in the room makes the decorating process more intuitive. 

The Nook: The Forest

The Nook will be inspired by the film Princess Mononoke and its emphasis on nature. The Banyan tree will be like the forest and the hosts plan to place little woodland sprites in and around the tree. There will be paper mache antlers on the chandelier that many students may recognize from previous campus parties. “And we just want it to be very whimsical and focused on the natural elements like the movie is as well,” Mooney explained. The Nook will have student DJ sets and the stage will be available for students to dance. 

Palm Court: The Bathhouse 

Palm Court decorations will be based on the famous Spirited Away and the bathhouse in the film. The hosts will hang red sheets from the palm trees to provide the feeling of an enclosed space. They will also hang lanterns to add a witchy aura, as the bathhouse is owned by the Witch Yubaba in the film. Palm Court will have student DJ sets. There will also be a cornhole with the character No-Face on it, a dark spirit known for its white mask with a gaping mouth that eats everything in sight. 

“You can still play cornhole, but it’s like you’re feeding No-Face, which is really fun. And then we have gold chocolate coins. So, if you’re playing or you’re coming in and out of Palm Court you can grab yourself a little sweet treat,” Batista said. 

Z-Green: The Bus Stop

Z-green, the green space in front of Hamilton “Ham” Center and Z-dorm, will be based on the film, My Neighbor Totoro.There will be a couch and a movie screening. The hosts also hope to have a photo area based on the bus station from the film, with a cardboard cut out of the Cat Bus. Mooney advises those new to Studio Ghibli films to begin with My Neighbor Totoro because it is a classic and captures the essence of Miyazaki films. In the English version, Elle and Dakota Fanning play the two sisters. 

Z-Amphitheater: The House on the Hill

Z-amphitheater, behind Z dorm, will be based on the “fishy in the sea, Ponyo. The area will be decorated in an under the sea theme. “We have jellyfish, we have fish garlands, we have blue streamers, we have blue chiffon. We want it to be very magical and whimsical, kind of like Ponyo’s world is under the sea,” Mooney stated. 

The hosts plan on having cup ramen and a kettle of hot water ready and available for COUP goers to enjoy throughout the evening. Z-amphitheater will also have live bands performing, including: The Coconut Crabs, a New College student band, plus The Tilt, Movie Props and Domino Pink, all bands in the local Sarasota area. 

“I’m really excited for Studio Ghibli, it’s just so close to me, and to Kenna and Rosa,” Batista said enthusiastically. “Similarly, I think it means a lot for us to be able to put something like this together again on campus since it was done in the past before.” 

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