For Studio Ghibli, Japan’s most famous animation house, the Russian connection runs deep.
Miyazaki Hayao, co-founder of Ghibli and director of such globally beloved fare as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and My Neighbor Totoro, was majorly influenced by Soviet animation during the 1960s. He’s cited 1957’s The Snow Queen (by Armenian director Lev Atamanov) as a major influence. He even went so far as to imply it kept him working in animation when he was considering quitting the industry. Late co-founder Takahata felt similarly about many Russian and Soviet films.
But now, as the invasion of Ukraine rumbles on in the background, it appears streaming rights to Ghibli films may be up in the air. 
One streamer goes down…another rises?
On May 25th, the Russian Federation’s largest news agency, TASS, reported that local streaming giant Kinopoisk had been unable to renew a contract with Studio Ghibli to host their films. According to Yahoo Japan, the invasion of Ukraine might have influenced this outcome.
Kinopoisk (Кинопоиск) is Russia’s answer to IMDB; it’s one of the world’s largest online movie databases. Kinopoisk has also successfully transitioned into online streaming. It’s currently Russia’s biggest local streamer, with numerous original productions. And, until the end of the month, it’s also Russia’s go-to source for legally watching Ghibli films.
Kinopoisk apologized for the sudden departure of the films from their service, reducing the pay-to-view price for each film to a mere 1 ruble ($0.01, ¥1) until the June 1st deadline. The site stated that even once hosting of the films ended, “they will forever remain in your heart.”
However, all may not be lost. Right before we went to press, TASS reported that Russian World Vision says it’s acquired the rights to about “22 movies” from Ghibli’s classic library. The deal reportedly includes both domestic theater screening as well as streaming rights. So it seems that the most popular portion of Ghibli’s collection, at least, may still have a home in the troubled nation.
Russia, a Media Island
This comes amidst numerous major international media companies cutting off access to Russia during the ongoing invasion. In March of last year, media megacorp Disney announced they would cease operations in Russia following its “unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.” All official theatrical showings of Disney-owned films have ceased. (However, determined fans have pulled off bootleg showings of films like Avatar: The Way of Water.)
Universal and Sony have done the same. Numerous non-media companies from Japan have also left Russia, including Toyota, Hitachi, Uniqlo, Suntory, and many more.
Russia already has a thriving online pirating scene – not particularly surprising, given how massive underground media bootlegging was in the highly censorious decades of the Soviet Union. Those wishing to engage with media unavailable through legal channels must do so both when foreign companies choose not to license their material out to Russia. And also, of course, when Russian authorities ban foreign fare.
Anime, in particular, has had a difficult history with the Russian censors and in finding legal distribution. That’s forced the country’s growing fandom to seek their favored media out through back channels.
Anime’s Difficult Road in Russia
Amongst the very first Japanese animated films to cross the iron curtain was one developed by Ghibli’s founders. Horus, Price of the Sun (太陽の王子 ホルスの大冒険), released in Japan in 1968, was Takahata Isao’s first time in the director’s chair for a theatrical film. A young Miyazaki provided scene design and key animation.
That it would be one of the first anime films in the USSR is fitting; Horus was deeply influenced by Soviet animation. A character from The Snow Queen, the Little Robber Girl, has been seen as an influence on numerous Takahata and Miyazaki heroines.
Few other anime made their way to Russia during the Soviet period. Following the collapse of the USSR, anime slowly began to air on Russian TV; Sailor Moon was among the sleeper hits from this time. (In 2020, Russian ice skating megastar Evgenia Medvedeva appeared in a Yokohama ice show dressed as the titular character.) The medium’s popularity has only increased since then. However, cultural taboos and governmental action have hampered some of the medium’s growth.
In 2018, the long-running Dagestan-based anime convention AniDag, one of many anime conventions in Russia, was canceled following local backlash.  More recently, in March of this year, a mass online delinquent group styling itself off of the powerful band of thieves Genei Ryodan from Hunter x Hunter has become infamous in Russia for starting brawls consisting of hundreds of people.
Authorities arrested countless people in relation to this. “Some” in Russia are said to have called for the banning of all anime as a result. 
The Severing of Global Ties
If the failed deal with Kinopoisk were, as suggested, a delayed result of the invasion of Ukraine, then some may see this as in line with Ghibli’s general anti-war stance. Miyazaki famously refused to attend the 2002 Oscars ceremony in which his film Spirited Away won a coveted academy award as a silent protest against the then-ongoing Iraq War.
Seemingly, this is just a tiny example of the severing of global ties that have resulted from the invasion of Ukraine. (And not at all a major example of the tensions rising between Japan and its “distant neighbor,” Russia.) Given the nature of the themes of so many Ghibli films – pacifist, anti-war, anti-fascist, and more – it would be sad to see the movies recede from a large part of the globe in this fashion.
However, the news from Russian World Vision provides a glimmer of hope. It also casts doubt on speculation that the Ukraine invasion is what sunk the Kinopoisk deal.
However, as of now, it seems Russian World Vision hasn’t licensed the entire Ghibli catalog. And there’s no definite word on how available these 22 films will be in terms of streaming, or when.
So Ghibli fans in Russia may be in for a dry spell. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they decide to avail themselves of their favorites through (ahem) other means.
What to Read Next
 Jiji.com. (5/26(金)), ジブリ作品、ロシアから消える 惜しむ配信サイトは2円セール. Yahoo Japan News.
 Rubin, Rebecca. (Mar 10, 2022). Disney ‘Taking Steps to Pause’ All Business in Russia. Variety.
 (Nov. 26, 2018). Anime Festival Canceled in Russia’s Dagestan After ‘Debauchery’ Claims. The Moscow Times.
 Jiji. (Mar 2, 2023). Some in Russia call for anime ban as mob of delinquent fans becomes social issue. The Japan Times.
 TASS. (May 26th, 2023). Russian World Vision acquires rights to Miyazaki’s animated films.