Studio Ghibli has enraptured audiences since it’s inception in 1985. It’s produced some of the world’s most beloved characters that would give Mickey Mouse a run for his money. They have created opulent worlds full of magic, splendor and wonder. Most of all they have influenced and inspired almost everyone who watches.
For many they are the ultimate in Japanese anime, capturing Japanese culture and spreading strong messages about the preservation of nature. There are stories about loss and grief, stories about childhood innocence, about growing up. For myself they have been a big influence. I was immediately drawn in, mostly by the sense of magic that always seems to touch every single film, even those that might have more bleak story to tell, as well as the beautiful animations and captivating stories.
Here I’ve tried my hardest to pick just five of my favourite films that Studio Ghibli has produced.
What could be described as “Studio Ghibli does The Little Mermaid”. It’s about a little fish girl who falls in love with a boy. Her father tries his hardest to make her stay in the ocean, but the eponymous Ponyo only wants to be re-united with her friend.
That is really a bare bones description of the whimsy and beauty that lies beneath. Though Ponyo is clearly in love with Sosuke this is always portrayed as an innocent, or even platonic friendship. Compare this to the Disney version and it seems like a breath of fresh air. The characters are all adorable and you fall in love with them all. Especially little Ponyo herself, who’s cries for ham, a newfound favourite you can’t help but fall in love with.
This is a great movie that is a little more lighthearted than some other Ghibli movies, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack a punch.
4) Howel’s Moving Castle
Based on the novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle is filled with Ghibli’s signature magic and visual style.
I found this a very interesting watch. I have read the book, and it is very, quintessentially British, even down to a joke throughout the book about Wales. So I was very pleasantly surprised when I finally got round to seeing Howl’s Moving Castle and found it to be thoroughly Japanese. It manages to take all the great things about the book and put them through a Japanese filter, whilst somehow keeping a lingering sense of British whimsy.
A great film to watch as a family as there is something for everyone in here.
3) Spirited Away
Now we get to the one that broke all the records and really started to get Ghibli’s name out into the wider world. It was the first anime to get a mainstream release outside of Japan, it was the highest grossing film in Japan, beating the record set by Titanic. It even garnered the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
Chihiro must find work in the magical bath house to save her parents, who were turned into pigs for their greed when finding a food stall full of food. She has to go see the proprietor, Yubaba and make her way through this new world she finds herself in. Echoing Alice in Wonderland, it’s about a little girl who finds herself in a world full of strange, wonderful things and trying to make sense of the world that makes where anything can happen.
This a true cinematic delight, the story of little Chirio constantly battling on and never giving up no matter how hard the task at hand might be will win you over and have you cheering her every step of the way. The animation is stunning, it’s hard to believe that it was all hand drawn in the tradition style, it’ll knock your socks off.
2) My Neighbour Totoro
Totoro is one of Japan’s well known and well loved characters. To the Japanese he is like Mickey Mouse every young child knows who he is. He has inspired countless pieces of fan art and merchandise around the globe.
It follows the story of two young girls, Satsuki and Mei as they move into a new home to be closer to their mother who is being cared for in a hospital. Whilst exploring they come across the giant nature spirit, Totoro, who is part giant teddy bear, part spirit, all a bundle of love and joy. It’s a tale of innocence and exploring your surroundings. He even calls his catbus to help in the search when Mei goes missing.
A great film for young kids to help capture their imagination and inspire them to connect with nature
1) Laputa: Castle in the Sky
The first official Ghibli film (Nausicaa was made just before Ghibli was formed, though it is included in their DVD collections). It was part inspired by the flying island mentioned in Gulliver’s Travels.
It’s an epic tale following the trials of a little girl, Sheeta, who is thrust into a predicament she could never have predicted. She is protected by a magical charm passed down through her family from one generation to the next. A charm that is much sought after by sky pirates and the military. She teams up with a young boy, Pazu and together they must unlock the secrets of the amulet while trying to keep clear of those with bad intentions.
It’s a film about friendship, and finding out who you really are and taking your place in the world. It’s a beautiful film and you’ll love the robots that appear towards the end of the film.