Studio Ghibli has been gently revolutionising the animation world since 1985 and is one of the most acclaimed and celebrated studios out there. It’s often referred to as Japan’s answer to Disney, introducing countless viewers to the wonders of Japanese animation.
Founded by directors Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki, and Isao Takahata, Studio Ghibli has discovered the secret to making uniquely charming movies where not much happens yet you just can’t help but watch it again and again. More than anything, the works of Studio Ghibli do a great job of romanticizing the ordinary, understanding that there is magic in day-to-day life too – even if that day-to-day is a different reality entirely.
So whether you’re a long-time anime fan, or curious to enter the world of Japanese animation, here are 5 Studio Ghibli Favourites:
My Neighbour Totoro
There’s a reason Totoro has become Studio Ghibli’s mascot and there’s a reason this outright adorable, cuddly, and indescribable magical animal/spirit being has become an absolute world icon. This is Miyazaki’s most serene film, with a simple story driven by the imagination and whims of two young sisters desperate to find a form of escapism from a pretty grim reality – cue Totoro and his playful spirit-friends.
Howl’s Moving Castle
Miyazaki is known to have a paradoxically poignant way of combining his love for magic, adventure, and whimsy with commenting on very real human conditions. This loosely-based adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones’ novel of the same name is no exception as you find yourself charmed by each character while reflecting on Miyazaki’s message of how war, violence, and power can destroy the soul.
If you watch the dubbed version of the film, you’ll be delightfully amused by the voice performance of Billy Crystal as a sentient fire demon and you may find yourself swooning over the voice of Christian Bale as Howl.
If it isn’t My Neighbour Totoro or Howl’s Moving Castle that makes you fall in love with Studio Ghibli, it will definitely be this academy-award-winning movie. It portrays everything there is to love about Studio Ghibli in one experience: A deep empathy for human fragility and an empowering message of our desire for inspirational and imaginative journeys, not to mention visual artistry that is entirely in a league of its own.
It’s the story of a willful yet vulnerable young female protagonist, as she navigates herself through a strange spirit-filled world, striving to hold onto her own identity against the one forced upon her by a spirit.
Grave of the Fireflies
If Grave of the Fireflies had to be described in only two words, it would be ‘hauntingly beautiful’. The historical movie is based on Akiyuki Nosaka’s novel of the same name. Unlike most of the other Ghibli films, it focuses on realism rather than fantasy, emphasizing the effects of war and violence while leaving you struck by the haunting beauty of the brothers’ relationship.
Set in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, in 1945 just after World War II, this Ghibli movie follows two brothers, who lost their family and are suffering from starvation and malnutrition due to the war, as they do their best to survive during this harrowing time.
Please ready the tissues before you press play. You’re definitely going to need it.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
The Tale of Princess Kaguya is also the tale of Isao Takahata, who passed away in 2018. He was a firm believer that ” anime captures things we do and reflects more solid reality than how they actually are.” So In order to enable viewers to “vividly imagine or recollect the reality deep within the pictures,” he used a watercolor aesthetic resulting in a surreal, moving story about a little heroine discovering the world.
It’s an adaptation of The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, a book Takahata read as a child, about a bamboo cutter who finds a tiny girl within a bamboo stalk and raises her, watching her grow up to be a woman of great beauty.
Be warned though, prepare to experience an entire spectrum of emotions as Takahata’s thematically heavy fairytale turns into a melancholy wonder.
Honourable mentions so you have the full list of all 23 movies:
- Princess Mononoke
- Kiki’s Delivery Service
- Whisper of the Heart
- Castle in the Sky
- Pom Poko
- Porco Rosso
- The Wind Rises
- Only Yesterday
- Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
- My Neighbours the Yamadas
- When Marnie Was There
- The Cat Returns
- From Up on Poppy Hill
- The Secret World of Arrietty
- Ocean Waves
- Tales from Earthsea
- Earwig and the Witch
Bonus: you don’t have to look far, all these movies can be found on Netflix, simply search ‘studio ghibli’ and choose between Japanese-subbed or English-dubbed before settling down for a wholesome experience.
Grave of the Fireflies, however, is not on Netflix but it is still a masterpiece you should very much consider watching. Again, don’t forget the tissues.