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10 of the best Studio Ghibli films

BY Mark Reynolds

1st Jan 2015 Film & TV

10 of the best Studio Ghibli films

Studio Ghibli is revered around the world for its high-quality, endlessly inventive and eye-poppingly entertaining animated films.

The Studio’s oddly un-Japanese name comes from the Italian word (via Arabic) for the sirocco wind that sweeps into the Mediterranean from the Sahara. The idea behind the naming was that the studio would ‘blow a new wind through the anime industry’. If this listicle gives you a taste for all things Ghibli then the documentary Kingdom of Dreams and Madness captures co-founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata at work on their most recent features, and offers great insights into the Studio’s lively invention and wide-ranging inspirations. The camera is also allowed up close to the many cats that share Miyazaki’s life – and who have no doubt sparked his own curiosity and ingenuity.

The Tale of The Princess Kaguya (2013)

The Tale of The Princess Kaguya, about a magical princess found in a bamboo shoot, saw a new director enter Studio Ghibli after the long reign of Hayao Miyazaki. While a departure visually, it once again proves the masters of Japanimation have the wind at their heels.


My Neighbour Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988)

Released simultaneously in Japan with Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies, this pair of films firmly established Studio Ghibli’s dominance of contemporary anime. This gentle fantasy sees two young sisters, Satsuki and Mei, befriend a giant furry creature with rabbit ears and a maniacal grin who leads them into magical adventures. The Disney voice track, released in 2004, helped make A-list child stars of Dakota and Elle Fanning. Endlessly rewarding family drama for watching over and over.
Buy the DVD here


Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)  

Winner of the Best Animated Feature Oscar, this fantasy tale for all ages tells the story of Chihiro, a little girl who is transported to an exquisite bathhouse while her parents eat like pigs at a roadside restaurant. As she gets trapped in the spirit world, and her parents are turned into actual pigs, Chihiro is put to work at the bathhouse where she must confront a fantastical array of demons in order to restore her lost identity.
Buy the DVD here


The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki, 2013)  

The final film before Miyazaki’s retirement tells the fictionalised story of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi fighter aircraft used by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service in World War II. We meet Jiro as a young boy who realises his hopes of becoming a pilot are scuppered by his poor eyesight, and follow his adult passion as a designer of ‘beautiful dreams’ that others can fly. It’s impossible not to detect a hint of autobiography in this moving tale of a singleminded artist-dreamer who sees fathomless fantasy in the everyday.
Buy the DVD here


Howl’s Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki, 2004)  

A breathtaking parable about the transforming power of love, and the trials of youth as well as old age. It’s based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones, in which a witch’s curse turns 18-year-old hat maker Sophie into a wizened old lady who must enlist the help of a powerful and slippery wizard called Howl to break the spell. In the English dub, Emily Mortimer and Jean Simmons share the role of young and old Sophie, Christian Bale is Howl, and Lauren Bacall weighs in with a deliciously evil turn as the Witch of the Waste.
Buy the DVD here


Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki, 1997)  

The first of Miyazaki’s films to receive wide acclaim in the West, thanks in part to an English-language script by Neil Gaiman and voices by Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Billy Crudup and Gillian Anderson. The film journeys back to a mythical clash between the old gods of the natural world and the beginnings of modern civilisation in the Japanese Middle Ages, and deals with themes of nature, sexuality, disability and lost innocence.
Buy the DVD here


Kiki’s Delivery Service (Hayao Miyazaki, 1989)  

A young witch on a mandatory gap year among ordinary mortals in a quaint seaside town supports herself by running a broomstick-powered air courier service. Ably assisted by her black cat Jiji, the enterprising young lady’s adventures allow her to find her place in the world and gain many friends. Kirsten Dunst stars as Kiki in the Disney dub, while Phil Hartman slyly steals many of the scenes as her petulant pet (a departure from the Japanese version, in which Jiji was voiced as female). Based on the fantasy novel by Eiko Kadono.
Buy the DVD here


Ponyo (Hayao Miyazaki, 2008)  

This loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid centres on the eponymous goldfish who befriends a five-year-old boy named Sōsuke and yearns to become a human girl so the two of them can grow up together. Ponyo’s father Fujimoto, believing she has been kidnapped, calls on the wave spirits to recover her. Lacking the supernatural horror of Miyazaki’s immediately preceding Spirited Away, it is fuelled instead by natural magic and trademark flights of wide-eyed fantasy. Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon and Liam Neeson lead the Disney cast.
Buy the DVD here


Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988)  

This powerful meditation on the fallout of war, adapted from Akiyuki Nosaka’s semi-autobiographical novel, tells of a young boy, Seita and his sister, Setsuko, who are struggling for survival after their parents are killed by US firebombs in World War II. The quick, terrifying action of the bombing is followed by eerie, patient shots of private moments of fear and reflection. A vivid, poetic animation that was an instant hit in Japan and is now acknowledged internationally as one of the finest war films ever made.
Buy the DVD here

Arrietty (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2010)  

A captivating re-imagining of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, about a family of tiny beings who live secretly inside the walls and below the floors of an ordinary home. The UK dub produced by Studio Canal (there was also a Disney dub for North America and other territories) stars Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as lead Borrower Arrietty and also features Olivia Colman, Mark Strong, Geraldine McEwan, and Tom Holland as Shō, the boy who makes the discovery.
Buy the DVD here


The Cat Returns (Hiroyuki Morita, 2002)  

Haru is a shy, scatterbrained schoolgirl whose ability to talk to cats sees her whisked away into a magical world in which she finds herself engaged to a cat prince. An indirect sequel to the less well known Studio Ghibli feature Whisper of the Heart (Yoshifumi Kondō, 1995), the English-language cast is led by Anne Hathaway and features Elliot Gould, Tim Curry and Judy Greer. Delightful fun for cat people of all ages.
Buy the DVD here

For more things Studio Ghibli, check out DVD's, Blu-Rays and collectibles on Amazon.

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