A glimpse into Studio Ghibli’s various films may leave viewers wondering where to start. Here’s what you need to know about the animation studio and which films are best for your different moods.
Studio Ghibli Inc. is a Japanese animation film studio founded by Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, Toshio Suzuki and Yasuyoshi Tokuma. The animation studio is well known for its distinct characters, eye-appealing artwork, notable soundtracks and meaningful themes.
Where to begin
When you hear Studio Ghibli, you might think of “Spirited Away”, an Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature.
Chihiro, a 10-year-old girl moves to a new home with her parents. Their destination changes when the family arrives at an abandoned amusement park, which is the portal to the spirit world. Chihiro’s parents turn into pigs, so she has to find a way to save her parents and return to the human world. Throughout her journey, she develops a connection with several characters, such as Haku and No Face.
The film embodies Miyazaki’s dreamy fantasy-like aesthetics. The scenes are abnormal but make absolute sense. In the midst of it all, Miyazaki manages to bring attention to Chihiro’s character development as well as her desire to help everyone around her.
If you want to relive your childhood…
“My Neighbor Totoro”
The film follows two girls, Satsuki and Mei who move to the countryside while waiting for their mother to recover from an illness. There, they encounter a giant rabbit-like creature named Totoro. There isn’t much of a plot but what makes “My Neighbor Totoro” so special is the nostalgia seen from Satsuki and Mei. All the emotions are felt, especially during moments of silence. It makes sense that Totoro is Studio Ghibli’s mascot since Miyazaki’s films mainly center around innocence and youth.
“Kiki’s Delivery Service”
“Kiki’s Delivery Service” is a film that promotes independence and change. When a young witch named Kiki turns 13-years-old, she moves to a big city for witch training. She finds trouble adjusting but ends up starting a delivery service. The self-doubts Kiki faces in her journey are met with growth in self-confidence. “Kiki’s Delivery Service” is a wholesome film that captures what growing up is like. As viewers, we are inspired to be confident even when in an unfamiliar environment.
The moment you look at “Ponyo,” you’re immediately sucked into its bright colors and wonderful sea creatures. Inspired by “The Little Mermaid,” the movie focuses on a human boy named Sosuke and a goldfish who is later named Ponyo. Sosuke influences Ponyo’s desire to live on land and during that time, she brings chaos to Sosuke’s village. The interactions between the two characters leave you smiling like a kid.
If you want an inspiring love story…
“Whisper of the Heart”
“Whisper of the Heart” is a coming-of-age love story. The film focuses on Shizuku Tsukishima who loves reading. She finds out every book she reads is checked out by the same mysterious person. Thus, she attempts to look for this person and at the same time, realizes her passion for books and writing. Scenes in the story perfectly convey the feeling of passion, love and dreams. It’s a magical yet realistic film.
“The Wind Rises”
“The Wind Rises” is a true yet meaningful story. Warplane designer Jiro Horikoshi dreams of creating airplanes. In his endeavor to create the best warplane, Jiro’s passion for aircraft along with his romance with Nahoko Saotomi is a beautiful contradiction to the actual destruction that is happening in Japan. As we follow Jiro’s many trials, we are inspired to hold onto our dreams.
If you want to go on an emotional rollercoaster…
The film starts with Ashitaka getting attacked by a demon-possessed boar god. While he fights the boar, he gets bitten and cursed. Unfortunately, Ashitaka can no longer be a member of his tribe so he ventures out to find a cure from the deer god. During his search, he finds conflict between humans and nature. Remaining neutral, Ashitaka attempts to bring stability between the two. “Princess Mononoke” depicts the brutal effects of humans’ desires — a disturbance in nature. The film is action-packed with jaw-dropping moments.
“Grave of the Fireflies”
This film is a twist on Studio Ghibli’s typical light-hearted films. “Grave of the Fireflies” takes place during the last years of World War II. Seita and Setsuko are siblings who must rely on each other to survive the cruel effects of war. It is a story of pain and loss but we are reminded of the good moments — experiencing joy despite tragic situations.
“Howl’s Moving Castle”
Sophie, a young girl, is forced to work in her parents’ hat shop. She finds joy when she occasionally meets with Howl the Wizard. The Witch of the Waste gets jealous and curses Sophie to be a 90-year-old woman. Ashamed, Sophie runs away and lands at Howl’s castle where she learns to embrace change–old age. Miyazaki brings light to this theme. Rather than old age being bad, it is seen as a good thing, such as when Sophie uses her wisdom to tackle problems a young person wouldn’t think much about. The soundtrack and stunning scenes play a substantial role in conveying the characters’ emotions.
If you want to watch the first Studio Ghibli film…
“Castle in the Sky”
Despite being made three decades ago, “Castle in the Sky” is an enchanting fantasy adventure film. Sheeta is kidnapped by Colonel Muska until their plane is attacked by air pirates. Escaping with a Volucite crystal, Sheeta befriends Pazu and the two embark on a journey to see if the island of Laputa truly exists. At the same time, they are being chased by Muska. The film’s sound effects are thrilling and every second keeps your eyes peeled to the screen.
Other Studio Ghibli films not mentioned are found here.
There’s no doubt each Ghibli film transports you to a world of its own. Whether it be the characters walking or doing everyday things, Studio Ghibli captures the simplicity and makes it significant. Because we can relate to these actions, we aspire to change our life little by little.
As much as life is monotonous right now, watching Studio Ghibli films can change your perspective on life.