With the forthcoming release of Ponyo on the Cliff we thought it may be time to have a look through the Studio Ghibli back catalogue. Described by many as the Disney of Japan, Ghibli films can now be found in any entertainment store thanks mostly to the critical acclaim gained by Spirited Away and its Oscar nomination for best animated feature in 2002.
Founded in 1985 by director Hayao Miyazaki and his good friend Isao Takahata, as well as producer Toshio Suzuki Ghibli all started with the 1984 film Nausica of the Valley of the Wind. The success of this piece helped fund the creation of this now famous studio.
Studio Ghibli is now so renowned that American distributors dare not touch any of their films contents. This came about after some heavy Americanized changes to Nausica. So unhappy with this, that when Miramax approached Ghibli about editing Princess Mononoke they replied with a simple message “No Cuts”.
So below we have a list of our top ten films from this influential Japanese company, and one of the greatest directors of our time Hayao Miyazaki.
We start with the sixth film by Studio Ghibli, Porco Rosso. The story focuses around an Italian World War I fighter pilot, now retired and working as a freelance bounty hunter chasing pirates in the Adriatic Sea in his red fighter plane. However to keep things very Ghibli, our key player has been cursed, and now finds himself in pig form In fact Porco Rosso literally translated in Italian means ‘Red Pig.’
The curse is never really explained, instead the story revolves around Porco’s would be romance with hotel owner Gina and his relationship with a young apprentice engineer by the name of Fio.
Certainly not one of the best works of Miyazaki, but the approach taken by Miyazaki to tell a very Western tale, through Eastern eyes makes this a worthy addition to this list
Winner of the Animage Anime grand prix in 1985, Laputa starts when a young boy stumbles across a mysterious girl (Sheeta) who falls from the sky. Sheeta, chased by pirates, takes the young boy with her on a high flying, fantastic trek. The pair are searching for the girls true identity, a journey that leads them to a floating castle of a lost civilization.
Set around the Victorian era, it shows more than a nod of the head to works of authors such as Jules Vern. Full of magic and mystery Laputa is a wonderful mix of Japanese storytelling and old fashioned literature.
Based on the novel of the same name by Eiko Kadono. This was the first collaboration by Disney and Ghibli.
Kiki is a thirteen year old Witch in training. The film begins with Kiki leaving home to fulfill he training in a new town. Joined by her talking cat Jiji the two fly off on Kiki’s broom and it doesn’t take long before they find a place to call home. We all know though how difficult it is to start up somewhere new, and Kiki soon discovers that she’ll have to earn a living if she is to survive and finish her training. Kiki soon finds a job that combines her skills with the needs of a local baker, she becomes a delivery girl.
The film is a great coming of age drama covering a wide range of issues, from loneliness to maturity. Kiki’s Delivery Service is certainly more than meets the eye.
Technically released before the formation of Studio Ghibli it still sits amongst the companies list of achievements. Nausicaa is an epic post apocalyptic film that covers issues of environmentalism.
Set a thousand years after the fictional “Seven days of fire” an event which destroyed human civilization and most of the plants eco-structure. The films central character Nausicaa is a peaceful warrior trying to understand the now toxic world she is surrounded by. Others though do not share her view, instead wanting to destroy the creatures and plants that have evolved from it all. She must fight to help preserve what natural life still remains.
Made in1984 it was one of the first films to tackle the issues of environmental problems that we are now well aware of.
Originally made to accompany Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies. Totoro now stands as one of the most famous icons of the Ghibli franchis, indeed he is now the ‘face’ of Ghibli.
The film follows two young daughters of a professor, and their interactions with the local forest spirits that live near their new post-war rural house. They moved to be closer to the hospital where their sick mother is recovering.
The film is a visually handsome, and charming example of the wonders of childhood. Unlike other Ghibli works it doesn’t work around a central issues, leaving some to believe it lacks any of the tension and conflict of Miyazaki’s other work but if you take it for what it is, a beautifully sweet kids film then it makes for wonderful viewing.
Written and directed by Takahata this story of a highly sociable community of racoonish type creatures called Tanuki. This is indeed one of the most bizarre of all the Ghibli films for western audiences. The Tanuki originate from Japanese folklore. They use ‘illusion science’ to transform into pretty much anything they like, however their love of food makes them more of an annoyance than a threat to anyone.
One thing more than anything else has stopped this film from gaining as much fame as the others on the list, and that thing is ‘testicles’
Prominent testicles are an integral part of Tanuki folklore. They are shown throughout the film and constantly referred to in regard to their shape shifting. The English version however refers to them as pouches! But who do they honestly think they’re kidding.
Based on Diana Wynne’s novel of the same name a lot of weight rested on the shoulders of this, the sixteenth film from Ghibli. It was the first to reach western audiences since the huge release of Spirited Away. It may not of been higher on the list than Spirited Away but it was by no means a disappointment.
It’s a much darker piece, that deals with issues of love and identity. We follow Sophie a young girl working in a hat makers shop who has been cursed by an unhappy customer with an ageing spell. She is rescued by a soldier and soon finds herself aboard the magical moving castle of a man named Howl. We latter find out the unhappy customer is in fact Howls nemesis, the witch of the waste and Sophie finds herself drawn into their conflict.
This is Miyazaki’s most adult centric film. It retains his flair for cute side characters but the story is undeniably dark at its heart.
The film that pushed Ghibli and Miyazaki into the forefront of western cinema.
Chihiro, the films central character becomes trapped in a forbidden world of gods, ghosts and magic when her parents take her to investigate the other side of a tunnel they discover whilst on a drive to their new house. When her parents are taken hostage and turned into pigs Chihiro finds herself alone and in order to survive, she must work, taking a job within a bath house she discovers she’ll have to find the courage and resolve inside herself if she is to save her enslaved parents and escape back to the human world.
Miyazaki’s previous work with magical worlds and young central characters combines here to make his most famous piece of work, and a film that you’ll see in most lists for film of the decade due to its influence to animation.
Side note, I also named my first pet rat Haku.
American film critic Robert Ebert, described this as the most powerful anti-war film ever made, whilst animation historian Ernest Rister compared it with Schindler’s List. It’s certainly not often that an animated film gets referred to in the same breath as modern classics but this is truly deserving.
Set towards the end of the second world war, we follow a young boy and his even younger sister and their struggle to get by whilst all around them is crumbling. This is one of the few animated films that’s truly emotionally involving, and if it doesn’t lead you to tears then you seriously need to take a look at yourself, seriously!
This epic drama is set in a magical world where Men and creatures are at war, yet the true victim of this conflict is the forrest and the spirits that dwell within it. Following Ashitaka a villager, who when cursed with a disease after taking down an evil forrest spirit is banished and takes it upon himself to discover why these creature have become overcome by evil. He discovers a world where men are hungry for iron, so much so they’re invading the forest for more land.
The film wonderfully shows the future problems of globalization and its environmental effects. However it manages to not be preachy, instead showing both sides of the story, explaining why it’s just not a simple matter of stopping the rise of industry but what we’ll be missing if the trend continues.