Perhaps the most iconic animation studio of all time Studio Ghibli have created several unquestioned masterpieces. Their brilliantly endearing, quasi surreal and fantastical worlds spark entire fan pages dedicated to their plundering and have blown the minds of many a movie-goer worldwide.
Hayao Miyazaki, who founded Studio Ghibli in 1985, has influenced countless artists and writers such as Guillermo Del Toro, Akira Kurosawa, and John Lasseter (director of Toy Story). Furthermore, Miyazaki himself was influenced by visionaries such as Roald Dahl, Ursula K. le Guin and french artist Moebius (Jean Giraud).
While Studio Ghibli films are often considered children’s fare there is much more here than meets the eye, with often subtle existential questioning an his mind, Miyazaki expertly blends archetypes with stereotypes.
His ability to enrapture audiences and ensnare the mind in his whirlpool worlds is nothing short of remarkable, hence we have compiled a list of the the 10 most awe-inspiring Studio Ghibli films of all time.
On of the most genius expressions of imagination ever conceived, Studio Ghibli is still an animation giant of undying legacy. Here are their top 10 works.
1. Spirited Away 2001
Probably the least surprising entry on this list. I couldn’t, in good faith, put Spirited Away anywhere else but the top. It has grossed $360 million worldwide and is, to this day, one of the single most captivating and mesmerising theatrical journeys ever created.
The themes of greed, classism and innocence expertly interrelate, creating not only a wondrous children’s story but also deep philosophical questioning of human nature.
2. Howl’s Moving Castle 2004
The perfect example of how drip-feeding an audience plot can unveil a deep and texturally complex world, without the need for excessive plot exposition. While it’s not a hit with some Miyazaki fans lovers of fantasy and romance will find a dream come true in Howl’s Moving Castle’.
Howl, halfiman half-bird wizard, wanders the countryside in a gorgeously rendered eponymous walking castle while Sophie, an ordinary girl and young hat-maker has become an old lady due to a witches curse – what’s not to love!
3. Princess Mononoke 1997
Perhaps the most violent of all Miyazaki’s works, Princess Mononoke is a gorgeously rendered, captivating fantasy with a deep philosophical undertow. Like many Studio Ghibli works, Miyazaki is much concerned with the well-being of nature and humanities heedless destruction of it.
While it might not share the dreamlike transience of Spirited Away it’s just as unforgettable. The riveting adventure recalls the classic samurai films of Akiro Kurosawa while the forceful plea to live in harmony with ecology is what drives Mononoke on against the hubris of humanity and continues to inspire us even, and perhaps more so, 20 years on.
4. Castle In The Sky (Laputa) 1986
The first official Studio Ghibli film birthed the incredible world legacy to come while it’s not as polished or as trimmed as some of the entries above, it’s still a near perfect action-adventure.
Concerned with the preservation of history and ancient culture, Miyazaki takes us on a harrowing train ride, befriending of giant robots and the quest to save Laputa, a floating castle in the sky.
The gleeful airborne pirates, steampunk ships, greedy government officials and wonder are what makes this a film for the ages.
5. My Neighbour Totoro 2004
While both Grave Of The Firelies and My Neighbour Totoro attempt to explore the ways in which children deal with tragedy, or the possibility of it, Totoro is amazingly subtle. Moulding Ghibli’s tell-tale pseudo-surrealism around the imagination of a child experiencing the divorce of their parents, the darker elements never override the sense of child like wonder achieving a stunning balance all aspiring film maker should study.
From the Totoro sisters in the rain, to the arrival of the Catbus – the iconic scenes are innumerable, placing this film in the top half of the list.
6. Ponyo 2008
While one of the studios later films, and an overall divisive number, Miyazaki has abandoned the darker undertones here in favour of a heart melting tale of childhood friendship. The animation is exquisite, perhaps their finest, and the film is littered with touching moments of passionate infant determination, not to mention the incredible score from Joe Hisaishi.
Miyazaki is famous for creating movies without a screenplay. In many cases he pulls it off to remarkable results however Ponyo certainly flounders through moments where plot struggles to find traction and propulsion.
However, there is so much to admire here as Miyazaki meditates on the blue planet to deserve it a spot on this list.
7. Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind 1984
The last film from Mayazaki before the studio’s founding, it serves as pre-eminent exposition on the eco-fable that is Princess Mononoke. The animation was stunningly ahead of it’s time and marked a formative moment for Miyazaki – also his first collaboration with composer Joe Hisaishi who did all subsequent films.
The film is set in a post-apocalyptic sci-fi romp wherein pockets of humans hide from large marauding insects. It is also the birthplace for Miyazaki’s most defining thematic concerns – strong female protagonists, morally grey conflict, ecological and anti-war sentiments, and of course flying.
8. Grave Of The Fireflies 1998
Arguably Miyazaki’s darkest tale, Grave Of The Fireflies is entirely aimed at making you cry, and gosh darn it, you will. It’s a premier anti-war film and has earned itself an almost intimidating reputation as a heartbreaker.
However, the excellent character building of two youths surviving war and the dangerous virulence of patriotism, Grave Of The Fireflies earns itself a spot on this lift for it is perhaps one of Miyazaki’s most outlying successes. No surrealism, no magic, just a tender and realistic drama to convince all sceptics that cartoons can make you cry.
9. Porco Rosso 1992
If I were to sum this move up in one sentence it’s that ‘War turns men into pigs’. While the delivery is a little on the nose, it works to take weight from the red-blooded battle scenes as it off times get’s fairly gritty when it needs to be.
For a film devised around pigs flying war-planes there is a surprising dose of realism here as Miyazaki hopes to dash traditional notions of glorifying war.
10. Kiki’s Delivery Service 1989
Kiki’s Delivery Service is a brilliant coming of age tale again featuring a female protagonist, magic and flying. What more could you want?
Kiki, a clumsy witch who leaves home at 13 to find a job, is the perfection embodiment of many coming of age themes – leaving childish things behind, becoming independent, and wanting to fly around the sky on a broomstick. An innocent must-watch.