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Top 10 Studio Ghibli Movies By Hayao Miyazaki
Hayao Miyazaki is the most famous animator in Japan. His company, Studio Ghibli has produced not only some of the finest and most entertaining films to come from Japan, but also, many of his movies rank as the top grossing films in Japanese history. Looking like a kindly grandfather anyone would want, Miyazaki is an expert animator, director, and storyteller. He has brought his visions to the world. There are many recurring themes in his films; strong, youthful characters and heroine protagonists, mans' relationship to nature and an ecologically sustainable way of life, innocent, true love, and magic. All of these combine to make wonderful stories that are classics in the hearts of families around the world.
When watching Miyazaki's films, if you have a choice, watch them in the original Japanese with English subtitles. I guarantee you'll enjoy them much more.
10. Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Whisper of the heart is a gentle and fanciful coming-of-age romance. Shizuku is a junior high school girl, who one day follows an interesting cat called Moon or Muta to an antique store on a hill and meets Seiji, a boy from her class who wishes to become a great violin-maker. She also encounters The Baron, a human-cat figurine belonging to Seiji's kindly grandfather and owner of the shop. Along the way, we meet Shizuku's friends, Yuko and Sugimura who are caught in an impossible love triangle. The magical Baron helps Shizuku find her dream to be a writer as the relationship between she and Seiji grows.
This movie inspred a not so great, but entertaining sequal called The Cat Returns(2002). It's about a 17 year old high school girl named Haru who one day, saves the life of cat who turns out to be Lune, Prince of the Cat Kingdom. The king decides to reward her by turning her into a cat and bringing her to the Cat Kingdom, to marry his son, Lune. With the help of Muta and The Baron from the original film, she tries to return to the real world and become human again.
9. Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
Howl's Moving Castle did not receive the same critical acclaim as some of his previous films, but it is still the 3rd top grossing film in Japan. Based on the book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones, you enter a breathtaking fantasy world. Sophie is a quiet girl working in a hat shop. One day, she is literally swept off her feet by the handsome and mysterious boy wizard named Howl. Later, the jealous Witch of Waste transformers Sophie into a 90 year old woman. Sophie's only hope to reverse the spell is to seek out Howl and climb aboard his noisy, cantankerous, steam-spewing, walking castle. Along the way she meets many exotic and magical characters. It's a magical tale of true love that sees beyond the surface.
8. Pom Poko (1994)
This is one of my personal favorites. Pom Poko was written and produced by Miyazaki. It is an ecological fable of a group of animals who must face great changes in their world. The story centers on a community of tanuki living in the mountains. Tanuki are common animals living throughout Japan. They are often mistranslated as raccoons or badgers. They are the "Japanese raccoon dog" and are part of the dog family. Tanuki, along with the fox, are the shape-changing tricksters of Japanese mythology and figure prominently in Japanese folklore. One day, the tanuki discover that humans are encroaching on their mountain and want to bulldoze the whole area to build a highway. The Tanuki try to use their powerful magic to create scary illusions to scare away the construction crews, to no avail. They also meet a fox, in the form of a slick businessman who offers to help them. In fact, the foxes prefer the human world. They like getting rich and have no desire to return to their natural way of life. In the end we see three groups of tanuki and how they react to the changes. One group of conservatives are unable to accept change or let go of the past and sail off to the "other world." Another group wants to fight back and goes to war and are all destroyed. The tanuki who are left, grudingly accept change and adapt, using their magic to appear human and enter our world. But before they go, they give the humans a nostalgic image of what life used to be like in the countryside generations ago. The tanuki are illustrated three ways in the film,; one, in a realistic way as the animal appears, second as a more humanistic version we mostly see throughout the film, and last, a strange kind of stylized sketch version, especially right before they die. Pom Poko is a kind of dark comedy, but it has an important, subtle message. The Tanuki really represent the Japanese people and their longing to return to a simpler way of life. A great, lesser known film, but be warned, Tanuki derive their strength from their testicles and can cause their scrotums to swell to enormous size. In one funny scene, the tanuki use them like clubs in a fight and bash people around with them.
7. Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)
Kiki's Delivery Service is lighter fair than some of Miyazaki's other films. Based on the novel of the same name by Eiko Kadono, it is a heartwarming tale of personal discovery and one of Studio Ghibli's first big hits. Kiki is a 13 year old witch, the cute, nice kind. At this age it is customary for young witches to fly off on their own to make their place in the world. With only her broomstick and her black cat Jiji, she sets off. She's not great at flying yet, but soon reaches a picturesque, seaside village and decides to see if a witch is needed in the town. She soon discovers that flying through the streets is all together different and nearly causes a traffic accident. The police let her off with a warning. She eventually comes to a baker's house on a hill and asks to stay there.She is welcomed by the baker's wife. Mrs.Osono and her entirely silent husband. Kiki is grateful, but knows she can't live off of them and has to make a living for herself. Then one day, a customer asks her to deliver a package. Flying on a broom is a quick way to get around the city, and soon, with the Osono's permission, she opens a business out of the bakery, "Kiki's Delivery Service", She quickly learns the value of hard work and the responsibilities of being a business owner. She also starts to meet other kids her own age and make friends. But something in her training goes wrong and she looses her ability to fly and to communicate with her familiar, Jiji. But soon, her friend Tombo finds himself in perilous danger. Can Kiki recover her ability to fly in time to save him? The film is very entertaining and great for kids. The relationship between Kiki and her cat Jiji is fun to watch. I especially like the character of Mr. Osono the baker, who doesn't speak at all, but conveys everything through emotion and body language. He is initially cool towards Kiki and Jiji, but later we find him fretting and worrying about her like a father and also trying to conceal his fact from her.
6. Castle in the Sky (1986)
This is a wonderfully entertaining film, a high flying, fantasy adventure. Sheeta is a 13 year old orphaned farm girl with a magical crystal necklace with mysterious powers that is connected to the legend of Laputa, a floating sky island. Because of her necklace she is being pursued both by the government and a band of air pirates. Then she meets Pazu, another orphan who whose father loved flying and who once photographed Laputa. There are also mysterious robots which are very powerful, but basically benevolent and are the guardians of Laputa. We also meet Dola, the robust matriarch of the air pirate gang. She is quick, intelligent, and a good fighter. At first she seems threatening, but later befriends and helps the two children. Dola becomes an adopted grandmother to Sheeta. They must stop the ruthless Colonel Muska, the government gent who will stop at nothing to find Laputa and uncover it's scientific secrets for his own gain. Can Sheeta and Pazu stop Colonel Muska and uncover the true nature of Laputa's secret power? This film is exciting and fast-paced, the children are always on the move. With a haunting theme melody, this is a great addition to the Miyazaki film library.
5. Princess Mononoke (1997)
Princess Mononoke was Miyazaki's first big hit in America and really brought him to the attention of American moviegoers. It's story of man's relationship to the environment is more direct than his other films. In this fantasy world of ancient Japan, one day a grotesque monster covered in writhing worms attacks a remote village, poisoning and withing everything it touches. The beast is finally taken down by Ashitaka, a young warrior. He discovers, however that the monster is actually a gigantic wild boar, a revered spirit that has been infected with a sort of demonic madness. Ashitaka himself has been poisoned by it and is sent on a quest by the village elders to find the answer to cure himself and their lands. Along with his red elk steed Yakul, Ashitaka eventually comes to Irontown, a settlement built by the Tatara clan near an iron mine. The clan has taken a completely hostile attitude towards nature and the environment. The residents live behind huge walls and use guns and technology to scrounge out a living. The area around Irontown is devoid of trees. However, the residents of Irontown are under attack from the forest. led by a young girl named San also known as Princess Mononoke who was raised by gigantic wolves and hates humans. San is at first wary of Ashitaka, but slowly, a trust and bond grows between them. We also see the Great Forest Spirit, a kind of deer with the face of a man.At night, it transforms into the Nightwalker a gigantic spectral creature that walks the night. Lady Eboshi, Irontown's leader is trying to kill the Deer God, believing it will win her the war and make her invincible. She succeeds in decapitating it, but then as the Nightwalker, it causes everything it touches to decay in an effort to regain it's head. Ashitaka and San must work together to try and restore balance. Ashitaka tries not to take sides and he represents a middle ground between the two extremes of Irontown and Princess Mononke. He respects and revers nature, but also lives within a human community. The animation is beautiful, but this is a serious film for adults or older children, not only for the difficult story, but also the high level of violence. My favorite line is when one of the wolf gods looks at Yakul the elk and whispers to Princess Mononke, "Tabete ii?" (Can I eat it?)
4. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1985)
Nausicaa is my favorite after Spirited Away, though it's not as well known in the states. The movie is based on a manga comic book series with a strong ecological message that Miyazaki himself wrote, then adapted to film. We find a fantasy world of a distant future, a place of toxic jungles with gigantic insects. Nausicaa is a young girl and a princess of the people of the Valley of the wind who live a quiet, sustainable life. She has a special ability to communicate with animals and alone seems unafraid of the fearsome beasts of their world, including the ohmu, which look a lot like enormous pill bugs. Nausicaa seeks to find an answer to the "sea of decay" which is destroying their land. One day, a plane crashes in her valley. It is commanded by Kushana, leader of the army of the country of Tolmekia. The Tolmekians are an aggressive people bent on expansion They wish to stop the decay by force by resurrecting the last God Warrior, gigantic artificial men of incredible power that are grown. They are symbolic of weapons of mass destruction and the God Warrior's huge, pulsating heart is the secret cargo on the Tolmekian ship. Nausicaa is taken prisoner and must find a way to stop the Tolmekian plan a well as calm a stampede of rampaging ohmu before they destroy everything. The only way is for Nausicaa to make a great personal sacrifice. Nausicaais a masterpiece, not only of animation and storytelling, but a message of an ecologically sustainable way of life. A must see.
3. Ponyo (2008)
Unlike many of Miyazaki's former films, Ponyo is squarely targeted at children. Loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Mermaid", Ponyois a fanciful tale of innocent love and the power of the sea. Ponyo is a little goldfish girl. Her human father is Fujimoto, a Captain Nemo like Alchemist who has rejected humanity and seeks to bring back a new "Age of the Sea". Her mother is the sea goddess Gran Mamare. Ponyo starts life much the same as her many identical sisters until one day she escapes her father to another world and is found by a 5 year old boy Souske. He is the only one that sees how special Ponyo is and the two quickly form a strong bond.She also takes a liking to ham. Fujimoto uses his power to recapture Ponyo, but her love for Souske and desire to be human are too strong. With the help of her sisters, she gets gets into daddy's powerful elixirs and obtains the power to be human. She then returns to Souske as a little girl, running on top of the waves. But her transformation has upset the delicate balance of nature and threatens to destroy the world. Now Gran Mamare must intervene. Is Ponyo and Souske's love strong enough to make her truly human and save the world? The animation is superb and the story heartwarming. I loved the opening scene with Fujimoto using his elixirs to retro-evolve small sea life. I also liked Souske's spirited mother Lisa. It was the #1 film in Japan in 2008 and one of the highest grossing films of all time. An instant classic you family will want to watch again and again.
2. My Neighbor Totoro(1988)
In Japan, this probably Miyazaki's most notable film and Totoro's image graces the Studio Ghibli logo.10 year old Satsuki and her 4 year old sister Mei move into an old house in the countryside with their father, a professor. Their mother is in the hospital. As soon as they arrive however, the girls immediately notice something is not quite right with the house. They first encounter the "makuro kuroske", little, black fuzzy spirits inhabiting the dark corners of the house. Later they meet and befriend Totoro, a benevolent forest spirit living inside a huge, sacred tree along with his smaller cousins. Totoro resembles an enormous bunny rabbit and eats acorns. He becomes protector of the girls and shows them how he makes plants grow and takes them on a magical journey. Later, Mei goes missing and Satsuki needs Totoro's help to find her. Another unforgettable character is the "Nekobus" or Cat Bus, a bus sized, twelve legged cat with an enormous Cheshire grin who helps them along the way. The thing that strikes you about the girls is their incredible, youthful energy and positiveness. One of the most endearing things about the film is how the parents never once question the girls stories. They never say things like "It's all in your head." or "Your imagining things." They simple accept them. The illustrations of the trees and Japanese countryside are absolutely beautiful and the whole film has a very nostalgic feel. I love the scene depicted on the DVD cover of The girls and Totoro at the bus stop in the rain. A masterpiece and family classic.
1. Spirited Away (2001)
Spirited Awayis my personal favorite as well as the film that won Miyazaki the Academy award for Best Animated Feature as well as numerous other international film awards. It is also the highest grossing film in Japanese history. Like The wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland it is the enchanting journey of self discovery of a girl in another realm. Chihiro is driving with her parents to their new house in a new city. Along the way they stumble upon an abandoned amusement park. Smelling the aroma of delicious food, her parents stuff themselves until they literally transform into pigs. As the sun goes down shadowy apparitions appear and Chihiro finds herself trapped in a hot spring resort for gods and spirits. She is aided by the strangely familiar boy Haku who tells her in order to stay safely, she must ask for employment from the owner, Yubaba. Yubaba is powerful sorceress as well as a scrupulous business owner. Yubaba accepts Chihiro's request, but strips away some of the characters in her name. She is henceforth called "Sen" and is rapidly losing her memory. She goes to work and meets all the colorful characters as well as guests of the spa. Later, we discover that Haku is actually a dragon spirit and forced into servitude like Sen. He is mortally wounded on an errand for Yubaba and Sen must save him. At the same time, the spa is taken siege by No-face, a lonely, vagabond spirit who views Sen as his only friend. She takes No-face to visit Yubaba's twin sister Zeniba for help. Can she uncover Haku's true identity and save him, her parents, and herself? The story and animation are absolutely fabulous. Unlike many of Miyazaki's films where the natural background plays a major part, Spirited Awaytakes place almost exclusively within the world of the spa. One of the most unforgettable scenes is when a grotesque and incredibly stinky blob monster comes to the spa. Sen realizes that the blob is actually just dirty and full of trash. With the help of another employee, she is finally able to clean away the last bit of filth. The spirit then reveals itself to be a dragon-like river god who was afflicted with human pollution. The God then blesses the spa with an abundance of gold. Spirited Away is a triumph, one of the best animated movies ever made.
The following movies are not included in my top 10, but are still fine Studio Ghibli films
Porco Rosso (1992)
Porco Rosso (The Crimson Pig) is undoubtedly Miyazaki's oddest film. It's set in war torn era Europe and is about an ace pilot whose head was somehow magically transformed into a pig's. This is never clearly explained, nor does Porco, whose real name is Marco, seem to mind. Marco is ace pilot in he Adriatic sea and bounty hunter who used to fly for the Italian Air Force. He also hates the fascist, Italian government. Marco is a loner and lives in a secret hideout in the rocks, but also has many close friends who help him. A group of air pirates, tired or Porco Rosso's interference, hire another ace pilot, the American Donald Curtiss to shot Porco Rosso down. Curtiss soon falls in love with Gina, the beautiful and charming owner of a hotel on an island in the sea. She is a three time widow to air pilots and also Marco's closest friend. The two pilots battle it out in spectacular dogfights in the skys and fight for Gina's affections on the ground. Will Porco Rosso be victorious? Check out this nostalgic, war era love story with a twist.
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
The last film is technically not a Hayao Miyazaki movie, but is one of the most famous released by Studio Ghibli. Recieving critical acclaim all over the world, This is not a movie for kids. Grave of the Fireflies is one of the best war films ever made, yet it is animated and there are no battle scenes. It is the heart wrenching, yet thought-provoking tragedy of a brother and sister caught in the turmoil of Japan during WWII. 14 year old Seita and his 4 year old little sister Setsuko's father is away, serving in the Imperial Navy. At the beginning of the film, their mother is killed in a firebombing in Tokyo. With nowhere else to turn, they go to live with their Aunt. But she has little sympathy or affection for them. She has a family of her own to care for. She seems cruel and resents having two more mouths to feed. After a short time, Seita decides to leave with his sister. He believes he can care for her better on his own. They end up living in a cave near a stream and for a short time, know happiness. I can't say this is one of my favorite Ghibli movies, not that it isn't a great film with wonderful animation and storytelling, but because it's so sad.I guess I prefer movies with a happier ending. However it does beg the viewer to think who is to blame for what happens to the children? Is it the war, the cruel people, or is it Seita's own stubborn pride that prevents him from staying with their aunt?