If you’re as big of a fan of animated movies as I am, I’m sure you’ve come across a Studio Ghibli film at one point in your life. Studio Ghibli are the enchanting Japanese animation studio that we’re founded by animation veteran; Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki, Isao Takahata and Yasuyoshi Tokuma in 1985 are responsible for such gems such as Academy Award winning Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Howls Moving Castle, etc. Sound familiar? In this post I’m going to count down my 15 Favourite Studio Ghibli Movies.
15. The Cat Returns (2002)
The Cat Returns is the story of a teenage girl: Haru that saves a cat in the street who is moments away from being hit by a car. The cat however turns out to be the Prince of the Cat Kingdom, due to saving his life, the King of the Cat Kingdom approaches Haru and asks her to marry his son as a token of his gratitude, Haru taken back by this offer hesitates and the king takes this as a yes so is taken to the Cat Kingdom where she begins to develop feline features like cat ears and whiskers. When Haru tries to leave she is kept captive and finds herself dancing with The Baron (the very dapper cat seen in Whisper of the Heart) he reveals to her that the more she loses herself in the kingdom, the more cat-like she will become, and that she has to discover her true self and attempts to help her escape.
This film for me is a bit of fun, it’s lighthearted and funny. It’s a little silly and has a slightly different design style to other Ghibli films. Definitely ideal for someone who is a Studio Ghibli first timer or just a cat person.
14. Only Yesterday (1991)
Only Yesterday is one of Studio Ghibli’s more mature films, it tells the story of 27 year old; Taeko that lives and works in Tokyo, she decides to take a trip back home to Yamagata to the countryside to visit family. On this journey she becomes nostalgic of her childhood, the film is shown through flashbacks of Taeko as a young school girl in 1966 and the things she went through during this time.
As of 2016 Only Yesterday got a re-release dubbed in English with the voice talents of Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel, I however have only seen the 1991 Japanese dub. This film for me was so beautiful, the art style again felt different to the typical Ghibli style, the honest story felt so real, a great film to watch quietly alone to get invested with.
13. The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)
Based on the 1952 novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton, The Secret World of Arrietty is the story of a young Borrower; Arrietty. Borrower’s by nature; live in the small cracks of houses and borrow things from humans that won’t be noticed missing or missed. Arrietty is taken out on her first borrowing mission with her father to borrow a tissue and a sugar cube when she is spotted by a young boy named Shawn (Shō in the original Japanese dub) startled by this, Arrietty drops her sugar cube and runs back home. The next day, Shawn leaves out the sugar cube with a little note beside it for Arrietty. Arrietty’s father warns her not to take it because their existence must be kept secret from humans. Nevertheless, she sneaks out to visit Shō in his bedroom. The two become friends regardless of Arrietty’s parents dismay and Shawn agrees to help Arrietty’s family survive.
There’s actually quite a few versions of this film, there’s the original Japanese dub, the Disney released English dub (2012) using an American cast (Bridgit Mendler, David Henrie, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, etc) and a UK version released by Studio Canal with an English cast (2011) (Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, Olivia Colman, Mark Strong, etc.) I have seen the UK version, I loved this film for it’s sense of adventure but also it’s sweet touching scenes. It also had some beautiful scenery paintings, much like other great Ghibli films.
12. Ocean Waves (1993)
Ocean Waves also known as I Can Hear The Sea is an adaption of the novel I Can Hear The Sea by Japanese Author;Saeko Himuro. This is a coming of age story told through flashbacks. Taku Morisaki recognises a woman on the platform opposite to him, he then narrates the story of how he knew this girl from high school. Similar to Only Yesterday this is a slightly more mature Ghibli film that deals with teenage issues and young relationships. It is one of the only Ghibli films that has not received an English dub so far.
I wish I could say more about this film but honestly I’m having trouble remembering my experience with it, It’s definitely worth a watch though if you are prepared to watch the entire 1hr 12min just with subtitles.
11. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)
Derived from the Japanese folktale The Tale of The Bamboo Cutter, this 2013 Ghibli masterpiece centers around a bamboo cutter named Sanuki no Miyatsuko who one day finds a miniature girl inside of a bamboo shoot. Believing that she is a divine presence, Sanuki and his wife decide to raise the girl as their own, giving her the name “Princess”. She is raised along side other children of the village and grows at a rapid rate earning the nickname “Little Bamboo” from the other children, she becomes very close friends with the oldest child of the village; Sutemaru. Upon cutting down Bamboo once again, Sanuki finds a gold cloth in the bamboo grove, the same way that he found Princess, He takes this as proof that she has comes from royalty and makes it his duty to help her become a proper princess, moving his family to the capital to live in a mansion with servants and teachers alike, all to help raise his daughter accordingly.
I really enjoyed this film mainly for it’s art style. The entire film looks as if it has been hand drawn and painted using only water colours. I love how the drawings all look loose and relaxed, there isn’t a lot of detail in the backgrounds and sets giving this film a very dreamy look and feel. I originally watched the Japanese dub and plan to re-watch this film with the English dub, featuring the voice talents of; Chloë Grace Moretz, Darren Criss, Lucy Liu and James Marsden.
10. KiKi’s Delivery Service (1989)
Kiki’s Delivery Service is an adaptation of the 1985 novel written by Eiko Kadono. It follows the story of 13 year old witch in training Kiki as she leaves home for the first time to continue her training, with only her flying broomstick, pet talking cat Jiji and her radio with her, she sets out to the small city of Koriko where she plans to live. On her way she bumps into resident aviation nerd Tombo who admires her flying ability and makes friends with Kiki. In order to have a place to live, Kiki agrees to help out at local baker Osono’s shop and starts her own Witch Delivery Business.
I recently re-watched this after years with my almost two year old cousin and we loved it. The film has such an enchanting coming of age story that reminded me of my experience moving out of home for the first time to study at university. It has all the heart and magic that every Studio Ghibli film delivers and is perfect for young children who you are trying to get interested in Ghibli films.
9. Laputa: Castle in The Sky (1986)
Laputa: Castle in the Sky (to the UK and Australia) or just Castle in the Sky (to the US) is the action packed story of Sheeta; a young girl a lot of people are looking for, she is held captive by a top secret agent for the government; Muska (voiced by the legendary Mark Hamill) until she is stolen by a band of air Pirates run by their leader/mother Dola. Sheeta then falls from the air ship and thanks to her magical amulet, lands safely in a small town where she is later found by a young boy named Pazu who takes her in to care for her. The two later find themselves on the run from Muska’s soldiers and the Air Pirates due to the fact they both want to use the power of Sheeta’s amulet for evil.
I love the action in this film, from running through mines, to being chased by pirates from flying their own ships, this film never gets boring. I absolutely adore the relationship between Sheeta and Pazu as well as how funny the Air Pirates and Dola are. Yet again, this film is visually stunning thanks to the Studio Ghibli artists, definitely not one to just skip over.
8. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Another novel adaption added to this list is 2004’s Howl’s Moving Castle. Taken from the novel of the same name from British author Diana Wynne Jones. Howl’s Moving Castle centres around young Sophie, a hatter in her late father’s hat shop, Sophie is very quiet and reserved, she is also very self conscious and doesn’t like her appearance. One day, Sophie encounters the famous Wizard known as Howl upon returning she receives a visit from the Wicked Witch of the Waste who is displeased at the fact Sophie was seen with Howl, therefore she curses her so that she is now a 90 year old woman. Sophie sets out to reverse the curse which is not easy for a 90 year old, where she encounters Howl again and finds herself being the housekeeper for his giant moving castle.
I don’t think I’ve met a single Ghibli fan that didn’t like Howl’s Moving Castle. This film is such fun and so well told, when you have the likes of Christian Bale, Billy Crystal and Jean Simmons working on a Ghibli film, you know its going to be good.
7. The Wind Rises (2013)
The Wind Rises was the first Studio Ghibli film to be solely directed by Hayao Miyazaki since 2008’s Ponyo, it is a biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi A5M fighter aircraft and the Mitsubishi A6M Zero that were both used by the Empire of Japan in World War II.
This was the first Studio Ghibli film that I had the opportunity to see in the cinema and it was so enchanting seeing 2D animation on the big screen, shout out to my sisters who I dragged along to this before telling them that the film was over 2 hours long (they enjoyed it none the less) A beautifully written film with some emotional highs and lows, If you want to watch the best Ghibli films, this is definitely one for the list.
6. Ponyo (2008)
Ghibli’s answer to The Little Mermaid? Ponyo of course! one of the sweetest and very child friendly Ghibli films focuses on Ponyo, a little fish who lives under the sea with her wizard father and hundreds of siblings, one day Ponyo ventures out and finds herself trapped in a glass jar to which she is released by a small boy; Sōsuke who thinks that Ponyo is just a goldfish. Ponyo’s father is now beginning to worry at her whereabouts and thinks the worst has happened to her on the surface. Ponyo is found by her father who brings her back to the ocean, Ponyo now fed up of living in the ocean has an argument with her father and uses her own magic to make herself human, she then finds Sōsuke and begins learning about the human world, whilst living with Sōsuke and his mother.
Everybody and I mean everybody I show Ponyo to falls in love, from my mum to my teenage sisters to my 2 year old cousin. It’s such an enchanting story and Ponyo is absolutely charming, with hilarious one liners and her sudden spouts of hyperactivity and tiredness, Ponyo is just like a real human toddler! and I bet you too will get the theme song stuck in your head for weeks at a time.
5. Spirited Away (2001)
This one won an Oscar in 2003, it had to make this list! This is also my sister’s favourite Ghibli film so I’d be in trouble if I didn’t include it. Spirited Away is the story of a 10 year old girl named Chihiro who is on her way to move into a new house in a new place when her parents take a wrong turn and get out to have a look around, they spot an empty festival full of stalls of food, her parents take the food without asking and are suddenly turned into pigs, Chihiro now spooked by this runs through the town until she finds a bridge leading to a big bath house when Haku – a boy a little older than Chihiro finds her and explains how she’s trapped in the spirit world and that if she wants any chance of getting back home with her parents back in tact, she must go to the bath house and ask for a job.
Its understandable how this film won an Academe Award, it has supreme visuals, excellent story telling and a young female lead that you can’t help but root for, yet again another Ghibli film that has to be seen if you are to call yourself a fan.
4. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Everybody should know what this one is, Totoro is the Studio Ghibli logo after all! originally released in 1988 in Japan, then in 1993 by Fox Video and then finally in 2005 by the Walt Disney Company. Another one of my 2 year old cousin’s favourites (she can even sing the theme song and quote some lines of dialogue!) Set in 1958 My Neighbor Totoro is the story of Satsuki (age 10) and Mei (age 4) two sisters who just move into a new house in the country side whilst their mother has a long stay at the hospital. They investigate the house to find that it’s haunted by small balls of soot named Soot Sprites, the girls also encounter a giant forest spirit named Totoro who they spend the majority of their time playing with and learning from. (you can tell I’ve seen this one quite a few times, I didn’t have to look up the plot to remind myself this time!)
I think this was the first Ghibli film I had ever seen (the Walt Disney release) and it’s often one of the first ones I show first timers. It’s so sweet and I find a lot of young children enjoy this one too, I mean who wouldn’t love a giant rabbit/cat looking guy that flies!
ps. I will never get over how much I love Mei
3. From Up On Poppy Hill (2011)
Yet another coming of age story told beautifully by Gorō Miyazaki (son of Hayao Miyazaki) From Up On Poppy Hill tells the story of 16 year old; Umi who lives in a house with her brother, sister, grandmother and lodgers. Her mother is away in America for work so Umi is often left to cook and care for her family and lodgers. Umi’s school is a host to many after school activities from Science clubs to Philosophy club to even the school newspaper, these clubs are run by the boys of her school and all take place in a large clubhouse next to the school. When plans are made to knock down this building, drastic actions are taken by Umi’s friends and the boys of the clubhouse, including Shun, a boy who Umi begins a romance with.
I love this film because of how sweet Umi is as a character, she’s a little shy and does so much at home for the others she lives with. The soundtrack for this film is also great, overall it’s just a very sweet film that I feel I can escape within.
2. Whisper of The Heart (1995)
It was incredibly hard not to put this one at my number one spot, I have such a deep admiration for this film, whether its for the overall message it conveys, the relatable characters, the music, the dialogue, everything is truly heartwarming and adorable. Whisper of the Heart centres around 14 year old Shizuku who lives in Tokyo, she spends the majority of her time reading books and writing songs, however she is very indecisive about what she wants to do with her life. Shizuku borrows a lot of books from the library and notices that every book she takes out is borrowed by the same person before her every time – “Seiji Amasawa” who she later discovers is a very irritating boy at her school. Upon delivering lunch to her father who works at the library, Shizuku stumbles upon an old antique store that sells very beautiful antiques, she gets talking to the owner of the shop and he persuades her to write a novel about The Baron (a cat statue that he has in the shop) she agrees and gets to work on her novel, showing the shop owner drafts as she goes.
I could only find the Japanese trailer for this film but there is an English dub
1. When Marnie Was There (2014)
Based on the Novel of the same name by Joan G. Robinson – which I read after falling in love with the film so much – is a beautiful film about Anna, a young girl who has trouble fitting in and feeling accepted, she also has asthma and often has asthma attacks so is sent away for the summer to family friend’s home in the country side so that she can breathe fresh air, away from the polluted city. Whilst there Anna tries to make friends but to no avail, she becomes fascinated by a house over the other side of the lake and often sits and draws it until one day she meets the girl that lives there; Marnie. Anna and Marnie become very close friends, however Marnie has trouble sticking around and is sometimes gone for days, leaving Anna very lost and confused until a new family move into the huge house across the river.
I had the privilege of seeing this film in a picturehouse cinema last summer with my sister and still now we mention how much we enjoyed watching it. It’s so beautifully heartbreaking and so worth the watch, I received the bluray collectors edition for Christmas, It has to be my favourite Studio Ghibli film yet.
I strongly encourage you to watch as many of the films on this list as possible!