That is why Studio Ghibli’s animated films are both popular (even outside of Japan!) and memorable – particularly the ones directed by Miyazaki. Add a touch of passion for making pencil to paper films and you get an animated film that moves the crowd to tears. Here’s a list of Studio Ghibli’s animated films and why you will remember them for life.
Tsk, tsk, most of the films listed are popular 20th Century films, a handful of which are Academy Award winners. We like every one of them!
#1. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Best remembered for its giant oval-shaped owl, raccoon and cat-like creatures called “Totoros”, My Neighbor Totoro is a fantasy film about the adventures of two young sisters, Mei and Satsuki, and their encounters with Totoro in a mythical forest.
The totoro is not a traditional Japanese mythical creature. It is an original creation by Studio Ghibli. In the animated film, the cuddly critter is also known as “giant furry thing” and “rabbit-like spirit”.
My Neighbor Totoro is an all-time family favorite animated film. Children, teenagers and adults love the story of the girls’ whimsical adventure in the forest – thanks to the film’s fun and friendly plot.
#2. Spirited Away (2001)
Winner of the 2002 Academy Awards, Spirited Away is about 10-year-old Chichiro Ogino’s “adventure” in a parallel universe. The animated film chronicles the trials and tribulations faced by Chichiro, who desperately seeks ways to save her parents from getting trapped in the spiritual realm. En route to the Ogino’s new home, Chichiro’s father took a wrong turn down a dirt road and the family ended up in a deserted, eerie-looking Edo period village.
Throughout her journey back to reality, Chichiro meets and makes new friends with several spirits who help save her family. Along the way, she learns that life does not necessarily go the way you want but if you are determined to get out of a sticky situation, you have to set your mind on solving the problem(s).
#3. Princess Mononoke (1997)
Can environmental politics make a great theme for an animated film?
Well, yes – it all depends on how the film is produced, how the script is written, etc. One such animated film with an environmentally charged theme is Princess Mononoke.
In a similar vein to Journey to the West, this film is based on the life of Ashitaka, a young Emishi prince. While protecting his village from a boar-god-like demon, Ashitaka becomes infected with a deadly curse. In a bid to find a cure to save his life, he sets out on an enduring journey to the west that will lead him to become an intermediary between a group of 18th Century industrialists and the film’s heroine, Princess Mononoke, who tries very hard to save the forest.
#4. The Cat Returns (2002)
Meow. As the name suggests, this animated film is all about cats. Like Spirited Away, The Cat Returns also features a young girl who has been whisked away into an enchanted kingdom and she must find her way out before she loses herself.
This 75-miniute film follows Haru Yoshioka, a quiet, shy and unamusing high school student who has a long-suppressed ability to talk to cats. One day, Haru saves a Russian Blue, odd-eye cat from being hit by a truck on a busy road. The cat turns out to be Lune, Prince of the Cat Kingdom. In return, the cats gift Haru mice and catnip, and is offered the prince’s hand in marriage. Her mixed reply is mistaken as a “Yes”. LOL!
Wanting none of this, Haru hears a female voice telling her to seek help from the Cat Bureau. She meets Muta, a large white cat who leads her to the Cat Bureau, where she meets Baron, a cat figurine given life by its artist, and a stone raven, Toto, who advise her on how she could escape her fate. Shortly after her meeting with the members of The Cat Bureau, Haru is forcefully taken to the Cat Kingdom to prepare for her upcoming wedding. Without hesitation, Baron and Toto make their way to the Cat Kingdom to save Haru from her impending fate.
While the plot sounds like a bizarre bride abduction story in animated form, The Cat Returns is not a complex film based on real world issues. In fact, the animated film is a rollicking pen-to-paper adventure film with a good mix of quaint settings, old-fashioned charm and colorful characters.
#5. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
This giddy fairytale is packed with transformations, mysteries and excitement – elements that are not common in Walt Disney animated films – that will blow your mind away.
But, perhaps, the most memorable quality in this animated film is that being old is not necessarily a terrible and unappealing fate. After 18-year-old milliner Sophie Hatter is transformed into a 90-year-old woman by the Witch of the Waste, she is at first stunned by this sudden and shocking change in appearance. But then she learns to relax into her new identity by way of embracing her new life. The physically old but young at heart Sophie embarks on an adventure that takes her far beyond anything she could have imagined before and in the process of discovering a ‘cure’ to restore her youth, finds true love and makes many new friends.
#6. The Wind Rises (2013)
Ever wonder what it is like to be in the shoes of an aircraft engineer whose storied career includes the creation of the A5M World War 2 fighter aka “mosquito” planes? The Wind Rises offers viewers a peek into the life of Jiro Horikoshi, an unassuming but hardworking young engineering graduate whose lifelong dream of flying propels him to design fighter planes for Mitsubishi under the behest of the Japanese Imperial Army. The film also depicts the ups and downs in Jiro’s personal life, his struggles at work and how he strives to overcome them without losing himself in the process.
The Wind Rises is Miyazaki’s last handcrafted animation film and, in our opinion, the best animated film the Japanese animator cum producer has painstakingly put together. Not only is the animated film nicely detailed, but it also does not attempt to white wash modern history’s most sensitive affair: the Second World War. If you, like us, are a history buff, this animated film is for you.