Top 5: Studio Ghibli Films

Seeing as I haven’t posted in a while and that my obsession and love for Japanese anime/manga is constantly growing, why not write a post about Studio Ghibli, the true masters of the art of anime?

Studio Ghibli, created by Hayao Miyazaki, are known for their breath-taking animation and wild imaginative stories, whether original or adapted. Even though the majority of the films are aimed at children, behind this lies strong metaphors and the films often feature strong underlying themes like the environment and nature vs man and it’s desire to destroy, coming-of-age dreams vs adult common sense, and freedom and adventure vs authoritarian regime and oppression. But more than anything, Studio Ghibli’s films take you into a new, crazy world and are so much fun!

5. ‘Whisper of the Heart’ (1995) dir. Yoshifumi Kondo

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The story focuses on 14 year old girl, Shizuku Tsukishima, who is a bookworm and dreams of being a fantasy novelist. One day, she realises that all the library books she has borrowed have also all been checked out by another person: Seiji Amasawa. Shizuku begins writing a story about a cat figurine she sees in an antique shop, following his life and adventures and naming him The Baron (who features heavily in Ghibli’s film ‘The Cat Returns’). The antique shop turns out to belong to Shiro Nishi, the grandfather of Seiji Amasawa, the boy from the library books. Over time, Shizuku falls in love with Seiji, and his dream of becoming a violin craftsman inspires her to pursue her own dream of becoming a fantasy novelist.
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I have a soft spot for ‘Whisper of the Heart.’ This is different to other Studio Ghibli films- it’s less adventurous and less fantasy based being set in Japan and not a fictional world. But it’s coming-of-age tale of young love and following your dreams makes ‘Whisper of the Heart’ a wonderfully beautiful and poignant film and no less enjoyable.

4. ‘Laputa: Castle in the Sky’ (1986) dir. Hayao Miyazaki

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Brave young boy Pazu meets orphan girl Sheeta, who carries a magical crystal and is being sought after by air pirates and government agents. The crystal is linked to a magical world in the sky called Laputa, and together they embark on a journey to this ancient civilisation. However, these air pirates and government agents want Laputa for their own, using it’s advanced technology to rule the world, and only Sheeta and Pazu stand in their way to protect it.

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Laputa is an extremely fun film, and the sky castle Laputa is an animated accomplishment. This is an extravagant film, that’s almost trying to capture the make-believe adventures of children and mimic the imagination and all worlds created in your head when you’re young. Although, of course, Studio Ghibli sweeps you away into thinking it is all real.

3. ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ (2004) dir. Hayao Miyazaki

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Based on Diana Wynne Jones’ novel of the same name, ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ focuses on young plain hat shop girl Sophie whose world is turned upside down when she meets exotic wizard Howl (voiced in the English dubbed version by Christian Bale). The Witch of the Waste curses Sophie and turns her into an old woman out of jealousy and spite. Her only chance of breaking the spell lies with Howl, so joins him and his companions in his castle… that walks.
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I adore this film so much, the story is just so inventive and gives me goose bumps all the way through from how visually stunning it is. Credit must go to Dianna Wynne Jones of course for her story, however apparently Miyazaki changed it a lot to suit his quirks and style. His hybrid version is excellent.

2. ‘Princess Mononoke’ (2001) dir. Hayao Miyazaki

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I’m sure you’ve noticed a theme here with genius Hayao Miyazaki directing most on this list. Princess Mononoke’s actual lead character is male, Ashitaka, a young warrior who, whilst protecting his village is cursed by a God/demon. To save his life, he must journey deep into the heart of the forest. In doing so, he gets caught up in a battle between the forest gods and the iron mongers who seek to exploit and destroy the forest for their own needs. Leading the fight for the forest is young San or Princess Mononoke, a warrior girl raised by wolves.

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Princess Mononoke and, Studio Ghibli in general, are known for it’s strong female characters, another reason I admire them. In this case it is Lady Eboshi head of the iron town, and San/Princess Mononoke (voiced by Minnie Driver and Claire Danes in the English dubbed version respectively). Princess Mononoke is more fierce than other Ghibli films before it; it is more violent with a deep message to protect nature. It’s compelling and, again, incredibly beautiful and enchanting.

1. ‘Spirited Away’ (2001) dir. Hayao Miyazaki
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I’m sure most would predict this to be at Number 1 of any Ghibli based lists, however it’s for a good reason. ‘Spirited Away’ brought Studio Ghibli into the mainstream Western world and they started to become a household name. And it won an Oscar too. This was the first Ghibli film I saw; it was hallucinatory, eccentric and I loved every bit of it and therefore fell in love with Studio Ghibli and it’s animation.

The story focuses on 10 year old Chihiro, who follows her parents into what seems to be an abandoned theme park. Her parents are turned into pigs and Chihiro is forced to work in a bathhouse accustomed to mystical spirits, some rather frightening. The bathhouse is under the management of evil witch Yubaba and she takes Chihiro’s name and gives her the new name of Sen. We then follow her adventure, alongside her new companions, to take back her name, save her parents and embark on a metaphorical journey to find herself and her independence.
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Creatively, it is a masterpiece. The story is imaginative, the characters loveable and the animation vibrant, beautiful and inspiring. ‘Spirited Away’ is a new, fun experience and there is a reason why it gained so much recognition and positive reviews. I urge everyone if they haven’t already to watch it; it’s exotic, alien and extravagant! And it remains the best animated film I’ve ever seen.

Do you agree or I have missed your favourite Studio Ghibli film? I’d love to hear your comments below, or tweet me @MarthaShaw17!

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