Often referred to as the Japanese Disney, Studio Ghibli has mastered the art of creating beautiful, rich worlds backed up by heartfelt, emotional storylines. Since 1985 their consistent quest for perfection is strengthened by every new release with very few bumps in the road. With founder Miyazaki out of retirement and busy working on upcoming feature, How Do You Live?, we thought it the perfect opportunity to revisit this unique back catalogue of work. It was a tough ask but after re-watching each movie, well that was the easy bit, here are our Top Ten Studio Ghibli films in rank order.
10. Ponyo – Gake no ue no Ponyo (2008)
Its the classic story of boy meets girl, falls in love and the emotional rollercoaster that ensues. Except in this fantastical story our boy is a five-year-old and our girl is a princess, that is also a fish – The Little Mermaid with a twist. The story was a little lacking in places but the visual feast created was a pure delight from start to finish and has earned Ponyo a spot on our list.
Trivia: Ponyo was entirely painted on traditional animation cels and as a result over 170,000 separate images were created.
9. The Cat Returns – Neko no Ongaesh (2002)
After rescuing Lune, the Cat Prince, from being hit by a truck a young girl finds herself being courted by the King. The film can be likened to the classic tale Alice Through the Looking Glass which has also been adapted for the big screen and TV on numerous occasions. Although this release is one of the less visually appealing films it is also one of the funniest and definitely one to watch, plus who doesn’t like talking cats.
Trivia: The idea for The Cat Returns was born out of a proposal made by a Theme Park who wanted the studio to create an animated short featuring cats.
8. Kiki’s Delivery Service – Majo no takkyûbin (1989)
Go on the journey of a lifetime with headstrong teenage witch Sabrina, sorry Kiki. This coming of age movie follows Kiki who uses her ability to fly in order to make a living in a new town. The English dub of this fun adventure also featured one of the last performances from the late Phil Hartman.
Trivia: While carrying out research for a look and feel for the movie Miyazaki visited Sweden. The city he devised for the film uses a number of real-life street names from Stockholm.
7. Porco Rosso – Kurenai no buta (1992)
The story of a 1930’s WW1 pilot that has been turned into a pig. Bounty hunters and pirates rule the sky with Porco making a living from contract jobs and rescuing the kidnapped. With an entertaining storyline and lovable characters, this is a worthy addition to our list that knows how to keep the action going.
6. Grave of the Fireflies – Hotaru no haka (1988)
Set in Japan during World War II Grave of the Fireflies follows a young boy, Seita, and his sister, Setsuko. The emotional story deals with the reality of growing up in a war-torn country, loss of loved ones as tensions run high when food rations become scarce. The tone and visuals really hit the mark in this 1988 release which still holds up surprisingly well today.
Trivia: One of the animators involved with this project was an actual survivor of the bombings.
5. Howl’s Moving Castle – Hauru no ugoku shiro (2004)
This gorgeous looking tale tells the story of Howl, a hybrid wizard, who is befriended by Sophie after she is cursed and turned into an old lady. One of the darker outings by the studio which many feel went for style over substance but then again we are treated to the highest quality storytelling most of the time. However, it is still an astonishing accomplishment.
Trivia: In the English dub of the film Howl is played by ex-Batman and one time John Connor, Christian Bale.
4. Laputa: Castle in the Sky – Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta (1986)
The race is on to find the legendary floating castle and evade the evil pirates. This was Studio Ghibli’s first official feature film and a while a little dated by today’s standards it is a well-polished action-adventure. The steampunk art style and giant robots help make this essential viewing for fans of their work.
3. My Neighbor Totoro – Tonari no Totoro (1988)
This charming film follows two sisters who move house with their father who is caring for his sick wife. The girls soon discover that a nearby forest is inhabited by mysterious creatures known as Totoros. After Mei goes missing Satsuki and her new friends set out on a magical adventure. It is an iconic film in the studio’s library and remarkably popular, so much so that the titular character has invaded our everyday life and can be found pretty much everywhere – simply for being super cute.
2. Princess Mononoke – Mononoke-hime (1997)
Ghibli’s 1997 fantasy epic, Princess Mononoke, narrowly missed out on our number one spot. Miyazaki and his team created something special with this story that follows Ashitaka on a journey through a warring land in a bid to find the cure for an evil curse. With exceptional characters and a script to match, we cannot recommend this movie enough.
Trivia: In his quest for perfection Hayao Miyazaki updated around 85,000 cels of animation. The film contained a total of 144,000.
1. Spirited Away – Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (2001)
The incredible Spirited Away takes the crown and our prestigious number one spot. On the way to their new home, Chihiro and her parents take a wrong turn and end up in an abandoned theme park. Her parents are easily tricked and subsequently turned into pigs. Chihiro with the help of a boy called Haku must find a way to save them from a strange land that is filled with witches, gods, spirits and beasts. A visual treat with an interesting story that is a must-watch experience.
Trivia: It is well known that Disney are big fans of Studio Ghibli and they even invested 10% into the movie for the option of first refusal on the rights to distribute it in the US. John Lasseter, of Pixar, was even asked to oversee the translation of the movie.
So there you have it our top ten Studio Ghibli films, we’d love to hear what you think in the comments section below, on Twitter or our Facebook page.