What are the top five Studio Ghibli movies?
For those of you lacking culture, Studio Ghibli are the people who’ve made the best anime films of all time. These include the likes of the studio’s most notable film Spirited Away, as well as My Neighbour Totoro.
Combining the talent of Joe Hisaishi’s scores with the imagination of Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli makes films that bring out our inner child. Now, I hate spending anything on myself, but I went out of my way to buy a boxset of my favourite Ghibli films. SO TRUST ME WHEN I SAY THESE MOVIES ARE REALLY GOOD.
If it were up to me, I’d tell you to watch all of the films at the Studio Ghibli Festival, which will be ending September 20th. They are all masterpieces, and to be honest, this was the most challenging article I’ve ever written.
Everyone will tell you that all Studio Ghibli movies are phenomenal, so imagine how hard it was to decide which ones to kick from the list? I was so distraught when I couldn’t include some of my favourites that I stopped writing this article just to watch them all over again. But without further ado, let’s present our first contender.
5) Kiki’s Delivery Service
Coming in at number five we have the spectacular Kiki’s Delivery Service. Kiki’s Delivery Service was released in 1989 and to this day has one of the most charming visuals I’ve ever seen in an anime. Every time I put this film on, I burst into a smile and get all fuzzy on the inside. Because that’s what manly men do.
It follows the adventures of a young witch named Kiki who, upon her 13th birthday, must depart on a year of independent life. Travelling with her sassy black cat Jiji, they journey to ‘a town with an ocean view’ to set up shop as the resident witch. But things don’t go according to Kiki’s plans as she moves from the countryside to the big seaside city.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is the only Studio Ghibli film on this list to lack a meaningful plot, but you shouldn’t let that bother you. If you think about it, some of the best films out there have literally no plot – take The Breakfast Club for example. It’s a film about five teens in Sunday detention; if that doesn’t sound as boring as the Senate scenes in the Star Wars prequels then you may need to see your local physician.
Kiki’s Delivery Service, while lacking in plot, makes the most out of developing its protagonists. And despite its protagonist being about a witch, Kiki is Studio Ghibli’s most relatable film. Because in the end it’s about a girl trying to make a new life, find friends, and grow up, far away from home.
In all seriousness, I may disown my future children if they don’t watch this film on repeat.
4) My Neighbour Totoro
A top five Studio Ghibli films list would be incomplete without My Neighbour Totoro, and this iconic film comes in at number four! Released in 1988, the film follows two girls, Satsuki and Mei Kusakabe as they move into an old house to be closer to the hospital where their mother is residing.
The girls find mysterious spirits around their new house, and soon thereafter befriend the spirit Totoro, “keeper of the forest”.
My Neighbour Totoro is a children’s movie like no other. What makes it spectacular is the journey of our sisters and discovering the world is bigger and more wondrous than ever dreamed. What makes that even better is how the girls take that wonder and normalise it, subtly capturing the imagination behind any child.
I could keep on praising the film’s animation and soundtrack and characters, but at this point, I’d have to do it for all of these films. What makes it better than Kiki’s Delivery Service is that it’s a bit funnier, a bit cuter, and at times more tense.
I think as a child everyone falls in love with Totoro as a big cute, fuzzy creature who acts as a protector. But getting into my 20s I think I’m falling in love with the innocence of those girls (AND NOT LIKE THAT). They find joy in a time of uncertainty in their family, and make friends with the unlikeliest of creatures. Their imagination and youth are so pure, it should be cherished at all costs.
3) Spirited Away
Spirited Away is regarded as Studio Ghibli’s most iconic film, making massive headlines in Western Cinema. Winning the Oscars ‘Best Animated Film’, Spirited Away follows the journey of Chihiro as she moves from the city to the suburbs. Thrust into a world of spirits, witches, and dragons, Chihiro is set on saving her parents who’ve been magicked into grotesque pigs, and make her way back home.
What makes Spirited Away one of a kind is that it is a coming of age film. Chihiro starts off as being a bratty, annoying child (much like my sister), and is forced to grow up. At first I found her intolerable, however that was undoubtedly the point.
But being forced to deal with conniving witches, manipulative babies, and the worst horror of them all, the hospitality industry, has me rooting for her by the film’s end.
She becomes the role model that I’d want my children to follow, and her hero’s journey is one to be truly admired. This film is a lot more serious, but a lot more fantastical than our previous two nominees. And yes, that’s even considering the magic cat-bus.
2) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Nausicaä is one of Studio Ghibli’s lesser known films, having been released before the studio was created. Regardless, if you should watch any of these films, make sure it’s this one.
One thousand years from now, the world has become ravaged by war and pollution, with small pockets of humanity remaining. The film introduces our kick-ass warrior pacifist (ignore the oxymoron), Princess Nausicaä, who lives in the Valley of the Wind. Bordering a toxic jungle where monstrously large insects lie, Nausicaä tries to understand the insects and the nature of the toxic jungle. Her motives are compounded by her desire to try and find a way for humanity and these large insects to co-exist with one another.
However, two warring nations looking to make the Valley of the Wind their battleground are threatening all of Nausicaä’s efforts to establish harmony. Can she make it in time to restore peace and prevent another apocalypse?
What makes Nausicaä remarkable is that it is as relevant 33 years ago as it is today. Exploring themes of nature, harmony, and war, we’re left to realise that communication is key to resolving conflict. Now I know it sounds like a Year 12 English exam but just go with it. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a film that everyone has to see at least once.
1) Princess Mononoke
Was there any doubt? Of course, Princess Mononoke would top this list – how could it not? Remarked as Studio Ghibli’s finest film, the grandiose epic which is Princess Mononoke follows the adventures of our protagnost – Prince Ashitaka.
So think Legend of Zelda, with Ashitaka as Link and Princess Mononoke as Zelda. Except Princess Mononoke is an actual warrior who doesn’t do jack all but wait for Ashitaka to rescue her.
Ashitaka, upon defending his village from a wild boar-god/demon is stricken by a deadly curse. Sent to find a cure, Ashitaka’s journey places him in the centre of a campaign between humans and the spirits of the forest.
The humans are led by a strong female protagonist – Lady Eboshi – who raises guns to battle the gods of the forest. The forest is defended by another strong female protagonist – Princess Mononoke – who was raised by a wolf-god and is fighting the rise of Eboshi’s industrialism! If you haven’t gotten the hint already, Studio Ghibli is covered with strong female protagonits – so get around it.
Ashitaka, seeing the good in both sides, tries to prevent the blood from flooding the land, but is met by hostility from both parties who see him supporting the enemy.
Princess Mononoke is an epic which explores environmental preservation, war, home and loyalty. Much like Game of Thrones, this film develops characters who are neither truly heroic or villainous but are somewhere in between. You can support Princess Mononoke in her need to protect the environment but condemn her for trying to hinder humanity’s growth. You can also support Lady Eboshi for trying to strengthen her people but criticise her methods in accomplishing this.
There is no doubt that Princess Mononoke is Studio Ghibli’s best film, but everything before that is up for debate.
So what do you think about this ranking? What are your favourite Studio Ghibli films? Do you think I should’ve included the Grave of the Fireflies or Howl’s Moving Castle?