Don’t know who or what Studio Ghibli is? Have you heard that Netflix are uploading their entire film collection to the streaming platform giant? Want to know more? Well, TheCity.ie’s Ruadhan Jones and Ayumi Miyano are here to help!
Are you house bound with nothing to do? Or maybe you just want a quiet evening in. Either way, you’ll be thrilled to hear that Netflix have released Studio Ghibli’s entire film collection! But what is Studio Ghibli?
Founded in 1985, Studio Ghibli is Japan’s largest and most successful animation studio. It is exceptionally popular in Japan, holding six of the 10 spots for the best animé film. It has also achieved international renown: five of its 20 films (21 if you count Nausica) have been nominated for Academy Awards, with Spirited Away picking up Best Animated Feature in 2003.
The studio’s most famous director is Hayao Miyazaki, who is also Japan’s most successful director. Pixar’s John Lasseter described him as “the world’s greatest living animator”. Miyazaki’s distinctive hand-drawn style is at odds with the trend towards computer animation, and his films are a visual treat as a result.
Studio Ghibli’s popular appeal in Europe and America has been hampered, perhaps, by Ghibli’s strict “no cuts” policy. When Harvey Weinstein suggested edits to Princess Mononoke, a Studio Ghibli producer is rumoured to have sent an authentic Japanese sword with a message saying “no cuts”.
But with Netflix releasing their entire collection, now is a good time to find out how good they are for yourself. To help you on your way, here’s a list of our top six Studio Ghibli films. Enjoy!
Top Six Studio Ghibli films
6 – Howl’s Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki, 2004)
Influenced by Miyazaki’s distaste for the Iraq War, this steampunk fantasy meshes concerns for gender norms with a plea for pacifism, love and compassion. Set in a fictional kingdom, the film follows Sophie, a young milliner, who is turned into an old lady by a witch. Sophie becomes entangled with the irascible magician Howl and his eponymous moving castle.
Suitable for children young and old, it is less subtle than some of Miyazaki’s other anti-war films – like Princess Mononoke – but still a very enjoyable effort.
Word to the wise: The film is an adaptation of a novel by British author Diana Wynne Jones. The black door in Howl’s castle leads to Wales in the book.
5 – Princess Mononoke (HM, 1997)
Mononoke is an ecological myth/epic about a prince (not princess), Ashitaka, who becomes involved in a battle between the gods of a forest and the humans who consume its resources. With a life-threatening curse of his own to deal with, Ashitaka is a sympathetic character caught in an almighty struggle.
One thing you can be guaranteed of when watching a Studio Ghibli production is that the animation will be beautiful. Quite violent by the standards of a Ghibli film, even the blood spatters are animated with colour and verve.
Word to the wise: Mononoke is not a name but a Japanese word for spirit or monster.
4 – Spirited Away (HM, 2001)
Studio Ghibli’s only oscar winner, Spirited Away is a unique experience, which takes you deep into a mysterious spirit world. When a young girl, Chihiro, and her parents get lost on a road trip, they stumble across an empty market teeming with food.
All is calm for a time, but the film takes off when Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs! With soot creatures, a strange white faced spirit, and a feisty young heroine, this is an endearing but strangely unnerving film. If you know what it all means, please get in touch!
Word to the wise: Hayao Miyazaki started the film without a script. “The story develops when I start drawing storyboards,” he told Midnight Eye. “The production starts very soon thereafter, while the storyboards are still developing.”
3 – Grave of Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988)
Perhaps the most conventional of the films on this list, Fireflies is also the only one not directed by Miyazaki. Instead, his collaborator and colleague Isao Takahata takes the helm.
Not that the film suffers at all for its approach: it is a touching account of two Japanese children (seeing a trend?) as they struggle to survive the final months of WWII. With a bittersweet ending guaranteed to make you cry, this film is an austere but heartfelt look at life during war.
Word to the wise: Isao Takahata survived bomb blasts when the US bombed his home town in 1945.
2 – My Neighbour Totoro (HM, 1988)
The acclaim for Totoro is warranted. Time Out rated it as the greatest animated film and the character of Totoro is as popular among Japanese children as Winnie-the-Pooh is with English. It’s hard not to fall in love with the large, furry creature who has a cat-like charm.
The film grapples with themes of great depth through the story of two young sisters, Satsuki and Mei. Moving to the country to be nearer their sick mother, the world the girls inhabit is innocent and childlike. Told from their perspective, the film has a joy and lightness which is attractive and true-to-life, as it were. But it appeals to adults as well, never becoming saccharine. It reminds us of the joys of childhood while also hinting at the reasons it ends.
Word to the wise: Totoro is actually a species name. There are three different totoro in the film, each a different colour and size.
1 – Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (HM, 1984)
It will tell you something about how subjective this list is that we include a film which technically was released before Studio Ghibli was formed. But there would be no studio without it. It was on the back of this film’s success that director Miyazaki and three others founded Studio Ghibli.
Based on the manga of the same name, Nausicaa is an animated epic which draws inspiration from the likes of The Lord of the Rings and the real-world poisoning of Minamata Bay. Combining elements of steam-punk, environmental concern, and a mythological tinge, Miyazaki creates a drama which is very tight given its broad scope. This is mainly due to the subtlety of his heroine, Nausicaa. Her odyssey to stop a war and save the world she loves takes on Homeric proportions, without reducing her to action-hero cipher.
Word to the wise: Nauisicaa is the name of a princess in Homer’s Odyssey and means “burner of ships”.