Studio Ghibli is the perfect rival to Disney. While the latter makes blockbuster movies and is all about the quantity over quality approach, Studio Ghibli chooses its muses wisely and only works on a handful of projects. Don’t get us wrong – we love Disney and the animated masterpieces it gives us from time to time. But there’s something mystically enhancing about the movies of Studio Ghibli. They are pure magic both in terms of visuals and story lines. Thanks to HBO Max, we finally get to watch all the Studio Ghibli productions under one subscription. If you are interested in giving those a go, we suggest you take a look at this list and decide which one should break the ice for you as you enter into the magical universe of Hayao Miyazaki.
When Marnie Was There
Like even David can take down Goliath, even Studio Ghibli sometimes fails in its quest to enchant the viewers. When Marnie Was There has a pretty weak story arc. It is the tale of a time traveling ghost. But it does have pretty incredible visuals since it is one of the most recent movies that came out of Studio Ghibli’s studios. Despite the animation, the weak plot echoes throughout the run time.
My Neighbor Totoro
Sometimes simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Studio Ghibli proves that with My Neighbor Totoro. Two sisters become the new residents of a country side cottage when their mother is admitted to a nearby local hospital. There they befriend a cat that doubles up as a bus as well as the eponymous furry Totoro. Along the way they realize the meaning of loss and how to deal with life. Like we said, it is very simple a story. But the morals it imparts using subtle metaphors are unlike anything we have ever seen. Prepare to be mesmerized.
Tales from Earthsea
we have to say that Tales From Earthsea narrowly escaped being branded as the least perfect Studio Ghibli movie. The movie is an animated adaptation of Ursula K. Guin’s novels of a world of seafaring magicians and mythical creatures of legend. It was one of the earliest attempts by Hayao Miyazaki to turn a pre-existing work into an animated adaptation. He was trying to simulate the Disney formula here. Fortunately, his experiment failed and he went back to do what he did best – craft original storylines.
There was once a family who took one wrong turn. Might seem like a harmless mistake but for a young girl, it was the turning point of her life. The young girl now ends up in a parallel dimension where she must find a way to get back home. There’s magic, creatures, and a lot many interesting characters. It is probably Hayao Miyazaki’s most captivating story.
Ocean Waves is a movie about the bittersweet romance of the school days. It is one of the first works of Studio Ghibli. Tomomi Mochizuki intended to use this movie as a template to teach the studio’s artists and writers on how to move ahead in the animated movie arena. Thankfully this movie based on a love triangle was never emulated by any other artist under the Ghibli banner.
Kiki’s Delivery Service
A 13 year old witch must leave home in search for work in a new town and meet new people. Her journey leads to a path of heroism and self-discovery. There’s a lot of moments of amazing humor and animation along the way. It does not get more anime than this. Kiki’s Delivery Service feels more like a Disney movie, if Disney actually paid attention to detail like Studio Ghibli does.
The Secret World Of Arrietty
Adapting the best selling novel – The Borrowers, was a longtime dream of Miyazaki. The secret World of Arrietty was a good attempt but since it was not an original story line, it suffered the a fat6e similar to Tales From Earthsea.
Nausicaa Of The Valley of The Wind
This was Hayao Miyazaki’s final movie before Studio Ghibli took over. This is a Hayao Miyazaki movie through and through in all but name. Joe Hisaishi, the one who would eventually end up scoring most of the Studio Ghibli movies after this, first collaborated with Miyazaki in this movie. Nausicaa tells the story of a post apocalyptic earth where humanity is now on the run, with the world dominated by a group of mutated and ravenous insects.
From Up On Poppy Hill
This bouncy period piece shows a tinge of the acclaimed Miyazaki Magic. The movie is set during a very tumultuous time of early 1960’s Yokohoma. There are secret family entanglements as well as a bit of period drama. If you are into subtle slow burners, you will love this. Also, this is the brainchild of Miyazaki’s son – Goro. Studio Ghibli
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The Wind Rises
There’s something that really fascinated Hayao Miyazaki when it came to World War Two Japan. there are numerous symbolisms to that era in almost all of his movies. The Wind Rises is a fairly direct take on that dreadful decade. But the movie highlights the people rathe rather than the war. It tells the tale of a prodigious and young airplane inventor whose deigns led to the Japanese Airforce developing the deadly fighters that gave the US Air Force a run for its money for quite some time.
The Cat Returns
It’s Alice In Wonder Land but with the secret sauce of anime and the fantasy meters turned to the extreme ends. The Cat returns takes the cat statue character from Whisper of the Heart and gives us a wild ride. But there’s way too much fantasy for our taste. Sometimes the movie feels lost. It tries hard in being a lot of things but eventually ends up being a movie that is not worth the effort.
Grave Of The Fireflies
This is THE movie to watch if you really want to know why Studio Ghibli is a gem of a studio. Its the story of a brother sister duo as they survive the allied onslaught during World War Two Japan. The movie showcases how Japanase nationalistic sentiment during the time led to the nation’s eventual downfall. It is a harrowing tale with an ending so sad and bitter it will make black coffee taste like honey.