Should I know what Ghibli animation is

The Gamereactor's Guide to Studio Ghibli

At the beginning of the year we learned that the major US streaming provider Netflix has acquired the rights to broadcast the fantastic animated films from the Japanese production studio Studio Ghibli and is now allowed to broadcast some timeless classics as part of its service. The Japanese studio, founded in 1985 by directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, creates animated masterpieces for film fans of all ages around the world, and many of these films will be available on-demand online over the next three months.

Since those early days, Ghibli has grown into a world-renowned production studio that has won multiple awards. Your films are among the top-selling Japanese film productions of all time and we currently find six of the studio's projects on the top 250 list of the rating portal IMDb. The Ghibli films are loved by critics and audiences alike, which makes it easy to celebrate that these important works are now even more conveniently accessible (although it is not without reason that more and more households are getting a full Blu-ray collection of Ghibli finds).

A Ghibli film has certain properties. We find clearly defined characters, charm and seriousness go hand in hand, and strong, young, independent, female characters are omnipresent. Hayao Miyazaki has always had a special passion for airplanes and flying machines of all kinds, and he has always had a thing or two to say about environmental protection and our exploitation of nature. As skeptics of modernization, urbanization and technology, Miyazaki's films often deal with issues that concern human relationships and the struggle with or against nature. As a result, Ghibli films go their own way in exploring subject areas that are rarely or never encountered in comparable Disney counterparts. This may also explain the wide range of films we can draw on.

However, the most important characteristic of Ghibli films is clearly the distinctive art style and animation technique. This unique style is recognizable by the time you see it, and in a business that is increasingly dominated by computer animation, Ghibli sticks to her craft. The studio has strict rules on how much computer animation they use in their productions.

Now, of course, the question arises: where should you start? Which films are the best of the best? To give an objective answer to this question is of course impossible, but having known and loved these films for over two decades, we wanted to at least give you our opinion on them.

When classifying these films, we consider certain factors: animation quality, entertainment value, themes, music, aesthetics / art style, story and the characters. If the film is based on a source material, such as a book or a fairy tale, the adaptation process is also assessed. The list includes two films that are not strictly Studio Ghibli films - Castle of Cagliostro (1979) and Nausicaä from the Valley of the Wind (1984) - because they were released before the studio was officially founded. Even so, these anime are usually considered to be de facto Ghibli, as they were directed by Hayao Miyazaki and follow most of the principles of the rest of the films. However, we leave out The Red Turtle (2016) as it is primarily a French film in which Ghibli talents contributed.

23. Whispers of the Sea - Ocean Waves (1993) - Ocean Waves was the last Ghibli film to receive Western Blu-ray release. Once you've seen the movie, it's easy to see why this movie is last on the priority list. The fact that this is a direct TV movie is already a warning sign. This teen drama that hasn't aged well at all lacks the Ghibli quality that we appreciate so much. The animations are also poor, which makes it clear that this film wasn't the top priority in its time. Fortunately, Ghibli has multiple images that outshine some of the more obvious problems, so it might be a good idea to save this movie until you've checked through the rest of the library.

22. The Chronicles of Earth Sea (2006) - One of Ghibli's biggest problems was appointing a new head of the studio after Hayao Miyazaki retired. In the 2000s, many eyes were on Miyazaki's son Goro, who almost confused everything with this directorial debut. The result is based on the Earth Sea series by US author Ursula K. Le Guin and it uses different parts of the entire series of novels. It's a movie with some nice pictures, but the story is incoherent, the characters uninteresting and some dialogues sloppy.

21. The Kingdom of Cats (2002) - No Ghibli movie is terrible in itself (not even the previous two) and it is almost painful to have a beautiful and enjoyable movie like The Cat Kingdom this far down on this list. Here a beautiful story is told about a young girl who gets into the world of cats and experiences an adventure there. The story is a good introduction to the Ghibli verse, especially for younger viewers. In truth, it is a spiritual successor to Voice of the Heart - Whisper of the Heart and therefore some details will be more coherent after you've seen this before. The kingdom of cats also stands firmly on its own four feet. It's not the best Ghibli movie though, and just like Whispers of the Sea, you can see the poor picture quality compared to other products from the studio. The last part of the story doesn't really matter either, but the film is still quite entertaining.

20. My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999) - You definitely shouldn't start your Ghibli relationship with this movie. The tone and the topics are very Japanese, which of course is basically nothing to complain about at first. At the same time, some knowledge of Japanese culture and family life is required before one can enjoy this film. The film portrays a family of five (two parents, two children and a grandmother) in more or less everyday situations with a touch of creative imagination that mixes with reality. The artwork may look simple, but it's actually done quite well. The score, on the other hand, does not leave a lasting impression. Some of the cultural elements in this film make it difficult for newbies to approach. Anyone who has knowledge of Japanese culture will appreciate the warm story of this loving but idiosyncratic family.

19. How the Wind Rises (2013) - Right now, this is Hayao Miyazaki's latest film. Since it was going to be his last, Miyazaki decided to create a semi-biographical film to portray the life of one of his own inspirations. The result was the story of Jiro Horikoshi, the chief engineer behind Japan's Mitsubishi A6M - the aircraft became one of the country's marvels during World War II. Miyazaki's love of airplanes outshines everything else in this film, while at the same time the artist is not afraid to reveal the sensitive aspects of the relationship between a weapons engineer and the use of his creations. The film sparked controversy in both Japan and East Asia because Japan's involvement in the war was never really cleared up there. With this film, Miyazaki proves his respect for a man on the one hand, but does not turn a blind eye to the problems that this character's life's work has caused. The only drawbacks to this film are its length and the somewhat boring personality of the main character. At the same time, it's fascinating to see one great mind looking at another genius.

18. Pom Poko (1994) - Did you think My Neighbors the Yamadas was the only weird movie on this list? Well, welcome to Pom Poko. The main cast consists of raccoons, who are often portrayed as shapeshifters in Japanese folklore. In this film, well-known role models are combined with a raccoon story, which is driven out of their familiar environment due to the ever-growing cities. The topic of environmental protection and the balance between man and nature is obvious, it is just enriched with a strange pinch of humor. Do you need another argument? In this film, a group of raccoons ambushes people after using their scrotums as parachutes.

17. Ponyo - The Great Adventure by the Sea (2008) - Do you fancy a heartwarming story for the whole family, an anime adaptation of Arielle the Mermaid, or just want to see a little girl who loves ham? Then Ponyo is the movie you're looking for! The story is understandably kept a bit simple, but the quality of the art and animation is beyond reproach. Plus, all of the characters in Ponyo are very adorable and cute, including the clumsy bad guy who wants only the best for the title character. Although the environmental perspective is present, it is not quite as strong here as in some of the other Miyazakis. Maybe that's one of the reasons why the end doesn't quite stay that way in our heads. On the other hand, the soundtrack is very charming and the title track can be sung along even if you don't speak Japanese.

16. Arrietty (2010) - This adaptation of The Borger marks Hiromasa Yonebayashi's debut as a studio Ghibli director, a task he did very well before saying goodbye in 2017 and celebrating his own successes with Mary and the Witches' Flower. It is perhaps the most beautiful Ghibli film when you take a closer look at all-natural scenes and environments - impressive drawings of garden shrubs, insects and a quaint old house on the outskirts. The main character Arrietty and her family are no bigger than our fingers, and most of them borrow (or more precisely, steal) the daily necessities of the people in the house in order to survive. Arrietty is a movie with great characters, an exciting story, and a mood that is suitable for the whole family. It also features one of the best Ghibli soundtracks not composed by studio veteran Joe Hisaishi (Arrietty's soundtrack was created by Cécile Corbel). Fun Fact: Tom Holland, the actor best known for his portrayal of Spider-Man in recent Marvel films, made his debut in the English version of that film.

15. Memories of Marnie (2014) - Yonebayashi's first film is surpassed by his second own work, in which we follow young Anna during her unusual summer with her relatives. As an introverted, twelve-year-old foster child, Anna's days are anything but carefree, but during her stay in the country she meets a mysterious girl named Marnie from the village villa. The relationship that grows between the two is a beautiful story about the search for one's own identity, self-image and the value of friendship and family. It's the latest Ghibli film as it took time for the studio to reorganize and plan ahead after Hayao Miyazaki's resignation (the solution is for Miyazaki to come back from retirement, which may just postpone the problem that it is the studio has to solve one day ...).

14. Howl's Moving Castle (2004) Howl's Moving Castle was Hayao Miyazaki's first film after Spirited Away achieved international recognition. The bar was set high, so it was no surprise that this project didn't quite live up to expectations. Other than that, the result is far from being a terrible movie, although the ending looks a bit rushed and confusing. The art style is as Ghibli as it could be and the characters are both diverse and complex. The moving castle from which it is named is a fabulous, creative construction and the areas visited in the film are as beautiful as they are rich in detail.

13. Porco Rosso (1992) - "A pig that doesn't fly is just a pig" is a quote that pretty much sums up the theme and characters in Porco Rosso. This anime is about an ace pilot pig in Italy set in the 1930s. Here we find a film that combines a spirit of adventure and lovable characters with Miyazaki's fascination for airplanes. The real setting of Italy in the 1930s is exquisite and the characters are full of fun and charm. At the same time, the backdrop of the film opens up to its own story about dealing with historical events and ideologies. The quote "I would rather be a pig than a fascist" makes that clear. You want an entertaining fact? Akio Ótsuka, the Japanese voice actor for Snake from Metal Gear Solid, plays the role of Porco Rosso's rival Donald Curtis.

12. The Poppy Mountain (2011) - Goro Miyazaki had no success with his first film, but he still had the option to try again, which leads us to Mount Poppy. This time the result was undoubtedly better, as this teenage tale from the 1960s in the port city of Yokohama is a fascinating portrait of post-war Japan. It's a beautiful and sweet story with humor and seriousness, with great characters and themes, like friendship and camaraderie. The greatest feature of the film, however, is the portrayal of the era. Older viewers who have seen and experienced Japan's ports in the middle of the last century refer to this film as an accurate representation of their memories. For the rest of us, it just opens an interesting window into the past.

11. Kiki's Delivery Service (1989) - Kiki is a young witch who is growing up. In order to show that she is ready for adult life in freedom and responsibility, she must be able to leave home for a while and take care of herself. Here we have a warm story of the transition from childhood to adulthood, with a touch of magic as a bonus. We will accompany Kiki as she finds a place in society, gets to know herself better and develops trust in her own talents. All of these areas are explored with great charm and joy. The hand-drawn images exude high production values ​​and Joe Hisaishi's music fits the mood of the film like a glove. The film also features Jiji, the best talking cat since Cheshire from Alice in Wonderland.

10.Nausicaä from the Valley of the Wind (1984) - Nausicaä from the Valley of the Wind is the proto film by Studio Ghibli, which was released a year before the studio was founded and yet has all the features of the studio. We have Miyazaki's passion for environmental protection and airplanes, a strong female lead, beautiful views with a special style, Joe Hisaishi's excellent compositions and a great story. We are introduced to a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world in which Miyazaki's skepticism about technological advancement at the expense of nature becomes clear. At the same time, the film contains combative themes and the hope for a better future.

9.Tears of Memory - Only Yesterday (1991) - This hidden gem, directed by Isao Takahata, has been quite difficult to come by in the West for a long time, although it deserves more attention. It's a beautiful story about how our past affects our present, our adult lives, and our choices for the future. The story of the film alternates between past and present and aligns our perspective (and that of the main character) in this way on the important things in life. Plus, all of the main characters get chubby cheeks every time they smile, which is adorable. Incidentally, Daisy Ridley, known for her role as Rey in Star Wars, has spoken the main character in the original English.

8.Voice of the Heart - Whisper of the Heart (1995) - In the 1990s, Ghibli began to think about the future and wonder who could take over the company after Miyazaki and Takahata. One name that was more of a question was Yoshifumi Kondo. Unfortunately, Kondo only made one film before suddenly passing away in 1998. If you look at that one movie that Kondo still had time to make, you can only imagine what other stories this wonderful mind might have in store for us. This story of a bookworm and her unexpected friendship with a young violin maker is a wonderful story centered around friendship, music, the transition to adulthood, and the power of storytelling. A great film that is suitable for all ages.

7. The Castle of Cagliostro (1979) - This film is not always on such Ghibli lists, because although it was produced under the direction of Miyazaki, this project came about a few years before Ghibli was founded.We see characters from the already established manga and anime Arsene Lupine, the king of thieves. Despite all of this, and despite the age of the film, it deserves a place in the top half of this ranking. The soundtrack is fantastic, the setting captivating, the characters are extremely personable despite being crooks, and the thrill of this adventure is always there. The story of Lupine, Jigen and the rest of the gang who travel to Cagliostro, Holland in search of the source of legendary forgeries is a diamond in the rough waiting to be discovered. This film is already available on Netflix and has proven itself.

6. The Legend of Princess Kaguya (2013) - This story is based on one of Japan's most famous folk tales, in which a bamboo cutter finds a baby and raises it to the most beautiful lady in the country. While it sounds wonderful, it's a sad and tragic story, but one that has rarely been explored from the main character's point of view. This makes the story of Princess Kaguya even more interesting, as Isao Takahata specifically wanted to examine Kaguya's view of the whole story. With a unique and intriguing art style, a strong sense of melancholy throughout its length, and a wonderful soundtrack, this final Takahata film before his death in 2018 should be high on your list.

5. Spirited Away (2001) - Spirited Away changed everything, because there are clearly defined before and after. Before the overseas release of this film, the studio and anime in general were for a smaller audience. However, this film changed the landscape forever. Spirited Away was the entry point into the anime genre for many moviegoers all over the world, which is why the title rightly enjoys general recognition and was honored accordingly. The story of ten-year-old Chihiro, who takes a job at the ghost resort of the witch Yubaba to save her parents' lives, is one of the most beautiful in Miyazaki. It offers fantastic works of art, a backdrop that you really can't get enough of, and a number of lovable characters. It also features one of Joe Hisaishi's best soundtracks, and the first few notes on the piano at the beginning are enough to get the emotion across.

4. My Neighbor Totoro (1988) - Ghibli's most famous film is without a doubt My Neighbor Totoro. Totoro eventually became Ghibli's mascot and featured in the studio's logo - practically everyone in Japan knows who they are. The film is set in rural Japan around the 1950s and shows the sisters Satsuki and Mei who are familiarizing themselves with their new life in the country. During these summer days they get to know the protective spirit of the forest, Totoro. The film features some amazing and believable characters, a perfect mix of the fantastic and the mundane, and an atmosphere that makes it one of the most adorable films of all time. The style is amazing, the music is timeless and the themes are easy to understand for young and old. It's hard to find someone who doesn't like this work and if you're looking for the best movie to introduce to your friends, Totoro is not to be missed.

3. The Last Fireflies (1988) - Interestingly, this movie is the only one not on Netflix's release schedule - which is a shame! Not only is this the greatest movie by Isao Takahata, co-founder of Studio Ghibli, but it is also possibly the best war movie ever made. If an animated film with the words "September 21, 1945 ... That was the night I died" starts, you basically already know in which direction the film is going. Nevertheless, nothing will prepare you for how sad the war story of two siblings in the city of Kobe will be during the Second World War. It's a horrific plot and the saddest of all Ghibli films. At the same time, it's a compelling and important story about the horrors of war. Takahata itself was bombed during World War II and gave this film a war experience from someone who was themselves affected.

2. The Castle in Heaven (1986) - One of Ghibli's first films could also be one of her best. The Castle in the Sky was the first film to be released under the name Studio Ghibli. It is a first-class adventure of the young girl Sheeta, who becomes acquainted with the young miner Pazu. The paths of the two cross thanks to Sheeta's mysterious medallion, which at the same time arouses the interest of the sky pirates as well as the cunning government agents. The common denominator is the legendary Laputa Castle in the air, which Jonathan Swift mentioned in Gulliver's travels. This film shows a wonderful mix of adventure, memorable characters, landscapes inspired by different locations from the real world, and flying inventions that only Miyazaki's mind could have invented. If you listen to the music by Joe Hisaishi, you get a film that will stay with us for a long time. If the movie isn't enough for you, it might be an idea to check out the old seventies anime Future Boy Conan, created by several future Ghibli members with many similarities to this movie.

1. Princess Mononoke (1997) - In many ways this film is the best testimony to Hayao Miyazaki as a person, director and visionary: his extreme attention to detail, focus on solid female characters, a story in which the separation between good and bad is not just black and white, and especially the tension and the eternal struggle between man and nature. The latter in particular is reinforced by the fact that Princess Mononoke relies heavily on the Shinto worldview, Japan's belief in spirits and gods in all forms of nature. However, such knowledge is not required in order to be able to appreciate this film or even to understand it. The story takes place in ancient Japan, where gods and spirits still roam the great forests of the world. It is an epic that combines history and fantasy as the forces of nature collide with humans to measure the will of both sides to survive. It was the first Ghibli film to use digital colors and computer graphics, but only to emphasize the sharp, beautiful, and hand-drawn animation splendor. If all of this is not enough for you, you will also find the best compositions by Joe Hisaishi in this work. Princess Mononoke is not only the main work of the great Miyazaki himself, but also undoubtedly the greatest Ghibli film of all time.