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Friday, July 29, 2016

Anime Ichiban: The Top Ten Studio Ghibli Films


Twenty two movies, an entire month of films, and now it comes down to this. Did anyone honestly think Ghibli Month would end any other way?

This was the hardest list I've made. Aside from a few notable exceptions, I'm looking at you Earthsea, every film this month was at one point up for consideration. Some were easier to cut than others, but eventually decisions had to be made.

Weighing visuals against story, characters against themes, heart versus art, there was a lot to consider. Single scenes could make up for and undo a slew of problems while an entire story can stay consistently solid throughout. How do you rank gold higher than other pieces of equally pure gold?

In the past I've relied on a number of factors. While everything ultimately came down to what I thought was a better film, my biggest consideration was what movie I would pick if I were given only a second to decide.

Spoilers ahead, it was crushing to leave films like Whisper of the Heart, When Marine was There, and Nausicaä as honorable mentions because they are each brilliant in their own right. With that in mind, these ten are what I think best represent Ghibli and are the Crown Jewels of its legacy. Without any further ado, here are my Top Ten Studio Ghibli Films.

Director: Isao Takahata

Release Date: November 23, 2013

Tale of the Princess Kaguya was in a heated race with Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds. Nausicaä is considerably more exciting, but what ended up carrying the day for Isao Takahata’s most recent work was a combination of visuals and story.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is an absolutely gorgeous film. Though not filled with action and suspense, there is so much life to every scene and every shot. Swift motion and vivid colors, every frame is a carefully crafted masterpiece of animation.

The story of Kaguya is at times uplifting and at other times tragic. Every time the princess smiled she beamed. Every time she laughed she shined. And every time she cried you felt the weight of her tears. 

This is a story where from the very beginning had a purpose and a vision. The same can be said for Nausicaä, but The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is the result of years of experience. 

Directed By: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Release Date: July 17, 2010

In and out real quick, this one feels like it’s over by the time you start it. Although I would've been totally on board if this movie were a little bit longer, The Secret World of Arrietty says exactly what it needs to say and it is a great movie.

Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi is the future of this Studio; When Marnie was There reinforced that, but this one proved it. This is a guy I want to see more from.

Arrietty’s strongest aspect besides an enjoyable story and fun characters is its sense of scale. This movie turned a simple house into a world filled with adventure and wonder. Everything we would think of as ordinary or mundane was suddenly turned into a daunting challenge. The life of Arrietty and her family isn’t easy, but they made the best out of it all.

Its pure happenstance this was the only Ghibli film I saw in theaters, but I’m glad I did.

Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki

Release Date: July 20, 2001

Arguably Miyazaki’s greatest visual masterpiece, I’m not inclined to disagree. Spirited Away is filled to the brim with imagination and mysticism. There's magic to this one.

From right out the gate, this movie doesn’t stop with the creativity and wonder. Actually, as the story goes on it only gets bigger and more insane. Granted, this causes the film to get rushed by the end, by the ride getting to that point more than makes up for it.

I imagine this is the kind of movie that works incredibly well on the big screen. If I ever get the chance to see it that way I’ll be sure to take and I highly advise you to do the same. Now that I think about it, if there was one Ghibli film that would work amazingly in 3D it would be this one.

There’s a lot of love out there for Spirited Away and I can see where it comes from.

Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki

Release Date: July 29, 1989

The story of Ghibli’s little witch.

If you want an example of a feel good movie, look no further than Kiki’s Delivery Service. This is a perfect story of growing up and gaining confidence, told in a way that’s easy to understand and a lot of fun.

Kiki is what makes this film so enjoyable. The emotions and hardships she’s going through are ones most people will have to deal with in their lives. Starting out on your own, finding a place in the world, understanding what it is you want to do and why you want to do it.

For me, this movie hit right at my core. I’ve had one or two restless nights in a new city far and away from home. My certainty has been shaken on a few occasions. But I’ve always rebounded.

For those who haven’t done any of that, it’s fine and you’ll still be able to enjoy the full extent of this film.

Directed By: Isao Takahata

Release Date: April 16, 1988

It wasn’t all fun, it wasn’t all smiles. To marathon the Ghibli filmography means watching some of the most beautiful, wondrous, and uplifting stories in cinema. The price however, is Grave of the Fireflies. Had I known that, I would have braced myself accordingly.

This one is hard to watch, but it is an absolutely brilliant film. Going back to my original criteria, there is no way I would choose to watch Grave over any other Ghibli movie; my heart couldn't take it. Still, in terms of story, emotions, visuals, and damn near everything else, this is truly one of the studio’s and Mr. Takahata’s greatest productions.

Punch after punch, hit after hit, if you don’t know what you’re getting into it’s going to hurt. Great films don’t always have happy endings.

Grave was undoubtedly going to make this list, but if I can go the rest of my life without having to watch it again that would okay by me. Once was more than enough.

Directed By: Isao Takahata

Release Date: July 20, 1991

This was the surprise of the month. I had never heard of this movie, so there were absolutely no expectations. Yet Only Yesterday surpassed all of them. I love this one.

It’s insanely sweet, incredibly cute, as well as warm, relaxing, and beautiful. This is Isao Takahata’s magnum opus and truly one of Ghibli’s greatest. That’s why I was shocked when I learned the English dubbing would finally be released during this Ghibli month.

There are a lot of things that I adore about this movie, the visuals, the characters, the story, but the one thing which sticks with me the most is how down to Earth it is. This is no fantasy, no wonderland, no grand and magical universe, it’s our world; or at least how it was back in the 1980s. You know what no, scratch that last part. This could happen now. More technology sure, but it could still happen.

It may have come out of nowhere, but Only Yesterday earned its spot.

Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki

Release Date: April 16, 1988

The very face of Studio Ghibli. I don’t think it’s possible to imagine this studio without this film coming to mind.

For anyone who's looking to start their own Ghibli viewing, there is no better place to begin than with My Neighbor Totoro. As one of the hallmarks of animation and one of Miyazaki’s ultimate calling cards, this movie is all around wonderful.

Fun, relaxing, and full wonder this is a film that continues to deliver every time I watch it. All of that is directly attributed to Totoro himself; no matter what I might be going through, he's always able to put a smile on my face.

Along with being one of Miyazaki’s masterpieces, this movie also showcases some of the best, if not the best work from the legendary composure Joe Hisaishi. The partnership between these two men has given the world some of the greatest examples of cinema and My Neighbor Totoro is right at the top.

Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki

Release Date: July 12, 1997

The film that brought Ghibli to the West.

As I said in my review, Princess Mononoke isn’t for younger audiences. Sure the violence and intensity of a few scenes might be a little startling for some, that’s not what I mean when I say this isn’t for kids. For those who want a story that challenges the hero model, this is for you.

Yes the narrative is solid, yes the action is exciting, and yes the visuals are beyond breathtaking, but the reason why I love this movie so much is because it doesn’t limit itself to a simple black and white outlook. San and Lady Eboshi both have their strengths that put them in the right, but they also have their short comings which makes it hard to vilify the other. As Ashitaka does in the film, you truly see both sides of this conflict.

If someone were to ask me for one reason why Studio Ghibli is worth looking at, without question my answer would be Princess Mononoke.

Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki

Release Date: September 5, 2004

I fell in love with this movie. There’s nothing I don’t like about it. Howl’s Moving Castle hits every single note perfectly.

The story is brilliant; impossible to put down once you start watching. The visuals are jaw dropping; it’s takes the magic of Spirited Away and adds so much flash and color. The characters are endearing, especially when you have the pompous pretty boy Howl at your center.

Really though, it’s Sophie. She is, without any doubt, my absolute favorite Ghibli character. She's tough, smart, beautiful, this is her movie. This is a person you want at your side, not standing in your way. She will not break, she will not falter. But she’s also very human. There are times where she can get upset, frustrated, and insecure. Yet when her friends, particularly Howl, need her most, she's there.

I knew this would be fighting for the top spot. This movie towers over the rest, with the exception of one. However, Howl’s Moving Castle will always have a special place with me.

Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki

Release Date: August 2, 1986

After a month of movies, after hours upon hours of thought and deliberation, after a few re-watches, it became clear what the answer was.

It is Ghibli’s official first and to me, it’s also its best. Castle in the Sky is my number one Studio Ghibli film.

When this movie is exciting, it’s exciting. When this movie is tense, it’s tense. When this movie is funny, it’s funny. From the visuals, the music, the action, everything is perfection. All the little quirks, all the little hiccups that exist in other Miyazaki films are not here. There’s no rushing, there’s no unneeded details, there’s only the story.

If Sophie is my favorite character, then Sheeta and Pazu are my favorite pair. Some of the best scenes in this film are when these two are simply talking to each other. No fights, no thrills, just pure heart to hearts.

To be at the top of some of the greatest animated feature films of all time is saying a lot, but Castle in the Sky fits the bill perfectly. 

Final Thoughts

As always, this has been my list. I would love to hear what you think. What did I get right, where did I go wrong, and anything else you can think off? However this time, I’m issuing a challenge to you. This past month has been incredible. I now get to say I've seen every single film from one of the world’s most beloved movie studios. Yeah there were lulls, but they were never that bad; and yes that includes you too Earthsea. Yet when we hit those highs, man they were amazing.

Therefore my challenge to you is this, hold your own Ghibli Month. Sit down with your family, friends, or whoever and watch these films.

At the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, Studio Ghibli released a collaborative production with Wild Bunch Studios known as Red Turtle. A Japanese release date is set for September 17, 2016 and you can be damn sure I’ll be there to watch it.

I say this this because, as of Ghibli Month 2016 there have been no announcements for any future solo Studio Ghibli feature length films. Currently the studio is on hiatus following the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki.

Do I believe there will be no more Studio Ghibli movies in the future? I certainly hope that’s not the case because there’d be no reason for it. The studio still has talent, new talent can always appear, and let’s be honest this isn’t the first time Miyazaki has “retired”. Still, future or end, what we have are three decades of cinema's and animation’s greatest achievements.

Thank you all so much for joining me this month and now let’s get back to some anime. 

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