As Studio Ghibli comes to Netflix, a purely subjective, totally non-scientific ranking of every film made by animation giant

Sneha Khale

Feb 12, 2020 09:06:06 IST

Ranking every Studio Ghibli movie ever made — in response to the development that the beloved studio's even-more-beloved movies are finally available on Netflix, starting this month — is an endeavour somewhat like a parent being asked to pick their favourite child.

Studio Ghibli films mean the world to me; having missed out on watching them as a child, the movies played a very significant and integral role in my adult life. Howl’s Moving Castle, Only Yesterday, and Whisper of the Heart helped me get through a terrible break-up; I watched the movies over and over while nursing a broken heart. Spirited Away and Ponyo made me yearn to be an animator and artist. From up on Poppy Hill, Porco Rosso, and The Wind Rises triggered my love for aviation in animation, and Laputa: Castle in the Sky did the same for steam-punk art. I’ve cried while watching many of the movies (how do you not cry while watching the achingly beautiful Grave of the Fireflies or while taking in the raw-but-delicate watercolour exquisiteness depicting Princess Kaguya’s honest turmoil?). I cried when in 2015, I visited the Studio Ghibli museum in Mitaka, Tokyo, overwhelmed by the occasion and the often-unbelievable beauty of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata’s works.

So yes, ranking Studio Ghibli movies (even in the super-personalised, somewhat weird manner attempted below) is definitely not easy. Even the “worst” Studio Ghibli movie is pretty damn amazing and they all mean different things to each one of us. I’m just honoured I get to write about these movies that I love so dearly. Here goes...breathe in!

 As Studio Ghibli comes to Netflix, a purely subjective, totally non-scientific ranking of every film made by animation giant

Let’s begin with a rather amateurish graph representing the Ghibli movies from worse (the ones I’ve watched, but might not rewatch on Netflix) to best (absolute favourites, the movies that I can’t wait to watch over and over on Netflix):

ghibli1

Category 3: The “worst” of the Ghibli lot

Raccoon dogs, cats, pigs, a girl ghost (?!), angsty high-schoolers and dragons...some of the following movies (eg. Porco Rosso) have quite the cult following. Personally though, they rank in the bottom third of my list of favourites.

Ocean Waves (1993): I loved recent romantic anime dramas like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Your Name etc, so you’d think I’d also enjoy Ocean Waves — Studio Ghibli’s somewhat out-of-place teenage romantic offering. And I did enjoy it! But somehow, the movie — a rather typical high school love triangle between two male best friends and an attractive new female student — didn’t pack the emotions in a way that made a lasting impression.

Ghibli movies are almost always centred on a female protagonist, and these sheros are always so well fleshed out, you’d think they were written by self-reflective women and not by men (this one was made by a bunch of the younger filmmakers at Studio Ghibli). But the character of Rikako (the female student transferring from Tokyo to a school in Kōchi) in Ocean Waves is frustratingly one-dimensional and cringeworthy. A rare usage of adjectives for a Ghibli movie character.

I mean, enough with the slapping already!

Tales From Earthsea (2006): Being the legendary genius Hayao Miyazaki’s son would be difficult enough for any filmmaker. Gorō Miyazaki made his work even more challenging by taking up an adaptation of Ursula K Le Guin’s Earthsea series.

Set in a fantastical world with dragons and wizards and mages, Tales from Earthsea (the book series) is a rousing story of a world fast losing its balance due to the conflict between humans and dragons. The movie, however, is a far more simplistic and violent version of the novels, and was criticised by Le Guin, who appreciated the aesthetic beauty of the movie but didn’t like Gorō’s focus on physical violence.

Interesting fact: When Le Guin handed over the rights to Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, she wanted him to direct the movie, and was disappointed when Gorō ended up directing it. Ouch! To add insult to injury, he was given the Japanese equivalent of the Razzies for “Worst Director” in 2006 and Tales from Earthsea won “Worst Movie”. Eeeks! All is good though, because Gorō went on to direct the lovely From Up On Poppy Hill a few years later.

Pom Poko (1994): One of the studio’s many environment-themed movies, Pom Poko is a lot of fun to watch. Especially if you love shape-shifting raccoon dogs...and who doesn’t, amirite?

The dramedy, about said raccoon dogs hoping to stop construction work by humans attempting to destroy the forest that is their habitat, is hella odd yet hard-hitting. When I first watched the movie, it reminded me of that episode of The Wonder Years — “Whose woods Are These” — in which the pre-teen Kevin, Winnie and Paul do the same thing for the woods near their home. I remember watching that episode and thinking to myself, “They’re so small and helpless…what difference are they likely to make?” Pom Poko has a similar vibe, plus the delightfully raucous raccoons.

After all, “raccoons live full lives too!”

When Marnie Was There (2014): Ah, Marnie. It’s probably unfair to include this one in the bottom third because When Marnie Was There is visually beautiful and haunting, and unfolds like the movie version of Slow TV (which I love!). Based on Joan G Robinson’s novel of the same name, the movie follows sensitive and artistic pre-teen Anna Sasaki and the mysterious Marnie, as Anna comes to terms with her identity as a foster child. A lot of the movie was set in Hokkaido and Sapporo, and it’s a moving story about familial love and tragedy.

But, it was just a bit too slow! I remember spending the first 40 minutes of the movie wondering if it was Ghibli’s first supernatural thriller with a slight LGBTQ bent. And I might have loved it if it was...with a dose of Ghibli melancholy.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t…and while it’s a well-made movie with sweeping, evocative landscapes, it just wasn’t very memorable to me.

When Marnie Was There was the last movie directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi for the studio, and it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 2016 Oscars. Interesting fact for anyone who’s nerdish about this — Yonebayashi quit Studio Ghibli and founded Studio Ponoc; Ghibli’s influence on him is evident in Ponoc’s mascot Mary Stewart (from Ponoc’s first feature film Mary and the Witch’s Flower), who looks like an uncanny cross between Ponyo and Arrietty (The Secret World of Arrietty was Yonebayashi’s directorial debut for Studio Ghibli).

Porco Rosso (1992): If you took Snoopy’s imaginary thrilling adventures as a WWI flying ace, added a dash of Cowboy Bebop’s bounty hunting thrills, threw in a hefty dose of melodrama and a love triangle (because, of course!), and married those with the mad whimsy of Studio Ghibli, you might come somewhere close to understanding Porco Rosso.

Or, you might watch it on Netflix and still not have the faintest idea of why he’s an Italian human man who’s cursed to be a pig in 1930s fascist Italy and why his motto is “A pig’s gotta fly”!

The Cat Returns (2002): There’s a cat. He’s regal. We know this because his name is Baron. He’s a statuette, who comes to life (classic Ghibli). He helps a girl named Haru, who can talk to cats and who saved the life of a cat named Lune, Prince of the Cat Kingdom, who offers his hand to her in marriage. Whaaat!

Magical realism, fantasy, escapism, and a bucket load of fun, Cat Returns is not sweeping vistas and a grand scope like some of Ghibli’s other movies. But it’s a thoroughly enjoyable little film, even if like me, you’re not a cat person.

Lupin the Third — The Castle of Cagliostro (pre-Studio Ghibli in 1979): Hayao Miyazaki’s directorial debut in the days long before Studio Ghibli was formed, this action-adventure crime thriller is notable for many things, chief among those being its huge influence on animators worldwide through the years (including Pixar biggie John Lasseter). Lupin III is a character created by manga artist Kazuhiko Katō, popularly known as Monkey Punch. He robs casinos, saves damsels, has a nemesis named Inspector Zenigata, and escapes from dungeons in castles as he fights a count — all of this in a tiny, imaginary country named Cagliostro.

A cross between James Bond, Danny Ocean, and Cary Grant’s John “The Cat” Robie (from Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief), Miyazaki’s Lupin III was a toned down, less glib and dastardly version of the original. The Castle of Cagliostro is not a great movie by any means, but it’s worth a watch to see the beginnings of Miyazaki’s brilliance.

My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999): Written and directed by Studio Ghibli’s other great visionary, the late Isao Takahata, My Neighbours the Yamadas is a comic strip brought to life digitally. Humourously depicting the everyday life of a suburban Japanese family consisting of a mother, father, grandmother, a 13-year-old son, a five-year-old daughter, and the family dog, the movie (based on the manga Nono-chan by Hisaichi Ishii) is a clear departure from Ghibli’s usual anime.

The various vignettes of family life are depicted with humour, a hint of surrealism (because, Ghibli), and a soundtrack that features Chopin, Mahler, Mendelsson and others. A must-watch for super fans!

Category 2: Girl power FTW!

This is where things start to get tricky. The movies in this category are all incredible, with amazing stories featuring strong female characters. They deserve awards and Netflix binges and a whole lot of universal love. I love them too. I just don’t love them as much as some other movies. Such are the first world problems of a writer/critic!

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984): Sci-fi meets fantasy in this movie led by a kickass female protagonist. Miyazaki directed this film a year before Studio Ghibli was formed, and its environmental message and epic saga-ness set the tone for many of the studio’s later works. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Nausicaa, a princess of the Valley of the Wind, fights a kingdom trying to use an ancient weapon of mass destruction to exterminate a jungle full of giant mutant insects.

It’s difficult not to draw a comparison between Nausicaa and Princess Leia, but Miyazaki had a range of influences for Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind beyond Star Wars, including Isaac Assimov, Tolkien, William Golding, and even Homer! When the movie was released, it was recommended by the WWF, and its themes of environmentalism, love and acceptance are as resonant today as they must have been in 1984.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986): Steampunk robots! Studio Ghibli’s first official film has so much awesomeness packed together, it’s kind of unreal. There are aerial cities, a floating castle in the clouds, airships, a young girl and boy as the film’s heroes, and incredible giant steampunk robots who care for and tend to the flora and fauna on the floating island.

With a straight up villain in the form of government agent Muska, Laputa: Castle in the Sky is primarily the heroic journey of Sheeta and Pazu (a young orphan girl and boy respectively) and their quest to protect a magic crystal and save civilisation. It’s an absolutely beautiful movie, often ranked very high on the best anime lists, and its influence on anime masterpieces like Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra is very evident. Miyazaki, in turn, was influenced by everything from Gulliver’s Travels (as we all know, Laputa is the name of a flying island in Swift’s book) to the Ramayana (with references to Indra’s arrow and even the name “Sheeta”). The gorgeous landscapes in the movie were inspired by Welsh mining towns that Miyazaki visited, while the miners were on strike.

Also, Studio Ghibli’s knack of making us forever hungry and drooly about food, is on full display in the movie. There’s a scene where Sheeta is on the airship, in what we can assume is the kitchen, peeling potatoes into a massive cauldron filled with meat and vegetable curry, and I’m not kidding — that scene almost rivals the gorgeousness of the floating island.

DO NOT miss this one!

Tip: While I almost always prefer watching the movies in Japanese with English subtitles, I did rewatch the English dubbed version for Castle in the Sky. Why? Mark Hamill voices Muska. So, I mean, come on!

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013): The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is a famous folktale in Japan. Isao Takahata took this story and turned it into a hauntingly beautiful movie about a miniature girl found inside a bamboo shoot, who grows up to be a beautiful young woman attracting numerous suitors who sometimes make untoward advances towards her, and who just wants to lead a simple life in her mountain village.

Like My Neighbours the Yamadas, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is also very different visually. Takahata used delicate and elegant watercolour strokes to make a movie that feels more like a gorgeous old painting come to life. Kaguya’s origins and her yearning to be a mortal human make the story very distinct and unusual, but her love for her parents and friends and the abject misery she has to endure when being “wooed” by her many suitors are themes that feel achingly familiar. This is a stunning movie, and kickstarts the “will definitely make you cry, so watch it with someone you love and keep some tissues handy” movies on this list.

Arrietty (2010): Arrietty is the cutest adaptation of Mary Norton’s children’s book The Borrowers — about a family of tiny humans living in the walls and floorboards of normal people’s homes, borrowing things from them to survive, and avoiding detection from humans.

The movie is essentially an exploration of the friendship between Arrietty (a tiny 14-year-old borrower girl) and Shō (a human boy who discovers her and her people while spending a summer with his great aunt in his mom’s childhood home) as they struggle with extermination and health problems respectively.

The Japanese do miniature stuff better than anyone else, and the attention to detail displayed by the animators with regard to all the ways in which they’ve showcased the miniature-ness of Arrietty and her family, is an absolute delight for viewers. A single drop of tea filling the cup, the energy expended to unlock a window, the pile of “giant” biscuits that require a great deal of effort to crush — Arrietty is the kind of movie that you watch with a mug of hot chocolate in your hands, cosy in a duvet, with your dog’s head resting on your lap as you gently stroke its soft warm fur. Or, you watch it on Netflix without any of the other things. Just watch it.

The always-adorable Tom Holland voiced Shō in the British release of the movie, so you’ve got to give the dubbed English version a shot!

Princess Mononoke (1997): Don’t hate me. Princess Mononoke is an amazing movie, arguably the best Ghibli film of all time. Roger Ebert listed it sixth in his list of top 10 movies of 1999 (that was the year it was released in the US). The environmental message that Miyazaki had conveyed through Pom Poko, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and Castle in the Sky gets dialled all the way up in this epic saga that brings fantasy elements to 14th century Japan.

On the surface, it’s a story about a young prince Ashitaka, who gets embroiled in the fight between the animals and gods of the forest and the humans who depend on the resources of the forest for their own survival. But, as with most Ghibli films, deeper themes of lost innocence, individualism vs conformity, and morality are interspersed throughout the movie. There’s no clear good or evil...but a morally ambiguous thread that connects people with vastly different motives and actions. The characters of San (a woman who was raised by the wolves and is a protector of the forest) and Lady Eboshi (a compassionate, progressive, and revolutionary ruler of a place called Irontown, who wants to destroy the forest for the good of her people, and make money by mining the mountain) are so complex and realistic, you sometimes forget it’s an animated movie.

And that’s part of the appeal of Princess Mononoke — it’s a serious drama about complicated things that is depicted through an artform that, until then, was often considered to be for kids. Miyazaki subverted many stereotypes with the movie (even Ashitaka isn’t a handsome young prince who’s the saviour of all. Instead, he’s just a young man trying to do his best). The movie’s lasting influence can be seen in everything from Avatar (James Cameron confirmed it was the inspiration for creating Pandora) to one of the best anti-heroes in modern anime (Kuvira, from the Legend of Korra).

I can go on and on about the brilliance of Princess Mononoke and it will still remain in this category for me. And that’s because as impressive and game-changing as it is, the movie fails to make me happy and/or wistfully melancholic every time I watch it. You should definitely watch it though, and maybe you’ll feel differently.

Fun observation: Of all the Studio Ghibli movies, Princess Mononoke has possibly the best cosplay/Halloween outfit and attitude. Imagine being dressed as San, in all her forest warrior glory and doing this:

Or this:

Or going full glam like Lady Eboshi and doing this:

Also, although the English version has voice acting by the likes of Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, Minnie Driver, and Gillian Anderson, I still prefer the Japanese version with subtitles.

Category 1: Studio Ghibli perfection

Home stretch, y’all! This category includes some of Studio Ghibli’s obvious genius movies + some beautiful contemporary tales. These movies are visually my favourites. They have a sense of wonderment and melancholia that makes my heart swell. The music is spectacular! The food scenes (all super GIF-worthy) are some of the best in the history of movies and television. Getting to watch a few of these on the big screen in Sydney is always a nearly-unforgettable experience. I often rewatch these movies (or at least watch some of my favourite parts) and there’s a little piece of my heart where these movies have a special place.

Only Yesterday (1991): Based on the manga by the same name by Hotaru Okamoto and Yuko Tone, Only Yesterday (directed by Isao Takahata) is a realistic slow-burn drama about a 27-year old woman, Taeko Okajima from Tokyo, contemplating her life, love, work, and family as she travels by train to a countryside town in rural Yamagata, to help out her extended family during the safflower harvest season.

There’s a simplistic beauty in the storytelling, and the sensitivity with which Takahata handles the female point of view is remarkable — josei manga and anime is not the easiest to depict as it is. As Taeko reminisces about her childhood, we start to get wistfully nostalgic with her, and it’s a testament to Takahata’s genius that so much of the movie, Taeko’s adult life as well as her memories of childhood, feel familiar to us, even though it’s a very different setting (Tokyo in the ’60s and ’80s).

Visually, the movie is astounding. It’s not necessarily to everyone’s taste, but even if the story and the narrative style don’t appeal to you, you should watch it for the artistry.

The Wind Rises (2013): Jiro Horikoshi was the chief engineer who designed many of Japan’s fighter planes during WWII, including the Mitsubishi A5M and A6M Zero. The Wind Rises is a visually beautiful, fictionalised historical biopic of Horikoshi, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and is the adaptation of his manga by the same name.

Horikoshi dreamed of being a pilot, but his bad eyesight prevented him from being one. So he takes up engineering, wanting to build beautiful airplanes inspired by Giovanni Battista Caproni, the Italian aeronautical engineer and the founder of the Caproni aircraft manufacturing company.

But history has other plans, as Japan’s involvement in WWII meant that his designs were inevitably used in war. Over a period of nearly 30 years, we see Horikoshi as he comes to accept the fate of his ambition, beautifully punctuated by other important milestones in his life (ie. falling in love, getting married, and losing his wife to tuberculosis).

Miyazaki went into retirement after the release of The Wind Rises, and for a few years, it was thought to be his last movie. Fortunately for us all, he has since come out of retirement to direct How Do You Live?, which is expected to be released sometime this year or in 2021.

If you’ve ever made a paper plane and sent it flying, you’ll love this movie. And to be honest, besides all the gorgeous aviation scenes, the food scenes stack up really well too!

From Up on Poppy Hill (2011): Gorō Miyazaki returned to direct this utterly charming tale of two teenagers, Umi Matsuzaki and Shun Kazama as they fight to keep their school clubhouse (and the paper Quartier Latin) from demolition. The simple premise is set against the backdrop of 1960s Japan, particularly Yokohama (Japan’s second largest city by population) as the country comes to terms with itself post-WWII in the wake of the Korean War, and as it prepares to host the 1964 Summer Olympics.

Beautifully rendered and sensitively portraying post-war pathos, with this movie Gorō more than compensated for the debacle that was Tales from Earthsea.

There’s a very subtle women-centric angle to the movie. Umi’s mother Ryoko is a medical professional studying abroad in the US. Umi lives in a boarding house called Coquelicot Manor with her younger siblings and grandmother. Two other women, a college student and a doctor-in-training, also live there. The camaraderie between the women, among the students banding together to save the clubhouse and the paper, and Umi and Shun’s burgeoning love story despite some very Game of Thrones-ian obstacles — everything has a pleasant undertone.

Gorō’s visual aesthetic is almost as good as his father’s, making From Up on Poppy Hill lovely to watch. He injects the scenes with a whimsy that makes the viewer feel upbeat melancholia (if there is such a thing as that!).

Once again, the food scenes rock! Tempura prawns anyone? Or do you prefer to drool over a bento box instead? Or are baked goods more your cup of tea?

Whisper of the Heart (1995): Shizuku Tsukishima is a 14-year old girl from Tokyo who loves books, reading and writing. The movie begins with a depiction of Shizuku’s ordinary home life with her parents and older sister, and then shifts gears when she finds out that every book she borrows from the library has been checked out by the same boy, Seiji Amasawa. Honestly, as a book lover and writer myself, the movie had me at this point already!

What transpires is an absolutely lovely story that plunges Shizuku into a world of antique stores, violin-makers and a cat statuette named Baron (who would later appear in The Cat Returns). Shizuku overcomes her inhibitions about writing and dives deep into a fun storyline with herself and the Baron, finds a guiding spirit in the form of Nishi, the owner of the antique store, and finds love in Seiji (who’s Nishi’s grandson and is training to be a luthier). The Japanese version of John Denver’s “Take me home, Country Roads” is the soundtrack for all this, reminding you of your own teenage years, when your dreams were big, inhibitions were high, crushes meant the world, and you were just discovering rock and roll.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, Whisper of the Heart is visually stunning. Tokyo and its hilly streets and lanes, the many familiar-looking-even-though-you’ve-never-seen-them neighbourhoods and storefronts, the city’s lights (those magical glowing and sometimes-neon lights), the warm loveliness of the antique store and the cosiness of Shizuku’s home and her bedroom in particular, are all just astounding.

I love this movie with all my heart; it makes me feel about Tokyo what Breakfast at Tiffany’s makes me feel about New York — madly in love with the city. Seeing some of the Tokyo neighbourhoods shown in the movie when I visited Japan a few years back, was one of the highlights of my trip. And as always, Ghibli kills it with the food scenes, even making simple things like eating a KitKat and tiredly slurping on udon noodles seem irresistibly warm and fuzzy.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988): This one’s not going to be available on Netflix, but Isao Takahata’s heartbreaking masterpiece will leave you in tears and shocked. Without a doubt. A brother and sister (Seita and Setsuko, who’s just a wee tyke!) fend for themselves during the final days of WWII in Kobe. With their mother dead in a bomb raid and their father fighting in the navy, Takahata portrays the agonising ways in which war means the loss of innocence, of family and of the world as we know it.

It’s not an easy movie to watch, but it’s an absolutely essential one. Taking the action away from the atomic bombings to Kobe is as insightful as it is soul-crushing. And somehow, Isao Takahata finds beauty in that too. I can’t think or write about the movie without getting goosebumps and a chill down my spine, so I’ll just say this — everyone should try and find a copy of Grave of the Fireflies and watch it. You’ll be a better person for it.

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004): The idea of a magical, moving castle with its very own fire demon named Calcifer, seems like the stuff of dreams. But in classic Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli fashion, Howl’s Moving Castle — about a young milliner named Sophie, who’s cursed by a witch and turned into an old woman, and who meets the wizard Howl and gets caught up in his resistance to war with another kingdom — is so much more than a straight-up fairy tale.

Miyazaki made the movie in response to the US’ invasion of Iraq, and with an expected stroke of genius, he managed to make it enjoyable too. While the movie is loosely based on Diana Wynne Jones’ novel of the same name, Miyazaki’s version of Howl’s Moving Castle more prominently features themes of anti-war and feminism.

Despite the humour and magical realism, Miyazaki doesn’t shy away from depicting the darker side of war; as planes drop bombs on innocent civilians, you’re forced to contend with the fact that as much fun as Calcifer and the precarious house on stilted legs are, war will cut through all of it as it leaves everything shattered in its wake.

One of Miyazaki’s most heartfelt movies and an absolute classic, Howl’s Moving Castle (in case you haven’t watched it yet) is worthy of many rewatches…over and over and over again.

My Neighbor Totoro (1988): Studio Ghibli’s fuzzy, cuddly, giant mascot made his debut in this movie that I’m sure everyone knows about. Satsuki and Mei, two young girls and daughters of a university professor, move with their father into an old, somewhat dilapidated house to be close to their mother, who’s in a hospital nearby recovering from an illness. Hoping the house is haunted, the girls are delighted to find tiny dust/soot-like spirits roaming about freely. More magical spirits abound, as the girls befriend the mighty Totoro, and over an unforgettable summer, find friendship and adventure in the unlikeliest of places.

There’s not much I can say about My Neighbour Totoro that hasn’t been said already. The movie is a masterpiece in whimsy, storytelling, warmth and heart. The sisterly love between the siblings, the carefreeness of childhood, their father’s doting nature, the anticipation regarding their mom’s recovery and the subsequent childish stubbornness, and Totoro and the other magical beings — this movie is incomparable with anything else before or since.

I cry when the sisters walk the long way to the bus-stop with the umbrella for their dad in the rain, because he has forgotten his. Or when they leave an ear of the corn on the windowsill of their mother’s hospital room, and their parents know they’ve been there.

I smile wholeheartedly when Totoro takes Satsuki and Mei on a magic Catbus (it’s literally a bus shaped like a giant mellow purring cat) ride through the night. Or when the sisters do the ceremonial dance with Totoro and other smaller spirits, hoping the seeds they’ve sown will grow (the seeds sprout the next morning). Or when those smaller spirits give little Mei the funniest side-eye!

I proudly posed in front of the giant, life-size Totoro at the Studio Ghibli museum in Tokyo. And rewatched the movie when wallowing after the 2016 US elections. One movie. So many emotions. I wouldn’t dare miss this one on Netflix!

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989): We’re all suckers for a good coming-of-age movie, and Hayao Miyazaki gives us the absolute best one with Kiki’s Delivery Service, adapted from the novel of the same name by Eiko Kadono. Young witch Kiki gets on her broom and leaves home when she turns 13, as is tradition. Accompanied by her sassy cat Jiji, Kiki’s plan is to offer her witchy services to the people of a nearby town. But whether you’re 13 in a world with witches or 21 and going off to do your Master’s or 30 and moving to a new country, things are never as simple and straightforward as you’d hoped for. There’s not much of a storyline to the movie, except watching a kickass and enterprising young girl witch start her own business (a delivery service, obviously) and learn to live in a world with new friends and accommodating strangers.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is pure, unadulterated fun, but in classic Miyazaki style, he manages to bring strong themes of self-confidence, identity and independence to the story, thereby preventing it from being too saccharine. Nothing comes easy to Kiki, and in the face of mounting obstacles, she relies on perseverance and determination to overcome them.

The movie is obviously a great source of inspiration to kids and teenagers, but my Kiki-and-Jiji-at-the-bakery souvenir music box will tell you that even in your 20s and 30s, the movie’s message continues to inspire and its artwork continues to astound you!

As always in a Ghibli movie, the food scenes are a delight! Just look at that omelette flip:

Or that casserole!

Ponyo (2008): Rarely has a movie so obviously targeted towards children, made me fall so in love with it! Ponyo riding a literal wave was the theme of my 32nd birthday cake..so you can imagine how much I love this movie. Very, very loosely inspired by The Little Mermaid, Ponyo is Miyazaki at his whimsical best. A tiny goldfish named Ponyo wants to become a human girl, after she befriends a five-year-old human boy named Sōsuke. A lovely friendship ensues, but the marine world goes off-balance because of Ponyo’s “disappearance”.

I don’t quite know how to describe the joy and happiness I experience when watching this movie. The two protagonists are waaayyyy too young to fall in love, there’s a massive Goddess of Mercy, submarines and a scary tsunami, falling satellites, a toy boat that somehow feels real and life-size, and the most delicious-looking bowl of ramen in the history of movies! All of that, along with Hayao Miyazaki’s touch of visually beautiful scenery, makes Ponyo irresistible. The movie makes you feel child-like again.

That bowl of ramen. I mean, come on!

No wonder Ponyo reacts to it the way she does!

I’ll wholeheartedly recommend this movie to everyone and 18/10 would rewatch it every time I get the opportunity.

Spirited Away (2001): Yes, I’m predictable. Spirited Away is kinda, sorta my favourite Studio Ghibli movie, so sue me. In what begins as a nightmarish scenario when her parents turn into pigs, 10-year old Chihiro is trapped in the spirit world (from Japanese Shinto lore) and has to navigate some scary, grotesque and confounding scenarios in order to free her parents.

Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli totally deserved the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature they won for Spirited Away. For the uninitiated, how does one explain why the movie is so awesome? Let’s start with the visuals, which are beyond genius. There’s an unreal level of brilliance to the animation…it’s somehow sharper and more softly rounded at the same time.

There’s a frenzied madness to the events in the movie that are actually quite scary even as a viewer, and yet some moments are terribly calming and tranquil. At the witch Yubaba’s bathhouse, Chihiro has to find the courage within herself to escape and/or adjust. With only the boy Haku and worker Lin to befriend, a lot of the movie is the stuff of children’s nightmares. And even as an adult, you’re left grappling with the enormity of the obstacles she’s faced with. The theme is as old as time, but with added elements of rite-of-passage, capitalism, excess and greed, environmentalism and nostalgia, Spirited Away is in a league of its own, even among other Studio Ghibli films.

If you haven’t watched it already, miss it at your own risk.

Release schedule for all Studio Ghibli films on Netflix —

1 February 2020 1 March 2020 1 April 2020
Castle in the Sky (1986) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) Pom Poko (1994)
My Neighbor Totoro (1988) Princess Mononoke (1997) Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999) Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Only Yesterday (1991) Spirited Away (2001) Ponyo on the Cliff By The Sea (2008)
Porco Rosso (1992) The Cat Returns (2002) From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)
Ocean Waves (1993) Arrietty (2010) The Wind Rises (2013)
Tales From Earthsea (2006) The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013) When Marnie Was There (2014)

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Updated Date: Feb 16, 2020 10:33:04 IST