Here is part two of my Studio Ghibli films ranking list (5-1)! Click here for part 1.
5. My Neighbor Totoro
As children, didn’t we all want to leave behind our daily worries and live in our own fantasy world? Young sisters Mei and Satsuki are very imaginative and happy girls. However, their mother faces a dangerous but unspecified illness, which worries them and their father. In order to to cope with their mother’s illness, the sisters find solace by having adventures with totoros (fuzzy bear/cat-like creatures). This animated movie may look visually cheery and bright, but it can be interpreted as a deep and complex allegory on the loss of childhood innocence and the methods of childhood coping.
4. Spirited Away
Spirited Away transcends the very concept of anime. It’s a film that proves anime naysayers that the style actually can be a high art form when done correctly. It is the only anime to win an Academy Award. It is also the film that opened Miyazaki to America and the West. And all the recognition is rather odd: Spirited Away is a downright bizarre film and probably Ghibli’s most visually experimental one. The movie details the the plight of a girl lost in a spiritual realm after wandering into an abandoned amusement park. She must try to find her way back home, while discovering herself in the process. Part The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, this gem offers a novel approach to being lost. Also, a masterful soundtrack creates a tranquil atmosphere (give “One Summer’s Day” a listen, a track that encapsulates the film’s emotions).
3. Castle in the Sky
Romantic action-adventure films are genuine crowd-pleasers. Cinemas’s most-loved movies fall into this category: Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Princess Bride, Casablanca, among others. Castle in the Sky is one of those with its epic scope, thrilling action sequences, unlikely heroes, fantastical locations, grandiose soundtrack and heartfelt emotions. Ghibli’s most straightforward story follows Pazu and his hopes of reaching the fabled kingdom in the skies, Laputa. Along the way, he meets Sheeta, a young princess, and the two embark on a mission to save Laputa from a power-hungry madman. Dashing, exhilarating, comical, and a visually stunning artistic achievement, Castle in the Sky stands as one of the best adventure films of all time.
2. Grave of the Fireflies
Excuse me while I gather my emotions. Isao Takahata’s best film is a reflection on the loss of innocence, similar to My Neighbor Totoro. However, instead of taking place at a Japanese countryside like Totoro, Grave of the Fireflies is set in a firebombed village during WWII. 14-year-old Seita and his 4-year-old sister Setsuko must learn to fend for themselves after their mother is killed in a firebomb. Seita must act as a guardian to his sister, who fully understands the difficulties of war but still clings to her fantasy world for solace. An incredibly memorable moment (both visually and thematically) involves the death of fireflies that Setsuko has been watching over; it is in this moment that her fantasy world collapses.
1. Princess Mononoke
Princess Mononoke can be seen as the exact opposite of Castle in the Sky. Both films are romantic action-adventure epics, but unlike Castle, Mononoke‘s “heroes” and “villains” are anything but that. The film’s two opposing forces (the animals and spirits in the forest vs. the citizens of Iron Town) are naturally, but not maliciously, in conflict. Those in Iron Town are ready to expand their territory into the forest because that’s what civilizations naturally do when populations grow. The animals and spirits call the forest their home, so they defend it at all costs. Conflict cannot be avoided and is part of balance. The film seems like it sides with nature, but it illustrates Iron Town’s leader, Lady Eboshi, as a caring individual who treats people with leprosy. The point is that neither side can win an ecological war, so both sides must make painful compromises. In addition to Princess Mononoke’s engaging plot and brilliant themes, it boasts one of cinema’s most memorable and powerful musical scores ever. Seriously.
In conclusion: thank you Studio Ghibli, thank you.