Top Ten Studio Ghibli movies (5-1)

Here is part two of my Studio Ghibli films ranking list (5-1)! Click here for part 1.

totoro
Mei and Satsuki hanging out with the lovable and carefree Totoro, whom they see to escape the realities of their own lives.

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.

spirited away
Sen (the film’s protagonist) on a train with No Face, one of many interesting characters she encounters in the spiritual realm in “Spirited Away.”

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).

castle in sky
Sheeta and Pazu gaze into the sky after reaching Laputa, the fabled sky kingdom. “Castle in the Sky” is a classic adventure film drizzled with truly spectacular moments, both exhilarating and meditative.

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.

grave
Seita and Setsuko must confront the realities of war as they slowly lose all forms of retreat — even their imaginations.

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 TotoroGrave 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.

monokoe 2
San and Ashitaka, two of many important characters in the epic ‘Princess Mononoke,” a film realistically ambiguous about humans vs. nature.

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.

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9 thoughts on “Top Ten Studio Ghibli movies (5-1)

      1. I really love Arietty as well. The director is very good, still cant wait to see when Marnie Was There. I would rank Arietty around 12 or 13. I really love it for its art style and moving relationship between the human protagonist and the Borrow protagonist. I am planning on ranking the other Ghibli films soon; still have 4 more to see though.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. So agree. It’s one of their more gentle films. You will love Marnie. I still have a bunch of anime I need to see! Catch up! Another I love of theirs was Tale of Princess Kaguya. It’s one that took me several watches before I fell in love with it even though I liked it visually.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I will see Marnie soon, so excited! I saw Kaguya once, but I couldn’t immediately connect with it. Maybe because it was Japanese that I couldn’t fully grasp everything. I will definitely give it another view at some point. But the visuals, wow! Takahata is a genius.

        Liked by 1 person

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