My Top-10 Studio Ghibli/Hayao Miyazaki films


Okay sorry, apparently Ghibli isn’t so much closing down as it is re-assessing its future in the wake of financial difficulties. Never the less, I’ve been planning to redo this Top-10 for a while, so it’s nice I finally got around to it.

Of course there’s a few more not on the list worth mentioning, but I’ll just spare a few words for Grave of the Fireflies. A good movie? Yes. But don’t watch it unless you’re okay with feeling profoundly sad at the end of it.

Alright, on with the list…

Sad news, Studio Ghibli is closing down. Although I’ve kind of gone off from their films in the past few years, I wont lie about the fact that many of Studio Ghibli’s films were great and I still consider absolute must-sees for anyone who loves anime or just good animation in general. So as an Im Memoriam to the studio, here are the 10 Studio Ghibli movies I liked the best.

PorcoRosso10. Porco Rosso

This is one of the earliest Ghibli movies I ever saw and while its novelty has worn out a tad, it’s still a recommended watch. The movie is about a heroic mid-World Wars fighter pilot who was turned into a man-pig by some odd force. He does good by shooting down bad guys and being a legend amongst the fighter circles (think Dick Dastardly and Muttley but cooler). The movie takes a turn (and I use this word liberally) when he becomes the target of a jealous big-shot pilot who blows his plane to shit and he then has to go to Italy to fix it.

Porco Rosso is one of those movies which is actually pretty light on the story but heavy on the mood and character interaction. The thing about the movie is that the story of Porco which isn’t fully seen is actually more interesting than a lot of the stuff that happens in the film. That’s not to say the film’s boring. There’s awesome plane animation of dog fights and even just general tom-foolery. The movie finds a good balance of story, mood and comedy.

This movie still hangs in my top-10 mainly for its cool protagonist. Beyond that, it’s not necessarily Ghibli writing at its finest (as it is in fact a manga adaption).

thecatreturns9. The Cat Returns

This is a weird spin-off from a prior Ghibli movie Whisper of the Heart, which focuses on the character of the Baron, smooth as fuck cat in a suit. It’s literally a movie based on a character that was only featured in a fantasy sequence in another film. For that it’s actually surprisingly awesome.

The story is about a teenage girl who saves a cat from being run over, goes to the kingdom of the cats, starts turning into a cat herself and becomes the object of obsession for a disgusting cat king. And the Baron and his friends try to save her. That’s pretty much the movie’s plot in a nut-shell.

Again, this movie isn’t Ghibli’s writing at its finest, but it’s a really fun action-packed adventure film. It’s not too long and the action and comedy keep it from becoming stale. The initial premise sounds kind of goofy, but it just has a lot going for it as a film over-all.

If you’re looking for an easy landing into Studio Ghibli films, I recommend this one.

HowlsMovingCastle8. Howl’s Moving Castle

Admittedly, Howl’s Moving Castle wasn’t my favourite film from Ghibli when it first came out and even on subsequent viewings it feels a little incoherent and rushed. However, the movie is just pure magic which is why it got on the list. Howl’s a weird dude with magic powers and, as the title suggest, a moving castle. He befriends a girl named Sophie, who is then visited by a witch who turns her into an old lady. Sophie find’s Howl’s castle and all kinds of crazy shit happens to them.

Howl’s Moving Castle is a very, very loose adaption of a novel by the same name and the main things it has going for itself is a strong and, I’d say for Ghibli, an unusually mature mood. There’s a lot of goofball characters to get acquainted with and Sophie’s story is definitely the beating heart of the film. However, like I said, in the midst of the action-scenes and everything, the movie perhaps turns a little incoherent and messy.

It’s still a great ride.

Totoro7. My Neighbour Totoro

This movie is sometimes called “the film about nothing” and that’s fairly accurate. The movie is about two girls who move to a house in the countryside. The younger of the girls discovers a gigantic, furry creature called Totoro living in the near-by woods as well as freaky sooth-spirits living in their attic. Later, her older sister also meets Totoro.

The whole movie is basically about the antics that the two girls get off to with Totoro and the mini-Totoros who accompany him. Other than a few plot details such as the girls’ mother being in the hospital, there’s no real story-drive until the final act when the smaller of the two girls goes missing.

Totoro is a movie that should be watched with an open mind. It’s thankfully not boring with its many silly sequences, but definitely a movie that some people will find hard to follow in the absence of coherent storyline.

WhisperoftheHeart6. Whisper of the Heart

In my opinion a criminally under-appreciated film. The movie focuses on the trials and tribulations of a high school girl and a gifted violin-playing boy she meets by chance. This is yet another movie with very little in the sense of an actual storyline as it focuses more on the boy’s and girl’s future plans and their developing relationship.

For that, people may find it a bit boring. However, the film has a lot of nice details like the songs and the girl’s plans of becoming a novelist. The character interaction is what sells it to me and I think the movie has a lot of subtext.

The finale feels a bit sudden and rushed, but it’s over-all a very non-typical movie from Ghibli and, in my opinion, the best of their more contemporary, non-fantasy films.

5. Ponyo

PonyoIn my opinion, Ghibli’s last outstanding film. Ponyo is also very light with the story although there’s a lot more to it than in e.g. Totoro or The Cat Returns. The story is about a fish named Ponyo who befriends a little boy called Sosuke. On the off-set of this, there’s a flood and Ponyo turns into a human so she can be with the little boy. After the boy’s mother disappears, the two go on a quest with a steam-boat to find her.

Ponyo has a lot of vibrant energy and it’s an incredibly adorable movie. The support characters are also memorable, whether we’re talking about Ponyo’s crazy-haired dad, the old ladies in the nursing home or even Sosuke’s mom. The animation is superb and the character chemistry is great.

Ponyo also flows really well and even though the main storyline starts relatively late in the film, it doesn’t feel dragged out.

Yamadas4. My Neighbours, the Yamadas

My Neighbours, the Yamadas is a very unconventional film. It’s an episodic feature drawn in a style more common to strip-comics than a Ghibli movie. However, it’s also one of the stand-out films from the studio. The film features the antics of a Japanese family and all the trouble they get into, from losing the young daughter in a shopping mall to the mother tricking the teenage son into making dinner out of laziness.

The film follows a strong punchline format with longer segments with a continuous story to keep the film going. Episodic movies are generally difficult to make in a way where they wont become boring, which is why this one works so well with its abundance of relatable comedy.

I feel this is another Ghibli movie most people dismiss or ignore because they think it doesn’t feature the studio’s iconic awe-inspiring animation (it actually does, at least in the beginning and finale) – but I recommend watching it, if you have a liking for strip comics.

Cagliostro3. Castle of Cagliostro

This a pre-Ghibli era Hayao Miyazaki production and probably the most famous of the movie adaptions of Lupin III. In the film, the gentleman-pervert thief takes it upon himself to help Clarisse, who is being forced into marriage with the greedy and self-serving Count Cagliostro. The film features the iconic characters from the Lupin series, a lot of action and comedy – and is just generally a well put-together adventure film.

From the opening chase-scene, to Lupin running across the rooftops of the Castle, to the epic finale in the clock tower, there’s not a single boring moment in the film. It also has a much more coherent story than a lot of other Lupin movies I’ve seen and it’s also probably one of the best interpretations of the character. The movie perhaps cleans up Lupin’s behaviour from other media, but utilises its cast well, whether it’s the ninja butler or Lupin’s crack-shot right hand man Jigen.

Lupin just gets adapted into a lot of terrible crap, so if you want a fun-filled and well-produced adventure from the Ghibli master himself, this movie is a must see.

SpiritedAway2. Spirited Away

Spirited Away was the movie that really made me aware of Hayao Miyazaki (though I had seen Totoro and Porco Rosso before it) and it still stands out for me in his filmography as his best written film. The movie follows the story of Chihiro, a girl whose family wanders into a spirit town. Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs and Chihiro herself is saved by a spirit called Haku. Haku hides Chihiro in the bath-house of gods and spirits run by the witch Yubaba.

Chihiro slowly works her way towards rescuing her parents when a creature called the Faceless One appears and causes all sorts of havoc in the bath-house.

Spirited Away is just an awesome film for all the freaky creatures featured in it. I also enjoy the fact that the story follows the story of a single protagonist so closely and you really can’t help but to empathise with Chihiro. There are of course funny support characters, but for me, this film stands out because of its central protagonist.

Spirited Away is another great introductory film to Ghibli and this time with far more developed story-telling which is why it remains as one of my all time favourites.

LaputaCastleintheSky1. Laputa – Castle in the Sky

Laputa starts as the story of a girl named Sheeta, who while traveling on an airship tries to escape from air-pirates and falls off. However, a magic amulet around her neck, slows her fall and she’s discovered by a miner boy named Pazu. Pazu is obsessed with finding the floating city of Laputa, and as Pazu and Sheeta evade the air-pirates more, they discover that Sheeta’s family has some connection to it all.

Eventually, a government agent called Muska reveals to Sheeta that she’s the heir of the royal court of Laputa and that her amulet leads to the city. Pazu then joins the air pirates who rescue Sheeta from a military base when a suddenly reactivated Laputan war-robot wreaks havoc upon it. Afterwards, the heroes chase the military to Laputa to uncover its secrets.

When I first saw Laputa, I was forced to watch it entirely in Japanese without understanding what any of the characters said. And I loved every minute of it. Laputa is the kind of movie that just fills you with wonderment. The characters are all memorable and likeable, from the main heroic duo to the Air Pirates to the villainous Muska and from the crazy old man in the mines to the many colourful people in the mining village. There’s also a lot of action, but it’s the character interaction that makes this movie so great, as well there’s just a lot of comedy and great moments. This is a film that just doesn’t slow down, and I also think the score by Joe Hisaishi is just superb.

I love Laputa with every fibre of my being. It’s not just my favourite Ghibli or Miyazaki movie, it’s one of my favourite movies of all time and I highly recommend it to everyone.