Founded in 1985, by two friends and long-time collaborators, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, Studio Ghibli has become the face of Japanese anime. What began as a passion project, has turned into a worldwide phenomenon. Three decades, more than 20 classic and best Studio Ghibli movies of all time remain a fan-favorite of anime lovers from around the world.
Studio Ghibli recently announced their 2021 U.S Fest featuring the best Studio Ghibli movies. It will kick start from October and run till December 2021. The festival will be a celebration of beloved Studio Ghibli films such as ‘My Neighbor Totoro’, and ‘Grave of the Fireflies’.
To celebrate the best Ghibli films and get all of you, anime-lovers, ready for the Studio Ghibli 2021 Fest, we have prepared a list of the 10 best Studio Ghibli movies. They are the celebration of Miyazaki’s spirit. So without any further ado, let’s dive straight into the list right away that we have personally found to be our favorite.
10. Howl’s Moving Castle
Starting off the list is Hayao Miyazaki’s cult classic, Howl’s Moving Castle. It is one of the best Studio Ghibli movies. It is about Sophie whose life changes when she befriends Howl, a wizard who lives in a magical castle. Miyazaki’s films often deal with adult themes and Howl’s Moving Castle is an example of that.
Here too he merges adult themes like anti-violence and women empowerment in its narrative. The film, at its core, is an anti-war film. Miyazaki viciously opposed the Iraq war and thus he made this film in retaliation to it.
9. The Wind Rises
Another Miyazaki film on this list, The Wind Rises is all kinds of brilliant. The film is about the famous Japanese Aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi who created the A6M World War 2 fighter plane.
Unlike many Ghibli films, what makes The Wind Rises stand out is that it is a true story. But trust Miyazaki to make even the truth seem magical and fantastical. For many Ghibli fans, this film is Miyazaki’s most personal film as it is about a perfectionist, a visionary, stuck in reality. Much like the filmmaker himself.
8. Only Yesterday
Only Yesterday is a romantic drama by Isao Takahata. The best Studio Ghibli movie is about Taeko Okajima, an unmarried career-driven woman who decides to take a small trip outside of Tokyo.
She travels to visit her sister’s family in the rural Yamagata region. The film is all about the journey she takes to get there and what it reveals about her. Unlike other Ghibli films, Only Yesterday lacks many fantasy elements. But that is exactly what makes the film so special. Only Yesterday is a deeply empathetic and human story about growing up.
7. Kiki’s Delivery Service
Kiki’s Delivery Service is yet again a Miyazaki classic, classified under one of the best Studio Ghibli movies. The film is about a 13-year-old kid, Kiki, who moves to a coastal town with her talking cat. (Yes, you heard it right!)
Her interest behind the visit is to learn the witch crafting tradition of her village. As she learns more and more about what it takes to become a witch, she begins to find a purpose. This seemingly straightforward yet fantasy storyline gives Miyazaki and company ample space to talk about mature themes. The film, albeit being a children’s film, talks a lot about purpose, growing up, and freedom.
6. Princess Mononoke
Princess Mononoke is Miyazaki’s angriest film ever. The film was a breakthrough for the Japanese anime industry and is perhaps the only Studio Ghibli film that is not for kids. The film is about a young boy called Ashitaka who gets infected after a vicious animal attack him. He thus sets out to find a cure for the infection and during the journey learns about the ways of humankind.
The film deals with humanity and its relationship with nature. Environment preservation has been a recurring theme in many Studio Ghibli films but Princess Mononoke takes the cake here.
5. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
This film led to the founding of Studio Ghibli and therefore fans of the studio always put on top of the best Studio Ghibli movies. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, where life has become uninhabitable on earth. Much of humanity is wiped out and only a few remain alive.
Amidst this, a young boy Nausicaa lives in the valley of the wind and can communicate easily with insects. Soon under the guidance of Lord Yupa, a veteran warrior, Nausicaa works to bring peace into the world. The film again talks about the need for environmental preservation.
4. Grave of the Fireflies
Grave of the Fireflies is the most ‘adult’ film of Studio Ghibli because of its horrific depiction of World War 2. The film is about a teenage girl, Seita who is in charge of taking care of her young sister after the American bombing during world war 2.
Isao Takahata’s film is a meditation on war, separation, and the cost of sacrifice during times of distress. Grave of the Fireflies is perhaps one of the greatest anti-war films ever. The fact that it’s an animation film speaks highly of Takahata’s talent.
3. Castle in the Sky
Castle in the Sky is the first Studio Ghibli film and yet it stands among its best. That’s the power of Miyazaki’s storytelling. The film is about Young orphan Sheeta who gets kidnapped by Colonel Muska. While he is taking her to a military prison, a bunch of pirates attacks his ship. Escaping from him, Sheeta finds the magical city of Laputa. Miyazaki does here what he does best; mixing elements of reality and magical realism in the most beautiful way.
2. My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro is about Mei and Satsuki who move to a new house to stay close to their sick mother. Soon they become good friends with Totoro, a giant rabbit-like creature who is a living spirit.
Together the three of them go on an epic adventure. Nothing more can be said about Hayao Miyazaki that hasn’t already been said. The film is close to many Ghibli fans who cite it as the gateway drug for newbies to dig their teeth into the magic of Ghibli studios.
1. Spirited Away
The story of a 10-year-old girl, Chihiro, who gets lost in a town of ghosts filled with weird witches, ghosts, and creatures has become a modern classic. Since its release, Spirited Away has become the most celebrated work of Hayao Miyazaki and deservingly so. The film is filled with layers of modern themes, Japanese cultures, and outlandish fantasy elements.
The fact that the film won an Academy award is just the cherry on top. Spirited Away, in a sense, has everything that Studio Ghibli stands for and fans cannot get enough of it.
In the meantime, another set of Studio Ghibli films Porco Rosso and From Up on Poppy Hill have been nominated to receive limited edition SteelBook Blu-ray and DVD combo packs. They are produced by GKIDS and distributed by Shout! Factory to be released on September 21.
Apart from these 2 Studio Ghibli movies, 12 more films have received SteelBook releases in the past. They Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo, The Cat Returns, Whisper of The Heart, The Secret World of Arrietty, The Wind Rises and Earwig and the Witch.
I know that you will be having your own set of the best Studio Ghibli movies. I will be delighted to hear your choice. Share with me in the comments box below!