– by Dylan D
As we get older and older it’s harder to relate to the child still within us all. We’ll always be children at heart, but it’s pretty difficult to forget about school, work, bills, family and whatnot just so you can have the innocent fun of being a kid. My freshman year of college I was living away from home; never in my life did I feel like such an outcast. I’d bottle myself up in my dorm room whenever I didn’t have to go to class. There were a few rays of light in those dark times; one of them being Studio Ghibli.
If you don’t know who Studio Ghibli is, that’s pretty fair. Most of their movies are marketed by Disney in the United States, but they’re not actually the ones creating these animated adventures, it’s Ghibli. Anyway, for over a week in college every night I would bundle up in blankets and watch one Ghibli film of my choice. By now I’ve seen the majority and love the company for their amazing animation detail, magical feeling and grand themes. These movies made me feel like a kid again; they helped me smile during a time where that seemed impossible, and for that I love them.
And I know I’m three days late, but Hayao Miyazaki, Happy Birthday. Thank you for the endless inspiration.
5. Kiki’s Delivery Service
It’s hard for me to put Kiki down at the bottom of this list because it’s the first Ghibli movie I actually liked during my marathon. The main character Kiki is a kind young woman who sets out to find out her “skill”, like all witches do (told you there was magic).
What follows is a kind, gentle and thoughtful story wrapped around a beautiful setting and great cast of characters. The English voice cast of Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman (R.I.P) and more convey the emotions perfectly.
Kiki’s Delivery Service tackles themes of writers block and finding inspiration; it’s a movie that can teach both the kid and adult within you. And for something made in 1989, it still looks fantastic.
4. Grave of the Fireflies
I love Japanese entertainment because of how stark it is compared to American entertainment. Think of any American war movie. They’re usually about soldiers rising to glory, with a few tragedies along the way. Very rarely do you see the civilians side of war.
Grave of the Fireflies taught me to count my lucky stars and feel gifted to live where I do. Unfortunately for the siblings Seita and Setsuko, they live in Japan during World War II where it was pretty normal to be attacked on a daily basis. Seita being the older brother tries to provide something along the lines of a good life to his little sister, but it’s obviously a struggle with the war going on.
Lately Grave of the Fireflies has seem to be criticized in certain areas but if you’ve seen this movie and didn’t feel anything then I’d be genuinely shocked. The themes of love, survival and the entire concept of war are tackled wonderfully.
I know the director of the film, Isao Takahata, says that his film isn’t anti-war; but damn if it doesn’t feel like it. Hayao Miyazaki (director and writer of many Ghibli films) basically taught me throughout his movies that war is pointless. If I ever want to make that point to my friends or family, Grave of the Fireflies is going into the DVD player.
3. Princess Mononoke
Human life isn’t the only life that Ghibli films teach viewers to respect, don’t forget about nature.
It may seem like blasphemy to not put this in the number one spot so I’ll explain. I love this film for it’s heroic and truly epic main characters Ashitaka and San; their motivations and dedication throughout the movie are always explicitly stated and felt. I’m putting all the chips on the table and saying that Princess Mononoke has the best scenery in any animated film ever. The dream-like forests, valleys and mountains are stunning even in it’s 1997 animation.
Ashitaka, the amazing landscapes and grand story make me feel like this is the closest we’ll get to an animated Legend of Zelda film. But beyond that comparison lies a cinematic masterpiece in its own right.
My only gripe with the film is the last third; everything seemed to get wrapped up too quickly and things didn’t work out the way I pictured. But besides that, the messages of protecting the environment scream even louder today when we live in a world of global warming. Miyazaki and Ghibli struck gold once again.
2. Whisper of the Heart
Yeah, say something! I like a corny love movie over a fantasy-epic like Mononoke, so what?
Let me explain. I live in New York City, and I’m at the time of my life where I need to soon figure out what I’m going to do with my life. Whisper of the Heart SCREAMS to me at the moment. It wasn’t until my second viewing that the messages really spoke out to me.
Yes it’s a little bizarre that middle school kids are so fixated on what jobs they’ll have for the rest of their lives and who they’ll marry. But if you can get around that and see that age doesn’t matter and they’re still people with the same problems as us, then it touches you.
Whisper of the Heart also speaks out to me because of the desire to create. The main characters all want to make something with their lives and inspire others, just like me and many others. I was absolutely captivated by the peaceful vibe this movie had and the messages it was sending to me.
It made me ask myself: “Have I ever met someone with a dream so strong they inspired me to chase my own?”
Beautiful. No other movie has done that to me. That’s why Whisper of the Heart triumphs over a fantasy-epic like Princess Mononoke in my eyes.
Now allow me to contradict that last statement.
1. Castle in the Sky
It’s Sunday. You’re off of work. Rain drips down the gutters and bounces off your roof. There’s nothing to do and no reason to go outside. I’m sorry Princess Mononoke, but Castle in the Sky is the animated adventure movie in my eyes.
Where do I start? I’m willing to make the bold statement that Castle in the Sky is to movies as Treasure Island is to books; it’s a fantasy staple. The main character Pazu is selfless, his main goal isn’t as basic as Ashitaka saving his own life. No, Pazu wants to prove his dead father wasn’t a liar. Sheeta wants peace, and doesn’t contradict herself by fighting for that peace. Muska the villain wants power that he believes belongs to him. Dola and her gang grow maybe more than anyone in the movie. Each character has real and personal motivation, because of that each character (even the quiet robot) is almost addictive to watch.
For their very first film, Studio Ghibli didn’t cheap out on the detail. The busy city streets are beautiful and contrast wonderfully with Laputa. Laputa is one of the best settings I’ve seen in an adventure film and hits the same level of quality as Princess Mononoke’s scenery.
The main theme here is preservation; just like Mononoke, saving nature and fighting for what you believe in is the definition of the film.
It may run a little long but each scene is jam packed with something to feel and something to enjoy. Castle in the Sky has it all: adventure, dreams, love, change, evil to triumph over, and most of all, meaning.
So there you have it, just five of many great films made by Studio Ghibli. If you haven’t seen any of their films, I’d recommend doing what I did and watch one a night for a week. It’s a fun way to unwind after a day of work/school.
Thanks for reading, let me know your favorite Ghibli movie down in the comments!