It’s a strange thing to believe that live-action movies and animated movies are both considered the same medium. Of course, the two have a lot in common, and most live-action movies could quite easily be recreated as animated films. The reverse, however, is not true. Imagination is one of the things that unites and separates these two types of films. Because both are visual aids, they require the imagination of the creators to bring something beautiful to the screen. In the case of animation, animators are not bound by the boundaries of the real world when looking for something to represent.
Studio Ghibli is one of the only production studios to capitalize on this essential quality of animation: limitless imagination in every work they produce. These films, many of which have been painstakingly animated frame-by-frame by talented 2D artists, convey an incredibly unique sense of wonder and joy about the world. Even the imaginative power of words cannot capture what makes these films so truly different, they beg to be seen and understood by people’s eyes and minds. Now that the entire Ghibli catalog is available through HBO Max, there is no longer an excuse not to see them in all their beauty. Here are 9 Studio Ghibli films, ranked.
9 Kiki’s delivery service
Kiki’s delivery service follows Kiki, a 13-year-old witch who opens a delivery service by using her flying broom to deliver items to people. Doubly romantic, Kiki continually crosses paths with Tombo, a wide-eyed young boy who admires his ability to fly. Every element of Ghibli’s impressive production skills is on display in this film, which offers a memorable score, great voice acting, and a gripping story. The animators have a special eye for capturing small moments, like that of Kiki sleeping in a wagon with the light of the environment passing in front of her face with the movement of the train. These moments are the reason why Studio Ghibli films are often referred to as “humanistic”. They give these characters and their inner lives a rich depth that is as fascinating as it is beautifully animated.
8 Castle in the sky
If the floating city Laputa seems to be derived from a steampunk adventure story, it’s because this film was possibly one of the biggest inspiration for the steampunk aesthetic. In Castle in the sky, an airship is attacked by hijackers looking for a crystal pendant, a key to the legendary city of Laputa, which is said to be teeming with the riches of a lost civilization. A princess, lost after the airship attack, must ensure Laputa’s safety with the help of an orphan named Pazu. One of the first films produced by Studio Ghibli, it was the first widely distributed success of the formula that would make Studio Ghibli world famous: a fantastical aesthetic well realized and idealistic young characters charged with saving their communities.
seven My neighbor Totoro
Not much is happening in My neighbor Totoro, and incredibly, this is a film that pulls the chords hard anyway. Two young girls move into a new house with their father and discover the conviviality in the environment of their house and its surrounding land. The plot follows their journey to be inducted into the vibrant spirit world, none of which is particularly harmful. The magic of My neighbor Totoro is in the imagination of spirits and their design, which is inspired by Japanese mythology and other inspirations. Some of these creatures, like the catbus, are some of the most endearing designs to ever come to life.
6 Heart murmur
When Ghibli movies don’t involve incredibly high stakes, they typically focus on a lower storytelling scale, and Heart murmur is an example. It’s a simple love story told in a Japanese urban setting following two school-aged characters. The premise is heightened by the delicate and lively sensibility that filmmakers adopt to portray love in a youthful urban environment. Each of the story sets come to life through these small moments showing characters interacting with their environment, lounging on chairs, making tea, etc. These moments of pause and meditation are what make this story feel like a truly universal one that anyone who has ever loved can relate to. Watch this movie with an open heart and a cup of tea for the best, most peaceful viewing experience. A live-action sequel produced by Sony Entertainment was originally planned, but delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
5 the Grave of the Fireflies
the Grave of the Fireflies is a major departure from much of Studio Ghibli’s work, eliminating much of the romantic childhood themes that underpin most of their films. Instead, the film focuses on two Japanese teenagers who struggle to survive during the last days of World War II, around the time of Japan’s surrender. There’s a reason audiences to the film express deep grief for viewing this film – it’s undeniably heartbreaking. Just as humanistic as Ghibli’s other films, this one chooses to resurrect the deep and lingering scars of the trauma of war and its ruthless effect on children. It’s best to be emotionally prepared when watching this one.
4 Howl’s moving castle
Loosely based on the 1986 novel of the same name, Howl’s moving castle is the story of a young girl, Sophie, cursed by a witch to appear as an old woman, who meets a cynical and enigmatic wizard named Howl. Hayao Miyazaki, who directs most of Ghibli’s work, directed the film in opposition to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. As such, it has strong anti-war themes expressed through Howl’s resistance. to the king’s advances in this fictitious country. The aesthetic of the film is a unique blend of newer technology and medieval architecture that makes this fantasy world even more alive. Sophie’s journey to break Howl’s curse and ineffective cynicism becomes a delightful tale of the value of life and the wisdom conferred by old age.
3 Princess mononoke
Several Ghibli films include heavy environmental themes, and Princess mononoke is the film that most celebrates and sanctifies the earth. In a world resembling feudal Japan, gods and demons that take the form of animals act as a natural deterrent to humans foraying into the natural world. Prince Ashitaka travels the country to find the cure for a mysterious disease that spreads among animals and humans alike. He meets Mononoke, a human princess allied to the wolf goddess, and together they must stop a faction of humanity determined to take control of the natural world. There is a strong subtext in this film about humanity’s place in the larger universe and the sanctity of plant and animal life that will resonate with a climate-conscious audience and all who have already understood the need to protect the planet’s biodiversity. The film was so popular outside of Japan that it was even adapted for the stage, which was also well received.
2 Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Set in a post-post-apocalyptic future (1000 years after an apocalyptic event), Nausicaa presents a vision of a world where giant mutant insects evolved to protect the rest of plant life on earth. A girl capable of communicating with insects must ensure that a faction of humanity does not reactivate a Giant Warrior, one of the robotic abominations responsible for the destruction of Earth. Even 40 years ago, the aesthetic presented by this film is the product of a large and vivid imagination. Small single-seat planes, insect-inspired armor, giant beetles and 20th-century airships alongside rural villages make Nausicaa a visually unique experience. Delicate interpersonal moments interspersed with large, eye-catching action scenes make this one of Studio Ghibli’s best titles.
1 Abducted as if by magic
Studio Ghibli’s greatest creation is the most critically acclaimed. Having been one of Japan’s highest-grossing films for many years after its release, Abducted as if by magic has become a household name as far away as the United States. The story of young Chihiro’s coming of age and her journey out of the wizarding world resonates with anyone who has ever felt left behind by the pace of the modern world. Each picture in Abducted as if by magic teeming with life, from iconic moonlit public baths to dreamlike, flooded railroad tracks. The film is a gripping meditation on what growing up means and the importance of keeping a young mind, and the filmmakers put as much magic as possible into this execution. Joe Hisaishi’s sheet music makes every scene seem much larger than life, and these elements taken together create a powerful argument for living life to the fullest and celebrating all the moments spent in the company of loved ones.
Eros wouldn’t have appeared in this Eternals credit scene if Harry Styles hadn’t been cast, as that’s what Chloe Zhao wanted in the role from the start.
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