While there are many animated films on the market, none of them are more celebrated than Studio Ghibli movies. With its breathtaking hand drawn scenery and it’s beautiful storytelling, no other studio even comes close to their level of uniqueness and ability to stir up emotions in the viewer. If you haven’t seen any of these gorgeous films, here are my top five that you absolutely need to watch.
5. The Tale of Princess Kaguya. I watched this movie a couple of months ago and it broke me, especially the ending. It’s about an elderly couple who find a small nymph inside of a bamboo stalk one day and decide to take her in to raise her as one of their own. The child grows extremely fast, and soon becomes a beautiful young woman. As well as stumbling upon the child, the elderly man also finds gold and fine cloth which he takes as a sign that the child is royalty. He relocates his family to the capitol where the child, now a young woman, is being taught how to be a princess which she struggles with deeply. As simple as the animation is, it’s beautiful to look at and the music fits so well with the style as well as the plot itself. A definite must watch.
4. My Neighbor Totoro. My Neighbor Totoro is about two girls who move to the countryside with their father to live closer to their mother who is sick in the hospital. Not long after they move in, they come across a giant rabbit-like creature who turns out to be a spirit and quickly befriend it. It’s been a while since I’ve watched this one, but I enjoyed it for two reasons. One, the scenery is just breathtaking. The way the wind blows through greenery looks so smooth that sometimes you forget this is an animated movie. Again, the soundtrack is beautiful and fits the theme of the film to a tee.
3. Howl’s Moving Castle. Loosely based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Dianne Wynne Jones, we meet young Sophie who comes across a witch that casts a spell on her, turning her into a 90 year old woman. In attempt to break the curse, she leaves the countryside when a scarecrow leads to her to a moving Castle belonging to a wizard named Howl. She strikes a deal with one of the castle’s residents, Calcifer, who in exchange will break her curse if she helped him become freed of Howl. Again the movie is beautiful and the food that’s cooked in it looks so delicious and mouthwatering.
2. Princess Mononoke. Ashitaka is out hunting one day when he’s infected by an animal possessed by a demon. He leaves his village to seek out a cure and while on his journey, he sees the corruption that humans are causing which are disrupting the peace between the gods and humanity. He meets San, a companion to the wolf goddess, and learns that she resents humankind because of the destruction they cause. There’s a lot to unpack but be warned that his movie is a bit gory so if you’re squeamish, this movie might not be for you. The scenery and creature design are stunning and the soundtrack sounds very much like the final movie on this list. I highly recommend this as one of the darker Ghibli films.
1. Spirited Away. Last but certainly not least, Spirited Away is my absolute favorite Ghibli film of all time. Ten year old Chihiro and her parents move to a new town but get lost on the drive to their new home. They come across an old tunnel which leads them to a large field occupied by an abandoned amusement park. After her parents are turned into pigs when eating the park food, Chihiro meets Haku who tells her that the park is a getaway for supernatural beings who need a break from the human world. In order to free herself and her parents from the spirit world, she must work at the bathhouse under the name Sen. Haku warns her that if she forgets her real name, she’ll be trapped in the spirit world forever. There aren’t enough words to describe how much I love this movie. It was my very first Ghibli movie (that I can remember) that I watched and it’s a great starting film if you’re new to the studio’s creations.
You can start off with any Ghibli movie so it doesn’t have to be any of these or in any particular order for that matter. These are just some recommendations to get you started if you’re not familiar with Ghibli films. They’re all equally beautiful and deserve all the praise in the world. You can find some of them on Netflix on select countries as well as HBO Max which is only available in the US.