There’s something about animated films that captures people’s hearts. Although some would say that these are not as powerful as live-action films as the characters are two-dimensional, the stories these movies lay down before the viewers and the message they relay are just as great and worthy of the same recognition as those films that feature real human actors. And when we talk about animated films, the first that comes to mind is the Japanese film industry, especially the film studio giant Studio Ghibli.
The home to the Academy Award–winning film Spirited Away, Studio Ghibli has established itself as one of the front-runners in the game of animated film production. Its films are often praised for their story line and the stunning animation. If you have not watched any film from the film studio, it’s time to add some items to your list of must-watch films.
Here are the top five best films Studio Ghibli has ever developed.
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Studio Ghibli’s Best Animated Movies
Spirited Away (2001)
Perhaps the most popular of all Studio Ghibli films, Spirited Away was able to impress viewers with its unique story line and an animation that is too good to go unnoticed.
The film centers around a ten-year-old girl named Chihiro who gets lost in an unfamiliar and strange world of spirits after her father turns a wrong turn on their way home. She meets a boy named Haku and hears from him that she has to leave before the sun sets. Unfortunately for the young girl, she misses her only chance to escape.
Chihiro is left with no choice but to stay and find another way to get out and save her parents, who have turned into pigs after eating at an eatery they spotted upon entering the odd world. Chihiro learns the rules of the spirit world and deals with all kinds of creatures until she gets permitted to go back to where she comes from.
Spirited Away was a phenomenal hit, with a popularity that extended outside Japan and Asia. Aside from breaking box-office records in Japan, the film has also set records in worldwide box office, being the first film ever to earn $200 million even before opening in the United States. Until today, the film holds the record of the highest-grossing film in Japanese film history.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
A film about friendship and everything that comes with it, My Neighbor Totoro is an hour and thirty minutes of pure innocence and lovely relationship between two young girls.
The movie follows Satsuke and Mei, daughters of university professor Tatsuo Kusakabe. The Kusakabe family moves into their new country home, a place they aren’t aware is filled with mystical creatures called Totoros. The girls meet the biggest and the eldest of them, O Totoro, and as their mother lies sick in the hospital, O Totoro takes them on a journey through which they learn to face their fears and open their hearts to new things.
Being one of Studio Ghibli’s earliest films, My Neighbor Totoro was what made people aware that there’s an up-and-coming film studio in Japan that is about to take the animated film industry by storm. The film was well-received, even winning a lot of awards including the Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film and Readers’ Choice Award for Best Japanese Film during the 59th Kinema Junpo Awards, the Best Film Award and Ofuji Noburo Award at the 43rd Mainichi Film Awards, Special Award at the Blue Ribbon Awards, and was announced the recipient of the Japanese anime and entertainment magazine Animage‘s Grand Prix prize.
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
If you’re in for a tearful ride, then watching Grave of the Fireflies might just satisfy your sudden want to shed some tears over a movie. Grave of the Fireflies tells the heart-wrenching story of two siblings, 14-year-old Seita and four-year-old Setsuko, who have to deal with all sorts of difficulties brought by the Second World War.
The movie starts with Seita and Setsuko trying to secure their belongings as bombers flow overhead. When the enemies start dropping bombs, the two are left running for their life. They get out of the area unscathed, but their mother unfortunately suffers burns, leaving her in a critical state and eventually taking her life.
The death of their mother leaves Seita with no choice but to take his sister with him and move in with a distant aunt. With the crisis slowly worsening, their aunt becomes resentful toward them, telling them they’re of no help. Seita and Setsuko move out, and the events that follow show the two trying to survive on their own with barely nothing to use and no one to rely on.
Ever since its release in 1988 and up until today, Grave of the Fireflies continues to tear people’s hearts with its amazing story. The movie even won several accolades including the Animation Jury Award and Rights of the Child Award during the 1994 Chicago International Children Film’s Festival.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Based on the novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle is a film about young hatter Sophie who in one of the first few scenes gets harassed by some boys and is saved by a good-looking young wizard named Howl. Envious of the budding friendship between Howl and Sophie, the wicked Witch of the Waste turns Sophie into a 90-year-old woman.
To break the curse, Sophie walks her way to the country and eventually meets a scarecrow who then leads her to Howl’s moving castle. Her stay in the castle introduces Sophie to a different world and helps her uncover the truth about Howl’s identity.
Howl’s Moving Castle was generally well-received, taking home several awards. The film was the recipient of the Osella Award for Technical Achievement at the 61st Venice Film Festival. It was also nominated at the 2006 Saturn Awards for the Best Animated Feature category and was nominated for the Best Animated Feature award during the 78th Academy Awards.
The Borrower Arrietty (2010)
One of the most visually arresting Studio Ghibli films to be ever made, Arrietty (alternative titles include The Borrower Arrietty and The Secret World of Arrietty) is a film about a mysterious family called the Clocks, who are only four inches tall and live off borrowing things from normal people. At night, while their hosts sleep, they take it as their cue to enter the premises and take little things like a sugar cube or a piece of tissue paper.
Arrietty and her family live in the recesses of a suburban home, and it’s part of the family’s rules not to ever let the homeowners know of their existence. But their life takes an unexpected and unwanted turn when a boy named Shō discovers Arrietty.
The film then follows the consequences of Arrietty’s discovery, how it affects her family, and the relationship that is slowly formed between the little girl and Shō.
Arrietty received mainly positive reviews, with critics praising the animation and the story itself. In The Japan Times‘ Mark Schilling‘s words, the film “speaks to the heart and imagination of [everyone].” Arrietty won several awards including the Animation of the Year at the 34th Japan Academy Prize.