I remember seeing a video of director Hayao Miyazaki muttering to himself as he tried to get an animation sequence just right. The dedication and countless narratives he and Studio Ghibli have helped sculpt has revolutionised the 2D anime sphere. Studio Ghibli effectively removed the ceiling on animation’s perceived limits and pushing the boundaries of potential forever skyward.
This is why it came to us as a shock that Miyazaki was going into retirement and Studio Ghibli would cease making animated movies. Miyazaki’s superlative work, and by extension, Studio Ghibli’s contribution to the art of animation, has got us thinking of the top 10 works coming out of that imagination factory. We know it almost feels dismissive to compress their canon into a 10-item list, but we thought maybe it will entice readers enough to go see their other works as well. So here’s what we feel is the #TAP10 Hayao Miyazaki / Studio Ghibli animations of all time:
10.) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
One thousand years have passed since the Seven Days of Fire, an apocalyptic war that destroyed human civilisation and gave birth to the vast toxic jungle known as the Sea Of Decay, swarming with giant mutant insects. Nausicaä the eco-pacifist warrior princess of the Valley of the Wind, has befriended the giant insects and chooses to protect them from neighbouring human settlements that wish to rid their world of the insects and their habitat.
A Greenpeace advert if there was ever one. But all jokes aside, Nausicaä drew on many points of inspiration from literature, including J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and boasted impressive character design that is an innate characteristic of Ghibli’s works.
9.) Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
When an unconfident young woman is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch, her only chance of breaking the spell lies with a self-indulgent yet insecure young wizard and his companions in his legged, walking home.
Though this film had within its creative DNA elements of the previous Ghibli animation Castle In The Sky, it didn’t take away the fact it was filled with whimsy and dread.
8.) The Tale of The Princess Kaguya (2013)
Found inside a shining stalk of bamboo by an old bamboo cutter and his wife, a tiny girl grows rapidly into an exquisite young lady. The mysterious young princess enthrals all who encounter her – but ultimately she must confront her fate, the punishment for her crime
The Tale of The Princess Kaguya was certainly a loving tribute to the folklore of old and the traditional Japanese ink renders help set the stage a beautiful story with a moral, fable-esque narrative about narcissism and the futility of youth.
7.) Laputa: Castle In The Sky (1986)
A girl named Sheeta falls out of the sky into Pazu’s arms. They soon become hunted by sinister government agents and by sky-pirates, as Sheeta and Pazu rush to discover the truth behind the magical and equally menacing floating castle that once belonged to an ancient race.
Castle In The Sky, as it goes for creative animations, laid a concrete foundation for Hollywood “classic” in the vain of Cameron’s Avatar or some other cheap rip (we’d mention Disney, but they are partly the reason we can partake in Ghibli English-dubbed animations. Beautifully crafted animation with equally fantastic narrative. A bit more of a Western flare, sure but it was the Ghibli animation that best eased Western viewers into fully appreciating the beauty and enigma in their more narrative-labyrinth constructs.
6.) Porco Rosso (1992)
A WWI pilot, who has but lost all faith in humanity is smitten by a curse that has turned him into a anthropomorphic pig. Now a bounty hunter, his adventures pits him against pirates and the Italian police as Porco Rosso gets back in touch with his humanity.
Porco Rosso attention to historical accuracy should be commemorated, taking place in a time period between WWI and WWII and the flying boats in Porco’s WWI flashback story are based on historical airplanes and references also to famous Italian pilots throughout the film. Even if he was a pig, Rosso’s human side always managed to peek through now and again, and he still managed to attract the attention of the lady-folk. A sad lesson in there somewhere.
5.) Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Setsuko and Seita are brother and sister living in wartime Japan. Their mother having been killed in an air raid, and their father called to defend the country as a soldier, the siblings leave relatives and have rely on each other to survive day to day for food and shelter.
This was a wartime film that will hit you in the feels. It’s a unique thing what an animation of all things can affect you emotionally like that, and the sibling dynamic drove home the importance of family and how they can be your strength through the most perilous of times.
4.) Princess Mononoke (1997)
On a journey to find the cure for a Tatarigami’s curse, Ashitaka finds himself in the middle of a war between the forest gods and Tatara, a mining colony. In this quest he also meets San, the Mononoke Hime.
Possibly the first Studio Ghibli I was exposed to, the lithe animation, with explosive scenes and emotive elements that saw primal gods of nature and imbalance caused by the mining colony Tatara is beautifully portrayed. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children share remarkable similarities in my opinion: a deadly virus infection, nature being plagued by an evil force, all that good stuff.
3.) Spirited Away (2001)
A reluctant, sullen Chichiro and her parents make their move to the suburbs when they get lost. They unwittingly wander into a world ruled by gods, witches, and monsters; where humans are changed into beasts. Chichiro desperately tries to return to her would and undo her parent’s transformation into pigs, with the help of a young boy from this fantastical world named Haku.
Studio Ghibli has the knack for creating characters who were fantastical, and darkly menacing and like that, would make them into docile, near pathetic creatures. Hell you even feel sorry for them. This was most evident for me in Spirited Away and also in Howl’s Moving Castle. The power of this role reversal kept me on my toes, and gave the narrative a humanistic power of the constantly changing landscape of the human condition.
The animation is considered to be the greatest animation of all time, and considered one of the greatest films of the 2000’s winning the 75th Academy Award on its release.
Two sisters encounter a mythical forest sprite and its woodland companions when they move to rural Japan to be near their ailing mother.
This film certainly was a coming-of-age tale that was truly heartfelt and powerful in its execution. Partially autobiographical, Hayao Miyazaki and his brother had to endure the pain of watching their mother suffer from spinal tuberculosis for nine years. He went as far as admitting the film would have painful to make if the lead characters were boys not girls. The power of imagination to transform and transcend pain and struggle was strong in this beautifully crafted animation.
The Wind Rises is a biographical tale of famous plane designer Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the Mitsubishi A5M fighter aircraft and its successor, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, used by the Empire of Japan during World War II.
In 1916, ayoung Jiro Horikoshi longs to become a pilot, but his poor eyesight forbids it. One night, he dreams he meets the famous Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Battista Caproni, who tells him that crafting planes is better than flying them.
This bittersweet tale was the highest grossing film in Japan 2013. Jiro Horikoshi paid a beautiful tribute to one of Japan’s greatest designers and engineers. The ever-conflicting struggle between the creator and creation is beautifully woven throughout the narrative, personified in his romantic relationship with Naoko, his woman diagnosed with tuberculosis
It is sad to think that one of the richest tapestries in Japan anime and world cinema could be closed to the world. In all honesty, I have been on a purchasing bing of BluRay Ghibli releases like I’m stocking up in anticipation of a natural disaster. But it is better to have love and loss than to have not loved at all. And though Ghibli won’t be making any features anytime soon, Miyazaki promises to animate even in retirement and we hope to see the occasional Ghibli magic in a a festival short or two. Or 20, because we at TAP are greedy.