Which magical Japanese animated film to watch
By Janis McMath, Editor-in-Chief
I think Studio Ghibli excels at fun and charm and bores to death with their melodramatic ‘meaningful’ stuff.
Studio Ghibli has a ton of films—so many that they can be intimidating to approach. Overall, you’re in for a good time regardless of which film you pick as Studio Ghibli’s stinkers would be any other schmuck’s crowning achievement. But the standards are high for the feature films this studio releases, so here they are ranked from only worth a single watch at best to absolute perfect pieces that embody everything that makes Ghibli the magical fever dream it is. (Quick note: all these films should be watched with subs because dubs are a totally different experience… and suck.)
I’ve watched it once and that’s enough:
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya:
A film that offers a light simplistic art style, a meaningful story, and a swift kick to the ribs. Not awful but… no thanks.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind:
The plot is braindead IMO but at least the animation is mind-blowing, the creatures are unique, and the scenery is beautiful. It’s not very funny or charming though—and I think Studio Ghibli excels at fun and charm and bores to death with their melodramatic “meaningful” stuff. When a Ghibli film takes itself too seriously, I take a nap. This film is often honored with the title of one of the best animated and science-fiction films of all time… but I don’t see it.
Girl travels to her hometown and reminisces about stuff. It’s cute and has some sweet moments but the art style isn’t exciting, and the story is too fixated on the “life is meaningful” tone to be interesting.
Some of the gore in this film is fantastic (love the scene where the guy gets his arms shot off by a bow and arrow aimed by a kid with demon strength) and the character design is great (love the kodamas). But, in the end, I hate this “too-deep-4-u” movie. Fight me if you disagree.
When Marnie Was There:
Sad lonely girl makes a fun rich friend. Cute hijinks ensue and their sweet friendship helps them learn about themselves. Exciting twists. The film captures the magic of summer vacation effortlessly.
Raccoons-dogs (specifically “tanuki”) with big balls (yes you read that right) that are capable of shapeshifting cause a ruckus trying to defend their home. The shapeshifting-racoon-dogs aspect of this raunchy comedy film make it a must see. The action is balls to the wall! (Not for babies.)
Whisper of the Heart:
A cute lil’ coming-of-age film featuring a teenage romance. There’s a hilarious cover of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” called “Concrete Roads” in this movie. The cityscapes are reason enough to watch this film, but it’s not as good as other Ghibli films that are more friendship focused.
The Wind Rises:
Pretty… and sad. A lovely biography film about “Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II.” It has many beautiful dreamlike scenes, magnificent planes, and endearing moments between the protagonists—but is hard to revisit unless you really enjoy sad films (and I don’t).
The Secret World of Arrietty:
Seeing how tiny people would interact with our world never gets old. There’s a scene in this film where they find a beautiful intricate doll house the tiny people fit into perfectly and it could not possibly be anymore whimsical than Studio Ghibli has perfectly portrayed. The boy (Shō) is an utter annoyance though.
An overall fun and bright picture with lots and lots and LOTS of mythical creatures and iconic scenes to enjoy. The movie is a cult classic, and fans have a plethora of theories on the exact meaning of the film—but regardless of that, the film is still straightforward enough for watchers of all ages to enjoy. Some characters are super cringe though.
My Neighbor Totoro:
A classic otherworldly forest creature film where they make friends with a young child. It is vaguely reminiscent of Where the Wild Things Are. Only scrubs could ever dislike a film that features such genuine imagination.
From Up on Poppy Hill:
This film is from 2011—and this means that the animation is so refined it will melt your eyes and brain into mush with its vivid colours and hyper glossy detail. It is another coming-of-age film—but I think this one is better than Whisper of the Heart because of the happy representation of all the social clubs at the school. The student spirit in this film is what really makes this movie stand out. The relationship plot is… strange. I honestly hate the twist in From Up on Poppy Hill—but that small hiccup isn’t enough to detract from the joy this film brings.
The crème de la crème:
Castle in the Sky:
A steampunk/dieselpunk aesthetic backdrops this fast-paced magical action movie. Unpredictable and full of unique characters. The film is guaranteed to hold your attention. If you love this film for the aesthetic and action, I’d recommend the Disney film Treasure Planet as well.
Magical fish girl befriends the most capable five-year-old boy ever. The film is jam-packed with good humour, adorable scenes filled with childish glee, and awe-inspiring magic, scenery, and characters. I feel like every single person on the face of this planet could get something out of this film—it’s that good. Watch it with your mom. She’ll love it.
Kiki’s Delivery Service:
Witches often get a bad rap in media, but this cute and funny film makes up for the slander witches face. The plot basically a witch and cat version of Amazon Prime. A lovely coming-of-age film so perfectly executed that you’ll never stop yearning to be an independent young witch in a seaside town.
I feel that this is the best Ghibli film the studio has to offer. Pigs, war, fascism, romance—and planes? What is there not to go gaga for? The main character in Porco Rosso (which translates to “Crimson Pig”) is a seasoned fighter pilot who has been cursed to be a pig—but because he’s such a hardass he doesn’t even care. This is the only Studio Ghibli feature film made with adults in mind, and hilarious lines like “I’d much rather be a pig than a fascist” and “laws don’t apply to pigs,” said while he holds a giant machine gun really exemplify that. Clever, funny, and full of pig jokes.