Some of the first animations that come to mind when you mention Studio Ghibli are Spirited Away or My Neighbour Totoro. These aren’t, however, the only masterpieces to have come from the studio. This month marks the 30th anniversary of Totoro and the anti-war film Grave of the Fireflies – both of which paved the road for Studio Ghibli to go from being a bit player to being THE representative Japanese animation studio. To commemorate this, Young Post has put together a list of lesser-known Studio Ghibli films for whatever mood you happen to be in at any given time.
For the adventurous: Castle in the Sky
How is this the most purely adventurous of all Studio Ghibli works? Well, Castle in the Sky follows the exploits of a young miner, Pazu, who meets a girl, Sheeta, who turns out to be the heir to the throne of Laputa – a long-lost flying castle. Her royal status, attracts the attention of the evil Colonel Muska, who seeks to take control of the castle and use its superior weaponry and robot army to take over the world. The movie is filled, from start to finish, with more thrills and spills than you can shake a stick at, with an ending that is as satisfying as it is a rejection of all the war and violence that led to it.
For when you want ambiguity: Princess Mononoke
Forget Pixar – ham-fisted plotting and overly sentimental scenes can’t hold a candle to the morally ambiguous characters of Princess Mononoke. The film details the adventures of Ashitaka, a young man from a rural village who becomes cursed after taking down a demonic boar. His travels take him to Lady Eboshi, who leads a community of ironsmiths that seeks to control and tame the nature that surrounds their home. While many of the characters do despicable things, it’s hard to say who truly is good and who is bad. And that ambiguity is refreshing in an age where films seem determined to have a hero and a villain in an unnecessary battle between good and evil.
For music lovers: Howl’s Moving Castle
While the films of Studio Ghibli are rightly famed for their terrific soundtracks, the first among equals must surely be the score for Howl’s Moving Castle. The music is composed by long-time Ghibli collaborator Joe Hisaishi, who is known for his memorable melodies. He truly outdoes himself at every turn in this movie’s soundtrack – the theme, Merry-Go-Round of Life, perfectly captures the whimsical and romantic world that Howl and his ward Sophie live in.
For the gloomy: The Wind Rises
Though studio boss Hayao Miyazaki once announced he’d stop producing feature films after The Wind Rises, in 2016 he announced he’d begin work on another one. Still, The Wind Rises made a fitting swansong for his career. The story follows the life of Jiro Horikoshi, who dreams of becoming an aeroplane designer. During his studies in a post-first world war Japan, he falls in love with a girl called Naoko. When he comes of age, the spectre of Japanese militarism looms large over his chosen field, and Horikoshi is forced to design fighter planes for the Imperial armed forces. The themes of war and the destructive powers of humanity are nothing new to Miyazaki, but they come to the fore in this film as the tragedy of an artist whose noble goals are used as instruments of war plays out.
For the sweetness: Whisper of the Heart
For true romance, look no further than Whisper of the Heart, which was the first in the Ghibli canon to be made by someone other than Miyazaki and his co-founding partner, the late Isao Takahata. The plot concerns the coming-of-age of a girl called Shizuku, who is interested in writing and translation. Her discovery of a mysterious person’s name, Seiji Amasawa, in all the library books she checks out leads her to discover a mysterious antiques shop and, perhaps, true love.
For people with no standards: Tales from Earthsea
This is one of two films in Ghibli canon directed by Miyazaki’s son, Goro. While a satisfactory film in itself, it draws comparisons to his father’s far better works. The author of the book, Ursula Le Guin, initially gave her approval for the film … but took it back after seeing the final product. Watch this only to realise how great the other films are.
For the inner kid in all of us: Kiki’s Delivery Service
It’s no secret Miyazaki is fond of a coming-of-age story, where the characters grow up before the viewers’ eyes. While the go-to has long been Spirited Away, the lighthearted alternative would be Kiki’s Delivery Service. The film follows the adventures of Kiki, a young witch who sets out to learn the trade of witchcraft through practical experience, which for her is starting a delivery service with her broom. Unfortunately, the more time she spends in the big city, the more she grows distant from her witch powers, eventually losing her invaluable ability to fly. Kiki is an inspiration to anyone who has ever felt lost or confused while growing up, and her unflappable nature makes for poignant viewing.