2013 signaled the final film release from master director Hayao Miyazaki with his gorgeous and somewhat controversial “The Wind Rises.” Though Studio Ghibli presses on with their slew of amazing films, Miyazaki will leave a large hole in filmmaking. We’ve been fanatics of Studio Ghibli for many years since we first saw “Kiki’s Delivery Service” in the late nineties and fell in love with Ghibli’s sense of awe and wonder. In celebration of the brilliant studio (that we often prefer over Disney, by the way), here are our top five films from Studio Ghibli.
5. Princess Mononoke
Like many of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, “Princess Mononoke” comments on the beauty of nature and the destructiveness of mankind toward it. The film was tough to ignore in 1997, primarily because it caused such a critical stir. It inspired me to seek it out and I was only able to watch it years later. It’s one of the first Ghibli films I’ve ever seen and is a wonderful treat for anyone unfamiliar with their productions. Filled with amazing animation, startling violence, and an enormous sense of subtext about mother nature’s wrath, “Princess Mononoke” is a pure fantasy masterstroke from start to finish.
4. Spirited Away
Inspired by “Alice in Wonderland,” Hayao Miyazaki’s fantasy adventure is a subtle commentary on child exploitation, wherein a young girl is forced in to servitude to find a way back home. Chihiro watches in horror as her parents are turned in to giant pigs, and is whisked in to a spirit land, where she’s forced to work for the witch Yababa, all the while dealing with the monstrous and wondrous visitors of the bathhouse. This includes a most smitten spirit that falls for Chihiro. “Spirited Away” is a wonderful and absolutely compelling fantasy film that I recall watching, mouth agape, the first time I saw it in 2001.
3. Only Yesterday
Directed by Isao Takahata, “Only Yesterday” is a brilliant and heartbreaking human drama about the innocence of youth and how our parents decide what kind of people we’ll ultimately become. Whether we like it or not. Taeko is a gorgeous young girl traveling back home to help her family with their Sallflower harvest. While traveling on car, she recalls much of her childhood, all memories littered with heart ache, regret, and happiness. Takahata’s drama is incredible, with excellent characterization, some truly gut wrenching moments, and a closing credits sequence that made me well up.
2. Grave of the Fireflies
One of the most crushing and heartbreaking films I’ve ever seen, Isao Takahata adapts Akiyuki Nosaka’s biographical experiences during world war II with amazing results. “Grave of the Fireflies” is a consistently compelling and grueling look at the loss of innocence in the violence of war. Seita and Satsuko lose their mother during a napalm drop, and are forced to live with their domineering aunt. After enduring her cold nature, they travel to the wilderness to live together without worry, but once Satsuko begins falling ill, Seita can do nothing but watch his small sister die slowly. “Grave of the Fireflies” is a brilliant and beautiful film and one that drew me to tears after my first viewing. It’s one I have difficulty re-visiting, but one I love.
1. My Neighbor Totoro
Hayao Miyazaki’s fantasy adventure is a beautiful and consistently entertaining tale about finding solace in magic when life is dealing you a bad hand. In this case, it’s Satsuki and Mei, two sisters dealing with their mother’s illness, and find a friend in Totoro and his cat shaped bus. When they move in to a cabin in the woods with their father, they discover an entirely new world hidden in the trees where Totoro, a giant cat like creature lives with his smaller friends. Totoro is a funny and reliable friend who eases the pain of the sisters while they deal with their mother’s fading health, and earns his place as one of the most iconic cartoon characters of all time. “My Neighbor Totoro” is consistently funny and adorable, while Totoro is a character whose charm is never overbearing. Like most Ghibli films, “My Neighbor Totoro” is about coming of age and losing innocence, but with that added touch of magic sprinkled in. I love it.