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It’s easy to put anime into a box, but like any other kind of stereotyping, it’s unfair and undermining. Many think that the art of Japanese animation is nothing more than machismo-driven cartoons, but proving that notion wrong is, among other properties, the output of Japanese animation outlet Studio Ghibli.
Studio Ghibli, like computer animation studio Pixar, still rises above the ilk of what’s being released by most studios even with its so-called "lesser" products. Since the 1980s, Studio Ghibli has thrived in traditional animation, and luckily for us who aren’t in Japan, Disney takes up the task of distributing the studio’s films in the United States.
This tradition continues with The Secret World of Arrietty, loosely based on Mary Norton’s classic 1962 novel The Borrowers. Hitting stateside theaters this weekend, we at Player Affinity discuss some of the studio's films.
My Three Favorites
3. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Based on a Diana Wynne Jones novel, Howl’s Moving Castle focuses on a young girl who’s magically transformed into an old woman and her quest to regain her youth. The only way she can do that is through a young wizard who lives in a home that boasts legs and walks.
Legendary animation director Hayao Miyazaki took over when another director left at the last minute, and it’s not difficult to notice his signature touch. Magic never really seems like anything out of the ordinary, but it still relays the supernatural as intrinsically interesting and captivating.
The film received considerable acclaim and even picked up an Oscar nomination for Animated Feature alongside Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride and eventual winner Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, making for what might be the category’s most peculiar yet satisfying set of nominees to date.
2. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
One of the earlier titles from Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro has earned a cult following since its release; the titular character even made a cameo in Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story 3 as a toy in Bonnie’s room.
Sisters Satsuki and Mei head out to the country with their father so they can be closer to their hospitalized mother. During their time in this new and mysterious locale, the sisters discover secrets about the world around them, including strange and elusive yet kind forest spirits who eventually help them in times of need.
It’s very light and arguably simplistic – even for a film that focuses quite a bit on mortality – but Miyazaki masters the tricky task of weaving magical realism into the narrative while never failing to capture the imagination of those watching.
1. Spirited Away (2001)
It might be something of a cliché to put Studio Ghibli’s most well-known film – let alone its sole Oscar winner – at the top of the list, but when it’s a brilliantly instant classic like Spirited Away, it’d be wrong to top the list off with another title.
If there was ever any doubt that a film could be as enchanting as it was confusing, one needn’t look further than this film, yet another of Miyazaki’s works with Ghibli. When her parents become pigs, Chihiro embarks on a magical journey through a spirit world to rescue her parents. This comes complete with witches, dragons, a stink spirit, and an enigmatic creature called No-Face. Eccentric entities merge with the abundant twists and turns in this adventure, proving that Miyazaki and his traditional style could thrive and sit high with the generally more mainstream animated features.
Although Spirited Away made roughly $10 million at the box office in the States, it pulled in well over $200 million globally and is generally regarded as one of the greatest animated films ever made. It took the prize for Animated Feature at the Oscars, besting higher-grossing mainstream titles Ice Age, Lilo and Stitch, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and Treasure Planet.
Other Notable Films from Studio Ghibli
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind – The first feature from Studio Ghibli, this sees a princess trying to make peace between two warring nations.
Ponyo – It’s highly reminiscent of Disney’s own The Little Mermaid but stands on its own thanks to an interesting twist.
Porco Rosso – A pig-like bush pilot takes center stage in this 1992 title.
Princess Mononoke – This cautionary tale about the use of natural resources is arguably the most adult-oriented and, consequently, least kid-friendly of Studio Ghibli’s releases. It won Best Film from the Japanese Academy, the Japanese equivalent of the stateside Academy Award.
Whispers of the Heart – This film about a passionate reader has become a fan favorite for anime fans the world over.