Studio Ghibli, over the years, has produced the ultimate set of comfort movies. If you haven’t watched at least one then you’ve not truly lived. For so many, myself included, Studio Ghibli feature films bring feelings of childhood nostalgia with their stunning visuals and timeless tales that have inspired filmmakers and audiences alike for over 30 years.
Founded in the early 80’s, Studio Ghibli has produced some of the highest-grossing films in Japan and cult favorites internationally. As of January 2020, Netflix has bought the rights to 20 of the studio’s classics – meaning you can whittle away hours delving into the visionary work of director Hayao Miyazaki and others.
Given that it wouldn’t be practical to gush over each movie, in depth, in just one article, I present the Top 5 Studio Ghibli movies and yes, this is purely personal and no, the placings are not up for debate.
5. Arrietty (2010)
Released in 2010, Arrietty is a reworking on The Borrowers with Studio Ghibli founders Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki contemplating an animated adaptation of the novel for 40 years. If you are not familiar with the premise of the plot, Arrietty is about a young girl and her family, mere inches tall, who live in the walls and ‘borrow’ the things that regular sized humans don’t necessarily need.
Arrietty is a story of unlikely friendship that is found between Shō, a sickly boy and Arrietty – it remains a feel good movie that is targeted at children and yet loved by adults alike.
4. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
This was the first Studio Ghibli movie that I ever watched and as such will always hold a special place in my heart.
Similarly to Arrietty, this is based on a Japanese fantasy novel for children of the same name by Eiko Kadono. Kiki’s Delivery Service, is a coming of age tale steeped in magic, quite literally, as Kiki finds her independence and self confidence during her time as a witch in training.
Kiki’s Delivery Service was the highest-grossing film in Japan in 1989 with the DVD later being another bestseller in 2001. The story of Kiki, an energetic teen, was so popular a musical was released in 1993 and later revived in 1995 and 1996.
3. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Moving us into top 3, is the enchanting story that is Howl’s Moving Castle.
Soon after it’s release in 2004 Howl’s Moving Castle became the 3rd most successful film in Japan. The visuals are insane and when partnered with the anti-war themes of the story it holds a captivating impact on audiences. The anti war theme of Howl’s Moving Castle is a direct reflection of Miyazaki’s personal viewpoint as a pacifist.
Not usually one for romance, this love story in particular is a favorite. It adds to the movie and doesn’t take away from it. Calcifer is the best secondary character that you could ask for. You should watch Howl’s Moving Castle just for the sass that Calcifer provides.
2. Spirited Away (2001)
For fans of Studio Ghibli, it will come as no surprise that this takes second place.
Spirited Away is a movie that you just do not forget.
Spirited Away, released in 2001, is heavily influenced by Japanese Shinto-Buddhist folklore. The story is saturated with details and each character you see is fascinating, whether or not they are central to the progression of the story.
As one of the highest-grossing films in Japanese history, this is a story that is worthy of the number two spot.
1. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
The number one position naturally has to go the Studio Ghibli icon that is My Neighbour Totoro.
It would be impossible to think of Japanese animation and not to think of this movie. Even if you haven’t watched this, you will recognise the main character: Totoro, who is a spirit of the forest. Similarly to Spirited Away, this movie weaves Japanese Shinto-Buddhist folklore into it’s fable style story that captures the innocence of childhood.
Totoro is hands down the most memorable character from Studio Ghibli having made cameo appearances in multiple Studio Ghibli films over the years. My Neighbour Totoro is a film that should be on your ‘To Watch List’ if you haven’t yet had the delight to watch it.
The quality of film produced by Studio Ghibli makes compiling a Top 5 list an arduous task. Each movie named here is a must watch recommendation.
Honorable mentions go to Princess Mononoke and Ponyo – movies that are incredible in their own right and deserve to be recognised.
Are one of your favorite movies placed in this Top 5? Leave a reaction below and let me know!