Top 10 Studio Ghibli movies

Top 10 Ryan Lambie 26 May 2010 - 05:31
Studio Ghibli films

With Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli reaching its quarter century this year, we salute its ten best animated features…

Few animation studios have been as consistent in their output as Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli. Founded in 1985, its animated fantasies are made with just the right blend of humour, melancholy and whimsy to make them appeal to audiences of all ages.

And while Studio Ghibli has embraced new technology in recent years - Pom Poko was the studio's first film to use CG back in 1994 - it remains committed to producing animation using largely traditional, hand-drawn techniques.

While readers are sure to have their own personal favourites, here's our pick of the ten finest Ghibli productions...

Laputa: Castle In The Sky (Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta) 1986

Borrowing the flying island concept from Jonathan Swift's 18th century satire Gulliver's Travels, Castle In The Sky was the first animated feature released under the Ghibli banner, and arguably their best. Set in an alternate Victorian era full of sky pirates and steam-powered war machines, this remains one of Miyazaki's most action-filled, plot-heavy, yet purely entertaining films.

Relating the tale of two youngsters and their attempts to find the mythical flying castle of the title (actually a gigantic, Eden-like island where nature and technology exist side-by-side), Castle In The Sky contains some stunning character and mechanical designs, not least the ethereal, faintly tragic robots that guard Laputa itself.

Miyazaki was reportedly unaware that "Laputa" is Spanish for "whore", hence Disney's decision to release the film in the west under the redacted title of Castle In The Sky.

My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro) 1988

After the high adventure of Castle In The Sky, Miyazaki came back down to earth with the charming My Neighbor Totoro, a gentle and heart-warming tale of a little girl who discovers an entire forest of lively spirits.

Miyazaki has often said that he made Totoro to give city dwelling youngsters an idea of what the countryside is like, and the film certainly succeeds in imparting a feeling of wonderment that is now a Ghibli hallmark.

Its plot may be slight, but the strength of the characters, from the dust sprites, via Catbus, to the delightful, bear-like Totoro himself, invest the film with such charm that it's impossible not to be drawn in.


Grave Of The Fireflies (Hotaru no haka) 1988

A starkly different production from Totoro, Grave Of The Fireflies was directed by Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata rather than Miyazaki himself. Nevertheless, the quality of Grave's animation and character design remains dizzyingly high, and the film is a heartbreaking depiction of two children's struggle for survival in World War II Japan.

A mainstream picture that thoroughly dispels the myth that animations are for kids, Grave Of The Fireflies is, along with Mori Masaka's earlier Bare Foot Gen, one of the most affecting and intelligently paced depictions of war in an animated feature, and will leave all but the most cold hearted viewers utterly shattered by the time it draws to a close.


Kiki's Delivery Service (Majo no takkyûbin) 1989

Miyazaki returned to the fore for Kiki's Delivery Service, an altogether lighter feature about the adventures of a teenage witch and her black cat. A less memorable film than the classic Totoro, perhaps, but still packed with typical Ghibli character and charm.

Miyazaki's capacity for creating strong, likeable female lead protagonists is at the fore here.

Porco Rosso (Kurenai no buta) 1992

A film that indulges Miyazaki's love for aircraft, Porco Rosso is set in 1930s Italy, and features a pilot cursed with the head of a pig. Along with planes and strong female leads, pigs are a common motif in Miyazaki's films.

Miyazaki's enthusiasm for his subject is present in every frame, with its aerial dogfights rendered with humour, energy and staggering attention to detail.


Pom Poko (Heisei tanuki gassen pompoko) 1994

An interesting departure for Ghibli, whose films are normally broad enough to appeal to all countries, Pom Poko contains numerous Japanese cultural and religious references that could baffle unsuspecting foreign audiences.

Again directed by Isao Takahata, Pom Poko is an ecological fable about a society of shape-shifting, mischievous raccoons and their efforts to protect their forest from the urbanisation project of 60s Japan.

Notable for its surprisingly common display of testicles (it's not uncommon for raccoons to be depicted with prominent genitalia in Japanese tradition), Pom Poko is easily Studio Ghibli's most anarchic feature to date.

The spectacular animation reaches its zenith in an enchanting ghost parade sequence, and the film's often laugh-out-loud humour is undercut by a particularly stinging, unsentimental conclusion.


Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime) 1997

Miyazaki's pet themes of nature and ecology are at the forefront of Princess Mononoke, a film which the director intended to make his last until its huge success convinced him to continue working at Studio Ghibli after all.

At over two hours long, Monoke is a punishingly long feature, and its singularly melancholy, downbeat tone may prove too much for younger audience members, but in terms of character design and animation this is vintage Miyazaki.

The colossal, ethereal gods of the forest are singularly captivating creations, and the film's battle sequences are surprisingly visceral. Western distributor Disney wanted to cut the film to gain a PG rating in US cinemas, but Miyazaki quite rightly refused.

Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi) 2001

Miyazaki's most obvious touchstone for Spirited Away is surely Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, but the Japanese master places enough of his own unique ideas onto the central premise to make the picture all his own.

Chihiro is a typically strong-willed female lead who finds herself lost in a fantastical alternate world of gods, spirits and dragons. Miyazaki created perhaps his strongest fantastical character design since Totoro in the shape of No-Face, an eerie, wraith-like presence who quickly proves to be a terrible glutton once confronted with a table of supper.

The first Ghibli film to earn an Academy Award, Spirited Away remains one of Studio Ghibli's most acclaimed and lucrative releases to date.

The Cat Returns (Neko no Ongaeshi) 2002

Another Ghibli film with a female protagonist, 2002's The Cat Returns was directed by Hiroyuki Morita, an animator on such classics as Lupin III and Akira.

A slight film in comparison to the epic Sprited Away, The Cat Returns is, like so many Ghibli films, memorable for the quality of its characterisation and design, particularly that of Muta, the lugubrious, overweight feline whose appetite soon gets him into trouble.

When high school student Haru saves a cat from being run over, she finds herself drawn into an entire secret kingdom of cats.

Ponyo (Gake no ue no Ponyo) 2008

Studio Ghibli's most recent work, and something of a return to basics after a run of increasingly intricate films. Taking the Hans Christian Andersen tale The Little Mermaid as its basis, Ponyo relates the story of Sōsuke, a gentle nine-year-old who encounters Ponyo, the titular fish-girl of the title, while playing on a beach near his home. Actually the daughter of the Goddess of Mercy, Ponyo's decision to transform into a human proves to have destructive consequences for Sōsuke's idyllic coastal town.

Less consistently entertaining than Ghibli's earlier work (while charming, Ponyo's human persona is less well-rounded than Miyazaki's other female protagonists), there's still much to enjoy here. Sōsuke's mother is a believably flawed yet likeable character, and the depiction of the ocean floor, teeming with exotic and colourful life, is never less than dazzling.

Click here for a list of ALL the lists at Den Of Geek...

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I love Ghibli films in general and i hope to see all of it. The two best films i would choose are the cat returns and arriety. I loved the cat returns (although some people would disagree) perhaps because it was a childhood memory for me or because i really loved the theme. Arriety is not as fantasy-related as moving castle or spirited away but the quality was beautiful and it was really poignant. But as high as my expectations for studio Ghibli is, i am a bit disappointed by the new film Kokurikozaka, otherwise known as from up on poppy hill. I would recommend you to skip this one, as it really had no plot and left me just disappointed... But the works by Ghibli are generally great and I cant wait to watch other works

id put Nausicaa on her for sure, one of my favorite films!

Pom Poko is about Tanuki (tanooki) not racoons! That's why they focus so much on their testicles.

I wouldn't easily dismiss From Up On Poppy Hill. The movie is reminiscent of other Ghibli movies such as Ocean Waves, Whisper of the Heart and Only Yesterday, and should not be compared with the styles of Spirited Away, Mononoke, Laputa, Arriety and the like. For me, I prefer From Up On Poppy Hill more than Arriety for its more rounded and relatable characters, and the film's uncanny ability to capture the childlike wonder of living in a very simple rural town.

One of my favorite all time Ghibli fims is the little talked about My Neighbors the Yamadas. Its not really a children's film at all, as its centered more on the daily lives of the family, and the often silly things as a family we get ourselves into. I've loved all of the Ghibli films I've seen, there is just something about the Yamada's that stays with me.

Ponyo is the best but they all stand out in a unique way

i love studio Ghibli.... i like Arrietty and ponyo ^_^

awesome movies i have now watched alot and they have alot in common they are the best in a unique way and i think they should put whisper of the heart on the list

are there new ghibli movie?i just love watching it.

nausicaa and the valley of the winds should be in this list.

castle in the sky is AWESOME

too true

im truly a fan of ghibli

please continue doing great movie like spited away, ponyo, and secret world of ariety im just starting with you its just the beginning im lovin it

I know it's hard to choose. Come on, it IS Ghibli, but um how do yo have a "Top" list w/o Howl's Moving Castle...?

ilove the most of ghibli is the howl's moving casle ... actualy i really love howl hahaha ...

I never watched howl's moving castle. I watched the three gratest: Castle in the sky, Kiki's delivery service, and spirited away.

Nausicaa was a good movie. I am a girl - brave and fearless. I love adventure too. I am still glad Castle in the sky, kiki's delivery service, and spirited away are in this list. Have you watched those, Moarcredit? You should!

How could Porco Rosso, Howl's moving castle, and ponyo be your favorites? They're good, but i LOVE castle in the sky, kiki's delivery service, and spirited away the best. You should watch those, since odviously (since you picked Porco Rosso as your favorite) you havent!

Howl's moving castle? It DOESN't deserve to be on here. Hee. Are ya kidding, Nephie?

Yep. I so agree, Ghibli fan. I am a ghibli fan too ya know!!!!

Spirited away is good. You should defiently watch Castle in the sky, Dennis. I fell in love with sheeta and pazu. it is so very exiting. I agree that ponyo was a bit boring too.

Ponyo is quite cute for the younger, but i prefer Castle in the sky, Kiki's delivery service, and spirited away. If ponyo is your favorite, then you haven't watched all of those, odviously!

Wwater95, i disagree. I totally LOVE hayao miyazaki and all, but have you watched castle in the sky, kiki's delivery service, or spirited away? I would if i were you. They have them on myspace by JOEL

If you wanna watch ALL of castle in the sky on the internet, go to myspace (you do not need an account) and type in "Laputa Castle in the Sky" and it is by JOEL

I agree with Noel. Laputa is AWESOME!

Have you watched Spirited away? I bet you will change your favorites after watching Spirited away!!! Head up, Porkyxng!

Anna, Polly, have you all ever seen Castle in the sky? TOOOO awesome!

I like that one too, May, but Kiki's delivery service is the one for me!

TrangleC, I love spirited away. So does my BFF Anna and her sis Polly. Hee.

Try castle in the sky. I love it!!!!! (How old are your kids? Maybe they'd prefer Kiki's delivery service?)

I agree Shilling. I personally like Castle in the sky. Have you watched it? Spirited away and kiki's delivery service are up there too!

Go Castle in the Sky! I wish my boyfriend was Pazu!!!!!

Booo on Howl's moving castle. Try castle in the sky or spirited away, seansomethink. (Or even Kiki's delivery service!)

Uh...okay Mikee. Try castle in the sky or spirited away or even kiki's delivery service.

Do you like howl's moving castle? I don't try the movies Jazmine recomended to MikeeJasmine, Taezya!

You're little, so i recomend Kiki's delivery service. But since you watched spirited away, try castle in the sky too.

Mee too, Nirdla. I love castle in the sky and kiki's delivery service and spirited away!

how old are you? there's a few movies i could suggest to you. (Ages 9-14 castle in the sky)

Ponyo.... try castle in the sky and kiki's delivery service.

Biki, try hayao miyazaki's films (spirited away, castle in the sky, kiki's delivery service)

Okay. Try spirited away. I love it.

Nausicaa is okay, but have you watched spirited away or castle in the sky? Wow! I love those!

Do you like heartbreaking films? try castle in the sky, spirited away, or kiki's delivery service

Ponyo wasnt very exiting for me either, Sekah. Try castle in the sky if you like those!

Try Kiki's delivery service, hristinho18. It is better then ponyo.

Pom poko? Try spirited away or castle in ther sky, James dude!

Howl's moving castle? Huh. I am glad castle in the sky and spirirted away are near the top. (try kiki's delivery service)

You have lost your mind not to mension Castle in the sky and spirited away! hee.

Ponyo isn't much to look foward to. watch kiki's delivery service or castle in the sky or spirited away insteed.

Sure, zalulus. Try castle in the sky and spirited away.

I LOVE castle in the sky, "princess" and i am in love with PAZU. hahaha

Castle in the sky rocks. (also see spirited away and kiki's delivery service) Joel has them posted on myspace. do not need account to watch any from joel.

Castle in the sky beats all, pazu. (try spirited away & kiki's delivery service if you liked castle in the sky like me!)

Have you ever watched "Whisper of the heart"?
If not, I recommend you to watch it :)

I've watched, what is in my opinion, the two greatest films. Howl's Moving Castle and Totoro. I started castle in the Sky but never finished. Think I'll do that now!

Not sure why but half these comments seem like copy and paste of other peoples comments.

Howl's moving castle too is an awesome movie. It deserves a place in the list.

Spirited Away should be at or near the top of the list and no mention of Howl's Moving Castle is laughable. Pathetic.

Almost a perfect list but Howls moving castle will always be my favourite

Upon watching majority of the Studio Ghiblis, I'd say Grave of the Fireflies is the most moving film they have ever created. I've never cried so much over an animated movie. Next up on my favorite list would be Princess Mononoke. And third would be Howl's Moving Castle.

Princess Mononoke is amazing, I love it.

Yeah Howl's Moving Castle is probably Miyazaki's worst film. How can anybody pick Howl for a favourite character? I swear he had about 10 minutes screentime in the whole film and probably said less than 100 words, and he's so damn boring, a 'wannabe mystery man'.

And Nausicaa should be on this list, that's my favourite miyazaki movie.

i believe that tales from earthsea is their best movie but it isnt well know

I never cry at movies, but in "Grave of the Fireflies" I really wanted to cry, it made me so sad for days after watching it.
Never thought an animation could cause such an impact on me.

Really?? Not much discussion about Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds? Previously, my favorites are the Graves of the Fireflies and Laputa: Castle in the Sky, but upon watching Nausicaä - damn, that's a really good story. That's a really good film by Studio Ghibli.

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