Studio Ghibli has been so consistently good, for so long, that people don't tend to talk in terms of one single movie — they talk about the output of the studio as a whole; almost like it's a emblematic of a certain high standard. Simply put: when I decided to choose five of my favourite Studio Ghibli movies for this post, it was kinda tricky to narrow things down.
But I did it anyway, and here's the obligatory disclaimer: taste is subjective and in no way, shape or form is this supposed to be a definitive list. These are just my own, personal favourite Studio Ghibli movies.
In no particular order...
I'm still surprised to hear that some people don't like Ponyo.
I love it almost exclusively for one scene: the car ride home as Sosuke's mother (insanely) attempts to outrun an incredible flood in the process of reclaiming the land. I'm always in awe of how the ocean moves in this scene. It's incredibly, almost laughably stylised but it still manages to affect me more than any photorealistic depiction ever could. The sight of Ponyo herself sprinting across the waves as it rises and falls is absolutely jaw-dropping.
I never tire of watching that scene and I never will.
My Neighbour Totoro
It's as important to Ghibli as Mickey Mouse is to Disney.
I first watched Totoro whilst living in Japan. Incredibly, I had never heard of Studio Ghibli and I'd never heard of Totoro. I watched it free of any expectation or any kind of knowledge whatsoever. I remember taking two main things from Totoro: firstly, I'd never seen a movie so perfectly evoke what it meant to be a child exploring a new space. Secondly, I was sort of shocked that it was combined with such serious overtones, with the subplot of Mei and Setsuko's Mother, who is recovering from a long term illness. It's always remembered as this joyous evocation of childhood, but Totoro is actually — at times — a very dark experience.
Grave of the Fireflies
It's impossible to talk about Totoro without discussing its companion flick, Grave of the Fireflies. Both were released at the same time, and where Totoro has its dark moments, Grave of the Fireflies might be the most overwhelmingly brutal piece of cinema ever committed to film. It is absolutely gruelling, and probably my favourite war movie of all time.
So many war films focus on heroic exploits, or the brutalities of war itself: Grave of the Fireflies focuses intently on the effect war has on innocent human beings. It highlights consequences of war that are normally hidden to us.
The Tale Of Princess Kaguya
Man, I am playing hard and risky with this choice, particularly since this movie hasn't even technically been released yet, but I really liked The Tale Of Princess Kaguya, and I have a feeling it'll stand tall amongst the best Studio Ghibli works in the years to come.
I've already written fairly extensively on why I think The Tale of Princess Kaguya is such an important movie, but suffice to say it is — visually, thematically — extremely special.
In an attempt to placate Princess Mononoke fans, please know that I deliberated between Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke for a full minute. That's 60 whole seconds.
The reason I went with Spirited Away is its sense of visual invention. Like many Ghibli movies, the narrative thread is buried within two hours of absolutely mental imagery, but that imagery is so spectacularly out there that you simply go along for the ride. Spirited Away is fearlessly weird. I think that's just about the highest compliment you can pay any type of art.
What did we miss? Did we get it totally wrong? (We got it wrong, didn't we?) Tell us all about it in the comments below.