Since its foundation in 1985, Studio Ghibli has released over 20 feature films. Some of these have become animation classics! Others have stunk up the joint.
This story has been republished following Netflix's acquisition of the Studio Ghibli license, meaning 21 of Studio Ghibli's 22 films - all but Grave of the Fireflies - will be available in Australia later this year.
The good news is that Netflix just got the rights to stream pretty much every major Studio Ghibli release, from Totoro to Princess Mononoke to Ponyo. Even better news: it's all coming to Netflix Australia.
While the studio is synonymous with the works of Hayao Miyazaki, don’t forget that a number of other directors have helmed projects for Ghibli, from studio co-founder Isao Takahata to Miyazaki’s son Goro.
Note that for the purposes of putting this list together, I’ve included only theatrical feature films. That means no TV movies or shorts. I’ve also included Nausicaä, because while that was technically released before the studio’s foundation, it involved all of Ghibli’s key players (Miyazaki directing, Takahata writing and Joe Hisashi on music), and Ghibli now owns it (the film is part of all the major box sets collecting its works).
21. Tales From Earthsea
20. Pom Poko
19. My Neighbours The Yamadas
18. Howl’s Moving Castle
17. The Wind Rises
16. Whisper Of The Heart
15. From Up On Poppy Hill
14. When Marnie Was There
13. The Cat Returns
12. Only Yesterday
9. Spirited Away
8. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
7. The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya
6. Kiki’s Delivery Service
5. Grave Of The Fireflies
4. My Neighbour Totoro
3. Castle In The Sky
2. Porco Rosso
1. Princess Mononoke
I love Totoro, yes, but while the front half of the film is packed with enough childhood wonder to power a small European nation, the back half (the search for Mei) has never sat right with me. The fact my kids always get bored and want to turn it off around then only reinforces my suspicion that the darker tone of the search is a clumsy fit with the magical opening.
The Wind Rises sucks. It’s a humourless trudge. As a story about war, it’s sanitised. As a biography, it’s fiction. About the only thing it has going for it is the best collection of smoking animations in cartoon history. This view upsets my colleague Brian Ashcraft, who thinks this is the best Ghibli movie, but he is wrong.
Howl’s sucks too. Great hair animations, but it’s Miyazaki’s most tired film, a grab bag of symbols and characters from previous works thrown together into a tedious tale that feels more like a desperate lunge at the old magic than, well, actual magic.
Arrietty is a lot better, I think, than many people give it credit for! A big part of all of Ghibli’s films, not just Miyazaki’s, is that much of the story-telling and world-building is done through small quirks of animation. Mei struggling with a bucket, Chihiro running too quickly down stairs, etc. Arrietty is full of this stuff, especially in its opening ten minutes, and is I think Ghibli’s best work in purely technical terms.
Like the Pixar post, it’s a testament to the quality of Ghibli’s films that, again, being at the rear end of this list doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. I wouldn’t draw a line that said “won’t ever watch these movies again” until maybe #17.
Conversely, shit gets real at about #9. You could randomly reorder the list from there and every time you did it you’d make someone happy.