During J-term at Blair Academy, students in the course “Ghibli in Practice: A Cinematic Experience” watched six movies produced by Studio Ghibli. Founded in 1985, the studio has made 23 movies. As one of the most popular and successful Japanese animation studios, Ghibli, under the direction of Hayao Miyazaki, has crafted a distinctive style and thematic approach that we explored through films such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Spirited Away. While I think these moves are commendable, I enjoyed some of them more than others. Here is my Ranking of Studio Ghibli movies:
6. Princess Mononoke, 1997
About: Ashitaka seeks to lift his curse by finding the deer god, and uncovers the struggle between the forest and Irontown
Review: Princess Mononoke was my least favorite. Although not a bad film, it diverges significantly from other Ghibli works. It has the longest runtime out of all the movies we watched, making the themes and plot much larger and detailed compared to other Ghibli movies. The movie’s darker tone and focus on violence and mature themes distinguish it from Miyazaki’s usual fare, making it less enjoyable for me.
5. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, 1985
About: Nausicaa is the princess of the Valley of the Wind, a civilization in the post-apocalyptic world. She strives to protect her people while maintaining her values of peace and caring for others.
Review: While not an official Studio Ghibli movie, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is Miyazaki’s first full-length film. Like Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind also tackles serious subjects like war and environmental destruction. Despite war and violence prevalent throughout the movie, Nausicaa saves her people by showing kindness to the insects about to destroy the city. Nausicaä’s character is admirable for her unwavering commitment to peace and kindness amidst chaos. The film’s ambition is evident, though it occasionally feels less refined than later Ghibli movies.
4. My Neighbor Totoro, 1988
About: Sister Satsuki and Mei discover the magical forest creature Totoro after moving to the countryside.
Review: My Neighbor Totoro is one of Ghibli’s most iconic movies, so much so it became the symbol of the studio itself. Watching Satsuki and Mei cope with their mother’s illness through the help of their adventures with Totoro made for an incredibly cute and heartwarming story. However, it had the weakest plot of all the movies (it is less than an hour and a half long). Despite its charm, the plot is the simplest among the films we watched. There just isn’t a lot that happens in the movie to make it interesting.
3. Castle in the Sky, 1986
About: Pazu meets Sheeta when she floats down from the sky with her magic necklace. Pazu helps Sheeta escape from government agents and eventually find the mythical floating city of Laputa.
Review: I enjoyed Castle in the Sky. The pirates chasing and eventually teaming up with Pazu and Sheeta was one of the funniest parts of the movie. I also enjoyed the development of Pazu and Sheeta’s relationship. Though it has a basic adventure plot, it is fun nonetheless.
2. Howl’s Moving Castle, 2004
About: Being cursed to age, Sophie goes to live with the magical wizard and eventual love interest Howl.
Review: Howl’s Moving Castle was definitely the most fun movie we watched. Howl’s Moving Castle shines with its dynamic character interactions and development, especially between Howl and Sophie. The worst part of the movie was that the plot was kinda confusing, especially the ending.
1. Spirited Away, 2001
About: On their way to their new house, Chihiro and her parents get trapped in the spirit world. Chihiro must work in a bathhouse and figure out a way to escape with her parents who have been turned into pigs.
Review: I loved Spirited Away. To quote Ms. Quelley, “It won an Academy Award for a reason.” The setting of the Spirit World was so immersive. The Spirit World is vividly realized through stunning visuals and an enchanting soundtrack. Chihiro has really strong character growth. She starts as a spoiled and afraid girl, but grows into someone who is brave, kind, and selfless. I was the most engaged watching Spirited Away, all the way from the beginning to the end. Not only was it my favorite movie we watched during J-term, but it now may be one of my favorite movies of all time.