Check out Part 1 of the series if you missed it — I talk about all of Hayao Miyazaki’s films in detail.
In this post, I’ll be counting down all 22 of Studio Ghibli’s films, but I’ll talk only briefly about Miyazaki’s films because I don’t want to repeat myself — there are 12 more films I have to discuss, peeps! Otherwise we’d be here all day.
Studio Ghibli was active from 1985 to 2014. The first film officially created through the Studio was Castle in the Sky and their last film was When Marnie Was There. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was actually not produced by Ghibli; it was released in 1984 and was the project that led to the legendary studio’s creation due to how successful it was. Nausicaa is considered canon, though, so it’s almost always lumped with the rest of the Ghibli films.
Gah, ranking is so terribly hard! I’ve been ordering and re-ordering all the films FOREVER and it’s just so hard to pick favorites. *Cries.* Most of them are so good that it’s actually heartbreaking seeing some towards the bottom of the list… While Miyazaki dominates the top half of the list, there are a few films not directed by him that are ranked highly that I absolutely love.
Ready? Let’s begin the countdown! (Don’t worry, this is all spoiler free!)
#22. The Ocean Waves or I Can Hear the Sea (Tomomi Mochizuki, 1993)
Okay, I’ll be honest and say I didn’t like The Ocean Waves (or I Can Hear the Sea, its other title). This was a TV film by the younger Ghibli animators as a sort of test project for them to hone their skills. The animation is beautiful, but I couldn’t stand the characters and found the story boring. It’s about teens falling in love, and has a love triangle, but I hated the girl these two boys were fighting over. The Ocean Waves, while not terrible, really wasn’t that good. What a disappointment.
#21. Only Yesterday (Isao Takahata, 1991)
Next is Only Yesterday, an adult slice of life film by Isao Takahata. It’s a slow film, like, so slow that the characters have an entire (long) conversation in the car about agriculture and farming. Yup. Fascinating stuff. But the movie is charming and the characters drawn with more realistic facial features. What I love about Takahata’s films is that he really experiments with his art styles (Only Yesterday, My Neighbors the Yamadas, Princess Kaguya… they all look vastly different from one another). Also, Only Yesterday and The Ocean Waves are the only two Ghibli movies yet to be given English dubs, though there is one in the works for Only Yesterday coming in 2016. (Daisy Ridley of new Star Wars: The Force Awakens fame is slotted to star in the Only Yesterday English dub. That’s cool, I guess.)
#20. My Neighbors the Yamadas (Isao Takahata, 1999)
My Neighbors the Yamadas is a hilarious story about the Yamada family told in vignettes and drawn in a more cartoonish style. It’s funny and heartfelt, but it feels very very long because of this approach at story format. I laughed plenty of times while watching this, but it’s not something I’ll likely watch again simply because of how tedious it got at times. My Neighbors the Yamadas was really cute, and showed how dysfunctional but loving families are, but it’s definitely not a favorite of mine.
#19. Pom Poko (Isao Takahata, 1994)
I watched Pom Poko when I was a kid once. I thought it was very weird and didn’t really like it. For this Ghibli marathon I rewatched it, and while I liked it more than before, I still think it’s pretty weird. It’s about shape-shifting raccoon dogs trying to save their forest from the humans who want to clear it away to make room for residential buildings. I love the message and I love the quirky raccoon dog characters, but this is a really bizarre movie. And I don’t think I can ever stand to look at so many raccoon genitalia ever again. (The English dub calls them “pouches” but it’s plain as day that they’re talking about raccoon balls. Yup. Bizarre I tell you!) Pom Poko is fun enough, but, like with the other films I’ve already mentioned, isn’t going to be something I’ll watch again. Twice is plenty enough for me.
#18. Tales from Earthsea (Goro Miyazaki, 2006)
This movie was really disappointing, and kind of a hot mess. It’s not a bad film, but compared to the other Ghibli films, it’s certainly one of the weaker ones. I’m definitely willing to rewatch it again at some point to really dissect it, but from the first viewing I was left feeling confused and let-down.
Tales from Earthsea is based on Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea books, and Goro Miyazaki’s film borrows plot lines from various books. Oh, yeah — Goro is Hayao’s son, and Hayao apparently wasn’t thrilled when his son insisted on helming this project because he didn’t think Goro was ready. In a sense, I agree with the master Hayao. Goro’s direction greatly improved in his next film, From Up on Poppy Hill, but Tales from Earthsea was very uneven in pace, tone, and plot. The characters aren’t easy to like and the magic isn’t very clear. It’s dark, sad, and sometimes downright creepy. It’s not bad, but it’s not great. I loved the music, though, the music was the best part of it (the animation is pretty, too, obviously, since it’s Ghibli).
#17. From Up on Poppy Hill (Goro Miyazaki, 2011)
From Up on Poppy Hill is Goro Miyazaki’s second film, and for this one his father, Hayao Miyazaki, wrote the script. From Up on Poppy Hill is a very “neat” film, a lovely slice of life with some romance, and a twist we’ve seen time and time again (yawn, so cliche). The plot is predictable, but the movie is sweet. It’s doesn’t attempt to tackle anything very serious, but that’s okay. Not every movie needs to be a deep and complex story with multiple layers and lots of parts for viewers to dissect. But since most of Ghibli’s movies ARE deep like that, From Up on Poppy Hill is less memorable and less impressive. It’s very enjoyable and definitely cute, but it’s not a favorite of mine. (Hmm, I seem to be saying that a lot about these movies ranking lower on the list… None of these are bad movies, they just can’t live up at all to the classic masterpieces that dominate the top of the list.)
#16. Ponyo (Hayao Miyazaki, 2008)
Okay, here we go with the first of Hayao Miyazaki’s films on this overall countdown. It really pains me to put Ponyo at #16, but then I have to remember that it was #11 in Part 1’s countdown, so thinking about that, there are five more films not by Miyazaki that I found better than it. Which you’ll soon find out…
#15. When Marnie Was There (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2014)
When Marnie Was There is a really eerie mystery. It was also Studio Ghibli’s last film, and I was both happy and sad when the film ended. Happy because the film is a quieter, more thoughtful and melancholy story that doesn’t need glitz and glamour, but sad because I kind of wanted more, you know? (I was also absolutely HEARTBROKEN because, guys, IT’S STUDIO GHIBLI’S LAST FILM!) When Marnie Was There didn’t get me in the feels as much as some of the other Ghibli films do, and that’s why it’s not any higher on the list. I’d also been spoiled for the end (it was my own fault, actually) so it wasn’t surprising when everything was revealed. But the animation is simply gorgeous, and the slower, more peaceful moments are refreshing. I really liked When Marnie Was There, the friendship between the girls is so strong and the atmosphere is whimsical and mysterious.
#14. Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988)
You may be wondering why Isao Takahata’s masterpiece Grave of the Fireflies isn’t in my top ten. You may have immediately called me crazy for ranking this wartime classic in the middle of the list. Keep your shorts on — the reason why is because I can’t bear to watch it very often. It is a masterpiece, it really is. It is a completely unforgiving look at how war affects the common people. It is tragic, it is heartbreaking, it is real.
I absolutely love Grave of the Fireflies, but my personal countdown is mainly based on the films I can and want to rewatch. What makes Ghibli movies so great is that many of them are movies I can watch over and over and never tire of, always noticing new things about them with every view. Grave of the Fireflies is just way too sad and depressing for me rewatch very often. The first time I watched it, I was a sobbing wreck. This second time I watched it, I wasn’t quite as emotional but, now that I’m older, the weight of everything really bore down on me. I did still cry, but understanding everything that happens in the movie now that I’ve grown past being a wide-eyed kid really is tough to swallow. Grave of the Fireflies is effing amazing, but it’s just so sad.
#13. The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki, 2013)
I feel terrible putting Miyazaki’s swan song at #15. As much as I loved it, it’s just not quite as appealing to me to rewatch. It’s a biopic, it’s an historical piece. It’s gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous, but it’s not a “fun” film. It’s sad, though uplifting. I love The Wind Rises, but it’s not my favorite Ghibli movie, and neither is it my favorite Miyazaki movie. But it’s still amazing! I give it 5 stars! (Or 5 hearts.) A movie can be phenomenal without being a favorite of mine, and that’s what The Wind Rises is.
#12. Arrietty (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2010)
The first time I saw Arrietty, I liked it, but wasn’t a big fan, it just seemed kind of childish to me, kind of how I felt about Ponyo. But, this second time I watched it for my marathon, I actually watched the UK dubbed version, which I think I prefer over the US dubbed version (which I saw the first time). And I ended up liking it a lot more than I did the first time around.
Arrietty is based on the book The Borrowers. It’s a delightful story about tiny people who live among humans in secret. Arrietty is an awesome heroine. The animation is absolutely gorgeous. But I think one reason I don’t LOVE Arrietty is because the plot isn’t as deep and meaningful as it is in some of the other Ghibli movies. It’s a story about growing up and moving on, and about family bonds. I also disliked the “villain”, she was so… one-dimensional and loathe-worthy. I feel like Arrietty is a great family film, but not necessarily a movie that really makes you think about the themes touched on.
Okay, and here are the films I reeeeeally really love, the top half of the countdown. Most of these are Miyazaki films, so I’ll talk briefly about them since you got an entire Miyazaki dedicated post yesterday. But, if you’ve been keeping track, can you guess the three NON-Miyazaki films that are in the top half of the list?
#11. My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988)
So charming! But also very serious toward the end. Totoro is awesome, and so is the Catbus. The sisters are so lovable and I just want to hug and squish Mei. This movie is absolutely wonderful and such a big part of my childhood. I also love that theme music! So cute and catchy! I sing along to it every time I watch the movie.
#10. Kiki’s Delivery Service (Hayao Miyazaki, 1989)
Jiji is the greatest sidekick ever. I wish I had a little black cat as sarcastic as him. I also learned the word “dirigible” from this movie. And wanted to fly off on a broomstick and have my own awesome adventures. Basically, as a little girl, I wanted to be Kiki. I don’t think I was alone in that regard…
#9. The Cat Returns (Hiroyuki Morita, 2002)
The Cat Returns! It’s a spin-off film about the Baron and Muta and it’s just flipping hilarious. It doesn’t have the smoothest animation and Haru can get a bit annoying, but this film is so much fun! I mean, it’s pretty out-there seeing as it’s about a kingdom of cats. But who the heck doesn’t love that?! It’s not at the same caliber as a bunch of other Ghibli films, and you probably think I’m crazy for ranking it over Grave of the Fireflies and Totoro and Kiki, but the reason it’s so high on my list is because of its rewatchability (totally a word, guys, I say so). Rewatchability potential is a HUGE part of this list being put together. I can’t watch Grave of the Fireflies very often, but if I need a laugh and a crazy fun story about cats, then The Cat Returns is the one to pop on.
#8. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
Yeah, Spirited Away isn’t #1. I’m an outlier, a black sheep. Don’t get me wrong, I love Spirited Away (and I love Haku — oh, and the Radish Spirit just makes my day), but it’s not my favorite. It’s effing brilliant, that’s for sure, and Chihiro grows so much through the story. There’s so much detail and there are so many darker, mature themes. I love Spirited Away, it was one of the first Ghibli movies I ever saw, but there are some more movies I do like even more, believe it or not…
#7. Castle in the Sky (Hayao Miyazaki, 1986)
Castle in the Sky was Studio Ghibli’s first film. When I was younger and watched it I once had a dream about Laputa and evil Muska and chaos and destruction and all that jazz. Yeah, the story wouldn’t leave me alone and I was a little panicked over that (hey, I was little). I didn’t watch the movie for a long time, but after revisiting it I can’t help but love every single thing about it. The soundtrack for Castle in the Sky is also one of my favorites.
#6. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata, 2013)
This. Might be the most gorgeously animated film I have ever seen, and I’ve seen all of Miyazaki’s stuff, which is absolutely gorgeous, too. Princess Kaguya is drawn like a Japanese ink painting, and the movement of the animation is breathtaking, as are the colors. The music — by Joe Hisaishi in his first collaboration with Isao Takahata after all these years! — is absolutely perfect for the whimsical and fairytale-esque atmosphere of the movie.
This is a film about the Japanese legend The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, and the movie plays upon themes of happiness, fate, and expectations. It’s a beautiful film but also very sad to see how Princess Kaguya changes and is forced to change… I cried twice while watching The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, both times toward the end. (SPOILER FOR WHY I CRIED: First time I cried when she reunited with Sutemaru and the two of them dreamed about everything they could do and have together. I cried because I knew they would never truly have that time together… The second time I cried was when Princess Kaguya said goodbye to her adoptive parents. That was just absolutly heartbreaking. END OF SPOILERS.) This is a slower film but it’s not too slow, and it’s just so incredibly beautiful to look at. Like, holy ravioli — the animation is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
#5. Porco Rosso (Hayao Miyazaki, 1992)
Porco Rosso isn’t a fan favorite, but it’s one of my favorites. It’s hilarious, it’s action-packed, it empowers women. Of all the Ghibli films I rewatch Porco Rosso the most. Fun story: I won my DVD of Porco at a children’s film festival one year. They were announcing random seat numbers to give prizes to and the seat they announced was the one right next to me — and it was empty. So they gave me the prize. It was awesome and I was thrilled.
EDIT: As stated in my edit of Part 1: “Now that I’ve had some time away from the Studio Ghibli marathon, I think I’m going to place Porco Rosso behind Castle in the Sky and Spirited Away. Porco Rosso is my favorite of the three due to its rewatchability, but I do think that Castle in the Sky and Spirited Away are better in the sense that they are amazing fantasy epics that tackle some very complicated and serious themes.” Which means that Princess Kaguya also gets promoted on this list.
#4. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Hayao Miyazaki, 1984)
Nausicaa is not officially a Studio Ghibli movie since it was released in 1984 and Ghibli was founded in 1985. But Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is lumped in with the rest of the Ghibli movies, and it’s definitely a Miyazaki classic. Nausicaa is one bad-ass princess and she’s an incredible character. Plus, there’s Tato her fox squirrel buddy, and he’s totes adorbs.
#3. Whisper of the Heart (Yoshifumi Kondo, 1995)
You didn’t see this coming, did you? Whisper of the Heart is #3 on the Studio Ghibli countdown? Why the heck, Mallory?! Keep your shorts on! I love Whisper of the Heart. It’s adorable, it’s realistic, it’s funny, it’s romantic… It’s my favorite slice of life anime ever because it has a real plot to it. The characters all grow and test themselves. Shizuku wants adventure in her life and she finds it by writing a story about a beautiful cat figurine in an antique shop. She decides to prove to herself that she’s talented and capable when she feels inferior to her love interest, Seiji, who goes off to do what he knows he’s passionate about (violin making). Shizuku is awesome and strong and I loved how she didn’t wallow around feeling like she wasn’t good enough, although that is something she has to battle and overcome.
I know the entire movie by heart and I think Shizuku and Seiji are super cute. It’s a movie about friendship, hard work and dedication, and identifying self-worth. I absolutely adore it. Say what you want, but Whisper of the Heart is a special film to me. (Also, Miyazaki wrote the script for it, no wonder it’s so good!)
#2. Howl’s Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki, 2004)
Howl. Howl. Howl. ❤ Also, this is the most romantic of all the Ghibli films. ❤ But it’s just damn amazing and magical and Sophie grows so much as a character. Howl’s Moving Castle is phenomenal. Also, you should read the book by Diana Wynne Jones. The book and movie are quite different, even though their overall plot is the same, but both mediums are flawless. And epic. And magical. And funny. And romantic. And just — GAH. ❤ ❤ ❤
#1. Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki, 1997)
The best of the best and Miyazaki’s epic masterpiece. Princess Mononoke is such a deep, complex film. It’s very serious and dark, but it’s genius. I love the battle between humans and animals, humanity and nature, good versus evil versus morally gray ideals. This story is unique and special and sweeping, and I love literally everything about it. Additionally, Princess Mononoke‘s soundtrack is my favorite of all the Ghibli films. Joe Hisaishi is just a musical genius. (Also, please don’t listen to the English version of “Mononoke Hime” — find the original Japanese version to listen to if you can, because the English version sounds like crap in the movie, no offense to Neil Gaiman who did the translation.)
So that’s the countdown of all 22 Studio Ghibli films! I’m exhausted. Did you actually read all that? If you did, applause. If you skimmed, that’s fine. 22 movies is a really long list. In the meantime, do you agree or disagree with my rankings? What’s your favorite Ghibli movie? What’s your favorite non-Miyazaki film? What was the first Studio Ghibli film you watched?
Stay tuned for Part 3 of this appreciation series. I don’t know when exactly it’ll be up, but the next part is going to focus on my favorite characters from the films. (Get ready for lots of GIFs!) Before that goes up, though, tell me who your favorite animal/spirit characters are! Tato? Calcifer? Jiji? The soot sprites? Moro? The Radish Spirit? Totoro? Muta? TELL ME in the comments below!
Besides the above questions…
Have I persuaded you to go watch every single Studio Ghibli film now?
Do you agree with my list and the order of movies?
What’s your favorite Studio Ghibli film and why?
(Feel free to rank your favorites in the comments section!)
Comment below letting me know!