One of the most reliable names in the brand of animated features, Studio Ghibli has time and again gifted cinema with unforgettable jewels. Names like Spirited Away, Grave of the Fireflies and My Neighbor Totoro have cemented the Studio’s reputation of bankability and consistency. Known for its hypnotic excursions, the madcap Indiana Jones-style adventures and feminist ethos, the Studio has practically produced a laundry list of escapist but relevant films.
The anime producer is not high on volume though, with only 21 features under its belt. And perhaps, that is what’s so special about this Studio — their filmography isn’t overwhelming and never stretches to impossible. This list is another aid, narrowing down eight Studio Ghibli films that one should watch, barring the obvious names mentioned above. These films can be streamed on Netflix India.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
One would believe that once you gain the ability to fly, you have a new horizon open to explore — you develop a gift no one else can. Kiki, a young girl training to become a witch, flies across a city on a broomstick, closer to the illuminated full moon than anyone else. But despite her flight, literally and figuratively as she comes of age, she struggles just like any non-aviating, grounded individual. Even as director Hayao Miyazaki sprinkles his standard fantastical formula, the story’s realism is never superseded or compromised.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)
This is one of those rare films where in spite of having a protagonist hailed as a princess and divine being, criticises the very notion of the two. The film’s rich, hand-drawn tapestry is as deceiving as it is appealing. The film follows Princess Kaguya who, after being discovered in a bamboo shoot, brings a series of good fortune to her family. The film softly challenges the ideas of femininity and obedience — supplementing its illustrious beauty with a thought-provoking narrative.
Here’s the story of a goldfish princess who falls in love with a five-year-old boy that rescued her — she rebels against her father and even tries to transmogrify into a human, all to pursue the boy she is smitten with. Teeming with innocence, Miyazaki forays into the world of uninhibited childlikeness. Amongst this charm, there is an appeal for all age-groups — wistfully reminding adults of their youth and children about the possibilities of a dream-like future.
To ensure sustenance for their families, a wee-sized community of Borrowers, living under the floorboards of actual houses, “borrow” tiny amounts of goods and food from humans without them noticing. However, as a father takes his daughter for her first “borrowing” mission, she accidentally gets spotted. There is no tangible conflict in this film, it is slow-paced and isn’t nearly as nimble as the Borrowers within. But it is the film’s meditative and calm take on adventures that kindles the Studio Ghibli soul of animations.
Only Yesterday (1991)
This film is unlike most of the Studio’s works — there’s no magic, surrealism, or the familiar occultist tonality. It’s about a relationship with one’s younger self, relying on the simple magnetism of everyday life. On her way to a rural farm, a 27-year old Taeko is engulfed by her childhood memories, of the fifth-grader Taeko. Her adult life is interrupted by a coming-of-age story. Writer and Director Isao Takahata serenely balances the two — where the piercing relatability of it all compensates for the lack of action.
Porco Rosso (1992)
It is difficult to imagine a World War veteran fight a bunch of air pirates who is an anthropomorphic pig. In the West, Disney is known for its offbeat, unconventional ideas. Sometimes, they work; many times, they don’t. This is possibly Studio Ghibli’s first experiment in an already offbeat, unconventional oeuvre — and a successful experiment. Hayao Miyazaki, as a self-gratifying ode to his love for aviation, brings about a clever world full of action-packed adventures, especially appealing to the wartime romantics.
From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)
This animated feature is set in 1963, as Japan was preparing for the 1964 Olympics and recovering from the devastating war. And just as the country was rebuilding itself, we see two children, in a boarding house, try to prevent their clubhouse from being knocked down. The attention this film gives to the harrowing yet hopeful past is staggeringly complex, although very subtly told.
Castle in the Sky (1986)
It feels more fitting to end with the Studio’s first feature film — you can see how and where the ‘Studio Ghibli Culture’ of animation was conceived, and what ignited its later works. It follows two daredevil children in possession of a crystal amulet, needless to say, a coveted object. While safeguarding it from bureaucrats and pirates, the two embark on a journey to look for Laputa, a floating island powered by the magical crystal. Propelled by Hayao Miyazaki’s creative vision, this film is an alluring blend of colour and action.