I have been meaning to watch the anime films of the legendary Studio Ghibli for quite a while now, but their works were unfortunately not readily available in India. This changed recently when Netflix made almost the entire collection available in India, that too with an English soundtrack for almost all of them. I came to know of this via this wonderful article in BBC Culture. I have been watching these films each weekend over the last few months. I loved all of them (some more than others). I would highly recommend these films to anyone.
If you have never heard of Studio Ghibli, or are wondering which of these films you should watch first, use the BBC Culture article I referenced as a guide. These films are true classics and are well worth your time. What I liked most about them are how they tell a wonderful story through beautifully-drawn frames that sometimes contain stunning details. Most of these films tell their story by transporting you to a different make-believe world each time, with the respective world containing its own quirks and set of rules. If you are an escapist at heart, this set of films is truly wonderful to inhabit.
I have now watched all the Studio Ghibli films as well as some of the earlier and later films created by a few of its key people that are considered a part of the greater Studio Ghibli canon. Here are the films that I watched, listed in the order in which I watched them, along with my respective impression of each film:
- Grave Of The Fireflies – a beautiful and poignant film about the tragedy of war and how it affects the lives of innocent people unwittingly caught up in it. Unless you are made of a rock, this film will make you cry. Must watch.
- Spirited Away – a fantastical tale of a little girl who does whatever it takes to rescue her parents from a world of spirits. Their highest-grossing film so far, justifiably so.
- The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya – based on a Japanese folk-tale about a bamboo-cutter discovering a mysterious little girl in a forest. Wonderful story told using a minimalist drawing-style unlike most of the other films.
- The Wind Rises – a biopic about a real-life World War II Japanese aircraft-designer and a soaring fantasy (literally) containing breathtaking visuals.
- My Neighbor Totoro – a delightful story about two little girls and the bonds of sisterhood. The furry title-character is what you see in the Studio Ghibli logo. A pure joy to watch.
- Laputa: Castle In The Sky – an abandoned castle floating above the clouds, levitated by the energy from a crystal and tended by robots. A boy and a mysterious girl embark on an adventure to save this legendary lost castle.
- Kiki’s Delivery Service – a coming-of-age story about a little witch trying to stand on her own in a new city. Charming.
- Princess Mononoke – a story of a girl raised by wolves trying desperately to save the forests from being ravaged by men, with the help of a boy trying to save his village from a mysterious monster. A strong message on saving nature from man.
- Tales From The Earthsea – a moody fantasy about a prince discovering his true self with the help of a sorcerer and a girl.
- Howl’s Moving Castle – a tale of a girl cursed by a witch to turn into an old woman and a magician with a mysterious walking castle trying to avoid being drafted into a war between two nations. An unlikely couple who help each other out. The castle here has been used in many memes about software-complexity.
- Pom Poko – the story of a group of shape-shifting raccoons whose habitat is affected by the construction and deforestation unleashed by an expansion of Tokyo. A poignant story about how our mindless-development affects the forests around us as well as the creatures living in them. These raccoons put their scrotums to delightful use in this film.
- Porco Rosso – a delightful swashbuckling adventure of a pilot around the World War I era who has been cursed into being a pig and who is enlisted to fight air-pirates. A fun watch.
- Nauiscaä Of The Valley Of The Wind – a post-apocalyptic story of a princess trying to save both her city-state and their forest and its beings from other city-states at war. Nice message on saving the environment.
- Only Yesterday – a city woman looks back on some key moments from her formative childhood-years and comes to grip with her true self on a holiday in a village helping her farming relatives. Beautiful story.
- Whisper Of The Heart – a charming coming-of-age story of a little girl who discovers love and purpose. You can notice a reference to “Porco Rosso” here and the cat in the statue here gets its own film later.
- When Marnie Was There – a lovely story of an introverted sick girl on a holiday in a village to recover from her sickness with the help of some fresh air, coming across a mysterious girl and an abandoned house. This leads her to discover her past and to come to terms with her present.
- From Up On Poppy Hill – a girl and a boy in a port-town fall in love and discover their shared roots. This touches upon incest, so it might be uncomfortable viewing for some.
- Arrietty – a beautiful story of a little girl who is a “Borrower”, tiny little people living off things stolen from humans remaining mostly undetected by the latter, and a sick human boy visiting his grandmother.
- The Cat Returns – the cat from the statue in “Whisper Of The Heart” stars in this story of a hidden fanastical world of talking cats and a girl who finds herself among them due to a little act of kindness. Delightful.
- Ocean Waves – a high-school boy in a small city meets a newly-arrived reclusive girl from the big city, who is the target of the affection of his friend. However, the heart wants what it wants. (This film only had Japanese audio when I watched it.)
- My Neighbors The Yamadas – a nice story of a family and the relationships of the members with each other, told using a minimalist drawing-style.
- Ponyo – a delightful, feel-good, story of a shape-shifting goldfish and a little boy who lives with his mother near the sea.
- Lupin III: The Castle Of Cagliostro – an adventure starring a thief rescuing a princess imprisoned by a regent who prints counterfeit money to finance his operations. Pure fun.
- Modest Heroes – a set of three (unrelated) short stories about a brother-sister crab-duo searching for their father who was lost after an accident, a boy with an extreme allergy to eggs, and an invisible man struggling to be acknowledged by others. Each of the stories is drawn in a different way, with the first one showing off some spectacular water-effects.
The great thing about these films is that the stories are not formulaic and are quite different in each case. They do not have a distinctive good and evil set of characters. Many of the films have a pacific and conservationist message. Most of these films are visually gorgeous and a treat to watch.
The film that I liked the most from this set is the one that I watched first and the one that is sadly not available on Netflix: “Grave Of The Fireflies”. It has also been written and directed by Isao Takahata, not his more famous founding partner of Studio Ghibli Hayao Miyazaki.
The collection on Netflix seems to have restored editions of the older films and in some cases, re-dubbed versions of the English soundtrack. However, in almost all the cases, the English subtitles differed quite a bit from the English audio, which was quite jarring at times. In some cases, the English audio had over-Americanized rhotic vocals, which I found irritating (most annoyingly in the way “Totoro” was pronounced) – I plan to rewatch some of these films in the original Japanese audio to cleanse myself and to truly enjoy them. That said, these are relatively minor irritants in enjoying an otherwise excellent collection.