Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is an upcoming PS3 RPG title. The main draw of Ni no Kuni is that the characters and story were designed by Studio Ghibli, a very influential and prolific animation studio in Japan that has made many memorable films. I’m pretty selective about my anime and only like a few series, such as Astro Boy, original Dragon Ball, and not much else. But I do love the movies that Studio Ghibli puts out, so in honor of the release of Ni no Kuni, here are my favorites of theirs. Actually it’ll be a list of pretty much all their movies, since I like most of them for some reason or another anyway.
Panda Go Panda
Hayao Miyazaki has directed and helped make a large portion of Ghibli’s films. But even before the studio even started, he was making great animated features like Panda Go Panda. In fact, I’d have to say that Panda Go Panda is my favorite Miyazaki film! Panda Go Panda is actually two short films that were shown in Japanese theaters in the late 70’s. But even then, you can tell Miyazaki’s style right away. The shorts tell the story of a little girl who lives with her grandmother. One day the grandmother had to go on a trip, and left the little girl at the house alone. Now, cartoons couldn’t get away with something like this nowadays, but Panda Go Panda has a fairy tale vibe to it so it’s not like the grandmother was abandoning the child or anything, even though it seems that way. But shortly after she leaves, the little girl finds an escaped panda from the zoo and his little son, and together they form a family and go on adventures together. Even in this early film, you can tell Miyazaki’s staples were starting to form, like a spunky female lead and a panda that looks a lot like a proto-Totoro with his great big smile and gaping eyes. Since Panda Go Panda was geared toward little kids, it kind of has a Nick Jr. feel to it, but it’s hilarious and my brothers still love watching it after all these years. It used to be fairly hard to find on DVD, but I think it was re-released a couple of years ago. So if you have little kids around the house, or if you’re young at heart, I highly recommend checking out Panda Go Panda.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
If I had to pick an OFFICIAL Studio Ghibli favorite and not count the Panda movie, then I guess Nausicaa would be it. I think this was their first animated film under the Ghibli name, and you can tell it was made in the early 80’s. When my brother Jeff and his friends watched it once, one of them said, “The 80’s is strong with this one.” Anyway, I think it’s safe to say that most JRPG staples and story ideas came from this movie and other Ghibli film after it. Nausicaa is set in a post-apocalyptic land, remnants of ancient civilizations’ technologies threaten to destroy the world once again, and people ride around in airships and giant birds. All before Final Fantasy was even a thought. You can tell when companies play up the nostalgia factor of Nausicaa, since it was a pretty big deal back then. The movie is a little long and somewhat depressing at times, but it still holds up very well today. Plus I think the main character Nausicaa is pretty cool, and helped set the standard for Ghibli’s spunky and heroic female leads.
The Castle in the Sky
If Nausicaa helped influence Japanese RPGs, then Castle in the Sky sealed the deal. It starts out in a mining town, and then a mysterious yet heroic girl appears with a magical and mysterious pendant that has the power to unlock ruins of an ancient civilization on a floating island. The cast also features a group of likable air pirates that end up being heroes in the end. I’m sure that game and cartoon characters like Tron Bonne and Team Rocket were modeled after them. Even though I like Nausicaa a little better, Castle in the Sky is less depressing and more evenly paced.
Kiki’s Delivery Service
For me, Ghibli films fall into two categories. There are those with lots of adventure and action, like Nausicaa, Castle in the Sky, or Howl’s Moving Castle. Then there are those that are more gentle stories, where not a lot of things happen. These include ones like My Neighbor Totoro, Panda Go Panda, or Ponyo. Kiki’s Delivery Service falls into the latter category. The movie tells the story of a little witch girl named Kiki who goes out into the world on her own to help people and complete her witch’s training. For a while I said that this was one of my favorites, but I haven’t watched it in a long time so I need to see it again to see if it still holds up. I do remember liking it a lot when I did see it, though. And Kiki’s talking cat was cool.
This is another one that I haven’t watched in a while but need to watch again. It’s about an airplane pilot who gets turned into a pig. I really liked this one, too. I think this movie came out about the same time that the old Sonic anime movie came out (the one with Metal Sonic), and I remember thinking the Sonic anime drew inspiration from Porco Rosso in places. Oh, and if you’re wondering how I’m watching all these Ghibli films, well, a long time ago Target had a super big sale on Ghibli DVDs, and I snatched them all!
Howl’s Moving Castle
Most of the newer Miyazaki films you can see in nearly every theater, but for a while, if I wanted to see Ghibli’s newest, I’d have to go to an artsy fartsy theater near where I live called the Angelika. But I have a lot of good memories watching some of these in that particular theater because it was different and new. Anyway, Howl’s Moving Castle was a lot of fun, and I think it may even be my brother Jeff’s favorite. Calcifer the fire spirit certainly stole the show in it.
Castle of Cagliostro
Lupin the 3rd is a very popular and long running manga and anime series about a heroic thief and his pals as they try to pull heists and avoid getting caught by the bumbling yet likable Inspector Zenigata. But did you know that Miyazaki directed one of the Lupin movies? It definitely feels like a Lupin film, but at the same time, it has Miyazaki staples you can point out. There is a heroic female lead, and it’s not Fujiko, thank goodness (I don’t like her). I’ve also heard that Miyazaki has a strong sense of justice and always wants the good guys to win in his movies. So while Zenigata doesn’t get to catch Lupin, he does get to foil the competing bad guys’ plans in this movie, and it’s really cool how they do it. About a year ago I bought another anime movie on DVD based on the Professor Layton games. The Layton movie had nothing to do with Ghibli or Miyazaki, but for some reason it still felt like Castle of Cagliostro. And even though I’m not a fan of the games (too much math), the Layton movie was really good and kept the spirit of the DS titles intact. I highly recommend it, too.
I think this was the first Miyazaki film I saw in a mainstream theater. I haven’t seen it in a while, so I don’t remember as much about it. I should watch it again I guess. All the depictions of Japanese spirits and legends were interesting, though.
Ponyo is one of the more recent Miyazaki films. It’s a retelling of The Little Mermaid fairy tale, with a Ghibli spin. I like how the little boy main character is actually very polite, responsible, and well behaved. Yet still a believable kid character. That’s one thing I appreciate about Miyazaki films is that most of the kids are polite. It’s a nice change of pace since in nearly every other cartoon, kid characters are loud obnoxious brats. Ponyo is also a great movie for little kids to watch. I remember bringing the Ponyo DVD with me when I visited relatives in Alabama one time. My cousin and her three little girls came over and I watched the Ponyo DVD with them. They were glued to the TV the whole time. I bet they ended up buying that DVD after I left! Oh, and Ponyo REALLY likes ham!
My Neighbor Totoro
This must’ve been a very influential film in Japan, as Ghibli uses Totoro as their mascot now. I also heard that in Japan, there is a nature preserve called Totoro’s Forest. The movie is a calm, gentle story about two sisters and their father and their move to the countryside in 50’s era Japan. It’s hard for the girls because their mother is in a hospital and very sick. But they meet a huge forest spirit named Totoro who takes them on little adventures and helps them out. Not one of my favorites, but I still like it enough that I’ve re-watched it a couple of times. When Toy Story 3 came out and I saw a Totoro plush in the background of one of the scenes, I watched the Totoro movie again when I got home. I think they did that because I’ve heard that John Lasseter and Miyazaki are good friends.
The Secret World of Arietty
I THINK this is the most recent Ghibli film that’s been released in the US as far as I know. It’s just a retelling of The Borrowers story, which has been done several times before. Including a recent live action movie, and anyone remember the old Saturday morning cartoon The Littles? Yeah, Arietty is like that. But it’s still got that Ghibli feel to it. I don’t think Miyazaki had anything to do with it, but it sure felt like it did in the movie, and I saw his name in the credits at the beginning so I don’t know. What impressed me most about this movie was the sound. They did a great job making the most mundane sound effects resonate big and huge, like how you’d hear them if you were super tiny. It was especially cool in a theater setting!
Most Ghibli films I’d recommend to any age. But not Mononoke. It’s a bit more violent and bloody, and best for older viewers. Now, it’s not as violent as Ninja Scroll or Fist of the North Star, but still meant for mature audiences. I haven’t watched it in a long while, but I remember the story being good and Mononoke was cool.
And those are all the Ghibli films I really like. There are a few that I feel indifferent or ‘meh’ about, and a couple that I don’t really like, so we’ll go over those now. Miyazaki had nothing to do with The Cat Returns, and you can tell. It has kind of a fairy tale-ish vibe, but wasn’t very memorable to me. It wasn’t bad by any means, just not memorable. Same goes with Tales of Earthsea, an animated movie based on a fantasy novel series. It was entertaining, but felt kind of generic, which is the reason why I don’t read fantasy novels. I watched it on Netflix and didn’t feel the need to own it on DVD. My Neighbors, the Yamadas was a cute little take on family life in Japan, like a Japanese family newspaper comic strip. But I haven’t had the desire to watch it again.
And last are a couple I don’t really like much at all. One is Pom Poko. It’s a story about the lives of Japanese tanuki creatures as they struggle with the progressing world around them. Tanukis are real life animals, but in Japanese folklore they have mysterious shape-shifting powers. Male tanukis have unusually large reproductive organs and this movie isn’t shy about focusing on that point. So yeah, I didn’t really want to see a movie where people were crushed by giant tanuki testicles. Blech. I can never look at Tanooki Mario and Tom Nook in the same way again. OK, OK, it wasn’t that bad, but it was still gross. And I think one of the only Ghibli films I haven’t seen is Grave of the Fireflies. But I hear it’s about children struggling after the bomb blew up in Japan during WWII, and so I really don’t have a desire to watch that one.
And that’s all I feel like talking about Ghibli films. In the comments section, let me know which ones are your favorites, and feel free to give me any other anime recommendations. Also, I’m kind of running out of blog ideas right now, so if you have any suggestions, feel free to let me know, too! Later! –Cary