Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Top 10 Tuesday: Studio Ghibli Films (Through 2011)

I recently finished working my way through our Studio Ghibli collection, which includes every feature film the studio released between 1986 and 2011 (except for Only Yesterday), with the addition of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. In celebration of this, and as a result of watching so many of the movies so close together, I though this month's Top 10 could be my ranking of Studio Ghibli films.

Note: I'm not going to be entirely objective with this list because some of the films I'm excluding (looking at you, Grave of the Fireflies) due to the fact that I'm not likely to watch them again (or at least not for a very long time). Rewatchability is high on the list of qualifications for this Top 10. With that out of the way, to the rankings!

10. Porco Rosso

This movie surprised me with how much I enjoyed it, considering I knew very little about it going in. But the story is very heartfelt, and the characters are lovable in their individual ways. My one quibble is the ending with its "we'll never tell" attitude about the chief happy ending the movie was building up.

9. Whisper of the Heart

I'll admit that my main interest in watching this one was so I could have context for The Cat Returns, a spin-off sequel that centers on a minor character (the Baron) having further adventures. Funnily enough, I wound up enjoying Whisper more -- even though it's one of the few Studio Ghibli films to not feature fantasy elements (aside from the book Shizuku writes). It reminded me a lot of From Up on Poppy Hill, which was one of the first Ghibli films I saw.

8. My Neighbor Totoro

I actually wasn't sure this one was going to make it on the list at first because my initial impression of it was that the story was far more episodic than I usually care for in movies. But it's hard not to love Totoro the character. The whimsy and hope that fill this movie make it one I'll watch again.

7. Laputa: Castle in the Sky

I need to rewatch this one anyway; I was putting together a baby swing the first time we watched it, so I'm a little hazy on the details. But I do remember liking the story, with its magic stones, robots, and floating cities.

6. Tales from Earthsea

This is not LeGuin's Earthsea, but I'm okay with that because of one thing: Timothy Dalton as Sparrowhawk. I didn't know I needed this to be a thing until I watched this movie. If nothing else, this movie is worth it for that (and Mariska Hartigay as Tenar). I've not read Tehanu, so I don't know how faithfully the elements of that book were adapted, but honestly this was a film that (like Howl's Moving Castle) was so enjoyable on its own, I can view it as a separate story (simply an adaptation rather than a representation). Although it is very, very odd to hear Willem Dafoe's voice coming from such an effeminate looking character as Cob.

5. Kiki's Delivery Service

This is another of Studio Ghibli's films that runs closer to magical realism than fantasy. Although Kiki is a "witch," most of her problems are those of everyday people. With a touching climax and plenty of heart, this movie deserves to be a childhood staple for all.

4. Howl's Moving Castle

This is just such a great movie. Where to begin? Sophie is strong and weak in proper turns, just as her book counterpart is. The brilliant way they conveyed her old age and young heart through the film still makes me grin. Calcifer is properly belligerent. The castle moves in a fun and exciting way. And the way they handled the Witch of the Waste (while not in line with the book) adds a touch of humanity to the whole piece.

3. Princess Mononoke

This movie carries a lot of the themes Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are known for: strong main characters who are young, journeys to discover self and save others, the proper relationship between man and nature, and the existence and power of the supernatural world.  But I found myself enjoying this one more than some of the other films in that vein (Pom Poko, Nausicaa) for some reason. I think it may be the fact that this story, unlike Nausicaa, is the whole of itself. (I loved the Nausicaa manga, but the movie just felt truncated and flat in comparison.) Gillian Anderson as a giant wolf spirit doesn't hurt things, either.

2. From Up on Poppy Hill

I didn't expect this film. It's purely realistic, a historical slice of life piece; until this movie, I had associated Studio Ghibli with fantasy and magical realism -- movies that fit the idea of animation being the realm of make believe more than reality. But the struggles of Umi and Shun drew me in and kept me intrigued until the last satisfying moment.

1. Spirited Away

This movie is the perfect fantasy film from Studio Ghibli. It keeps the folklore I loved in Totoro and Mononoke, mixes in some of the heroism of Howl, and tells a beautiful story about seeing beyond appearances to the true nature of things. It is wonderful.

Honorable Mentions:

My Neighbors the Yamadas -- This movie is just a light-hearted and funny look at everyday life. It's a great pick-me-up after you've had your heart torn out by Grave of the Fireflies.

The Secret World of Arrietty -- An adaptation of The Borrowers by Mary Norton, this movie is fun and charming, but not one of my top picks for rewatching because I'm so familiar with the story from other adaptations, it doesn't feel like it's as fresh even as Howl.

Do you have any favorite Ghibli films not on my list? Any you'd place differently on the list? Let me know!

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