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5 Must-See Studio Ghibli Movies

Studio Ghibli films are my favourites. They’re cozy, warm and hopeful, but they also have strong messages about the environment and the dangers of war. If you haven’t heard of it, Studio Ghibli is a Japanese animation studio that was founded in the 80s by Hayao Miyazaki. Now that Netflix is streaming their movies, North American viewers now have easy access to them for the first time. If you haven’t seen any of their films, this list is a good place to start. Happy watching!

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

While this one isn’t my favourite out of all their movies (sorry!), it is arguably their most famous film, and a great place to start. Fun and wholesome, My Neighbor Totoro follows two young sisters as they explore their new house and meet the friendly, but mysterious wood spirit, Totoro, in postwar rural Japan.

Spirited Away (2001)

Again, not my favourite (although it is worthy of the title, my loyalties just lie elsewhere), but an absolutely brilliant film. 10-year-old Chihiro finds herself alone in the spirit world when her parents decide to explore an old temple. The characters are incredibly complex, and the animated spirits are gorgeous.

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

I love this movie. I love everything about it. Based on the novel written by Diane Wynne Jones, a young woman named Sophie finds herself cursed to look like an old woman after a run-in with a witch, so she runs off to the mountains and offers her services as a cleaning lady to the wizard Howl. Sophie’s blasé response to her transformation, Howl’s dramatics and their budding romance makes this movie a must-see. Not to mention Billy Crystal and Christian Bale are both in the dubbed version.

Ponyo (2008)

This may be an unpopular opinion, but I love Ponyo. Based loosely on The Little Mermaid, Ponyo is a little fish girl who longs to be human after she makes a friend on land. Unaware of her own power, she proceeds to wreak havoc upon nature and the human world in her attempts to stay with him. A good wholesome watch for an adorable developing friendship between Ponyo and Sosuke, as well as for gorgeous and colourful ocean imagery, and a background cast of senior women who are just having a good old time.

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Kiki’s Delivery Service is a wholesome and inspiring coming-of-age story. It’s definitely a good comfort film. Kiki is a young witch who strikes out on her own and finds a little town by the sea. She struggles to find something that she’s good at but eventually lands on delivering goods for customers on her broom. This movie talks about creativity and doing things because you love them. It’s a good one to watch if you’re in a rut!

Bonus: Princess Mononoke (1997

Tonally, Princess Mononoke varies wildly from the other films, as it’s much darker. While Ghibli movies always have a moral, this film tackles environmentalism head-on. After a cursed boar attacks Ashitaka’s village and spreads a curse on him, Ashitaka ventures out west where he finds Tataraba (Irontown in the English version), a fortress run by a woman who is bent on destroying the nearby forest for the sake of her people. The hero finds himself caught between worlds. This movie is an environmental masterpiece.

If you haven’t seen any of these movies, you should! Despite their rightful criticism of the world, Studio Ghibli movies are unfailingly hopeful, which we need now more than ever. 

Eli Mushumanski is a queer Writing and English Honour undergrad in their fourth year at the University of Victoria. They specialize in fiction and poetry. Their work has been published by The Albatross, The Warren, and Flare: The Flagler Review, and they are a fiction editor at UVic's literary journal, This Side of West. When not caught up by schoolwork or reading, Eli plays Stardew Valley and chats with their mom on the phone.
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