I am a stern believer that reviews and previews and anything of that ilk should be kept as subjective as possible as to not obscure the source material facts with opinion. Never has this belief been challenged in such a way as it is now. I believe it to be entirely impossible to talk about Studio Ghibli without showing the passion of which their works instill in me as a consumer and creator of art. If not clear by now, Studio Ghibli will always hold a strong place in my heart. I believe it deserves a place in the hearts of others too.
The Tales of Princess Kaguya will be the last Ghibli film showing at FACT as part of the Ghibli Forever season, and deserves to be sold out. The absolute beauty of the animation, paired with the unique take on traditional Japanese water paintings make it a must-see on the big screen. If this is your first Ghibli film in cinemas however, you should go in blind. This is why instead of writing a preview I’d much rather talk about some of my favorite features in the hope that you will not only go to the screening of Kaguya, but check out the entire filmography of this powerhouse of animation.
So, in no particular order, here are my personal favorite Studio Ghibli masterpieces...
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Dir. Hayao Miyazaki
Starting us off, is the environmentally concerned Nausicaa. Though technically made before Studio Ghibli was officially established, Valley of the Wind has all the markings needed to be considered among them; a compelling narrative, beautiful animation and Miyazaki at the helm.
If this is to be considered Ghibli’s first endeavour, it certainly set the bar high and gave us much more than just a taste of things to come. Based on the lore and world presented within, this is one of Ghibli’s most compelling universes that I still am dying to know more about. I think the most enjoyable thing about the film is its strong cast of characters. The fact that it features two of the most interesting and human women I’ve ever witnessed on screen as both main protagonist and antagonist proves show just how far ahead of their time Ghibli really were back then.
A fantastic adventure about environmental harmony and a real treat for fans of animation.
Grave of the fireflies (1988)
Dir. Isao Takahata
The third film to come out of Ghibli’s production team (second not including Nausicaa); Grave of the Fireflies is a very early example of the diverse talents of the studio. Rather than being an adventure tale like Laputa or Nausicaa, Fireflies is a tale of war’s effect on civilian life and trust me; it refuses to pull any punches. Here is a film marked with death and disease and the loss of childhood. It almost feels like it was purposefully juxtaposing My Neighbor Totoro (released the same day) to be a film more suited for a mature audience. The way Isao tugs at the audience’s heart strings in such a way to invoke a strong anti-war message, makes me upset to know that he is less renowned than Miyazaki.
GOTFF is a standout masterpiece that cut’s itself from the norms of studio Ghibli. A hard hitting must-see.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Dir. Hayao Miyazaki
Jumping ahead ten-odd years we see the impressive progression of a well-established animation studio that was just barely touching true greatness. In order to fully grasp it, there were still two films left to come out. The first of which is of course Mononoke. Visiting the ideas Miyazaki originally penned during the production of Nausicaa, Princess Mononoke takes these ideas and gracefully expands upon them into huge fantasy God.
Everything in this film is absolutely stunning from the score, to the animation right down to Miyazaki’s inspired vision. Harboring thoughtful musings on environmental harmony just like Nausicaa, Mononoke focuses on the human element, and gives a few very harsh lessons while doing so.
Harrowing, joyful, sickening and yet beautiful, Princess Mononoke is everything Studio Ghibli is loved for and heaps more.
Spirited Away (2001)
Dir. Hayao Miyazaki
Spirited Away is by far the most important film in Ghibli’s catalogue, and possibly for animé in general (other than maybe Akira, though that’s debatable). Not only was it the first Animé feature to win the Academy Award for best animated feature, it is also the highest grossing film in Japan and has been for 15 years.
The story follows the apathetic ten year old girl Chihiro and her descent into a magical and confusing world where nothing quite makes sense. Of course this film has everything that makes every other Ghibli film great, but I believe the way animation and imagination complement each other is unlike anything I’ve ever seen; there are so many indescribable beings in this film brought to life by the way they move and the personality they exude.
A truly stunning work of art that manages to stand out in an almost perfect catalogue. Spirited Away deserves all the praise it gets and piles more.
When Marnie Was There (2014)
Dir. Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Catapulting ahead to 2014, we come to possibly Ghibli’s last film; When Marnie Was There. Looking at that last sentence again has genuinely given me a lump in my throat. I never thought that I would ever have to write that Ghibli would stop putting out amazing and spellbinding features. At least I can be thankful that it ended on the high note it deserved.
A story of overcoming introversion and depression and embracing self-discovery, When Marnie Was There follows Anna, a very shy and self-isolating girl who moves to the country for a much needed break from day to day stress. Soon enough, she becomes enchanted by a local decrepit mansion inhabited by the fun loving Marnie and her family and, sure enough, the usual Ghibli magic kicks in.
Though not entirely groundbreaking in terms of Ghibli, WMWT is a tight and beautiful send-off to Ghibli and definitely an emotionally charged journey worthy of just about everyone’s attention. I have no problems admitting that I openly wept as the credits rolled. A truly beautiful finale to a truly beautiful body of work.
If not already apparent, I am in love with the work of Ghibli and will not be satisfied until everybody on earth recognises the true greatness of the studio. I have purposely not talked about The Tale of Princess Kaguya because I sincerely believe your first time should be as fresh as possible especially if it’s in the cinema. Studio Ghibli Forever.
Book tickets for The Tale of Princess Kaguya, showing tonight, 6pm at FACT.