I think to reinterate that I (for the most part) adore Studio Ghibli to you all would be the equivalent of stuffing a plastic inflatable hammer with bricks and beating you all over the head with it.
Rather than beat around the bush and do some fluffing and fellating, I’m just gonna go ahead and give you my personal Top Five Studio Ghibli productions in no certain order to celebrate the advent of very last of Ghibli’s films to be directed by Miyazaki Senior “The Wind Rises”… and for an excuse to repeat “Ghibli” to myself and giggle.
“Princess Mononoke” (1997)
One of Ghibli’s most mature and thought-provoking films throughout it’s existence thus far. A mythical tale of a young boy who has been subject to a horrifying curse from an evil, rampaging boar god seeks the help of a spiritually-sensitive and wild tribal princess known soley as San. Together they fight against the whims of their mutual enemy all the while discovering the other’s world and each other. While the subject matter may be deemed too dark for the lil’uns, this is a film that treats it’s audiences as intelligent, instinctive individuals with very little need to spoonfeed pointless expose, ridiculous bloodshed and meaningless fluff.
The animation is as stark as it is gorgeous, the music is appropriate to the content, the script and voice acting in the original AND the dub compliment each other rather struggle through the typical cultural barrier between Eastern audiences with Western ones. Fans of “Wolf’s Rain” may draw comparisons between the two, but “Princess Mononoke” isn’t the inferior or superior in that equation- in spirit, it truly is it’s own beast.
“Only Yesterday” (1991)
Touching, evocative and gentle yet with deep-seeded meaning best describes this lesser-hearalded by nonetheless worthy addition of the Ghibli pantheon. Taeko Okajima, a bored office worker decides to take a ten day vacation in the rural area of Japan. While she doesn’t not have any immediate relatives to reconnect with, she is happily accepted in by her sister’s husband’s relatives who own a safflower farm where she happily agrees to contribute manual labor. During her days working on the farm, her mind wanders to and fro throughout the memories of her life up to this moment, the decisions she has made, the things she has done, how much of her life she has had to change and sacrifice in order to make a life for herself.
Apart from her mulling, she strikes up a connection with her second cousin Toshio, an organic farming supporter, a friendship that leads her to re-evaluate the future yet to come from a past she has already known for so long. While not particularly suitable for very young audiences or those who have no taste for the subject material, this is still a very heart-felt film with nothing but good intentions and a delicate touch of optimism. We can’t escape our past, that doesn’t mean we cannot change our futures if we are empowered to do it.
“Porco Rosso” (1992)
Yeah, a film about an anthromorphic pig decked out in flight gear and piloting fighter bi-planes are bound to raise incredulous eyebrows, but that is partly where the film’s delight comes from. The story in itself is generally what you may expect but it is done in such a way that it does not insult the viewer’s intelligence and fosters the gift of imagination and thinking outside the box. Porco Rosso is a mercenary who has been tasked to hunt down airpirates between World War I and II where he earns the reputation that he garners.
I belive one of the main reasons why I really do enjoy this offering is that unlike various other Ghibli films, this one has a far definable place in history, that is, it is set during the prelude to the Great War as we know it. Naturally Ghibli wisely does not point fingers, but there really is a startling complex commentary on socio-political theorems that caused a lot of conflict between the crew behind making this movie. It doesn’t hammer these things down your throat, but if you can look past the innately absurd concept of a porcine protagonist and the more imaginary aspects, “Porco Rosso” possesses a highly luminous and unique coruscation that can be appreciated the more you watch it.
“Whisper Of The Heart” (1995)
I won’t go into the finer details here, but “Whisper of the Heart” appeals to the wildly imaginative young mind in us all through use of connecting emotional intelligence with our creative centers, all of which forms a substantial narrative. While the initial premise of the film in it’s most basic form seems more high concept and quite frankly ridiculous than high thought it is done simply with the film-makers remembering that “Hey. There is a brain behind the eyes of those watching this.”
It takes elements from “The Princess Bride”, “The Maltese Falcon”, basic romantic comedy formula and the occasional bit of 1940’s screwball only to mix these ingredients together to make a completely different result. Highly recommended viewing for those who want more than “Sailor Moon” and smarter than “Dragonball Z”.
“My Neighbour Totoro” (1988)
Look, I could have just as easily incorporated “Spirited Away” soley on the basis that it was that film that introduced me into the world of Ghibli, but I wanted to ensure that I was truthful to myself and “My Neighbour Totoro” is what I got ultimately. While the simplistic notion of the environmental narrative remains a consistent theme throughout the story, it also deals with some surprisingly heavy themes that aren’t normally touched on in children’s films, such as death, disappointment and uncertainty. Oh sure, Disney has traumatised our minds one way or another, but “Totoro” does it in such a way that it is not absolutely immediately devastating until you have ruminated on what you saw. It allows you, nay, encourages you to think for yourself about what you have bore witness to, but it doesn’t shove it’s fist down your throat and pulls out your tonsils.
It’s gentle but also in a sense harrowing. Childhood is a magical time, but it also one filled with learning hard truths, all of which readies us to the burdens of adolesence and the ultimate challenge of being an adult. Totoro is cute and chubby and everything, but he represents something within us all- inevitability of life. The young girls who interact with him are us, or rather, WERE us when everything in the world was new, but underneath it was something hard, something that all of us would eventually be subjected to one way or another. Yet, at the same time, the idea of realism and optimism do no condemn each other here, instead they interweave with each other like the varied tapestry all of our lives are.