Grading Studio Ghibli

TotoroWhile news of the demise of Studio Ghibli has been much exaggerated, rumors of the company shutting down, or even ending its original animation production, certainly unnerved the many of us who adore the studio’s films.  Though Studio Ghibli perhaps hasn’t in a long time released a film that will one day be considered a “classic,” it continues to pour out films of high quality, most of which can be enjoyed by the entire family, and many of which extol virtuous themes and ideas.

In light of Ghibli’s restructuring, and perhaps the end of the studio in the way we now know it, our writers have graded and ranked the company’s films.  Our grades might surprise you (they certainly did for me, as I discovered that I’m the Ghibli apologist in the group) – please feel free to chime in with your own comments and scores below.  And note that while we did include Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind among the films (released before Studio Ghibli was founded), we did not include their latest movies, The Tale of Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There.

 

** 4.5 to 5 Stars **

1. Only Yesterday

Pretty much a perfect film by my memory, and I’m known for not liking icky romance stories. 🙂

2. The Wind Rises

Ambitious and patriotic, it reminded me of a more serious Porco Rosso.

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** 4.0 to 4.5 Stars **

3. Grave of the Fireflies

Dinged score slightly because difficult to watch, but mandatory viewing for all anime fans, and rightly so.

4. Princess Mononoke

Probably the most violent and scary of all Ghibli films and I disliked it the first time I watched it. Though, with a break of 5 years, I re-watched it and it easily sits as one of my top favorites.

5. Whisper of the Heart

Lovely! Has any anime better captured the vibrancy and concern of youth?

6. Spirited Away

Yes, it’s over the top score [10+]. I would be here all day if I told you everything I loved about Spirited Away, because it is literally everything in the movie.

7. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

…even my younger self had her socks knocked off by this film and it’s fantastical story.

8. Arrietty

This movie gave me very fond memories of my childhood since one of my favorite books was The Borrowers.

9. Howl’s Moving Castle

A great take on Diana Wynne Jones’ book. I love the Witch of the Waste’s design and I still laugh every time I see the green goo scene.

10. My Neighbors the Yamadas

Cute, touching, and often hysterical.

11. From Up on Poppy Hill

Studio Ghibli’s knack of nostalgia is on full display in this wonderful film.

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** 3.5 to 4 Stars **

12. The Cat Returns

I have a soft spot for cats already, but this movie was lovely, whimsical and a bit Alice in Wonderland-ish in some ways.

13. Kiki’s Delivery Service

I get goosebumps every time I see the first scene of Kiki taking off on her broom. I love the parts where Kiki is going through her slump and seeing her bright personality re-emerge as she conquers it.

14. Porco Rosso

Porco Rosso has a lot of things going for it, from its wonderful World War I era planes to its historical-fantasy setting, but while its serious themes are moving, its downright strange and somewhat unexplained premise holds it back from being anything more than “quite good”.

15. Castle in the Sky

Rollicking good adventure fun.

16. My Neighbor Totoro

Totoro was well made, but it was sadly never one of my favorites, despite it being so iconic for Ghibli.

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** 3 Stars and below **

17. Ponyo

There were too many things they tried to put into one story; it didn’t flow as nicely as it could have.

18. Pom Poko

If Ocean waves is the most forgettable Ghibli film, Pom Poko is easily the strangest, from being presented as a children’s film, yet having a hugely environmentalist theme, to even featuring Tanuki with transforming testicles. Despite all this, it still remains a classic, albeit not one of the studio’s best.

19. Tales from Earthsea

I’ve heard that I was one of the few people who really enjoyed this movie. How can you not like something with a dragon in it?

20. Ocean Waves

Ocean Waves is probably Ghibli’s most forgettable feature, particularly as a high school slice of life drama, which is probably why it never made it to the West.

TWWK

Husband. Dad. Occasionally Korean. Enjoys Star Wars, ASOIAF, and Meg Ryan movies. Tweets before proofreading. Ghibli. Oregairuuuuu. Jesus is King.

17 thoughts on “Grading Studio Ghibli

  1. Reblogged this on Medieval Otaku and commented:
    A ranking of Studio Ghibli films by a TWWK, a most avid fan of this anime studio. It reminds me that I have to watch The Wind Rises, especially since I am surprised to find it at the top of the list.

      1. I hoped that I would see it in theaters, but somehow never found the time. Well, I’ll take your and TWWK’s word for how good the movie is. This Ghibli film will soon be added to the long list of titles I’ve seen!

  2. Great list. The anime fandom has a rabid rumor mill so any rumblings of change obviously must mean impending doom.

    I also didn’t like Princess Mononoke the first time I saw it but that was due to me being an anime virgin and expecting something different. I have only watched Grave of the Fireflies once and refuse to do so again due to what it did to my heart. Probably one of the only anime films that brought me to tears.

    1. Princess Mononoke will certainly do that to you. I consider it my first real taste of anime, and when I bought it, I was expecting something more along the lines of Star Wars from the way it was marketed (including Ashitaka swinging something that looked like a light saber on the cover). Of course, it was something entirely different.

      Oh, and I’m with you with Grave of the Fireflies. I feel I should watch it again, but in the past ten years, I haven’t been able to rewatch it. Too sad…

  3. Good, I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought Ponyo wasn’t that great…so much hype about it, even in the theaters, I thought it was boring…..Princess mononoke was amazing (back in the day when I watched it) and nothing but praise for Totoro, wasn’t the best but very nice story

    Grave of the fireflies made me cry….can’t watch that movie again.

    1. Ponyo was Miyazaki’s worst movie. The animation was amazing, but the storytelling was lazy and rehashed. I’m really glad that he went out – if indeed he’s retired for good – with The Wind Rises.

      1. yes sir, my feelings exactly. Yeah, Wind Rises was amazing, really brought me back to those great movies we all watched as kids. The animation drew me into Ponyo, silly me, thinking it was going to be a good one (as most are). But yeah, I hope he still makes more, but if that’s it for Miyazaki, then he did good.

        Though, of course, I’ll get an e-mail from Otaku USA soon saying he’s coming back lol

  4. Surprised and delighted to see Only Yesterday topping the list. It’s probably one of the more obscure Ghibli films, but it’s still incredible in art and in characterization.

    I am a little surprised to see Nausicaa rank so high; the film felt disjointed and confusing to me. The manga that Miyazaki wrote for it is amazing though–so much more character depth, world-building, thematic development, and action. Just about everything wrong with the anime is right in the manga.

    Princess Mononoke is in some ways Miyazaki showing what he’s learned since Nausicaa. I liked Princess Mononoke the first time I watched it. What’s not to love about boar gods with war paint?

    -Ezra

    1. Only Yesterday and Princess Mononoke are wonderful, wonderful films!

      I’ve never thought of Princess Mononoke as a lessons learned film, in some respects, from Nausicaa. But as I’ve always seem them intimately connected in a variety of ways, I think it’s a really good comparison to make!

  5. I’m going to start watching these movies, I’ve seen a couple and liked them (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle.) but yesterday I watched “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” and absolutely loved it so I want to see some of the others.

    I remember seeing a “Christian” review of Kiki’s Delivery Service saying something like “Disney indoctrinates children into witchcraft through the use of Satanic Japanese Animation” I thought that was pretty funny, I wonder what the Christians here think of it? as a Christian myself I divide magic into “fantasy magic” and “real demonic magic” and I doubt Kiki was made to indoctrinate children into witchcraft.

    1. Oh, I’m a huge Studio Ghibli fan – I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed Princess Kaguya so much. I’ve been looking forward to both that movie and When Marnie Was There.

      The writers here, at least, don’t fall into that camp of Christian that would speak about Kiki’s in such a manner. I worry about Christians that see Kiki’s in such a way, but miss the more significant aspects about love, friendship, maturity, sacrifice, etc. in the movie – an unfortunate focus, it would seem, on legalism rather than on the heart.

      1. I just received my “Studio Ghibli Collection” in the mail today so I’ve watched a couple of the movies that I was the most worried about, mostly I had heard that PomPoko and Princess Mononoke were extremely heavy on the Environmentalist themes, but thankfully I quite enjoyed them both.

        PomPoko… well the environmentalist theme was definitely pretty heavy, but I still found it to be a fun, heartwarming movie, and the Tanuki’s preferred world seemed to be living in coexistence with humans in farmland, it seemed pretty opposed to human development though, which is difficult because as the population grows people need more homes, but at the very least they can compromise a bit by setting aside land in parks for the Tanuki’s, I guess I’m a bit more forgiving about Environmentalism in Japanese stuff, because Japan is smaller than California while having like 4 times the population, so they are usually a bit more concerned about the dwindling natural land they have.
        Anyways the movie is a bit difficult to me because I love God’s creation, the animals, and the forests, but at the same time Human needs have to come first, and as humanity progresses more and more, and becomes more developed, they also need more room for the population.
        And then there’s the Tanuki magic scrotums… well I can see how this would be pretty disturbing and a bit of a culture shock to non Japanese, but Tanuki having big balls (I don’t know if the males naturally get like that during mating season in the wild or what.) is so ingrained in the art, history, and pop culture of Japan that I’m pretty desensitized to it now having watched a lot of anime, and played a lot of Japanese video games, and it’s not supposed to be sexual, so that element of the movie wasn’t as offensive to me.

        And then Princess Mononoke, well I just watched it, it’s definitely an amazing movie, and a masterpiece, and I’m still thinking about it, but I’m glad it didn’t shove the environmentalist down my throat as much as I thought it would from comments I’ve read in the past, it seemed a very intelligent movie, and the “villain” woman thankfully wasn’t a shallow “RAWR DESTROY ALL TEH FORESTS FOR MAI PLEASURE!!!!” type villain being a pretty noble character, and caring for her people, and the main character boy Ashitaka seeming to try and make peace between everyone, and staying to help the humans rebuild at the end.
        Anyways I guess as long as it isn’t as ridiculously environmentalist as Ferngully then I don’t mind, one example I’d use is “Godzilla VS Mothra: The Battle For Earth” I’ve always loved Godzilla my entire life, from my Mom showing me the movies as a child, but that particular one… ugh… they complain about humans destroying the world so much (And making the “Earth” angry which apparently caused it to spawn Battra in the past.) and yet the worst you see humans doing in the movie is a bit of land development, it’s just obnoxious, and poor Godzilla barely gets any time in the plot which focuses more on Mothra and Battra’s fight, that movie sums up the type of one-sided anti-human environmentalism that annoys the heck out of me.

        Now that I’ve got those two out of the way I’ll start watching the movies more in order of when they came out.

  6. hmmm you know out of the items on the list i havn’t seen the 4.5-5.0 star movies. I’ve most of the standards (castle in the sky, howl’s, whispers, cat returns, ponyo, Fireflies) Now i have to add only yesterday and the wind rises to my list soon.

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