Studio Ghibli is the most recognisable and acclaimed producer of Japanese anime feature films in the world. Primary artistic home of visionary directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, as well as their many animation proteges, five of the studio’s features are in the top 10 highest grossing anime films in Japan and another five have received Academy Award nominations, with Spirited Away winning the Oscars’ Animated Feature award in 2002. Over 35 years, the animation house has released 22 feature films in total, quite the back catalogue of endlessly imaginative animated stories.
Which are the best films in this wondrous hand-drawn collection? Which characters, stories and images stay with you whatever your age? These are The Film Magazine’s 10 Best Studio Ghibli films.
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10. My Neighbours the Yamadas (1992)
My Neighbours the Yamadas is a series of sitcom vignettes following the dysfunctional middle-class Yamada family through their everyday lives, petty arguments and distinctive eccentricities.
Believe it or not, Isao Takahata’s seemingly quaint family comedy nearly broke Studio Ghibli. Not only did he force the in-house animators to re-train in an entirely different drawing style, an act of rebellion against the studio’s trademark lush and flawless celluloid (cel) animation technique by going for something far looser, comic book-y and caricatured, but it was nowhere near as profitable as the previous run of Ghibli films. It might be considered a failed experiment, but if there’s a cult classic among the Ghibli back-catalogue, it’s this one.
The drawings might be different, but this family is lovable, the jokes are funny and the domestic situations completely believable and strangely compelling despite the relatively low stakes. There are also several quite out-there fantasy sequences and a very pleasing full-blown musical number at the end to stave off the monotony.
9. Arrietty (2010)
The life of a family of borrowers is turned upside-down when a new family moves into the house they live below the floorboards of. After her first borrowing mission goes awry, the curious Arrietty strikes up an unlikely friendship with a human boy and inadvertently changes her family’s fate forever.
Arrietty has all of Ghibli’s usual heart, pristine character movement and attention to detail, but from the tiniest of perspectives. This adaptation of Mary Norton’s “The Borrowers” is a grand-scaled adventure through the house and garden with imaginative incorporation of everyday spaces and objects into cavernous quest routes and useful tools in the extraordinary lives of miniature people.
The ticking clock of human protagonist Shô’s declining health is perhaps a little contrived tension-wise (though admittedly it is from Norton’s novel), but there’s a reason Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s film managed to make it into a list otherwise dominated by Miyazaki and Takahata: the dynamic and compelling way the Clock family’s tiny life is realised through sharp and witty animation.