Japanese Culture: Top 5 Most Successful Studio Ghibli Movies

If you are studying the Japanese language or are curious about Japan’s culture, you have to know about Studio Ghibli animated movies. They had such great success, that also the Netflix streaming platform is acquiring them worldwide (except for the USA, for now). Here’s an introduction about Studio Ghibli and its characteristics. In the second part learn about the top 5 most successful Studio Ghibli movies you need to watch!

Why it’s named “Studio Ghibli”?

Studio Ghibli is a Japanese animation film studio known worldwide for its animated films. The name was chosen by Hayao Miyazaki, who founded the Studio in 1985 together with Isao Takahata, another famous Japanese film director and producer. Miyazaki, a great fan of the Italian aircraft, chose the nickname of the Caproni Ca.309 “Ghibli”, an airplane used in World War II. Even though the nickname “Ghibli” comes from an African desert wind which carried this aircraft, and its correct pronunciation in Italian is with a hard g sound, in Japanese was transliterate as ジブリ – “jiburi”.

Totoro: The Studio Mascot

Studio Ghibli’s success in Japan is so high you can find specialized stores selling their goods in the biggest cities. There is also the famous Ghibli Museum in Mitaka City, outside Tokyo. Moreover, on the occasion of the 2005 Expo near Nagoya city, a full-scale replica of one of the movie’s locations was built inside a park. It’s the house of Mei and Satsuki from となりのトトロ – “My neighbor Totoro”, released in 1988. This film has such a great success that Totoro, a giant cat-like spirit, became the mascot of Studio Ghibli. You can even find his shaped bread and cream puffs in bakeries in Japan!

Top 5 movies:

To understand how much success Studio Ghibli has, check the recent study on its worldwide popularity made by the United Kingdom-based research film Broadband Choices, based on Google search data. You will be surprised by the results.

Why is Studio Ghibli so good?

You may wonder why these movies are appreciated internationally. Apart from being rooted in the fascinating east culture, there are several reasons.
First of all, because of the high quality of their filmmaking and its artistry. They have something unique in the storytelling coupled with beautiful visuals.
In the second place, most of the stories’ protagonists are female characters with powerful personalities. Unlike Disney’s princess, for example, Miyazaki’s heroines do not need a “hero” to face their struggles. Actually, in some cases, they are the ones who “save” their lover. Therefore, if you are a woman or a young girl, you will surely resonate with the heroine’s story. While if you’re a man or a boy, you will be fascinated by their determination.
Lastly, Studio Ghibli’s stories are appreciated both by children and adults. Movies have a magical part that attracts the younger ones. While the attention to small details and references with everyday’s life will impress adults.

The Wind Rises – 風立ちぬ (2013)

Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, this movie reveals the author’s passion for Italian aircraft. The story is set before and during World War II. The protagonist is a young man whose dream is to build a beautiful plane to fulfill his desire to fly. He’s a dreamer forced to be a realist, and so to build aircraft destined to be used in the war.

Ponyo – ポニョ (2008) 

Ponyo, released in 2008, had a major commercial success becoming the fifth-highest-grossing anime film of all time. It’s generally considered the kiddiest film among Studio Ghibli movies. In fact, the story is about a magical goldfish named Ponyo, who wishes to become a human girl after meeting Sosuke. Animated scenes with the two kids having meals and fun will surely entertain the little ones, while the magic elements in the background will fascinate the adults.

Howl’s Moving Castle – ハウルの動く城 (2004)

This is the movie that will make you understand the accuracy and the originality of Studio Ghibli’s movies (but check also Arrietty to be impressed by the attention to detail!). It’s a story set in a world where magic exists. A young girl named Sophie encounters the famous wizard Howl but gets cursed by a witch who transforms Sophie into a ninety-year-old woman. While their kingdom fights a war against the enemy, Sophie has to find a cure for the curse. Eventually, she will also end up saving Howl.

Princess Mononoke – もののけ姫 (1997)

Princess Mononoke was released in 1997 and takes place in a sort of Middle-Aged Japan, where demons attack human villages. The story is about Ashitaka prince, who is cursed by a boar-shaped demon. He then begins his journey to find a cure, and ends up meeting San, a girl raised up by the wolf goddess. The central theme in this story is the environment. It’s about humans who try to kill the God of the forest to control its resources.

Spirited Away – 千と千尋の神隠し (2001)

Released in Japan on 20th July 2001, it’s the most appreciated Studio Ghibli movie worldwide. It’s frequently considered one of the best films of the 21st century, as well as one of the greatest animated films ever made. After winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2002, it held the record of the highest-grossing film in Japanese history for 19 years. It was surpassed last year, in 2020, by Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train.

The story is all about magic and spirits: a young girl named Chihiro is trapped in the spirit world. Her parents are transformed into pigs by a witch, so it’s up to her to find a cure and return to the human world.

Author: Valeria (graduated at Ca’Foscari University Japanese Studies)

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