5. Pom Poko (Isao Takahata, 1994)
Takahata’s simplification of the complex folklore surrounding tanukis—Japanese raccoon dogs—is the director’s visionary struggle between nature and civilization, as well as a story about the tension between tradition and innovation. Pom Poko may not be like Miyazaki’s awesome epics Princess Mononoke (1997) and Nausicaa (1970), but the film is a simple, solid, charming story that expresses a perfectly balanced message of optimism.
The plotline follows the aforementioned Japanese raccoon dogs as they carry their hysterical attempts to save their home from the development of an urban neighborhood—symbolic of the destruction of nature. While the complex victory seems inevitable, the human underestimate (or ignore) the tanukis’ supernatural abilities.
4. From Up on Poppy Hill (Gorō Miyazaki, 2011)
After the unpalatable Tales from Earth Sea (2006), fans highly doubted the capabilities of Gorō Miyazaki’s as a Studio Ghibli member. From Up on Poppy Hill, however, is Hayao Miyazaki’s son’s film redemption.
During the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, a business man attempts to demolish a school club house in order to make room for the international event. Two high school students, Umi and Shun, join efforts to save their school’s club house from the business man’s demolition.
Among many other things, Japanese cinematic directors are highly skilled in exploring the price of supposed “modern progress.” Though the film exhibits a superficial view of Japanese history, the director’s explorative content should not surprise the audience. Combined with the content and the Studio Ghibli stamp, it is natural to expect a high quality product such as From Up on Poppy Hill.
3. The Secret World of Arriety (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2010)
A moving allegory about growing up and struggling with the usual and emergent fears, The Secret World of Arriety is the story of the strong bond of friendship between Sho and Arriety. Sho awaits for his difficult heart operation. Arriety is the restless youngest member of a family of Borrowers—charming people-like beings living off what they meticulously “borrow” from humans.
Arriety’s knowledge of the near extinction of her people, and Sho’s ghastly emotions for his operation’s successful possibilities, seem to develop a strong connection between both of them. Ultimately, their contact and friendship represents a major risk to the Arriety’s family security.
Currently, Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s best contribution to Studio Ghibli is Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa’s adaptation of Mary Norton’s children’s book, The Borrowers. A really touching film, it is shameful that Disney had decided a happy childish clarification was necessary after its deliberately open final sequence.
2. Whisper of the Heart (Yoshifumi Kondō, 1995)
Whisper of the Heart is one of Studio Ghibli’s essential titles. The film chronicles the story of Shizuku, a fourteen year old aspiring writer as she notices each and every book she takes from the library has been already read by someone else.
The film provides viewers with a lively girl’s talent that fortunately concedes with her dreams. Shizuku begins to develop her insecurities and openly criticizes conformity. The film is a moving love story that manages to set, if a little, its “cheesy” elements aside.
The film includes a symbolic supporting character—which later prompted Studio Ghibli to laboriously satisfy demanding fans a one short spin-off film. Despite directly lacking the praise of a Studio Ghibli movie, Whisper to the Heart is an excellent film and a product only it could have delivered.
1. Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988)
As a result of the financial risks of both films, Takahata’s Studio Ghibli directional debut—Grave of the Flies—and Miyazaki’s touching My Neighbor Totoro were simultaneously released in 1988. Unfortunately, during the 80s’, Muiyazaki’s film was the most popular of the two.
However, throughout time, Takahata’s work finally received the recognition it deserved. The film is contemporarily regarded as a Japanese post-war cinematic masterpiece, and one of the best anti-war movies ever made. Grave of the Fireflies—covered by Studio Ghibli’s seal of visual beauty and open war criticism—is a hopeful, yet realistic, allegory of the uncertainties and possibilities of a country devastated by war.
The film’s plot chronicles two World War II orphan siblings—Seita and Setsuko—and their erratic journey across Japanese soil. The end of World War II is close, and the Japan’s defeat is imminent. Surrounded with people’s indifference and terrible war cataclysms, Seita and Setsuko’s only guide toward this desolate scenario is the offer of the faint light from some fireflies.
Author Bio: Emiliano is a 23-year-old Ethics and Logic professor in a mexican high school, his favorite directors are Gaspar Noé, Lars von Trier, Stanley Kubrick and Wim Wenders.