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Trying to Rank all the Ghibli Movies or: Get Out Your Pitchforks
So, couple quick caveats:
- This is like . . . super my opinion. I know A LOT of people who would put Princess Mononoke much higher, for instance, or include Howl’s Moving Castle (I even know one person who would put it as their favourite Ghibli film. They have poor taste and their opinion is garbage, but they are entitled to it). I also have a huge preference for Hayao Miyazaki and Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s work . . . I regrettably have very little love for Isao Takahata (millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror) and no love for Goro Miyazaki (crickets)
- A few of these movies I haven’t seen for a little while. The good thing about Ghibli is that their movies are VERY memorable, the bad part is if I rewatched them now my opinions would almost certainly be different.
- I go relatively in depth for each of them so be warned. I also describe whether you should watch it subbed or dubbed. I will say generally speaking I prefer subbed for any foreign film, but Miyazaki himself says Ghibli movies should always be watched dubbed, so I think there are arguments to be made for both. I’m going to be a bit hard on these movies. Honestly, they are all pretty much universally loved (Ghibli itself has only ever made one legitimately bad movie), so I think it’s justified to look at them from a critical standpoint rather than just heap praise.
- I didn’t include Ocean Waves or Nausicaa. Ocean Waves because . . . well it’s a tv movie and I didn’t think it should be held to the same standard as a theatrically released product (I’ve heard it is a good tv film though!) and Nausicaa because, even though it is basically a Ghibli film, it isn’t actually a Ghibli film. And because I didn’t want to be torn apart in the comments about how overrated I think it is. I’m already going to be torn apart in the comments for some of my decisions :P
Castle in the Sky (1986)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s more necessary than Howl’s Moving Castle): This is the first Ghibli movie I watched, and that probably has the biggest effect on what one you like the most. I was probably like 4 or 5 at the time and my mom rented me the DVD copy from Blockbuster, which means I watched the dreaded Streamline Pictures dub of the film. I loved it. Like . . . loved it. But, then we returned it to Blockbuster and it was only many years later that I rewatched it. I didn’t even know what the movie was called until after I started making my way through the Ghibli releases and realized “this was it.”
Story: Being the first Studio Ghibli film, it admittedly isn’t really the most refined story. The studio didn’t really know what would work and what wouldn’t, so they kind of tested the market with something one part adventure, one part romance, one part Disney, and a small, kind of insignificant, environmental message. It was shocking, then, that the last part is really what would define Ghibli going forward. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The basic idea is that Sheeta, a Princess, meets a miner’s boy named Pazu and they set off together to find the mythical floating city of Laputa, while being pursued by the military and sky pirates. It’s much lighter than most Ghibli movies, but in a good way
Visuals: Again, unrefined is the best term. I love them, though, even if they are imperfect. And that final half hour or so in Laputa . . . man. Stunning doesn’t even begin to describe it. If the rest of the movie is forgettable visually, that last bit more than makes up for it
Sub or Dub: Sub all the way. Even though my first exposure was the Streamline dub . . . just . . . oof. And the Disney dub is on the poorer side of their work. A nearly 20 year old movie just wasn’t a priority when they finally got around to dubbing it.
Whisper of the Heart (1995)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s more necessary than Howl’s Moving Castle): I mean, simply from a historical perspective this movie is critical. Princess Mononoke would have been the final Miyazaki film without it.. That means limited Disney dubbing, no Spirited Away, no Oscar, no major recognition from the West, and (eventually) no Studio Ghibli. Director Yoshifumi Kondo passing away directly resulted in these things occurring. Whisper of the Heart needed to happen, for better or worse. It’s good that it also turned out to be one of the most underappreciated Ghibli films, and a film that truly makes you want to fall in love.
Story: It’s actually probably Ghibli’s least ambitious project. There are a lot of reasons for that, one being that this was the first full-length Ghibli film not directed by Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, but it also works in the movie’s favour. It allows it to stand on its own as one of very few non-fantastical Ghibli films, exploring instead domestic life in 90’s Japan. The few fantastical elements are everyday in nature, with small miracles and coincidences forming the more unbelievable parts. It’s the story of a bookworm that discovers the same guy has checked out all her library books before her, nothing more or less. And it’s perfect in that simplicity.
Visuals: Very, very, very simple. And that’s good, the film doesn’t need anything too fancy. Most of the movie takes place in only a small handful of locations, with only one scene really deviating from the norm. And it’s refreshing, in a way, since so many Ghibli films rely on breathtaking visuals. This movie let’s the characters do all the work.
Sub or Dub: Sub all the way. I promise some of these are better dubbed, but the Whisper of the Heart dub was butchered. Badly. It wasn’t a priority for Disney (and believe me, that shows), but more critically watching it in English robs portions of their meaning. It blows.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s more necessary than Howl’s Moving Castle): I flip flop between Kiki’s and The Wind Rises for 3rd place a lot, but I’ll give it to her for now. And it mostly comes with the emotional connection. See, Kiki’s Delivery Service is the perfect feel good movie. It’s kind of unique by Ghibli standards in that there is no higher meaning, no exploration of environmentalism or love or . . . well, anything really. At most it looks at loneliness and depression, but it’s such an optimistic movie overall that it’s hard to even remember that when you’re watching. It’s just the perfect Saturday evening “I want to watch something light” movie. From a historical perspective it’s not particularly notable, but it is the first Ghibli movie Miyazaki adapted from a pre-existing work (which he would return to several times after, to mixed results), so that’s something.
Story: I think the first thing to note is that this is the most faithful adaptation that Miyazaki did, and that means the movie isn’t very Ghibli-esque from a plot or character perspective, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Miyazaki often uses fantasy archetypes or “real people in fantasy settings” to tell his stories, but Kiki’s Delivery Service is the only film where he mixes them together. Most characters are normal, run of the mill, but Kiki is different. Kiki is a witch (the good kind), starting a delivery business in a quaint seaside town. It’s quirky, it’s funny, and it’s so so good.
Visuals: Kiki’s Delivery Service is pretty restrained for Miyazaki. There’s no high concept fantasy world or crazy buildings with multiple levels and constant movement. In fact, most of the movie takes place in only one building (a bakery). What shines about this film is that it’s restrained for so long, but then it suddenly breaks free. And your heart instinctively races. I’ll also say that this is the film where Miyazaki perfected the Ghibli style, the final bit of fine tuning before the close of the decade.
Sub or Dub: I actually prefer the dub, but with a couple caveats. Phil Hartman as Jiji was perfect casting (god I miss him so much), but he Never. Shuts. Up. Jiji’s character in the original lived in quiet moments, and it made for a more nuanced performance. The other issue is that the original 1998 Disney dub changed the ending, but thankfully the 2010 edit restored the original final few moments of the film. So, I guess avoid the 1998 version, but the 2010 version would be my pick.
The Wind Rises (2013)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s more necessary than Howl’s Moving Castle): It’s Hayao Miyazaki’s last film (until 2023). That alone makes it pretty important. It’s also something he was trying to do for years. It’s probably his most personal film (his father was the director of Miyazaki Aviation, the company that built the rudders for the Zero aircraft in WWII), and it’s also the film that he really, really, really wanted to get right. It’s his love letter to aviation.
Story: It’s a (mostly fictional) historical biopic about Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed the Zero aircraft used by the Japanese in WWII. It’s just so different from anything else Ghibli has done, but it takes so many ideas from previous Ghibli films that it is still recognizable as a Ghibli film. Aviation has almost always been a theme in Miyazaki’s work, and it’s on full display here. It also really dives into the humanity of this character but still manages to not completely excuse him for the things he did. Jiro is probably the most complex Ghibli character, because he’s the only one based fully on a real person who had hopes, and dreams, and the full range of human emotion that is so hard to get in 24 frames of animation. He was a pacifist, but he still built weapons for war. He hated the Nazis but he idolized the Germans. But at the end of the day, all he ever wanted was to build beautiful airplanes.
Visuals: Stunning. Like, just stunning. Animation has advanced a long way since the 80s, but The Wind Rises still pushes the limits. Every plane, every sweeping landscape, every quiet moment . . . it’s all stunning.
Sub or Dub: Both have so much merit it’s hard to pick one over the other. The sub is nice because it’s a movie for Japan, about Japan (and Hideaki Anno voices Jiro, which-- trust me-- is crazy cool), but the dub has probably the greatest collection of A-list celebrities in any Ghibli movie. Disney really went out of their way on this one. I mean, hell, freaking Werner Herzog (praise be to God) voices the German in this movie! It’s not even that major of a role and they got an actual living legend to play him!
Ponyo (2008)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s more necessary than Howl’s Moving Castle): Awww . . . Ponyo <3. This is such a cute movie. It’s similar to Kiki’s in that it’s pretty easy to watch, but it does have some deeper meanings and messages to it that differentiate it from its predecessor. It sounds weird to say, but it’s Ghibli’s most kid-friendly film. It’s so fun, and nice, and beautiful (I’m getting ahead of myself). It’s just so . . . Ponyo. And I love it dearly for that.
Story: It’s The Little Mermaid, sort of. I think the best way to describe it is it’s The Little Mermaid but modernized and skewed for younger audiences. And with a different third act. And with variations in character and plotting (Ponyo doesn’t lose her voice, as an example, and Ursula has been replaced with the much more nuanced and sympathetic Fujimoto).
Visuals: This is where Ponyo really shines. Sure, it’s a cute little story about a boy who falls in love with a goldfish, but those visuals are absolutely crazy. The best way to put it is that Hayao Miyazaki decided to make the design work way more simplistic (“It’s a kid’s movie!”) but then decided to put these designs in some of the most visually striking moments in any Ghibli movie. Moment after moment is just utter beauty, with some of the best environmental effects in any animated film. It’s perfect.
Sub or Dub: DUB. God, the dub for this movie is so good. The actors voicing Ponyo and Sosuke (the Prince stand-in, I guess?) do great work, but Tina Fey as Lisa (Sosuke’s mom) and especially Liam Neeson as Fujimoto just steal the show. It’s so so so good.
Princess Mononoke (1997)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s more necessary than Howl’s Moving Castle): I have very little emotional attachment to this film (I HATED it the first time I watched it, it’s so gory and just not what I wanted when I sat down to watch a Ghibli film), but I’ve grown to really love it over time. It’s one you have to be in the right mindset for. But, historically, this might be the most important Ghibli film. See, Ghibli’s output in the 90’s was . . . pretty poor. Especially before Whisper of the Heart. Porco Rosso in 1992 got praise (and a big wad of cash), but some thought the studio had lost its touch. Whisper of the Heart came out and was somewhat successful, but mostly from the standpoint of redefining what Ghibli was. Financially, it wasn’t a great success. Princess Mononoke was Ghibli’s last attempt. They literally invested all their money into this one project and hoped it worked out. At the time, it was the most expensive animated film ever produced. I’m glad it ended up doing just well enough that they could go back to work. It’s also a lot of people’s favourite Ghibli film, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it here.
Story: My original issues with Princess Mononoke mostly lie here. The story is good, don’t get me wrong, but it takes a lot of getting used to, and more than one watch to even sort of get. After watching it a few more times I’ve started to appreciate it a lot more, but it’s an acquired taste. The basic plot concerns the three-way battle between cursed prince Ashitaka, human girl raised by wolves San, and industrialist Lady Eboshi. It is very complex, however, so be warned that you might not get all the layers of the story from the first watch. It’s also a pretty heavy handed environmental allegory, so be prepared for that.
Visuals: Crazy, insane, completely bonkers, gory. There are so many ways to describe Princess Mononoke’s visual design but it all boils down to “not for kids.” The high budget went to good use here, with some moments that will etch themselves into your brain and never leave. It’s a very pretty movie, just be prepared that it really isn’t what you are expecting
Sub or Dub: Sub. Watching Princess Mononoke dubbed is literally a crime against humanity. Fun fact about the dub for this one though: it was outsourced by Disney to Miramax (Harvey Weinstein’s company oof) and when Harvey Weinstein mentioned that he wanted to cut out about 20 minutes of the film, Studio Ghibli sent him a katana with a note that said “no cuts.” Second fun anecdote: Neil Gaiman saved the dub of this movie from being complete trash. He wrote the original draft of the dubbed script and the Disney execs were unhappy that the translation referred to Ashitaka as a “prince” (“He’s in rags! How will the audience get that he’s a prince??”) and his response that the audience will know because the characters call him a prince. Disney backed down. Good old, Neil Gaiman. Saving artistic integrity. Even with those two anecdotes considered, watch the sub.
Spirited Away (2001)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s more necessary than Howl’s Moving Castle): Hey look, it’s Oscar winner Spirited Away! Whoa! Yeah, I think that’s more than enough reason to watch this movie. It’s also a lot of people’s favourite, but I think that’s because it’s the first one they watched.
Story: Like Princess Mononoke, the story isn’t really a draw for me. It’s about a young girl that ends up working in a fantastical bathhouse because her parents were turned into pigs. That sounds a lot better than it actually is. See, Spirited Away’s biggest issue is that it tries to do way too much. There are no less than 6 major subplots in this 2 hour movie, while still trying to balance a main plot and also trying to add in an environmental message and also trying to say something about love and also trying to say something about finding oneself and also and also. It’s . . . a lot. That said, it is much better than the sum of its parts. There are some really great moments spread throughout. It’s just a lot to deal with in one movie.
Visuals: Man, the visuals in this movie. I don’t know what else to say. There are so many moments that are just, like, art museum quality. The animation is buttery-smooth, and the entire film is just an absolute joy. Minute one to moment one hundred and twenty five.
Sub or Dub: The sub. The dub has some good moments, but it has nothing on the original voice track.
My Neighbour Totoro (1988)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s more necessary than Howl’s Moving Castle): Every movie above is one I watch fairly regularly, but here starts the ones I don’t watch that often. Especially Totoro, which I’ve only seen once (it’s a sin, I know). This is pretty important from a historical perspective-- it’s the movie that defined that Ghibli was in a lot of ways-- and it’s another favourite for a lot of people.
Story: Two young girls meet a giant fuzzy forest spirit that takes them on adventures. Look, I think Totoro is a better story than Spirited Away, Mononoke, and even Ponyo. But, the issue is context. It just doesn’t work that well if you aren’t a kid. It’s kind of like Winnie the Pooh in a way: it’s timeless and really great if you are exposed as a kid, but if you are only watching it as an adult it just doesn’t have the same magic.
Visuals: Well, they’re iconic. The umbrella scene is pretty much the moment that defined what Ghibli really was as a studio. But again, it just doesn’t hold as much magic if you are watching it for the first time when you are older than 6 or 7. It’s a movie designed for a certain time in your life.
Sub or Dub: I think I’ve only ever watched the sub, but really, who would ever watch Totoro dubbed . . .
Arrietty (2010)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s more necessary than Howl’s Moving Castle): I like this movie a lot, actually, but I totally understand that it isn’t one of Ghibli’s most notable works from a design/ story/ character standpoint. It’s just good. It also was Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s first directorial gig, and he’s something of an up and coming director. And I like him. I dunno, I’m grasping at straws to find a way that this is all that notable besides ”I think it’s pretty good.”
Story: It’s about little people navigating the real world! But like, really little people. Like they ride mice and stuff (I think, it’s actually been a while since I watched this). I dunno, it’s cute. And fun. And doesn’t really get bogged down in any sort of deeper meaning. It’s super simple. And that’s just fine. That’s sort of Yonebayashi’s style, actually. Ghibli but mass market. Love it or hate it I guess.
Visuals: Ugh, yeah. The visuals in Arrietty aren’t great. This is the other side of the “Ghibli but mass market” coin, it means that his work looks pretty generic and maybe like a Ghibli knock-off? Watching this for the visuals, I do not recommend.
Sub or Dub: Okay, so this is complicated. There are 3 different versions of Arrietty: the Japanese version, the UK dub, and the Disney dub: I recommend the UK dub. It’s much harder to find, but it features Saoirse Ronan and Tom Holland in the lead roles, and also the characters are supposed to be British and neither of the other tracks do that justice? Also, the Disney dub changes the ending and it sucks. So, yeah. UK dub if you can find it.
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s more necessary than Howl’s Moving Castle): Okay, so, yeah. This is the only Isao Takahata movie in the top ten. Shoot me. But it is pretty widely considered his best work, and a lot of pretentious film nerds think it’s Ghibli’s best movie. They’re wrong, but you know how it is. I’ve only seen it once, but I think that’s the same for most people. It’s one of the most harrowing movie watching experiences I’ve ever had, I can’t do it again. Fun fact: it was originally screened as a double feature with My Neighbour Totoro. That’s like screening a double feature of ET with Schindler’s List.
Story: So much depression. It’s about a young boy and his kid sister trying to live through the final days of WWII. The first scene is a flashback to the boy dying of starvation alone in a train station. The next scene is the chronological beginning of the story, and it’s their mom dying in a firebombing raid. Have fun!
Visuals: Don’t watch this movie for the visuals. It’s improper.
Sub or Dub: Sub. It’s very much a “why would you even consider watching this dubbed?” type movie.
When Marnie Was There (2014)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s more necessary than Howl’s Moving Castle): I mean, this movie is all emotion. The entire point of it is to make you cry. It’s a bit forced as a tear-jerker, but that doesn’t negate how effective it is at twisting the knife and forcing that ugly cry just waiting to be let out. That said, Ghibli movies are usually more indirectly sad, so this direct approach is a bit off putting (Yonebayashi= Mass Market Ghibli). It’s also Ghibli’s last film (so far), so it is kind of a weak ending for the studio.
Story: A girl lives with foster parents and meets another girl who lives in an abandoned mansion. It’s good, but the entire film is just a vector for trying to put in as many emotional moments as possible within a 103 minute time frame. It’s also probably one of Ghibli’s slowest movies, with very little actual plot progression. It moves more in favour of just finding new and inventive ways of tugging at those heart strings.
Visuals: I am finding as I make this list that I tend to heap a lot of praise on simple-but-effective visuals, and When Marnie Was There admittedly has that in spades.It really only has a couple locations, and they are all beautifully rendered in picturesque detail. It succeeds far more than Arrietty in the way of being unique. However, the pendulum may have swung too far in the other direction here. There is so little visual flair, in fact, that it gives the characters and story too much room to breathe, and you are able to catch your breath too often and find too many faults.
Sub or Dub: I actually prefer the dub here too. Hailee Steinfeld and Kiernan Shipka both do terrific work, and I think their voices compliment the characters even better than the Japanese VA.
Porco Rosso (1992)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s more necessary than Howl’s Moving Castle): If you hadn’t realized yet, I think you now know what my least favourite Miyazaki film is. But first, Porco Rosso. I think the best way to describe this film is “unsuccessful.” Not financially, mind, Porco Rosso was very successful from a financial standpoint. But from a storytelling perspective, it just doesn’t hold a candle to what came before and would come after. Especially in its exploration of aviation, which Miyazaki would revisit in The WInd Rises to greater success.
Story: The story of an aviator in fascist Italy . . . who also happens to be a pig. And, see, I think that right there is my main gripe with Porco Rosso. It was made at a time when every animated film needed to have a gimmick. For this one, it was that the main character was a pig. Why? Who knows! I think it has become increasingly obvious here that I prefer the human side of Ghibli far more, and this movie is just too inhuman for my tastes. Not to mention that said pig also hits most of the tropes that invade movies about war veterans. It’s just a bit tired, and a bit uninventive. Again, The Wind Rises (in fact, a lot of Miyazaki’s work) explored similar themes surrounding war to much better results.
Visuals: They are good, standard Miyazaki fare. They never really “blew me away,” not in the same way that The Wind Rises does, but it was also made in a different time. Visually, I like it, but it isn’t particularly notable when stacked against Ghibli’s other work.
Sub or Dub: Sub. Why? I dunno, it’s better. Make up a reason if you have to.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s less necessary than anything above it on this list but more necessary than stuff below it to varying degrees): Well, here we are. The turning point. I want to say first off that anything below this isn’t “garbage” (well, one movie is), but that this is certainly a barrier between stages. The stuff below are good, but never really hit any major highs. Sorry in advance. Also, Howl’s Moving Castle is fine. It does some stuff right. It was a terrible follow up to Spirited Away, but I’ll get there. I have no connection to this film whatsoever, though I know Miyazaki thinks this is his best film. I think he’s forgotten how good everything else he’s done is.
Story: It’s about the love between a girl cursed with old age (because, reasons) and a cowardly wizard. It’s also the story of a war between nations, gender norms, class struggles, and a whole bunch of other stuff crammed into a 2 hour film. And I think it suffers from the same issues that Spirited Away does: it tries to do too much. However, Spirited Away at least tried to show you a whole bunch of issues (like some really bloated morality play), Howl’s Moving Castle is one part showing and about 8 parts telling. So much of this movie is just characters talking about stuff happening but not actually showing anything happening. It does start to “show, not tell” near the end of the film, but by that point it’s too late. It’s the genie of the lamp: too many big ideas crammed into an itty bitty living space.
Visuals: Visually, Howl’s Moving Castle is appealing if not particularly notable. Miyazaki’s imagination is on full display here. However, the film is trapped for a long time in the eponymous Castle, which is fine on one hand (“simpler is better”) but on another all the characters seem to do is talk about what is going on outside the castle. When it finally opens up, it’s kind of a whimper rather than something similar to Kiki’s breathtaking new world. It’s a “I was wondering when we were going to finally get to this” rather than a “Oh wow! It’s so refreshing!” I’m not a screenwriter, don’t judge my dialogue choices.
Sub or Dub: Christian Bale as Howl is such a great choice that I can’t help but recommend the dub.
Only Yesterday (1991)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s less necessary than Howl’s Moving Castle): Only Yesterday is in a bit of an awkward position in the Ghibli catalogue. It sits right in between Kiki’s Delivery Service and Porco Rosso, so it was always destined to be overlooked, and on top of that it was never going to be a major moneymaker for the studio anyway. It’s before Disney and before Mononoke, so it wasn’t going to break box office records here or in Japan.
Story: It’s actually somewhat similar to Whisper of the Heart, in that it explores what life in Japan is really like. It’s about escaping from the ever-expanding 80’s sprawl of Tokyo, while revisiting the memories of the much simpler (but still complicated in their own way) 1960’s. It’s about the dreams of childhood and the realities of adulthood. It’s just a shame that, unlike Whisper of the Heart, the plot here is really scant. Takahata has a tendency (and it will only become more prominent from here on out) to focus on episodic vignettes rather than a cohesive narrative. Only Yesterday suffered from this decision. It really never feels like the plot is going anywhere, and while the characters are well developed the finale just ends up feeling unearned.
Visuals: Only Yesterday also begins Takahata’s fixation on visual gimmicks, to decent results. I will say that both the realistic “adult” portions and the anime “child” portions are well animated, however the adult portions suffer immensely from being perhaps too “well animated.” They tend to fall a bit on the uncanny valley side of the spectrum. It was a nice experiment, but it isn’t fully successful. That will also become something of a theme to Takahata’s work.
Sub or Dub: I’ve never seen the dub, and I don’t know why you would watch this one dubbed. It is clearly meant to be watched with subtitles. That said, Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel star in the dub, so maybe it is worth checking out.
The Cat Returns (2002)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s less necessary than Howl’s Moving Castle): It’s the only sequel in Ghibli’s repertoire, and it doesn’t give me hope in their ability to make any other ones effectively. Don’t hold your breath for Spirited Away 2: The Revenge of No-Face, is all I’m saying.
Story: Uhhh, well . . . it’s kind of a sequel to Whisper of the Heart? It takes all the good parts out of Whisper of the Heart and focuses entirely on the story about the Baron that Shizuku was writing in the original film. Sorta. I think the best way to describe my feelings towards this film is “it would function so well as a tribute to Yoshifumi Kondo-- it’s even the first non-Takahata or Miyazaki film since his death-- if it took anything from the previous film that Kondo actually seemed to want to explore.” This film just doesn’t take anything from Whisper of the Heart besides lip service, a bad homage without any of the love and care Kondo put in his film. It’s a deeply cynical work just from its sheer existence. All that said, the film is still a joy. It’s just covered in a really cynical air of corporate greed.
Visuals: Rough. Very rough. I don’t know if that is the fault of the studio’s budgeting, lack of faith in the project, or that the director Hiroyuki Morita had never directed anything besides a single hentai OVA credit and didn’t really have the experience necessary to take a full feature length film on, but this movie looks like something Hayao Miyazaki could do with his eyes closed. I’ll stop short of saying that it has the animation quality of one of the lesser Disney Direct-to-Video sequels, but it certainly doesn’t have anywhere near the visual quality of a Ghibli feature film.
Sub or Dub: I’ve never seen the dub. I likely will not be rushing to give it a try, not even with Anne Hathaway in the lead role.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s less necessary than Howl’s Moving Castle): This was Isao Takahata’s final work, and some say his best. Some even call this the best Ghibli movie. I, obviously, disagree, but I can at least somewhat see where they are coming from. In one very specific area it is undeniably a masterpiece, but to me that doesn’t save the film overall.
Story: This functions as a pretty direct adaptation of the famous Japanese folk story The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. I think that might be the film’s biggest issue: adaptation. The original story isn’t particularly long or in depth, and it’s beautiful in its simplicity. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is 137 minutes long, the longest Ghibli film to date and 4 minutes longer than the extraordinarily complex Princess Mononoke. So, how does Isao Takahata compensate? Well, he doesn’t. It’s the same story as the original text, just with a whole lot of filler added. It makes for a pretty difficult watch, to say the least. It is definitely worth the watch though, same as everything before it (not quite so much what comes after it, but you know). It’s just not going to be a fun watch.
Visuals: This is where the film truly shines. The visuals in this film are unique and utterly gorgeous! I love the art style and the way the film uses it . . . but it is very distracting. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a “failed experiment,” but it is obvious that Takahata wanted to make a piece of art rather than a film. It would function a lot better as a silent film, or a collection of art pieces that tell the story. But, alas, it was made into this.
Sub or Dub: Who in their right mind would watch this dubbed?
From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s less necessary than Howl’s Moving Castle): Oh, Goro. You will always live in your father’s shadow, buddy. Sorry my dude.
Story: I think the concept of From Up on Poppy Hill is better than the execution. Girl meets guy, they be doki doki in love, there’s stuff about the military, also it’s set in the 60’s! Okay, even the concept is fine at best. But the execution is just . . . not good. This movie isn’t really about much of anything. There are a bunch of side characters who seem important until you realize . . . whoops, nope. They’re just there. It’s a bland, forgettable period love story with a meandering script and nothing notable going for it. This is, again, the studio that did Whisper of the Heart. Oh, and also there’s a point in the movie where characters think they are in an incestrous relationship . . . but yet continue?
Visuals: I’m not saying the visuals completely solve the problems with this movie, but they do help. Even though it is pretty “Mass Market Ghibli,” at least it steals from the good Ghibli movies (especially Whisper of the Heart, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and the flair of Spirited Away). Even though the period setting is never used to its full potential, at least it is accurately portrayed. Even though the animation talent isn’t anywhere near the level of Ghibli’s best movies, at least it is more fluid than their lesser work.
Sub or Dub: Oh god the sub. For the love of god don’t try the dub.
Pom Poko (1994)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s less necessary than Howl’s Moving Castle): It’s a movie about tanuki with massive balls.
Story: I mean, literally the above. Like, I understand that in Japan this is something that is amusing, but it really does not translate for Western audiences. And I can’t find any way to put myself in a Japanese point of view for this. Also, it suffers from the same vignette vs story issue as a lot of Takahata’s other work.
Visuals: I dunno. It looks like a Ghibli movie. Takahata actually used the Ghibli style for this one . . . to animate actual testicals. Like, again, I get it. It’s funny. It’s especially funny to see balls animated in the Ghibli style. But it just doesn’t work for me. I’m so sorry Pom Poko fans.
Sub or Dub: Probably the sub, considering I don’t believe they are even referred to as tanuki in the dub.
My Neighbours the Yamadas (1999)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s less necessary than Howl’s Moving Castle): It’s not a good sign when a movie can’t even make you feel somewhat interested in its subject matter.
Story: Is there a story? It’s kind of just a series of loosely-connected vignettes. Like, even more so than most of Takahata’s work. I get it, it focuses on theme and character besides plot. But no matter how good you do that (and this movie isn’t all that successful), it doesn’t replace a plot.
Visuals: It’s simple, kinda comic strip style. It ends up being pretty distracting, and really creates a distinct barrier between the film and the audience. It never feels like you can fully engage.
Sub or Dub: If I was to hazard a guess, having never seen the dub, the sub.
Tales From Earthsea (2006)Emotional/ Historical Connection (ie why I think it’s less necessary than Howl’s Moving Castle): Is “being the only truly bad Ghibli film” historically significant?
Story: No. I refuse to write about this film any more than I have to.
Sub or Dub: If you have to, probably the sub I guess IDK I don’t care enough
[H] Conan Exiles Rise of the Tomb Raider and many more [W] FF XV, MineCraft, other RPGs
Link to list since my formatting ability obviously sucks
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