The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli

All of the Best Studio Ghibli Movies From "Nausicaa" to "Marnie"

When animation director Hayao Miyazaki founded his own studio in 1985, he called it Studio Ghibli, a name that would soon become synonymous with the finest animated features produced in most any country in the world. Not every Studio Ghibli release has been directed by Miyazaki, but his guiding hand is clearly behind all productions released through the company.

Here are the major releases from Studio Ghibli, in chronological order. Note that this list is limited to titles with U.S. / English-language releases. Titles marked with a star (*) are especially recommended.

Edited by Brad Stephenson

Miyazaki’s first feature production with him as the director still ranks among his very best, if not also the best in all of anime. Adapted from Miyazaki’s own manga, also in print domestically, it deals with a post-apocalyptic world where a young princess (the Nausicaä of the title) fights to keep her nation and a rival from going to war over ancient technology that could destroy them both. There are endless allusions to modern-day issues—the nuclear arms race, ecological consciousness—but all that takes a backseat to a tremendously engaging story told with beauty and clarity. The original U.S. release (as "Warriors of the Wind") was infamously cut down, which left Miyazaki wary of distributing his films in the U.S. for almost two decades.

Also known as ​"Laputa," this is another of Miyazaki’s grand and glorious adventures, loaded with imagery and sequences that reflect his love of flying. Young villager Pazu encounters a girl named Sheeta when she falls from the sky and practically lands in his lap; the two learn that the pendant in her possession could unlock untold secrets within the “castle in the sky” of the title. As in ​"Nausicaä," the young and innocent must grapple against the machinations of cynical adults, who only have eyes for the city’s war machines. (This was the first true Studio Ghibli production; "Nausicaä" was officially done by the studio Topcraft.)

Directed by Ghibli cohort Isao Takahata, this is a grim depiction of life (and death) during the last days of WWII when Allied firebombings claimed many civilian lives in Tokyo—a story that has not been reported as often as the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Derived from Akiyuki Nosaka’s novel, it shows how two youngsters, Seita and his little sister Setsuko, struggle to survive in the charred ruins of the city and fend off starvation. It’s difficult to watch, but also impossible to forget, and definitely not a children’s movie due to the graphic way it depicts the aftermath of war.

Easily the most beloved of any of Miyazaki’s films, and more than almost any of his others about the world as seen through the eyes of children. Two girls have relocated with their father to a house in the country, to be close to their ill mother; they discover the house and the surrounding forest is a veritable hotbed of supernatural spirits, who play and keep them company. A synopsis doesn’t do justice to the movie’s plot, gentle atmosphere, where what happens isn’t nearly as important as how it’s seen by Miyazaki and his creative team. Most any parent should grab a copy of this for their kids.

A sprightly adaptation of a beloved children’s book from Japan (also now in English), about a young witch-in-training who uses her broom-riding skills to work as a courier. It’s more about whimsy and characters colliding than plot, but Kiki and the clutch of folks she befriends are all fun to watch. Spectacular to look at, too; the Ghibli crew created what amounts to a fictional European-town flavor for the film. The biggest problem is the last 10 minutes or so, a five-car pileup of storytelling which injects a manufactured crisis where one wasn’t really needed.

The title means “The Crimson Pig” in Italian, and it sounds like unlikely material: a former fighter pilot, now cursed with the face of a pig, ekes out a living as a soldier of fortune in his seaplane. But it’s a delight, fusing a post-WWI European setting with Miyazaki’s always-idyllic visuals—it could almost be considered his response to ​"Casablanca." Originally intended to be a short in-flight film for Japan Airlines, it was expanded into a full feature. Michael Keaton (as Porco) and Cary Elwes are featured in Disney’s English dub of the movie.

A cadre of shapeshifting Japanese raccoons, or tanuki, collide with the nature-threatening ways of the modern world. Some of them choose to resist the encroachment of humankind, in ways that resemble eco-saboteurs; some instead opt to assimilate into human life. It’s a great example of how anime often mines Japan’s mythology for inspiration, although note there are some moments that might not be suitable for younger viewers.

A girl with ambitions to be a writer and a boy who dreams of becoming a master violin-maker cross paths and learn to inspire each other. The only feature directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, whom Miyazaki and Takahata had high hopes for (he also worked on "Princess Mononoke") but whose directorial career was cut short by his sudden death at the age of 47.

In a land reminiscent of premodern Japan, young Prince Ashitaka sets out on a journey to discover a cure for a festering wound he received at the hands of a strange beast—a wound which also gives him great power at a terrible cost. His journey brings him into contact with the princess of the title, a wild child who’s allied herself with the spirits of the forest to protect it against the encroachment of the haughty Lady Eboshi and her forces. It’s in some ways a differently-flavored reworking of "Nausicaä," but hardly a clone; it’s as exciting, complex and nuanced a film (and as beautiful a one) as you’re likely to see in any medium or language.

An adaptation of Hisaichi Ishii’s slice-of-life comic strip about a family’s various misadventures, it broke rank from the other Ghibli productions in its look: it sticks closely to the character designs of the original comic but reproduced and animated in a gentle watercolor style. The story has little plot, but rather a series of loosely-connected scenes that work as comic meditations on family life. Those expecting adventures in the sky or many of the other Ghibli hallmarks may be disappointed, but it’s still a sweet and enjoyable movie nonetheless.

Miyazaki was allegedly prepared to retire after "Mononoke;" if he had, he might not have made yet another of the top films of his career and the most financially successful of all of Studio Ghibli’s films so far ($274 million worldwide). Sullen young Chihiro is jolted out of her shell when her parents disappear, and she’s forced to redeem them by working in what amounts to a summer resort for gods and spirits. The film’s crammed with the kind of quirky, Byzantine delights you might find in one of Roald Dahl’s books for kids. Miyazaki’s amazing sense of visual invention and his gentle empathy for all his characters, even the “bad” ones, also shine through.

A cheeky fantasy about a girl who saves a cat’s life, and is repaid by being invited to the Kingdom of the Cats—although the more time she spends there, the greater the risk she’ll never be able to get back home. A follow-up, sort of, to "Whisper of the Heart:" the cat is the character in the story written by the girl. But you needn’t see Heart first to enjoy this charming version of Aoi Hiiragi’s manga.

An adaptation of Dianne Wynne Jones’s novel, wherein a girl named Sophie is transformed by a curse into an old woman, and only the magician Howl—the owner of the “moving castle” of the title—can undo the damage. Many of Miyazaki’s trademark elements can be found here: two feuding kingdoms, or the amazing design of the castle itself, fueled by a fire demon who enters into a pact with Sophie. Miyazaki was actually a replacement for the original director, Mamoru Hosoda (​"Summer Wars,​" "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time").

Miyazaki’s son Goro took the helm for this loose adaptation of several books in Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series. LeGuin herself found the movie departed drastically from her works, and critics lambasted the finished product for being technically impressive but a storytelling jumble. It remained unreleased in the U.S. until 2011.

Described as Miyazaki’s "Finding Nemo," "Ponyo" is aimed at younger audiences in much the same way that ​"Totoro" was: it sees the world as a child would. Little Sosuke saves what he thinks is a goldfish but is actually Ponyo, daughter of a magician from deep within the sea. Ponyo takes on human form and becomes a playmate to Sosuke, but at the cost of unhinging the natural order of things. The stunning, hand-drawn details that crowd almost every frame—the waves, the endless schools of fish—are a real treasure to watch in an age when most such things are spat out of computers.

Another successful adaptation of a children's book, this one based on Mary Norton's "The Borrowers." Arrietty is a little girl—​very little, as in only a few inches high -- and lives with the rest of her "Borrower" family under the noses of a regular human family. Eventually, Arrietty and her kin must enlist the help of the human family's youngest son, Sho, lest they be driven out of their hiding places.

Against the backdrop of a bustling postwar Japan preparing for the 1964 Olympics, a girl who lost her father to the Korean War strikes up a tentative friendship—and possibly more—with a boy in her class. The two of them team up to save the school's dilapidated clubhouse from demolition but then discover they share a connection that neither of them could have possibly foreseen. The second film (after​ ​​​"Tales from Earthsea") in the Ghibli stable to have been directed by Hayao Miyazaki's son Goro, and it's a far better one.

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The Wind Rises (2013)

Studio Ghibli's The Wind Rises
Studio Ghibli's The Wind Rises. Studio Ghibli

This is a fictionalized story of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Mitsubishi A5M and the A6M Zero, Japan's fighter aircraft of World War II. The nearsighted boy wants to be a pilot but dreams of Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Battista Caproni, who inspires him to design them instead. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

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Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

Studio Ghibli's Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Studio Ghibli's Tale of the Princess Kaguya. Studio Ghibli

A bamboo cutter discovers the title character as a tiny girl inside a glowing bamboo shoot and also finds gold and fine cloth. Using this treasure, he moves her to a mansion when she comes of age and names her Princess Kaguya. She is courted by noble suitors and even the Emporer before revealing that she came from the moon. This movie was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. 

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When Marnie Was There (2014)

Studio Ghibli's When Marnie Was There
Studio Ghibli's When Marnie Was There. Studio Ghibli

This was the final film for Studio Ghibli and animator Makiko Futaki. Twelve-year-old Anna Sasaki lives with her foster parents and is recuperating from an asthma attack in a seaside town. She meets Marnie, a blonde girl who lives in a mansion that sometimes appears dilapidated and at other times is fully restored. This movie was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.