The Magic of Studio Ghibli

Have you seen Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle or The Wind Rises?

Studio Ghibli is a Japanese animation studio, often thought of as the Japanese equivalent of Disney. There are many similarities between the two, not just because of their huge popularity. Both have pushed the boundaries of what people expect of animated films. Of course, both studios create wholesome family films that focus on exploring the fantastical space between magic and reality.


Many people would argue this is where the similarities stop. Studio Ghibli films aren’t afraid to deal with more serious and challenging issues such as war, life and death, and the continued destruction of the environment.

The elements of magic in a Studio Ghibli film are less whimsical than in a Disney film. With Disney we may just think of talking animals; but with Ghibli the magic is less easy to characterise and define. For a start, there is a lot more going on and it can get pretty crazy at times. It’s a magic that is genuinely intriguing, sometimes frightening but almost always awe-inspiring.

This might be why many young people begin to outgrow the Disney universe, but never tire of the wonders of Ghibli. Here are 5 Studio Ghibli films to look out for.


1. Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle follows the adventures of Sophie, a young woman who gets transformed into an old lady by a wicked witch. Set against the backdrop of war, Sophie leaves home and wanders the wilderness until she stumbles across the moving castle of the title and its mysterious owner, Howl.


2. Princess Mononoke

When humans try to destroy the forest with brute force and a lot of gunpowder, the gods of the forest decide to fight back. We follow the cursed hero, Ashitaka, as he teams up with a wild princess and a pack of giant wolves to save the forest from complete annihilation. The destructive nature of humanity and its relation to nature is the theme of this hugely, hugely epic film.


3. Spirited Away

Winner of the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003, Spirited Away is perhaps the most famous of Studio Ghibli films. It is the highest-grossing film in Japanese history. Spirited Away tells the tale of a courageous young girl, Chihiro, who becomes trapped in a mysterious spirit world after her parents are transformed into pigs. It follows her attempts to figure out what is going on, save her parents and find her way home.


4. Whisper of the Heart 

At Vivo HQ, our personal favourite is Whisper of the Heart. It is a moving tale that explores the themes of youth, love and the quest to find out what is important in life. Shizuku, a 14-year-old female student meets a young violin maker, Seiji, at school. When Seiji goes to Italy to learn more about his craft, Shizuku tests her own talents as a writer of fantasy fiction.


5. Ponyo

Ponyo shares many similarities with Disney’s The Little Mermaid in that it features a “fish-girl” who decides that she would like to become human after meeting a young human boy. This may be one for a younger audience — a great choice if you are looking for something to watch with a younger sibling — but still packs a punch and carries an important message: don’t mess with Mother Nature!

Source(s): Walt Disney Animation Studios, Studio Ghibli