21. Porco Rosso (1992)
The first of Hayao Miyazaki’s aviation-themed films, it remains unclear why its pilot character is a pig (unfortunately, a sexist one). Set against the rising Italian fascist regime, this chirpy animation has an oddly noticeable gangster-film influence. After absconding from the RAF, Porco Rosso transforms back into a human, literally and metaphorically.
20. My Neighbours the Yamadas (1999)
Though lacking the stunning visuals of Studio Ghibli’s best-known films, this portrait of a suburban family compensates with comedy. Episodic sketches of quotidian drama, in newspaper comic-strip style, are punctuated by lines of Bashō’s poetry. An adaptation of the manga series Nono-Chan, this was Studio Ghibli’s first entirely digital work.
19. Only Yesterday (1991)
Isao Takahata directs this leisurely, meditative account of a woman nearing 30, experiencing pressure to get married. She takes leave from work and heads to the countryside, accompanied by the memory of her cringe-worthy 10-year-old self and an east-European-inspired soundtrack. Most of the action unfolds as the credits roll.
18. From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)
A film directed by Miyazaki’s son, Gorō, this study of port town Yokohama in the wake of the Korean war twists into a strange adolescent love story. In memory of her ship captain father, a girl raises flags visible from the harbour, unwittingly attracting the attention of her classmate.
17. Arrietty (2010)
A homage to The Borrowers, this is Studio Ghibli’s version of the celebrated story of tiny people who “borrow” things. Its animators delight in minuscule detail: a cup brimming with a single drop of tea, wallpaper made of leaves. Featuring the voice of Saoirse Ronan, this is as heart-warming as Mary Norton’s original.
16. Pom Poko (1994)
A tragicomedy on sweeping urban expansion, blind to the lives of other species and spirits. Riled by humans destroying their forest, a group of tanuki (racoon dogs) revolt. They relearn the ancient Buddhist art of shapeshifting in attempts to sabotage construction work. Despite its humour, the reality of this film strikes hard.
15. When Marnie Was There (2014)
Studio Ghibli’s most recent film to date, this follows a troubled teenager sent to stay with her foster mother’s relatives. Bewitched by a local salt-marsh mansion, she pays nightly visits to the ghost of the girl who lived there. An eerie film with an ending neatly wrapped up.
14. Ocean Waves (1993)
A quietly revelatory narrative of a student realising his feelings for his ex-classmate as he glimpses her on a train platform. Produced by younger staff, this film is a deviation from the full-blown fantasy Studio Ghibli is known for. Instead, this is a subtle and honest film about self-recognition.
13. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)
With its origin in one of Japan’s oldest manuscripts, the mythical life of Princess Kaguya (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz for its English language dub) is illustrated in elegant, understated strokes of watercolour. Haunting artistically and musically, the princess’s feelings of relegation and harassment in a man’s world feel raw and, at moments, untethered in Isao Takahata’s final film.
12. The Wind Rises (2013)
The second of Studio Ghibli’s aviation-themed films, this is the animation house at peak visual prowess. “Ghibli” was the nickname of a second world war Italian aircraft; its moustachioed designer Caproni appears in the dreams of engineer Jiro Horikoshi in this poignant animation, which captures the preciousness of life.
11. The Cat Returns (2002)
One of Studio Ghibli’s most bizarre premises for a film (and that’s from the creators of Porco Rosso). Schoolgirl Haru is abducted by a herd of cats and coerced into marriage with a royal feline. A sequel of sorts to Whisper of the Heart, this is a cat owner’s fever dream.
10. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Set in a spore-infested future swarming with immense insects, this is the story of a young princess destined to return the world to its habitable state. A psychedelic sci-fi slash fantasy-adventure influenced by Isaac Asimov and Tolkien, while also reminiscent of Star Wars. Produced before Studio Ghibli was founded in 1985, Miyazaki here sets down environmental concerns that become a staple of his later work. This earned the film a recommendation from WWF.
9. Whisper of the Heart (1995)
John Denver’s saccharine Country Roads is this film’s opening number, the sentimentality of which is steered into an uplifting and startling romance. A lesson that we should always follow cats on the train, Shizuku (voiced by Brittany Snow) finds a reverie-inducing world of antiques, violin-makers and cat figurines to contrast her humdrum (but sensitively depicted) Tokyo home life. As love is kindled between Shizuku and the antique seller’s son, she becomes determined to work on her talents and ambitions.
8. Ponyo (2008)
Vaguely based on The Little Mermaid: when a reckless fish spirit dashes away from home she is saved from the sea by a young boy. Ensuing feelings make her yearn to be human, hurling the natural balance of the world off-kilter. Although its child protagonists are far too young to promise to love each other, this whimsical marine animation, featuring Cate Blanchett as the radiant and ginormous Goddess of Mercy, is one of Studio Ghibli’s best.
7. Tales from Earthsea (2006)
Gorō Miyazaki’s directorial debut. He bore the huge burden of following up his father’s legacy while simultaneously being the first to adapt Ursula K Le Guin’s Earthsea series, an adaptation that she later disowned due to its departure from her books. While the film may lack the complexity of Le Guin’s narratives, this is a chilling representation of lurking corruption, plaguing the society of a fantastical world as a young prince flees the swelling shadow in his soul.
6. Spirited Away (2001)
The stuff of childhood nightmares. After her parents turn into pigs, Chihiro is trapped in the spirit world. Forced to work in warty Yubaba’s bathhouse until she can free her parents, the young girl navigates the spirit world, a place both tranquil and terrifying. The result of Hayao Miyazaki’s mission to create a feisty heroine for young female viewers, this is one of Studio Ghibli’s greatest triumphs.
5. Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)
In Studio Ghibli’s first official film, conflicting forces tussle over the treasures of a floating island. The legendary root of western and eastern civilisation, Laputa’s evil heir Muska (Mark Hamill) returns to seize power. His plans are foiled by a young girl and a robot that, while at first appearing sinister, tends to the island’s flora and fauna. Miyazaki confessed that the village in this film channelled the Welsh mining towns with which he became familiar on his travels.
4. My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
Emblematic of the Ghibli franchise, the snoozing woodland spirit Totoro has permeated global culture. In this simple story, two young girls are left to fend for themselves while their father is working and their mother is in hospital. The cuddly Totoro is on hand during emergencies, rescuing the children from the rain and summoning a smirking cat-shaped bus.
3. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Based on Eiko Kadono’s acclaimed novel about a teenage witch, this is the story of 13-year-old Kiki (voiced by Kirsten Dunst), who clambers on to her broom and goes in search of a new town in which to settle. Kiki struggles to find her footing in the developing world but ingeniously fashions her own delivery service for a bakery. An exuberant film about an enterprising young woman; a shame that the tragic loss of her sassy cat’s voice is underplayed.
2. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Poor Sophie (voice acted by Emily Mortimer and Jean Simmons) bears the brunt of several magical feuds in this fantastical animation, cursed to appear as an old woman. She finds employment as housekeeper for a narcissistic wizard and becomes embroiled in his resistance of a war stirring between kingdoms. (This, apprently, was Miyazaki’s filmic response to the Iraq conflict). A potent, affecting story of inner identity and beauty, loosely adapted from the novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones.
1. Princess Mononoke (1997)
Speaking strongly to our present climate crisis, this monumental animation centres around a stand-off between iron manufacturers and ancient forest spirits. Further afield from the conflict, Prince Ashitaka is cursed by a raging boar spirit and forced to voyage to Irontown, there encountering ferocious Princess Mononoke. Miyazaki manages to create nuanced characters on both sides of the battle; the resounding message, as in many of his films, is to cultivate a caring and symbiotic relationship between humanity and nature.