Friday, February 26, 2021

My Favorite Studio Ghibli Films

On the back of my recent Earwig and the Witch review that I just posted, I'm making this new post for my top five Ghibli films. This is based on my own opinions and personal enjoyment. It has nothing to do with what films were the most impactful to the industry, made the most money, or are beloved by the majority. These films are my comfort food. I've already given my basic opinion on Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke in my Earwig review. Sorry, but I stan Lady Eboshi and would burn that entire forest to ashes for her smile.

She's my Queen. No homo. :)

So, uh, with that out of the way, I'm gonna start listing my faves. I'm not really giving too much thought to the specific order.

A village so comfy you'd expect a Titan to come and smash it.

1. Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

I'd say this is my current top favorite. I say "current" because I think it changes sometimes. Before, it might've been Kiki's Delivery Service or something like that. I recall seeing this in the theater when it came to the U.S. and being kinda disappointed. So it's really grown on me in the past few years to say the least.

I think what I look for the most in my Ghibli films these days is the pure aesthetics. This film has quaint villages; the "moving castle" which is the most comfy hunk of junk I've ever seen in a film; the beautiful flower field; and the castle grounds that are stately without being intimidating. This film makes me want go to the hat shop and trim hats with Sophie or sit down with a cup of coffee and a blanket in front of Calcifer's fire.

I like the characters for the most part. Sophie is bland and inoffensive without being boring. I think in part because she takes things in relative stride. "Oh, I'm old? Better go" and then she just packs her food and leaves. She has a tiny bit of mischief in her that balances her well with the apprentice boy, the snarky fire, and the dramatic Howl. The Witch of Waste evokes a sense of danger at the beginning of the film, sympathy after being stripped of her powers, and then anger when she takes Howl's heart. (Though I forgive her when she gives it back.)

I don't really watch the dub. Billy Crystal and Christian Bale kinda pull me outta my vibe. They aren't terrible or anything but I prefer the Japanese language.

Sophie and Howl falling in love is a bit weird. It feels too sudden but they do mesh well together so I can buy it to an extent. I don't really watch this film for the love story or lack thereof anyway. I just like to sit and chill out with it.

This room has the best use of weed I've ever seen.

2. The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

Just look at that room, man!  Look at that room. This film vibes. All sort of beautiful settings abound: the houses of both Arrietty and Sho exude with coziness and the fields, garden, and wildness outside is such a treat. The story's not exactly impactful so I think that's why this one doesn't really win people over. Like Totoro has a dying mom and Spirited Away has a little girl saving her family and you know this stuff from the get-go of those films. This film is all "little people can't let the big ol' human beans sees thems." And thus, it doesn't feel like much despite that it does get some stakes at the ending half. 

Apparently, there's two English dubs including a Brit dub with Saorise Ronan and Tom Holland and I really want to watch it some day. Like Howl's Moving Castle, I don't care for the English dub we got so much. But with this film, I like the dub even less so. It's probably the music that does it to me.

I don't recall if this movie came to theaters in my area at all and I don't remember watching it in a theater. If it ever gets a re-release (post-pandemic), I would love to go see it on a big screen.

Lofi Beats to Study and Relax To. No takedown pls.

3. Whisper of the Heart (1995)

This film is really damn touching. It, above most other Ghibli films in my opinion, feels incredibly personal but not like Only Yesterday which smacks your face with the protag's past. This film feels like we're being silently invited into an important period of time in this girl's life, omnisciently recounting this girl's childhood when she starts becoming the writer she knows she is. Or maybe it's more bias on my part because I like to write, too. Either way, it's a sweet little story with a touch of fantasy and young love.

Of course it has those Ghibli aesthetics: Shizuku's family's cramp apartment; the school grounds and the library; the quaint shop full of curiosities; and the snug, homey streets of town. The characters are nice with some of them having a light touch of sass. 

The dub's okay and has a Cary Elwes cat. You can't say no to a Cary Elwes cat. Sadly, it's the only film ever directed by Yoshifumi Kondo. And double-sadly it has a sequel (The Cat Returns) that left me feeling kinda meh. I think it's due to the sequel being a much more fantastical story than this film and I liked this film for the opposite reason. The sequel exclusively follows the Cary Elwes cat so it's still worth a watch. I have yet to find anyone that has The Cat Returns as a favorite tho'.

That feel when has talking cat but you can no longer understand him.

4. Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

I think this might've been the first Ghibli film I ever watched and for that reason was my first favorite by default. Not that it's a bad one to have as a default favorite. I would say it's a nice gateway Ghibli film. It's fantastical without being too fantastical: Kiki rides her broom and can talk to her cat but I can't think of any other instances of magic we actually see. It's also adventurous without being too adventurous: Kiki leaves home for a quaint seaside city. Aside from a jaunt in the forest, she doesn't really go anywhere else. And it has drama without being too dramatic: Kiki loses her powers, becomes depressed, but then is happy again. 

I think a lot of the other Ghibli films, for better or for worse, have a level of Japanese culture that makes them a little less accessible than Kiki is. Not that I don't appreciate Japanese culture but films with less cultural nuance do feel more universal.

As for the English dub, the actors do a good enough job. This movie was released in an English dub on VHS in 1998. Phil Hartman voices Jiji and while I love Phil Hartman, I can concede he's not really right for the role. (RIP Phil Hartman. Jiji was his last voice role and I was a Simpsons fan at the time so I was very familiar with who he was.) To add insult to injury for fans of this film, the English dub did make some changes and take some liberties which was more common back in 1998. So even though I'd say this is the most accessible Ghibli film, there was a need to make it more accessible. This film's dub was then tweaked for later re-release to sort of course-correct back in 2010. Which is fine... because I stick the subs for this one now anyway.

License and registration please. Just kidding. No one drives me.

5. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Gonna be honest here. I did not like My Neighbor Totoro when I first watched it. Firstly, it took me forever to actually watch it. When it was released in the U.S., I just didn't care. The pictures you see in regards to this film show this weird, round rabbit-looking thing and two little girls. And it's just... what is this? And why would I watch it?

I ended up taking Japanese classes in college and our sensei put on some of this film. This brings me to the second issue: those opening credits started and I wondered what the hell I was looking at. Hearing that song, it sounded like this movie was for toddlers or something. Again, what was this about and why should I watch it? So I zoned out. I didn't know what to think of this back then.

I don't know what exactly made me watch this again. It was many years later and probably when my sister and I were going on a Ghibli binge. So we watched My Neighbor Totoro with the Disney dub around its release in 2006 and we really loved it. I definitely see the appeal and timelessness it has now.

That cozy house, the beautiful country side, that sweet family, and those odd forest critters give this film such a nice touch. I don't really care for Totoro himself but he's actually not in the film all that much. Susuwatari and Cat Bus for the win.

While it may be heretical to say this, I like the English dub more than the sub. I'm not even a fan of the Fanning sisters and the older girl plays her role kinda stiff in my opinion. Even so, the English dub is prettty damn decent and the younger Fanning girl does a fantastic job as Mei.

Kurotowa and Princess Kushana are best. No lies detected here.
Honorable Mention:

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) - Does this really count as a Ghibli film? No? Yes? Well, I really like it either way. Especially Kushana and Kurotowa, played by The Bride and Jack Skellington in the English dub. Princess Kushana is everything I really look for in a fantasy princess: she has a sense of personal duty, she's tough, she suffers, she becomes ruthless and then she becomes understanding. Nothing against Nausicaa herself, but Nausicaa didn't feel like she had growth the way Kushana did. Beginning of film: Nausicaa love forest. Nausicaa protect bugs. End of film: Nausicaa love forest. Nausicaa protect bugs.

Also in the dub is Patrick Stewart as Lord Yupa. I liked his performance here, too. The English dub does have Shia of all people as Asbel but, er, just ignore him. I feel like this movie pulls off the themes that Laputa and Princess Mononoke tried to much better.

Spirited Away (2001) - I had a lovely time watching this in the theater when it came to the U.S. and I dig the aesthetics. I'm just not into the story so much. After halfway through, I kinda check out. It's like once she gets on that train, my brain also got on the train but never got off of the train. Heh. But it's really a beautiful film about two disgusting pigs and their nameless daughter.

Earwig and the Witch (2020) - Yes, I liked it enough to make it a favorite. I wrote a review in my earlier post. I think it's flawed but still solid.

Whatever else I've not discussed, I either still like it but not as a favorite (such as From Up on Poppy Hill, Porco Rosso, Only Yesterday, Pom Poko) or haven't seen it (The Tale of Princess Kaguya, When Marnie Was There) or am indifferent for one reason or another. If you're so inclined, comment with your favorite Ghibli film and why you love it. Unless it's Princess Mononoke. Ha ha.

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