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Ghibli Appreciation Post: My Top 5


There’s something about Hollywood animated movies that I dislike. I can never put my finger around as to why. Maybe it’s because they are often too straightforward in their message, even slightly shallow. Of the vast catalog of Hollywood animations, I can only think of three I like.


Japanese animation, on the other hand, I adore it! I love everything about it. The art style is more to my taste; the stories are nuanced and multifaceted. And we cannot talk about Japanese animation without mentioning Studio Ghibli and the great Hayao Miyazaki.


Ghibli’s animations feel authentic and introspective, with relatable characters, not just a moving 2D drawing on a screen. The movies have well-crafted narratives that make me ponder and reconsider my perspective on an idea. This is what good storytelling is for me: a way to experience and learn different points of view.


Two children hugging.
Scene from The Boy and the Heron.

Last weekend, The Boy and the Heron premiered here in Brazil, and of course, I went to see it. It is reminiscent of Laputa: Castle in the Sky for the trace, the protagonist, and the general impetus of the story. If this happens to be Miyazaki’s last movie, it would be a full circle for his era, connecting it with his first Ghibli movie.


This post is diverging from the usual sci-fi content. The Boy and the Heron put me on a Ghibli high, so I ranked my five favorite Ghibli movies. Why five? Because this won’t be just a list. I could write entire blog posts about these movies, so I’ll try to be brief in explaining how they made me look at things differently. 


I have watched all Ghibli movies except for one. Based on my list, can you guess which one? Find out the answer at the end.


Let’s play.



#5 - Princess Mononoke


It is hard to watch this movie and not be affected by its message. 


Princess Mononoke portrays a conflict between the spiritual world (here representing our traditions, connection to nature, and personal morals) and technological progress (representing the improvement of life conditions, connection to other people, and collective ethics). 


The allure of the story is the absence of a villain. The conflict portrayed stans from competing interests of different groups, showcasing how contrasting human needs and wants can be—to the point of igniting wars. 


I’m mostly familiar with stories that have a tendency to villainize the opponent, deeming them evil to justify their so-called heroic act. Perhaps it’s the origin of the polarization we experience in politics these days, in which those who are not our friends are deemed wicked enemies.


Princess Mononoke’s message resonated with me because that’s how I choose to see conflicts: as contrasting worldviews and not the manifestation of evil. This does not mean I never take sides; my own worldview competes with others. However, I fully acknowledge that my perspective is not the best for everyone. And I think we should seek balance instead of imposing our beliefs on others. 



#4 - The Wind Rises


This was the first Ghibli movie I’ve ever watched. And what a great entry point! 


The Wind Rises tells the story of Jiro Horikoshi, who wanted to be a pilot but turned into an aircraft manufacturer instead because his poor eyesight prevented him from achieving his childhood dream. With time, crafting airplanes becomes his new dream. He built planes for Japan during World War II, and we get to witness the life of someone who achieved his dreams despite significant personal loss—and a war.


Recently, I’ve seen a rekindled interest in the story, comparing it with Christoffer Nolan’s biopic Oppenheimer. I can see why those would be paired together. Troubled geniuses working passionately on technology to be used in the war, even though their personal beliefs seem contrary to this usage. However, while Nolan’s movie focuses on the destructive potentials of new technology, The Wind Rises shows us the corruption of a dream.


We are often invited to judge these types of stories through the lens of that ethical question: “Are scientists responsible for the misusage of their work?” Miyazaki avoided this theme in The Wind Rises. The movie encourages us to experience a dream and to witness its faulty usage, not to judge the main character. It made me change the way I think about history and narratives. Later, when I started in the field of history of science, I learned this is how we should research history: experiencing the facts and witnessing the results. And thus, the movie became even more meaningful to me.



#3 - Kiki’s Delivery Service 


The two previous entries gave different perspectives on broader subjects, politics, wars, history... Kiki’s Delivery Service, on the other hand, hit closer to home. 


When Kiki turns 13, as per customary in witch culture, she gets emancipated and has to find a new place to call home. Kiki has to learn how to live by herself in a foreign place where she knows no one, and the story tackles themes of acceptance and depression.


I was not as young as Kiki when I moved abroad, but I related so much to her experiences (minus the flying in a broom part). And, somehow, watching Kiki made me feel less alone in this personal journey. 




#2 - Howl’s Moving Castle 


The female protagonist asked me to journey with her, and I was captivated.


Young Sophie is turned into a 90-year-old by a witch and has to try to break the curse. In her journey, she ends up hired as the cleaning lady in a moving, magical castle whose owner, Howl, is bound to fight in a war. Yes, that’s a lazy summary. But the fantasy world is so rich I can never do justice to it with only a few words. 


Like Miyazaki’s other movies, Howl’s Moving Castle has a strong pacifist vibe and complex characters, and the villain is the war itself.


Despite all these characteristics, what made me go “wow” was Sophia’s acceptance of her new condition: her older body. I’m used to stories where people get cursed, and the plot revolves around trying to break the said curse, maybe dealing with themes of personal growth and acceptance. This is not Howl’s Moving Castle. Getting old was an inciting incident for Sophie to meet Howl, not the story’s focus. Sophie acknowledged her condition and moved on almost immediately. It shifted my expectations of the story and made me more invested in it. 


And what a story!



#1 - My Neighbor Totoro


Totoro is a delight! Not by chance, it's Ghibli’s poster boy.


It was the first fantasy story that won me completely (I, the one who cannot connect much to fantastical stories), and it is reason enough to be my favorite Ghibli movie. 





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That’s it for today, folks.


Writing this post, I realized I ranked the personal ones higher than the others. I would have guessed it the opposite, so I surprised myself here. 


It took a lot of work to single out only five because I find most of them excellent. If I gave them a score, the ten first on the list would be close to each other. Except for Grave of the Fireflies, I did not and never will watch.


Which are your favorite Ghibli movies? Let me know in the comments.


See you next post,

Ra.

 

 

Carla Ra is a scientist by day, sci-fi writer by night.

You can check out her anthology ARTIFICIAL REBELLION here.



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2 comentários


Jerry Davis
Jerry Davis
04 de mar.

OMG have you never seen Spirited Away?

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Carla Ra
Carla Ra
05 de mar.
Respondendo a

Hahaha, I have. I was wondering if anyone would notice it. There are too few places in a top 5 to accomodate all great movies from Ghibli Studio. It's definitely on my top 10.

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