Previously the films of Studio Ghibli were notoriously hard to acquire on streaming services, but in January 2020, Netflix announced the acquisition of 21 films from the Japanese animation giants.
Famed for their distinctive anime films, Studio Ghibli has been delighting people of all ages since the late 1980s, and now the back catalogue is being brought to an even bigger audience, ready to be loved by a whole new generation.
21 films may seem like a daunting prospect, but Netflix is choosing to roll them out gradually, beginning on the 1st February and with new batches becoming available in March and April.
Many of you may be completely new to these films and not sure where to start, but never fear because JumpCut is here to help, with your beginner’s guide to the wonderful world of Ghibli…
If you like cute things… My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Totoro is undoubtedly a great place to start for complete Ghibli novices. Not as fantastical as some of their other films, but with just the right amount of magic, My Neighbor Totoro is the perfect gate-way for those who have grown up with the Disney animated classics. Totoro tells the story of two sisters, Mei and Satsuki, who move to a new house in the countryside with their father to be closer to their ailing mother in hospital. On their adventures, they meet the loveable gentle giant Totoro who brings some much-needed joy and wonder into their lives. Totoro certainly isn’t the deepest of all the Ghibli films, but there is no doubting it is the cutest!
If you like films that are a bit weird… Spirited Away (2001)
Spirited Away is, on paper, a bit of a hard sell, but it is an experience unlike any other. The story (bear with us on this one!), focuses on a young girl named Chihiro, who finds herself in a resort for supernatural beings, where her parents are turned into pigs, and she must work for a witch at a bathhouse in order to earn her freedom and save her parents. This definitely isn’t your average animated film, but for all its weirdness, Spirited Away is essentially a coming of age story, albeit a magical and mind-bending one! Arguably the film most ingrained in Japanese culture as well, Spirited Away has it all; a compelling heroine, beautiful animation, and a spirit called No-Face who ingests people in order to gain their personality and traits. What else could you need?
If you like whimsy… Porco Rosso (1992)
Whoever says pigs can’t fly has clearly never seen Porco Rosso! Flying is a common theme in Studio Ghibli films, particularly in the ones directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and Porco Rosso is very much the war film that only someone with a mind like Miyazaki could make. It tells the story of WWI pilot Porco Rosso, a flying ace who was somehow turned into a pig during the war (what is it with pigs, eh?). Full of adventure and enough whimsy to make Wes Anderson jealous, this is a lighter than air offering from Ghibli, that never fails to entertain.
If you like fantasy… Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Howl’s Moving Castle is a firm favourite amongst Ghibli fans and it isn’t hard to see why. It’s a fantastical, steampunk romance with wizards, a sassy talking flame, and a castle that walks. It also has one of the most moving and lovely relationships in any of the Ghibli films between hat shop worker Sophie, and a wizard name Howl. If the wizarding world of Harry Potter and Jules Verne had a baby, it would probably look very much like Howl’s Moving Castle.
If you like coming of age movies… The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)
With a noticeably different animation style, Princess Kaguya remains one of the most exquisitely beautiful of all the Studio Ghibli movies. Its pace is gentle and slow, but every frame feels like a work of art and its poignancy resonates long after it finishes. It tells the story of a tiny nymph, found in a bamboo stalk who grows into a beautiful and desirable woman. Of course, it has all of the finesse that you would expect from a Ghibli film, but deep down it is also a fresh and surprisingly relatable coming of age film with a softness and beauty to match the delicate brushstrokes of the animation. Simply stunning.
If you like mystery movies… When Marnie Was There (2014)
One of the more recent offerings, this film is also one which seems to be frequently underrated as well. Marnie is both a beautiful story of friendship and a mysterious ghost story tied into one, and yet somehow this unusual blend works. It is an emotional and intimate film that isn’t as grand in scope as some of the other Ghibli films but is still well worth your time. The narrative is a bit more straightforward than some of the more “out there” offerings, however it still maintains the sense of uniqueness that makes Ghibli films so watchable. It also features one of the most subtle and delicately handled depictions of depression that I have seen in recent years. It is simply woven into the fabric of the character without it being their defining trait and it is really quite beautiful.
If you like just having a bloody lovely time… Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Honestly, you’d be hard-pressed to find a film more charming than Kiki’s, and like My Neighbor Totoro, this is another great entry point for Ghibli newbies. 13-year-old Kiki, a young witch, and her talking cat Jiji move to a quaint seaside town to complete her witches training. Along with Jiji and her trusty broomstick, she decides to set up a flying courier service, helping out the town’s inhabitants. Whilst some of the other Studio Ghibli films tackle weighty themes such as environmentalism, war, and even death, Kiki’s is just a joy from start to finish. The story may be simple, but it is almost impossible not to be charmed by it.
Of course, this is merely scratching the surface of the incredibly diverse and wonderful Ghibli back catalogue and there’s a whole world of new favourites out there for you to discover. We’re a culture of binge-watchers so it’s refreshing to see that Netflix is rolling them out 7 at a time instead of all at once.
Studio Ghibli films are not films to watch one after the other. Each is special and unique in its own way and is best enjoyed when given the space to breathe. To those who are fans already, I hope you’ll enjoy revisiting all your old favourites, and to the newcomers, this is the start of a truly magical and life-changing journey…