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As of the 1st of February, almost all Studio Ghibli films will be on Netflix. Hooray!
But first: what are they, and erm, where do I begin?
I am a Ghibli virgin. I’ve never watched one single film from the famed animation studio. My deepest foray into the Ghibliverse thus far is gazing upon posters of an enormous, vacant-looking wombat holding an umbrella and thinking ‘cool’. Alas, I’ve never pursued this interest further. The animation company has been deliberately resistant to on-demand technology, preferring to make tangible collector’s items of its releases. That is, until now: Studio Ghibli is coming to Netflix.
Yes, it’s true: over the course of the next three months, everywhere except in North America and Japan (ahem, sorry guys), a succession of the much-loved films are being released for Netflix subscribers to binge on.
But for somebody like me – somebody whose entire Ghibli knowledge is almost entirely summarised by a single GIF of a large black kidney bean getting knocked about by the sea – where the devil do you begin? It’s a perilous decision; Hayao Miyazaki’s films famously range from twee and delightful to heart-scorching and twisted.
Fortunately, we have a fair few Ghibliophiles here at InsideJapan, and in the interest of providing you and I with a Grade-A Ghibli guide, they’ve donated their knowledge. Based on their responses, the most commonly suggested starting point for the uninitiated was…
[ drum roll ]
1. My Neighbour Totoro
Alright. Sounds a nice enough place to begin, though I’ve no clue who or what Totoro is. Our travel consultants, however, are thankfully less ignorant. Over to them!
My Neighbour Totoro is the perfect introduction to Studio Ghibli and suitable for all ages. It’s sentimental, uplifting and magical, everything a family film should be! – Emily
Totoro is great for younger kids. It’s charming and showcases rural Japanese life, which doesn’t get so much screen time in modern anime. I can almost project people I met while living in Japan onto the characters in the film, so I find watching it really nostalgic! – Anna
‘My Neighbour Totoro’ is a great introduction to the wonderfully whimsical world of Studio Ghibli. The attention to detail and how he creates characters out of usually side-tracked items such as balls of dust or cobwebs really helps to lay the foundations for his playful surrealism. – Holly
The grounded nature of My Neighbour Totoro is what appeals to me. Admittedly there are magical elements, but the heart of the story is the relationships between family members and snapshots of life in rural Japan. – Toby
Depending on who they were, I would either recommend My Neighbour Totoro or Spirited Away. While both appeal to a wide audience, I think Totoro is more child-friendly and more accessible to a wider Western audience. – Ali
2. Spirited Away
Ah yes, the phrase I use to describe my savings after a bank holiday weekend. But what of the film? What makes it so great?
I would 100% recommend Spirited Away to any Studio Ghibli first–timer. It’s an absolute masterpiece. One of the easiest Ghibli movies to get into, it’s brilliant in so many ways – the animation and soundtrack blows you away, and the attention to detail throughout is superb. What makes this movie unique for me is the number of special scenes without the constant action or dialogue of many modern movies. This allows you to enjoy the journey into the magical world the main character Chihiro discovers. Plus, many cultural nods throughout the movie introduce you to Japan – if you like to travel you’re guaranteed to love this movie! – Babur
I would say Spirited Away, just because it captures the imagination of Studio Ghibli perfectly, as well as being set in Japan which is what I would think people who were watching one for the first time would expect to see. It will not disappoint. – Priteni
Spirited Away was my first Ghibli film and it made a huge impact on me. I loved how it allowed me to get lost in a magical world, falling down an Alice in Wonderland-esque rabbit hole with 10-year-old Chihiro and her parents. Where a child would just enjoy the beauty and magic, an adult might find something more in the message. The magic and mystery of Spirited Away definitely helped to add to my growing interest for Japanese culture, and for me it was an accessible way into Japanese anime. – Ali
3. Howl’s Moving Castle
It’s suitable for ages 8 and up, and the main audience is anyone who likes fairy tales, fantasy and romance! It’s my favourite for its larger than life characters. Sophie, the protagonist, is one of my favourite Ghibli heroines; she’s kind but also resilient and pragmatic- a perfect foil for the dramatic Howl! – Emily
I think the magic of this one is that all ages can enjoy it. I would say it is also a great entry point for people who are unaware of the unconfined imagination of Japan that some Studio Ghibli films portray, as it is based on a trilogy of books written by a Welsh writer. I think those that watch it as adolescents will love it and re-watch it as they get older.
It has memorable characters, a strong storyline and a heart-warming ending. It is funny, magical, romantic and deals with some unusual issues for a film in my opinion, of vanity, beauty and cowardice. I think the animation is beautifully done and there is just the perfect amount of magic and mundane, I could watch it again and again. – Priteni
My favourite Studio Ghibli film (although it’s hard to choose when I think about it too deeply!) is ‘Ponyo’. It’s a heart-warming story about the friendship between a young boy and a goldfish princess who wishes to have a greater human connection. ‘The Little Mermaid’ encapsulates how we are drawn to the sea; Ponyo also does so, in a very endearing way.
Having spent 2 years living in rural coastal Japan, this film had a playful spirit that I really connected with, as so much of the industry, infrastructure and way of life where I lived was based around the sea. Like many of Ghibli films, I think the magic lies in the animation and the world that he creates, rather than the strength or poignancy of the storyline. – Holly
5. Kiki’s Delivery Service
It has to be Kiki’s Delivery Service. It has everything that has come to define Hayao Miyazaki’s Ghibli films, and it displays them with joy and love. The film immediately captured my imagination because of Kiki’s ability to fly and speak to her cat, but it’s the everyday choices and problems she faces that make her such a relatable character. She and Jiji (her black cat) have an amazing relationship and it’s in these smaller details that the charm and lasting impact of the film really lies. It’s a big, colourful, and pure introduction to the world of Miyazaki’s Ghibli films. – Steven
6. Princess Mononoke
It’s dark and adventurous, but it has fun along the way. Due to some pretty gruesome moments and complex subplots, I would say it’s for teenagers and up. Definitely not one for any younger children. It’s more of an action adventure film, but I think it can satisfy a broad range of people.
The depth of the story and its desire to treat all of its characters fairly is a lesson for everyone, but especially aspiring writers. It is possibly one of the formative films in my journey towards an awareness of how much damage humanity can do to the planet and nature’s power to heal if we can let it. It always felt like an important film to me, as well as an entertaining one. – Steven
7. Porco Rosso
My personal favourite Studio Ghibli film is Porco Rosso. The main character is a fighter pilot cursed to look like a pig, and the fact he’s an adult sets the story apart from many other Ghibli films. There are plenty of action scenes and a comic rivalry with another fighter pilot, but it shines when showing the gentle pace of the main character’s life. The director has an obvious love for planes which eventually overlaps into his later films, such as the more serious The Wind Rises. The quality of the animation and music is often a highlight in a Ghibli film, and Porco Rosso is no exception. – Toby
And there we have it: a bullet-proof beginner’s guide to Ghibli. There are plenty of other Miyazaki films out there – most of which will be on Netflix on the 1st of Feb – however these seven films should provide a lovely little rabbit hole we Ghibli greenhorns can tumble down for the time being.
There’s no turning back now. It’s high time we climbed inside the fanciful mind of Hayao Miyazaki. Totoro awaits*.
*(turns out that’s what the umbrella-toting wombat is called.)