List by Danielle
'Simply put, I think that a film which is made specifically for children and made with a lot of devotion, can also please adults. The opposite is not always true. The single difference between films for children and films for adults is that in films for children, there is always the option to start again, to create a new beginning.'
~ Hayao Miyazaki (interview at Midnight Eye)
Long, long ago, in a time far, far in the past where I had no children and could indulgently watch films at will and with tremendous frequency, I remember seeing Spirited Away for the first time, and being sooo excited by it that I ran home and made my nearest and dearest watch it, too. The colours of this animated feature were so vibrant, the mythology so different from anything I'd seen, the story such a surreal journey... it was a world away from any other animated movie I'd ever seen before. This was the start of my love affair with director Hayao Miyazaki, and the magical Studio Ghibli.
One of the neat things about now having kids, of course, is introducing them to movies like these. I was curious - would the imagery be too scary? Would the stories be too unusual for kids who normally scarfed down a diet of Barbie and Disney? Would a dubbed movie hit their ears weirdly? The answer is a walloping NO. They LOVED these movies, starting with Spirited Away and taking off from there. The visual humour and charm are universal, the characters' adventures as intriguing for them as they were for me.
Studio Ghibli have put out many excellent movies, and I haven't seen all of them yet; I can't quite bring myself to watch Grave of the fireflies yet, which is an anti-war movie set at the end of WWII and sounds like a pretty harrowing experience. It's exciting to see that there's a new Ghibli movie in this year's Film Festival, Arrietty, based on Mary Norton's The Borrowers. It's the directorial debut of new Ghibli director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi. "Arrietty is a joyous depiction of an unlikely friendship," says one reviewer, Sarah Louise Dean, who praises the depth, humour and simple beauty that Ghibli brings to the classic story (read her review here).
Honourable mentions: Princess Mononoke; Pom Poko; The cat returns; Laputa, castle in the sky; Howl's moving castle; Nausicaä of the valley of the wind; Whisper of the heart; Porco Rosso.
Kiki's delivery service (Director, Hayao Miyazaki)
A young witch, on her mandatory year of independent life, finds fitting into a new community difficult while she supports herself by running an air courier service.
A big favourite of my 4 year old daughter - a cute movie with Kiki's great sarcastic cat companion, drily voiced by Phil Hartman in the dubbed version.
Only yesterday (Director, Isao Takahata)
As 27-year old Taeko embarks on a holiday to the country she reminiscences about her childhood and journeys back to a time when she was only 15. Taeko recalls the major events that shaped her life into what it is now. In the present, Taoko longs for a change in her humdrum life as an office-worker in Tokyo. When she arrives at her relatives' farm she finds herself attracted to an earnest young farmer. As Taeko flips between the past and the present, she realises that she must make important decisions to ensure her future happiness.
Recommended more for adults than kids, purely because of its slow, leisurely pace and lack of any fantastical kind of drama. That said - it's beautiful, funny, moving, and a personal favourite.
Ponyo (Director, Hayao Miyazaki)
A young boy named Sosuke rescues a goldfish named Ponyo, and they embark on a fantastic journey of friendship before Ponyo's father forces her to return to the sea. Ponyo's desire to be human upsets the balance of nature and only Ponyo's mother, a beautiful sea goddess, can restore nature's balance and make Ponyo's dreams come true.
One of the better Ghibli movies for younger kids, with lots of visual humour that relies on body language. There's a heavy eco message, as with many Ghibli films, but Ponyo herself is a fantastic and funny character, and Tina Fey and Frankie Jonas do a great job with the dub.
My neighbor Totoro (Director, Hayao Miyazaki)
Deep inside a tree trunk, two children discover a fascinating new world inhabited by Totoros, amazing, charming creatures who become their friends.
Again, another excellent dub, with Dakota and Elle Fanning as the two young sisters. This is one of the more surreal Ghibli movies, so just sit back enjoy the crazy spectacle. Our favourite: the huge furry 'cat bus' with mice headlamps. This is a weird and warm-hearted delight.
Spirited away (Director, Hayao Miyazaki)
Spirited away is a wondrous fantasy about a young girl named Chihiro who discovers a secret world of strange spirits, creatures and sorcery. When her parents are mysteriously transformed, she must call upon the courage she never knew she had to free herself and return her family to the outside world.
With its 2003 Academy Award, this is the film that really brought Ghibli great fame outside of Japan. And it totally deserves its place of honour - the colour and magic of this film is breathtaking, and it leaves you with some amazing imagery. The story is unpredictable and exciting, with the little dark notes that haunt the best of fairytales. (There are some scary bits for younger viewers, so I'd watch it through first if you're not sure.)