Michael’s Rankings: Studio Ghibli Films

Having seen all the Studio Ghibli films (until the new one that will be released in 2020), I figured I’d write down my thoughts and rank all the films.  This is one of the hardest rankings to do, which is probably why it’s taken so long for me to write.  So here are my rankings from 22 to 1 (technically there are only 21 films because 1 released prior to the studio being formed but it’s generally considered a Studio Ghibli film):

22) Pom Poko

This film ranks at number 22 more so the fact that I like all the other movies better.  In and of itself it’s not a bad movie…just different.  It is very much a Japanese movies when it comes to culture.  Released in Japan in 1994, the film centers around a group of “takunis” (a kind of magical creature in Japan that was kinda the basis for the Takooni suit in the Mario games, they also look like raccoons) who are having to deal with the humans encroaching into their living space.  It’s an interesting film but if I’m giving someone a Ghibli film to start out with, I’m probably skipping Pom Poko in recommending first.

21) My Neighbors the Yamadas

This film, released in 1999 in Japan, centered around the Yamada family and their everyday lives.  The animation style is more comic strip style than traditional animation and it is presented in more like a series of vignettes.  It is interesting enough the first Studio Ghibli film to be completely digital.  It is also the only Studio Ghibli film (that I’m aware) that has not been released on blu-ray in North America.  But as a whole I’m less inclined to have it higher on the list.

20) The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Yes this film was an Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Feature.  However the last film directed by co-founder Isao Takahata isn’t higher because there are other films that I’d much rather watch more often.  The film, released in Japan in 2013, is a take on the classic Japanese folk tale about a princess found by a bamboo cutter and who raised the girl as her child.  Like My Neighbors the Yamadas (another film that Takahata directed) the animation style is very different from other animated films.

19) Tales from Earthsea

This film, directed by Goro Miyazaki (Hayao Miyazaki’s son) is a decent film.  It is based off of the literary works of Ursula K. Le Guin.  Initially Hayao Miyazaki was going to direct the film but because of his efforts in another film, it was decided that Goro would make his directorial debut with this film.  If you go by Rotten Tomatoes ratings, this is the lowest rated film from Studio Ghibli.  I think it’s a decent film and Goro would go on to direct another film for Studio Ghibli that is higher in my rankings.

18) Ponyo

If you are wondering what the lowest ranked Hayao Miyazaki film is, it is Ponyo.  Released in Japan in 2008, Ponyo is a take on the classic fairy tale “The Little Mermaid”.  Ponyo is a goldfish who befriends a little boy named Sosuke and then wants to become a human.  I would say this is probably the most “kid friendly” film as it is geared more towards younger audiences but the story itself is pretty good.  In the end, there are other films I would much rather watch and recommend first (unless you have little kids you want to introduce to Studio Ghibli…then again I have another film higher up that I’d probably point to first).

17) The Cat Returns

This film is interestingly enough the only “sequel” that Studio Ghibli made.  I put “sequel” in quotations because it is not a direct sequel but a character from a previous film has a larger role in this film.  Released in 2002, The Cat Returns centers around a young girl named Haru who gets caught up in a magical world of cat people.  Haru is helped out by one magical cat named the Baron (who fans of Studio Ghibli films would remember).  This film was initially planned as a short film before later extended into a feature film.  This is one of the few films that was directed by someone not named Miyazaki or Takahata (the director was Hiroyuki Morita).  This is a decent film but it finds itself behind a lot of other films (it has the distinction of also releasing in between two pretty big Ghibli films)

16) Kiki’s Delivery Service

This film, released in 1989 in Japan, tells the story of a young witch named Kiki who goes off into the world to find herself and become more independent.  It was based on a novel by the same name that was written in 1985.  It’s a fun whimsical film.  It also was the first film that the Walt Disney Company distributed as part of their deal with Studio Ghibli.  It would go on to be a huge partnership that saw many of the Studio Ghibli films released in North America through Walt Disney (the ones that weren’t were distributed through GKIDS).  The English dub is also known for being the last performance by comedian Phil Hartman who passed away shortly after recording.

15) Castle in the Sky

The first film made under the Studio Ghibli name, Castle in the Sky was released in 1986.  It tells the story of a girl named Sheeta who has a connection to Laputa, the last flying city.  Because of this, she is sought out by a lot of people who want to use her to get to the treasures there.  It has seen two English dubs (several of the older Ghibli films have this distinction) but Disney’s version is the one that’s readily available now.

14) The Secret World of Arrietty

Based on the children’s book series The Borrowers, The Secret World of Arrietty tells the story of a young boy named Sho (Shawn in the English dub) who visit’s his mother’s childhood home one summer with his great aunt and maid.  In this home is a family of Borrowers that includes Arrietty.  The film shows the life the Borrowers live as well as their interaction with the world around them.  Hayao Miyazaki helped write the script for this film but directing duties went to Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who was an animator at Studio Ghibli and worked his way up to director.  He went on to direct another film that’s higher up in the rankings.

13) Porco Rosso

Set in the time between World War I and World War II in Italy, Porco Rosso tells the story of a WWI fighter pilot named Porco Rosso.  After the war, he became a freelance bounty hunter and pilot.  Along with this, he is also turned into a pig.  Having to deal with pirates, secret police and the oncoming Fascist government in Italy, Porco continues to do what’s right while also trying to keep his plane in the air.  The film initially was to be a short film made for Japan Airlines but grew into a feature film.  Miyazaki loved airplanes and flying so this film carries a lot of those themes that he loves as well as having strong female characters (Madame Gina, Flo Piccolo).

12) Grave of the Fireflies

Released on the same day as My Neighbor Totoro in Japan as a double feature (April 16, 1988), Grave of the Fireflies was the first film directed by co-founder Isao Takahata with Studio Ghibli.  It is based on a semi autobiographical story of the same name and set during the end of World War II in Japan.  It is more on the reality based side of films for Studio Ghibli.  It tells the story of brother and sister Setsuko and Seita as they are living through the ending of World War II.  It was less successful than Totoro at the box office but is still considered one of the best animated films of all time.  It even led to two live action versions released in Japan.  It is just outside my top 10 but it’s still a really good film.

11) Ocean Waves

Originally released as a television movie in Japan in 1993, Ocean Waves is based on a novel of the same name and tells the story of three teenagers.  Two of them are two boys who are best friends living in the city of Kochi and the third is a young girl who transfers to their school from Tokyo.  The story is told both in the present as well as in flashback and how their lives are impacted both in the present and in the past.  It had just recently came to the states (and is the only release to not get an English dub) but the story is still compelling.  It’s just outside the top 10 for me like Grave of the Fireflies but no fault of it’s own.  The top 10 to me are well deserving of their spots.

10) Spirited Away

One of the most well known Studio Ghibli films, Spirited Away is also one of the most awarded.  Released in Japan in 2001, it tells the story of Chihiro, a young girl whose family gets lost on the way to their new home and gets caught up in a magical spirit world.  Chihiro has to help find her way out of this spirit world as well as return her parents to normal after they had been turned into pigs.  Spirited Away went on to become the highest grossing film in Japanese cinema and so far the only anime, non-English-speaking and traditionally animated winner of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film.

9) Whisper of the Heart

Whisper of the Heart has the distinction of being the first Studio Ghibli film to not be directed by either Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata (although Miyazaki did write the screenplay for the film).  It was directed by Yoshifumi Kondo who was to be the heir apparent director for Studio Ghibli.  Tragically, he died only a few years after the release of this film.  The film tells the story of a young junior high girl named Shizuku Tsukishima.  She is preparing for graduation and looking ahead to the future.  She wants to pursue writing and is inspired by a doll at a store she encounters named “The Baron” (which would get his own film The Cat ReturnsWhisper of the Heart released in 1995 and was the highest grossing film in Japan that year.

8) Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Nausicaa was the first film that Hayao Miyazaki directed on his own.  The film actually preceded Studio Ghibli’s formation but is considered by most to also be a “Studio Ghibli film”.  Set in a post apocalyptic world in the future, the film tells the story of Nausicaa.  She is known as the “Princess of the Valley of the Wind”.  She seeks to protect both humans and the creatures of the world including large insect like creatures called Ohm.  However there are humans from the kingdom of Tolmekia that want to conquer and rule over the earth at all costs.  Nausicaa must try and stop the Tolmekians from destroying the jungles which provide clean air to breath as well as protect the Ohm.  It is still considered one of Miyazaki’s best films and does stand the test of time.

7) When Marnie Was There

As of this post, When Marnie Was There was the last film released by Studio Ghibli.  Released in Japan in 2014, it is based on the novel of the same name.  The film tells the story of a young girl named Anna who is visiting family of Anna’s foster parents in a rural seaside town for the summer.  While there, Anna encounters a girl named Marne and through her interactions with Marnie learns a lot about herself and where she comes from.  The films was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (who also directed The Secret World of Arietty).  It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (but lost out to Inside Out).

6) Only Yesterday

Released in Japan in 1991, this was director Isao Takahata followup film to Grave of the Fireflies.  The film tells the story of Takeo Okajima, a 27 year old unmarried girl living in Tokyo.  She decides to take a trip to the countryside to spend time with family of her brother in law.  Along the journey and while there, she remembers her time as a middle school student.  The film goes back and forth between young Takeo and present day.  This was very much a grounded real life film.  It is also the film that for the longest time did not get released in North America.  Aside from a subtitled version airing on Turner Classic Movies in 2006, it had never been on home video or gotten a theatrical release until 2016 when it received both a theatrical/home video release as well as an English dub.

5) Howl’s Moving Castle

Based on the novel by the same name, Howl’s Moving Castle tells the story of Sophie, a young lady who is cursed by an evil witch with old age and encounters a wizard name Howl.  Howl has of course a moving castle as well as a collection of people in the castle that Sophie befriends.  In the midst of all this, there is a war going on between two countries that are trying to recruit wizards and witches to help them win.  The film was released in Japan in 2004 and was Hayao Miyazaki’s first film after Spirited Away.  It ended up getting an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature Film (losing to Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit).

4) My Neighbor Totoro

Famous for giving us the logo that defines Studio Ghibli, My Neighbor Totoro is probably the first well known Studio Ghibli.  Released at the same time (in fact it was a double feature with) Grave of the Fireflies in Japan in 1988, the story tells the story of the Kusakabe family who live in Japan in the 1950s.  The father, Tatsuo, is a university professor.  The mother, Yasuko, is recovering from an illness that had her in the hospital.  The two daughters, Satsuki and Mei (along with her dad) move to be closer to their mother.  At the old house they move into, Satsuki and Mei come across some spirits, one large one Mei calls Totoro.  It’s a very heartwarming film and one that I would probably recommend if someone was first getting into Miyazaki films.

3) Princess Mononoke

This was the first Studio Ghibli film I ever saw and I saw it in college with the recommendation of one of my friends and roommates.  Released in 1997 in Japan, Princess Mononoke is set during the Muromachi period in Japan but includes elements of fantasy.  A young Emishi prince, Ashitaka is cursed by a demon he slayed protecting his village.  Now to hopefully release the curse, he must travel west and at the same time essentially go into exile.  Along the way he encounters various characters including a Buddist monk, a town of outcasts led by Lady Eboshi, the wolf godess Moro and a human girl adopted by the wolves, San.

2) From Up on Poppy Hill

This is the highest rated non Hayao Miyazaki film on the list (though he did co-write the screenplay).  His son Goro directed the film (based on a comic of the same name) which released in Japan in 2011.  Set in 1963 Yokohama, Japan, From Up on Poppy Hill centers around Umi Matsuzaki, a high school girl who helps run a boarding house while her mother is off studying medicine in America and her father was killed during the Korean War.  She raises signal flags each morning for the boats that sail through the port of Yokohama which catches the eye of fellow student Shun which leads to their journey together at and outside of school.  I love the story and the music in this film is top notch.

1) The Wind Rises

This film was initially to be the swan song for Hayao Miyazaki back in 2013 (but that changed when news came out about his unretirement and new film in 2020).  The Wind Rises is a biopic of sorts.  It’s a fictionalized account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi.  Jiro is most famous for designing Mitsubishi A5M fighter plane and it’s more well known successor the A6M Zero which was used by Japan during World War II.  The film goes from his time as a child dreaming of flying to his time in school studying to be a designer to his time as an adult working on designing warships.  It also shows Jiro falling in love with a girl named Naoko which also impacts Jiro’s life tremendously.  Overall, this film is one of the most beautifully made films I’ve ever seen.  It was nominated for an Academy Award (though it did not win).  But at the very least it is number 1 in my rankings.

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Miyazaki Mondays: The Wind Rises

For this week’s (final “for now) Miyazaki Monday is the 2013 film The Wind Rises:

The Wind Rises is based on a true story.  It centers around the life of Jiro Horikoshi.  Jiro lived in Japan in the early 20th century.  He loved flight and grew up during the early years of aviation.  He longed to be a pilot but unfortunately had bad eyesight.  Instead, this drove him to being a designer and became fascinated with making planes.  Growing up, he read aviation magazines.  Inspired by these magazines, Jiro would dream about meeting famed Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Caproni.

Years later, Jiro traveled to Tokyo by train to study engineering in university.  It happened to be during the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake that devistated the country.  He would help a young girl named Naoko and her maid get to safety and to Naoko’s family.  After studying at university, Jiro is hired by Mitsubishi to help design fighter planes and is sent to Germany to study abroad.

While on a retreat trying to find inspiration for a new fighter plane design, Jiro runs into Naoko.  Naoko’s family help run the retreat.  The two fall in love.  However, Naoko has tuberculosis and makes it difficult for the two to be together for long periods of time but Jiro loves Naoko.  He also loves airplanes and continued to try and design the best plane.  That would eventually lead to the Mitsubishi A5M, the predecessor to the A6M.  That plane is better known as the Zero, which was the plane used by the Japanese during World War II.

This film was a swan song for Hayao Miyazaki.  He announced publicly in 2013 that this would be the last film that he would direct.  While he had “retired” in the past, most people believe that this is his last film.  The film is based off a manga written by Miyazaki which itself was loosely based on the short story The Wind Has Risen written in 1937.  This film is truly a mix of fact and fiction.  Jiro’s public life (his design of planes and such) is true, his private life (relationship with Naoko) was fictional.  This doesn’t detract from the story in the least.

It was released in Japan on July 20, 2013.  It went on to be the highest grossing film in Japan for 2013.  It also was featured at several film festivals including Toronto International Film Festival and Venice International Film Festival.  Walt Disney Pictures held the North American distribution rights and did it through its Touchstone Pictures label.  The English dub featured Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, Elijah Wood, Jennifer Grey, Mandy Patinkin, Werner Herzog and William H. Macy.  It released in theaters in North America in select cities on February 21, 2014 before nationwide on February 28, 2014.  As of last count, the film as grossed over $132 million dollars.  It also received several awards and nominations including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature.

This is a very bittersweet film in a lot of ways.  It is some of Miyazaki’s best work and it will be his last with his retirement.  The relationship in the film between Jiro and Naoko is bittersweet because they love one another but tuberculosis kept them apart.  Jiro want to design planes for beauty and they end up being used for war.  If Miyazaki wanted to fly off into the sunset, then this film is the right sendoff.  It is in my top 3 favorite Miyazaki films and should be one that any film fan should see.  I cannot wait until it comes out on Blu-Ray and watch it again and again.

Miyazaki Mondays: From Up on Poppy Hill

For this Week’s Miyazaki Monday, the featured film is 2011’s From Up on Poppy Hill.

From Up on Poppy Hill is set in 1963 in the port city of Yokohama, Japan.  The story centers around a young high school girl named Umi Matsuzaki.  She lives in and helps run a boarding house on a hill overlooking the port of Yokohama with her younger siblings Sora and Riku (no relation to the Sora and Riku from the Kingdom Hearts series) and her grandmother Hana while her mother Ryoko is studying abroad in medical school in the United States.  Two other residents in the boarding house are Sachiko Hirokouji, a college student and Miki Hokuto, a doctor in training.

Each morning before school, Umi raises signal flags that can be seen out in the port.  The message the flags send is “I pray for safe voyages.”  The message was meant for her father, a sailor who piloted boats but had died during the Korean War.  It had become a ritual that she continued since she was little.  One day at school, Umi saw a poem in the school newspaper of about her flags.  She tracks down the author of the poem and turns out it was written by Shun Kazama, who was also a member of the journalism club.  When Umi tracks him down, she finds him doing a stunt for the school newspaper which ends up not leaving Umi with a good first impression.

Umi’s feelings do change for Shun once she gets to know him.  She ends up going to Quartier Latin, a old, rundown building that houses many of the school clubs including the school newspaper, to help Sora get Shun’s autograph for the poem.  Umi later volunteers to help with the newspaper and in the process develops feelings for Shun and vice versa.

Through the course of the film, the two work through their feelings while at the same time are a part of a group of students that want to make sure the Quartier Latin is not torn down.  This requires traveling to Tokyo, which is going through change as well dealing with tradition vs building taking place for the 1964 Summer Olympics, to meet with the school board chairman and businessman Tokumaru.  It is a story of change both in the lives of the people of Japan as well in the life of the school and in Umi and Shun.

From Up on Poppy Hill is based on the 1980 serialized comic written by Tetsuro Sayama and illustrated by Chizuru Takahashi.  The screenplay was written by Miyazaki and also produced the film.  The director was Goro Miyazaki, Hayao’s son.  This was Goro’s second film to direct.  The first was Tales from Earthsea, a Studio Ghibli film that was based on a concept by Hayao Miyazaki on the Earthsea series of books written by Ursula K. Le Guin, in 2006 (although Hayao ended up not working this film due to his work on Howl’s Moving Castle).  From Up on Poppy Hill was released in theaters in Japan on July16, 2011.  It was featured at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival in September 2011.

The English dub for this film was not produced and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.  This film was distributed in North America by GKIDS.  This was the first Studio Ghibli film to not be distributed by Disney since Princess Mononoke, which was distributed by Miramax (which ironically at the time was owned by Disney at the time).  The English dub cast includes Sarah Bolger, Alton Yelchin, Ron Howard, Jeff Dunham, Gillian Anderson, Chris Noth, Emily Osment, Beau Bridges, Christina Hendricks, Jamie Lee Curtis, Bruce Dern and Aubrey Plaza.  It received a limited theatrical release in North America starting in March 15, 2013.  Overall, the film grossed over $61 million dollars, not as much as some of Miyazaki films but still pretty good.

I went and saw this film in an art house movie theater in Charlotte, NC.  I loved this film.  It is in my top 3 of favorite Miyazaki films and arguably is my favorite (it kinda flip flops between it, Princess Mononoke, and next week’s featured film).  Last year in this blog, I featured the theme song to this film.  I’ll end this post with a link to that song again.

Miyazaki Mondays: The Secret World of Arrietty

For this week’s “Miyazaki Monday”, it is the 2010 film The Secret World of Arrietty:

The Secret World of Arrietty tells the story of a young man named Sho (named Shawn in the English dub) who spent a summer at his mother’s childhood home.  He stays there with his great aunt Sadako (named Jessica in the English dub) and the house maid Haru (named Hara in the English dub).  On his first day at the home, he discovers Arrietty coming out of a bush after Niya the cat chased after a crow.

Arrietty is a “Borrower”, a little person that lives in the house and ‘borrows’ small things to live on.  She lives in the house along with her father Poddo (named Pod in the English dub) and mother Homiri (named Homily in the English dub).  Poddo usually is the one in the family to go on missions to ‘borrow’ but Arrietty is finally at the age to be able to go as well.  Late one night, Poddo and Arrietty go and try to get a sugar cube but Arrietty is spotted by Sho.  Sho tries to get Arrietty to stay but she leaves with her father.  The next day, Sho leaves a sugar cube out for Arrietty.

The “Borrower” family realize they have been found out about and begin to plan to leave.  Sho learns from Sadako that there had been “Borrowers” seen in the past and that the dollhouse that was in Sho’s room was custom built for the “Borrowers” that lived in the house to have but they were never seen.

Sho tries give some of the contents of the dollhouse to the Borrower family but that frightens them more and they hurry to try and leave along with Supira (named Spiller in the English dub), a young Borrower who helped Poddo out when he was injured during a borrowing mission.  When Arrietty revealed to Sho that they were leaving, Sho revealed to Arrietty that he was to have surgery on a heart condition he’s had since birth.  In the end, they encourage each other to keep fighting to live.

While Sho is happy about seeing the Borrowers and wants to protect them, Haru on the other hand believes they are pests and tries to capture and get rid of them.  At one point, Haru is able to capture Homiri and it’s up to Sho and Arrietty to save Homiri and have Haru get her comeuppance.

The Secret World of Arrietty is based in part on the famous children’s book The Borrowers by Mary Norton.  Miyazaki wrote the screenplay for the film as well as produced it.  The director of the film was Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who had been an animator on Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away and Ponyo.  It was released in theaters in Japan on July 17, 2010.  It ended up being the highest grossing Japanese film that year.  It was distributed in North America again by Disney.  The English dub cast included Bridgit Mendler, David Henrie, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett and Carol Burnett.  It was released in North America in theaters on February 17, 2012 (it received a screening in New York city prior to this on January 21, 2012).  It opened in a record 1,522 theaters for Studio Ghibli.  It opened at $6.45 million that weekend (and $8.48 million for the 4 day President’s Day Weekend) which beat Ponyo for the highest grossing weekend for a Studio Ghibli film.  It would go onto gross worldwide over $145 million dollars.

I went and saw The Secret World of Arrietty on my birthday.  I enjoyed the film and while it is not in my top 5 Miyazaki films, it is another classic film in line with other Miyazaki greats.

Miyazaki Mondays: Ponyo

This week’s Miyazaki Monday film is 2008’s Ponyo

Ponyo is the story of a fish-girl who becomes friends with a human and wants to become a human herself.  Her name initially is Brunhilde.  She lives with her “sisters” and her father Fujimoto.  Fujimoto is a human wizard who lives underwater and who has sworn off humanity to live under the sea.  One day, Brunhilde gets separated from her family to see the world.  She ends up getting trapped in a bottle and washing ashore.  She is rescued by a young boy named Sosuke.  Sosuke then renamed her Ponyo.  Thinking that Ponyo was kidnapped, Fujimoto calls on the wave spirits to bring Ponyo back to him.  Sosuke is heartbroken and while his mother Lisa tries to console him, he misses Ponyo.

Ponyo has an argument with her father and due to some of Sosuke’s blood, she turns into a human.  Before Fujimoto can call on Ponyo’s mother Granmamare, Ponyo escapes with the help of her sisters.  Ponyo then returns to Sosuke and Lisa as a human girl and goes to live with them.  Meanwhile, the moon is falling out of orbit and disrupting the seas.  Fujimoto meets with Granmamare and it is revealed that nature is out of balance.  Granmamare tells Fujimoto that Ponyo can stay a human if she passes a test.  It would also mean that nature would then be put back in balance.  However, if Ponyo does not pass the test, she will turn into sea foam.

Ponyo’s mom Lisa leaves the children to check on the residents at the nursing home where she works.  The rising waters trap Lisa and the residents and it’s up to Ponyo and Sosuke to come to the rescue.  It becomes a race against time to save the people as well as for Ponyo to stay human.

This film is inspired by the classic Hans Christen Andersen story The Little Mermaid.  It was done completely in traditional hand drawn animation and there were 170,0o0 separate images drawn for the film.  That is a record for a Miyazaki film.  It was released in Japan on July 19, 2008 to a record amount of screens in the country (481).  It was distributed in North America again by Walt Disney Pictures.  The English dub was directed by John Lasseter, Brad Lewis and Peter Sohn.  The English dub voices included actors such as Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, Lily Tomlin and Betty White.

The film got several prescreenings in the U.S. before it’s theatrical release including at the 2009 San Diego Comic Con.  The North American theatrical release was on August 14, 2009.  It opened in 927 theaters, which had been the most to that point any Studio Ghibli film had such a wide release.  The film would go on to gross over $201 million worldwide.

Ponyo was the first Miyazaki film that I saw in the theaters.  It is another visual and storytelling masterpiece from Hayao Miyazaki and added to the collection of films that are classics that he has helped bring to life.

Miyazaki Mondays: Howl’s Moving Castle

This week’s Miyazaki Monday film is the 2004 film Howl’s Moving Castle:

Howl’s Moving Castle is the story of Sophie, a young woman who helps run a hat store.  After unknowingly helping a powerful wizard named Howl, Sophie is cursed by the Witch of the Waste.  The Witch of the Waste turns Sophie into a ninety year old woman.  Her quest to be freed from the curse lands her in the Wastes.  In the Wastes, she meets a cursed living scarecrow (which Sophie calls “Turnip Head”).  This scarecrow leads her to a moving castle that incidentally belongs to Howl (hence the title of the film).  Along with Howl, the castle also has other residents.  They include Markl, a young wizard apprentice, and Calcifer, a fire-demon who powers the moving castle.  Sophie joins the crew and becomes a cleaning lady.

In the midst of all this, a war is going on that encompasses both Sophie’s home country and a neighboring country.  The two sides have recruited magicians and Howl is one of those magicians that both sides are trying to have serve their cause.  Through the course of the movie, Howl occasionally turns into a bird like creature to interfere in the war but this takes a toll on him.  Meanwhile, Sophie learns more about Howl & the secrets of the moving castle.  She also grows to love Howl.  Sophie must protect Howl & find a way to break a curse all the while trying to survive the war raging around them.

This film is based on a novel by the same name that was written by Diana Wynne Jones.  Interesting enough, Miyazaki wasn’t initially going to direct the film.  However, when the initial person selected to direct the film was unable to direct, Miyazaki stepped into the director’s chair.  Miyazaki also wrote the screenplay for the film.  It premiered at the Venice Film Festival on September 5, 2004.  It was released in Japan on November 20, 2004.  In the following year, it received a limited release in theaters in North America on June 10, 2005 through Walt Disney Pictures.  The English dubbed version featured voices by such actors as Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal and Josh Hutcherson.

Howl’s Moving Castle was another successful film for Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.  It would go on to gross over $235 million dollars at the box office.  It received critical acclaim from numerous critics and received several nominations and awards.  It would receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature (however it would lose to Wallace and Gromit:  The Curse of the Were-Rabbit that year).

In my top 5 favorite Miyazaki films, Howl’s Moving Castle is on that list.  It has a great story, the visuals are stunning as usual & the voice acting is top notch.  It continues the tradition of quality film making that is a staple of Miyazaki’s work.

Miyazaki Mondays: Whisper of the Heart

For this week’s Miyazaki Monday, the film featured is from1995 called Whisper of the Heart.

The film centers around Shizuku Tsukishima, a 14 year old girl living in present day Tokyo.  She is like any normal teenage girl, goes to school, hangs out with her best friend and comes home to her family.  She is also a huge fan of books and loves to write as well.

Over the course of the movie, she meets a boy named Seiji Amasawa.  Initially, she finds him annoying but later her feelings change.  This is due in large part to finding out that he is the boy who had previously checked out a lot of the books she would find at the library.  He loves violins and leaves for two months for Italy to study how to make them.  He encourages her to pursue writing during that time he is away.

Shizuku finds inspiration in a cat statue that she found in an antique shop (ironicially she was led to the antique shop by a real cat she saw on the train).  She called the cat in the story “The Baron” and in the story he was looking for his lost love Louise.  She poured her life into wanting to finish the story.  When she completed it, she was encouraged by the antique shop owner Shiro Nishi to learn more in school so that her skills as a writer will develop and grow.

The film released in Japan on July 15, 1995.  It was the highest grossing film in Japan that year.  Miyazaki was the producer and writer of the film.  The director was Yoshifumi Kondo.  It was the first Studio Ghibli film to not be directed by one of the co-founders of the studio.  Kondo was looked at to be the successor but tragically he died in 1998 and this would be the only film he directed.

There is some English spoken in the original Japanese version.  The song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” was featured prominently in the story line of the film and a version done by Olivia Newton-John plays during the opening credits of the film.  An English dubbing done by Disney was released in the U.S. in 2006.  The voice actors featured in that dubbing include Brittany Snow, David Gallagher, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Jean Smart, Cary Elwes, and Ashley Tisdale.

To close out, here’s another intro from 2006 done by John Lasseter as a part of TCM’s month long celebration of Miyazaki films: