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The top 10 Studio Ghibli movies you must watch on Netflix

By: Ruel S. De Vera

The whimsy and the wonder are now here! The films of Studio Ghibli, the most creative animation studio in Japan are now available on Netflix in the Philippines starting today, February 1. Cofounded by the visionary director Hayao Hiyazaki in Tokyo in 1985, Studio Ghibli has released many of Japan’s most acclaimed and successfully anime, including 2001’s “Spirited Away,” which not only is the most commercially successful with more than $300 million but also won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film.

Ghibli (which is named after the Arabic world for “desert wind”) is known for its mix of unique characters, child-like wonder and compelling themes. Ghibli’s films have made the studio and its characters iconic the world round, particularly Totoro from “My Neighbor Totoro”: there is a very popular Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo. Studio Ghibli’s future was temporarily cast in doubt when Miyazaki went into retirement in 2013; he came back out of retirement in 2017 and is now working on his next film, “How Do You Live,” due out later this year.

Netflix will be rolling out the Studio Ghibli films over three months, from February to April, with seven films coming out every first of the month. This is with the exception of the notoriously somber 1988 “Grave of the Fireflies,” which is not included in the slate at all.

But the 21 movies, long a favorite of dyed-in-the-wool animation fans, are now ready to be experienced by a larger, entirely new audience. They’re available dubbed in English (check out these impressive voice casts) and subtitled. These films include the utterly original, the smartly adapted, the fantastical, the humanized, very strong female protagonists and the very best animation anywhere has to offer. Start your Studio Ghibli journey now. Watch all of them. Hey, let’s go, I’m happy as can be!

“Castle in the Sky” (streaming now)

A sci-fi action adventure film, 1986’s “Castle” (also known as “Laputa: Castle in the Sky”), is technically the first film from Ghibli. It is packed with airborne battles involving planes, airships and a mysterious floating castle (the titular Laputa). The robot soldier is this film’s most memorable design. The English dub features the voices of James Van Der Beek, Anna Paquin and the one and only Mark Hamill.


“My Neighbor Totoro” (streaming now)

The single most definitive Studio Ghibli of all time. The 1988 “Totoro” not only set the tone for the rest of the studio’s output, but also produced its most memorable character. Totoro is the studio’s mascot but also a symbol of Japan itself. This ode to nature, the supernatural and a child’s imagination features sisters Satsuki and Mei as they move to the countryside with their father as their mother is ill. In the forest near their home they encounter the creature Totoro who takes them on adventures. This film also features iconic Ghibli designs such as the Cat Bus (exactly what it sounds like) and the soot sprites (which will appear in other Ghibli movies. In the Disney dub, the mother is voiced by our own Lea Salonga, who also signs the rousing theme song, while the sisters are voiced by real-life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning.  

 
“Kiki’s Delivery Service” (Streaming now)

Teenage witch Kiki and her cat Jiji (so cute) have to learn to fly the broomstick properly and what better way that to launch an airborne delivery service for the bakery she’s staying at? In Koriko, Kiki meets a boy named Tombo who is obsessed with flying vehicles (a Miyazaki favorite) and soon has to figure out why she is losing her ability to fly her broomstick. An adaptation of an Eiko Kadanao novel, this movie was so popular that it even got a live-action remake. The voice cast includes Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman and Janeane Garofalo.

“Spirited Away” (Streaming March 1)

Chihiro and her parents are on the road when they find themselves at an abandoned amusement park and her parents are enchanted, turned into pigs. Chihiro must work with a mysterious boy named Haku. Soon, she arrives at a massive magic bathhouse run by the witch Yubaba. Chihiro must rely on her wits, magic and her heart to gain her freedom and save her parents and Haku. This is the most fantastical of the Ghibli stories, and the won that earned an Academy Award. It featured a story that changed so quickly it caught viewers off guard and the characters are truly original. The No-Face character is second only to Totoro as a Ghibli icon.

“Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” (Streaming March 1)

This film actually was made before Ghibli itself was formed and is based on a manga by Miyazaki. A post-apocalyptic epic featuring the titular princess (who flies around on a glider), airships (yes) warring communities and an ever-encroaching Toxic Jungle. Environmentally-conscious but also violent and beautiful, this was among the first anime films (albeit heavily edited) to make it to the West.  This movie’s successful inspired Miyazaki and Isao Takahata to found Ghibli. The voice cast includes Patrick Stewart, Uma Thurman and Shia LaBeouf).


“Princess Mononoke” (Streaming March 1)

A story of men, demons and gods set in the past Japanese wilderness, “Mononoke” featured the cursed Prince Ashitaka and the girl San who rides a wolf. It is a complex, twisting tale of forces battling over natural resources. The English translation was written by “The Sandman” writer Neil Gaiman. Ghibli famously refused to make cuts to the film after distributor Harvey Weinstein demanded them; the film was released upcut. The voice cast included Billy Crudup, Claire Danes and Billy Bob Thornton.

“The Cat Returns” (Streaming March 1)

In effect a sequel to “Whisper of the Heart” (which you should also see), “The Cat” in the title refers to the Baron, a cat figure who comes to life and goes on adventures. Don’t get us wrong, there are lots of cats in this story, particularly the fat cat Muta, and it is set in the cat kingdom, but Baron is the titular cat. The movie happens around Haru, the gil who can talk to cats, but she’s much more than that. The voice cast includes Anna Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Tim Curry and Kristen Bell.

“Howl’s Moving Castle” (Streaming April 1)

An adaptation of British writer Diana Wynne Jones’ 1986 novel, “Howl’s,” with this crazy imagery and inexplicable happenings, is one of the most popular Ghibli movies. Steam technology and magic come together in a castle that literally walks on feet. The castle belongs to the magician Howl, who meets a girl name Sophie. Sophie is cursed by the Witch of the Waste to become an old woman; Howl saves her and while in the castle, she meets the cantankerous fire demon Calcifer. On their adventure to correct all that has gone wrong, they are joined by the animated scarecrow dubbed “Turnip head.” This big, imaginative story is truly a Ghibli achievement, earned an Academy Award nomination and surely had one of the best voice casts: Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Lauren Bacall and Billy Crystal.

“The Wind Rises” (Streaming April 1)

Perhaps Miyazaki’s most personal film and the last he made before his first retirement, this grounded film is about his fascination with things that fly. Again a film based on a manga by Miyazaki, “The Wind” is a slightly fabulized biopic of the renowned Japanese aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi, who has designed the incredibly effective Mitsubishi Zero of World War II. This film shows a man striving to achieve a dream of creating beautiful flying thing even as his wife struggles with an illness. Its voice cast includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski.  

“When Marnie Was There” (Streaming April 1)

For health reasons, Anna moves to a seaside town in Japan. While there, she meets the blonde girl Marnie, but is mystified as to her true identity as well as by the mansion Marnie lives in, which is lit at night but abandoned by day. As Anna finds more clues to Marnie’s true identity, Marnie seems to be slipping away. There many old-fashioned elements to this very modern story, and “Marnie” received an Academy Award nomination. It was the most recent Studio Ghibli release, at least until Miyazaki’s “How Do You Live?” comes out. The voice cast includes Hailee Steinfeld, Kiernan Shipka and John C. Reilly.

Here is the complete release schedule:

  • February 1, 2020:
    • “Castle in the Sky” (1986),
      “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988),
      “Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989),
      “Only Yesterday” (1991)
      “Porco Rosso” (1992)
      “Ocean Waves” (1993)
      “Tales from Earthsea” (2006)

  • March 1, 2020:
    • “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” (1984),
      “Princess Mononoke” (1997)
      “My Neighbors the Yamadas” (1999)
      “Spirited Away” (2001)
      “The Cat Returns” (2002)
      “Arrietty” (2010)
      “The Tale of The Princess Kaguya” (2013)

  • April 1, 2020:
    • “Pom Poko” (1994),
      “Whisper of the Heart” (1995)
      “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004)
      “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea” (2008),
      “From Up on Poppy Hill” (2011)
      “The Wind Rises” (2013)
      “When Marnie Was There” (2014)

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