While Covid-19 has brought many sad times, it has also brought many new hobbies for people. Like, for example, when I started a trial with HBO Max and I noticed that there was a whole section of Studio Ghibli films. I decided to binge watch them and rank my top 3 favorites.
The first time I can remember seeing a Studio Ghibli movie was in 7th grade. I was in art class and we were doing a Japanese watercolor unit. My eccentric art teacher decided to pop in “Spirited Away” on VHS. I immediately fell in love with it.
If you aren’t familiar with the movie here is the basic story: Little girl Chihiro and her two parents are moving to a new town, they get lost and find a tunnel that leads to a field. Her family, quite hungry and tired, smells food. Chihiro is hesitant but goes with them. They find an empty market full of food, and her parents start eating. Chihiro doesn’t eat because she notices something is off with the place. Suddenly, right before her eyes, her parents turn into pigs.
After that, Chihiro is separated from her family and brought into the spirit world where she meets a cute boy spirit named Haku. He is a dragon and a slave for the witch, Yababa, who owns the giant spirit spa. Haku, who has memory loss, tries to help free Chihiro by giving her a job at the spa, which she fails miserably at. Chihiro then finds out the witch has a twin sister Zeniba, who is a good witch. She ventures to visit her and they strike a deal with Yababa: if Chihiro can identify her parents amongst other pigs in a pen then she will be freed and her memories will come back, along with Haku’s.
In the end, Chihiro frees her parents, and finds out that Haku was a river spirit that Chihiro slipped into when she was little and almost drowned. Haku saved her, and ironically, he saves her a second time and doesn’t know it until the end.
Overall, it’s a very emotional movie that has you guessing until the very end. Thus, “Spirited Away” is the number 1 spot for my favorite Studio Ghibli film.
My second favorite Studio Ghibli film is “Howl’s Moving Castle,” with the voice actors of Christian Bale as wizard Howl, and Billy Crystal as Calcifer, the fire spirit. As mystical as “Spirited Away” is, this one is just as magical.
It takes place in a futuristic London, but the people in the movie dress as if they’re in the 1800’s. Young Sophie is a hat maker, who dreams of adventure. One day, she notices Howl’s moving castle in the distance. Howl’s castle is magic, and it moves by flying and walking. Howl is known in the city as one of the main wizards, along with the two other wizards in the town. The high wizard, Madame Suliman, and the corrupt wizard, Witch of the Waste. One day Madame Suliman calls upon Howl and the Witch of the Waste to receive a medal of “honor.”
…Or so they think…
Excited, Sophie ventures out to see Howl but is stopped by the Witch of the Waste and her minions, who casts a curse on Sophie and turns her into an old woman. The worst part about this spell is that she can’t tell anyone about it.
Fast forward and Sophie goes to Howl’s castle, lies to him and tells him she’s a maid. Howl and the Witch duke it out in front of Madame Suliman and she removes the corruptness from the Witch of the Waste, leaving Howl to take care of her. Howl also starts to become corrupt but then saves the city from a war. Howl and Sophie fall in love and the curse is broken and they live the rest of their days in the castle.
It’s a simple movie but is driven by a great storyline, cast of characters, and delicious looking Studio Ghibli food. The breakfast Sophie makes of eggs and bacon looks delectable. If Studio Ghibli does one thing right, it’s to always include delicious looking food. “Howl’s Moving Castle” takes the number 2 spot as my favorite.
Lastly, “From Up On Poppy Hill” takes the number 3 spot. This movie is not like the others mentioned. The movie takes place in 1963 in Yokohama, Japan. The main character, Umi Matsuzaki, meets a boy named Shun Kasama, who is a member of the high school’s newspaper club. This club is in a big house with four floors called the “Quatier Latin.” The chairman of the high school wants to tear down the club house, so Umi bands together with Shun and others to save the clubhouse.
When she was younger, Umi’s father passed away on a navel ship and she raises flags outside every day in honor of him. Shun’s real father (we find out later that Shun was adopted) also passed away as well. As Shun and Umi become closer, Shun tells Umi that they may be brother and sister, because Shun believes his deceased father to also be Umi’s father. Umi later finds out that Shun and Umi’s fathers worked in the same naval unit and were best friends and they also died together. Although they’re not related, it strengthens their bond.
In the end, with the help of friends, they save the clubhouse.
What makes this movie so special, besides the delicious Studio Ghibli food of course, is the plot. We, as the watchers, don’t find out until the end about Umi and Shun’s parents. It feels like a tragic movie, but the relationship between the two and the friendships they have with others make this film amazing.
If you want to see for yourself how great these movies are, check them out on HBO Max!