When animation director Hayao Miyazaki founded his own studio in 1985, he called it Studio Ghibli, a name that would soon become synonymous with the finest animated features produced in most any country in the world. Not every Studio Ghibli release has been directed by Miyazaki, but his guiding hand is clearly behind all productions released through the company.
Here are the major releases from Studio Ghibli, in chronological order. Note that this list is limited to titles with U.S. / English-language releases. Titles marked with a star (*) are especially recommended.
Miyazaki’s first feature production with him as director still ranks among his very best, if not also the best in all of anime. Adapted from Miyazaki’s own manga, also in print domestically, it deals with a post-apocalyptic world where a young princess (the Nausicaä of the title) fights to keep her nation and a rival from going to war over ancient technology that could destroy them both. There are endless allusions to modern-day issues—the nuclear arms race, ecological consciousness—but all that takes a backseat to a tremendously engaging story told with beauty and clarity. The original U.S. release (as Warriors of the Wind) was infamously cut down, which left Miyazaki wary of distributing his films in the U.S. for almost two decades.
Also known as Laputa, this is another of Miyazaki’s grand and glorious adventures, loaded with imagery and sequences that reflect his love of flying. Young villager Pazu encounters a girl named Sheeta when she falls from the sky and practically lands in his lap; the two learn that the pendant in her possession could unlock untold secrets within the “castle in the sky” of the title. As in Nausicaä, the young and innocent must grapple against the machinations of cynical adults, who only have eyes for the city’s war machines. (This was the first true Studio Ghibli production; Nausicaä was officially done by the studio Topcraft.)
Directed by Ghibli cohort Isao Takahata, this is a grim depiction of life (and death) during the last days of WWII when Allied firebombings claimed many civilian lives in Tokyo—a story that has not been reported as often as the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Derived from Akiyuki Nosaka’s novel, it shows how two youngsters, Seita and his little sister Setsuko, struggle to survive in the charred ruins of the city and fend off starvation. It’s difficult to watch, but also impossible to forget, and definitely not a children’s movie due to the graphic way it depicts the aftermath of war.
The title means “The Crimson Pig” in Italian, and it sounds like unlikely material: a former fighter pilot, now cursed with the face of a pig, ekes out a living as a soldier of fortune in his seaplane. But it’s a delight, fusing a post-WWI European setting with Miyazaki’s always-idyllic visuals—it could almost be considered his response to Casablanca. Originally intended to be a short in-flight film for Japan Airlines, it was expanded into a full feature. Michael Keaton (as Porco) and Cary Elwes are featured in Disney’s English dub of the movie.
A cadre of shapeshifting Japanese raccoons, or tanuki, collide with the nature-threatening ways of the modern world. Some of them choose to resist the encroachment of humankind, in ways that resemble eco-saboteurs; some instead opt to assimilate into human life. It’s a great example of how anime often mines Japan’s mythology for inspiration, although note there are some moments that might not be suitable for younger viewers.
A girl with ambitions to be a writer and a boy who dreams of becoming a master violin-maker cross paths and learn to inspire each other. The only feature directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, whom Miyazaki and Takahata had high hopes for (he also worked on Princess Mononoke) but whose directorial career was cut short by his sudden death at the age of 47.