Studio Ghibli Films: A Friendly Guide

I am pretty sure that the name “Studio Ghibli” rings a bell. It is possible that at some time in your life you got a glimpse of the Ghibli World and got fascinated by the vibrant colors and the realistic representation of nature. But even if you didn’t, now is the time.

Studio Ghibli is a Japanese animation film studio headquartered in Tokyo and was founded in 1985 by Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki, Isao Takahata, and Yasuyoshi Tokuma. Fun fact: the name “Ghibli” was chosen by Miyazaki from the Italian word ghibli meaning hot desert wind. What Miyazaki had in mind, was an idea that would “blow a new wind through the anime industry”. And guess what: his vision came true.

At first glance, the movies may seem a little bizarre. We don’t understand what is happening, what the characters represent, or if villains even exist. We feel like nothing really happens, but when the movie ends a sudden feeling of happiness rushes in. The truth is, that Ghibli movies are unique exactly because after watching them, we see the real world with new eyes.

But, to understand the philosophy of the studio Ghibli better, let’s check out some of its movies together:

(Disclaimer: the ranking is coincidental)

  1. Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)

“Laputa: Castle in the Sky” is considered by some the first-ever studio Ghibli movie. In a small mining town, an orphaned boy named Pazu finds and catches a girl floating from the sky. What Pazu does not know from the beginning, is that Sheeta is being chased by the government and by pirates because of a magic stone she wears on her neck. As the plot unravels, Sheeta and Pazu discover the truth together and make allies along the way.

  1. The secret world of Arrietty (2010)

The story is about a family of “borrowers”, tiny people secretly living within the houses of ordinary humans and are supposed to stay hidden at all times. Arrietty, a fourteen-year-old girl leaves the house for her first borrowing alongside her father. The little borrower, who grew up with none else but her parents, befriends a sick boy that recently moved into the house. However, this secret friendship comes with peril and adventure.

  1. Kiki’s delivery service (1989)

Kiki is a 13-year-old girl who decides to move to another town to spend a year alone according to her village’s traditions about witches. After learning how to control her magic broomstick, she sets up a delivery service and soon becomes a part of the community. Not everyone is friendly at first. Through a series of events and a lot of bad luck the source of which is Kiki herself, she gains the peoples’ trust, makes friends, and learns a lot about herself as well.

  1. Ocean Waves (1993)

College freshman Taku Morishaki returns from Tokyo to his hometown. On his way back, he starts to recall his senior year of high school, the relationship with his best friend Yutaka, and a beautiful girl with long black hair, who turned his world upside down. This story is about how we perceive others, what we mean to them and how distance changes things like ocean waves.

  1. Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Two years later, Miyazaki writes another of his masterpieces and Yoshifumi Kondo directs it. “Whisper of the Heart” takes place in summer. Shizuku Tsukishima is a girl who loves reading books and wants to be a writer. One day she discovers that all the books she read have one thing in common: they have been previously checked out by one Seiji Amasawa. A beautiful coming-of-age romantic drama begins, with meaningful music and endless imagination.

  1. Princess Mononoke (1997)×28-in-1997-hayao-miyazaki-studio-ghibli.jpg

The story takes place in the 14th century when the harmony between humans and animals begins to crumble. A young boy named Ashitaka is infected by an animal attack and according to the rules of his village, he has to leave in order to find a cure but in one condition: he can never return. On his way he witnesses humans ravaging the earth, bringing down the wrath of god Moro and his human companion Princess Mononoke. Ashitaka, who gets to interact with both sides of the war, attempts to bring back the peace that once existed.

  1. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

“Grave of the Fireflies” is one of the most heartbreaking movies of Studio Ghibli. After an American firebombing in WWII, two children are separated from their parents. The teenager Seita takes care of his young sister Setsuko. The two siblings, relying completely on each other, struggle against all odds to stay together and alive. 

  1. My neighbor Totoro (1988)

Satsuke and Mei are two sisters that move to the countryside with their father and wait patiently for their sick mother to return from the hospital. As they explore their new home, they encounter playful magic spirits both in their house and the nearby forest and befriend them. The creature that made the strangest and strongest impression on them is Totoro. When they truly needed help, Totoro was there for them, always with a big smile on its face.

  1. Howl’ Moving Castle (2004)

This film tells the story of Sophie, an 18-year old girl that works at the hat shop of her deceased father unable to move on with her life. Her encounter with the wizard Howl makes her a target of the Witch of the Waste who curses her. Sophie now turned into an old woman who cannot tell anyone about her curse and decides to leave the town. On her way, a scarecrow shows her the entrance to Howl’s moving castle where she becomes a cleaner having accepted her fate. Sophie tries to find herself and Howl resists the king. Together, they achieve great things. 

  1. Spirited Away (2001)

“Spirited away” is an Oscar-winning movie and one of the biggest successes of Studio Ghibli. A young girl named Chihiro is lost alongside her parents in a forest ruled by spirits, gods, and witches, where humans who eat the food offered to them turn into beasts. Chihiro becomes a part of this magical world and is convinced to somehow save her parents. She is protected by a boy named Haku who has the ability to turn into a dragon and with whom she creates a very special relationship.


It’s quite hard to make a point about movies without spoiling them. But now that we have skimmed through them, let’s discuss a bit.

When we have in mind that we want to watch an animated movie, we do not only expect stories that depict everyday life. On the contrary, we want to see something out of the ordinary, something magical. And Studio Ghibli gives us exactly that. The spirits and the god-like creatures are almost always in these movies and of course, their existence hides deeper meanings. I am no movie expert, but one interpretation can be this: Nature is magic that gives us hope when we feel that everything goes sideways and shows us the way to grow as people. The relationship between man and nature has to always be in balance.

Films where nothing out of the ordinary happens, have other things to teach us. One of them is that perception is important. It is a fine asset to be able to walk in someone else’s shoes and try to understand as much as you can why they behave the way they do. This deep understanding can lead us into creating deep bonds with others, whether those are romantic or not. 

Finally, love is important. And studio Ghibli chooses the purest form of love, the one that goes along with the coming of age. Feelings of love motivate us, make us courageous and ready to face the danger ahead. When we feel alone and unprotected, love offers us security.


As for me, all the Ghibli movies that I have watched left me a unique impression. However, I was deeply enchanted by “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “Whisper of the Heart”.

(Small spoilers ahead)

In the first one, what really compelled me was the symbolism. At the beginning of the movie, Sophie is not confident at all. The Witch of the Waste took advantage of that and made her thoughts about herself define her appearance. In the end, she changes radically because she chooses to let go of the past and love herself. On the other hand, Howl deals with another form of an identity crisis. He believes that he is weak and incapable of everything and all he wants is freedom. Despite all his feelings, he continues fighting to end the war and bring peace to everyone. 

In the second one, what amazed me was this fine complexion of music, books, and fantasy. Shizuku wants to be a novelist and Seiji a violin maker. They are both dedicated to art. They make promises that we all did as kids and are truthful about their feelings for each other. However, they decide to stick to their dreams wherever they take them and are not afraid to let go.

But once again, these are my interpretations.

Other remarkable movies are “Nausica of the Valley of the Wind”(1984), “Porco Rosso” (1992), “Tales from Earthsea” (2006), and “The Wind Rises” (2013)

Last note, if you are interested in anime in general and either do not know where to start or want to watch something else, you can check out another of my articles, “Diving into Anime”.



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