It’s a strange new world out there and sometimes (most times) it’s all too tempting to ignore that essay you really need to start, curl up in bed and put on a film. But what to watch? Luckily for everyone’s quarantine needs, Netflix has just added seven more Studio Ghibli films to its roster. Now, I’ll confess that I was a late Ghibli lover (my friends were horrified when, at the age of seventeen, I admitted that I’d never seen any) but I’ll be making up for lost time by re-watching my favourites whilst we’re all in lockdown. Here are my top five Studio Ghibli picks for when you’re craving pure escapism.
Howl’s Moving Castle
My favourite Ghibli film, Howl’s Moving Castle, tells the story of a young girl called Sophie who works in a hat shop and has a pretty normal life. Then, in the space of a day, she meets an elusive wizard called Howl and gets cursed by a witch, who turns her into a ninety-year-old woman. Unable to tell anyone about what’s happened to her (pesky things, curses), Sophie sets off to find a cure for her predicament and soon stumbles upon a mysterious moving castle… The film tackles topics like the stereotypes around old age and the destructive nature of war whilst being a whimsical, heart-warming and fun watch. What more could you ask for?
Best part? Christian Bale and his silky-smooth voice as Howl (in the English dub)
Even if you don’t know Studio Ghibli, you know Spirited Away. It’s regarded as one of the best animated films of all time, scooped up an Oscar and is most people’s first foray into Ghibli. And it’s easy to see why! After moving to a new neighbourhood, ten-year-old Chihiro and her parents come across what seems to be an abandoned amusement park. We’ve all been there; you spot a stall of delicious food, your parents start digging in and then all of a sudden they’ve literally turned into pigs. Oh, you haven’t…never mind. The park turns out to be a holiday resort for spirits, demons and all kinds of creatures and Chihiro needs to free her parents before they get killed. Luckily for her, the mysterious Haku is on hand to help.
Best part? Any scene with food in is a masterpiece.
This is another Ghibli film that takes on the stupidity of war but this time, it’s humans versus the forest gods. It follows a prince named Ashitaka who, after taking down a huge demon that’s attacking his village, discovers that it poisoned him. After consulting with the local wise woman, he finds out that the demon was actually a boar god and sets off to a) discover what happened to it and b) find a cure for his infected arm. Along the way, he stumbles across a whole host of characters, including the formidable wolf goddess Moro (voiced by Gillian Anderson in the English dub – amazing) and her adopted human daughter, San (a young Claire Danes). The conflict between mankind and nature escalates, as the poison in Ashitaka spreads.
Best part? Ashitaka’s red elk, Yakul, who I’d gladly lay down my life for.
Kiki’s Delivery Service
Kiki’s Delivery Service tells the story of Kiki, a thirteen-year-old trainee witch, as she leaves home on her mum’s broomstick to do what’s essentially the witch version of a ‘year in industry’. Accompanied by her black cat Jiji, she finds a new city to settle in and, after brushing up on her flying skills, decides to open a delivery business. It doesn’t start smoothly and many hijinks ensue as Kiki tries to find her feet. Without giving much away, it’s a great coming-of-age story about growing up, finding yourself and gaining independence.
Best part? Jiji!
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
In a post-apocalyptic land that’s been devastated by war, pockets of human survivors have settled whilst strange, mutated insects roam free. The film follows the peaceful Nausicaä, princess of the Valley of the Wind, as she glides on the air and explores the polluted toxic jungle, hoping to understand it. One day, a huge airship crashes near the valley and the sole survivor, a princess from a faraway kingdom, uses her last breaths to tell Nausicaä that she needs to destroy the airship’s cargo. It turns out that another kingdom, Tolmekia, is up to no good and Nausicaä needs to protect her home and find a way to save the creatures that others see as enemies.
Best part? The opening scenes in the toxic jungle are truly magical.