Movie Review

“A Kingdom of Dreams”


But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
-W.B. Yeats



Our exploration of the works of Studio Ghibli is complete.

That took quite a little bit longer than a month. I’ve gained a new respect for film critics and reviewers, as I found it much more difficult to give an overview of movies than video games. As I previously mentioned in another post, I guess I severely underestimated the power of the holiday season, the draw of new games given to me as gifts, and the time I would devote to family so there are a multitude of reasons why this series ran long. And maybe I just needed a little bit of a break from writing as well.

In any case, what was originally intended to be a month-long series turned into a month-and-a-half-long series. Heck almost a two-month-long series. It’s the first time I’ve seriously invested so much energy into reviewing films and I’m deeply grateful to everyone who went along for the ride, took the time to read my thoughts, and left so many respectful, thoughtful, and heartfelt comments. Sharing your experiences with these films with me inspired me to think in new ways. Is there anything more valuable? Thank you.

I can only say, now that the adventure is over, that these films have become more a part of me and more important to me. Well, most of them have, anyway. For those of you craving for more, I suggest watching the documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. It’s on Netflix yet.

Studio Ghibli was so named because its founders wanted to breathe new life into the anime industry. “Ghibli” is a word which evokes a hot desert wind, like a sirocco. It’s also the name of an Italian aircraft. They have indeed been a breath of fresh air, creating some of the all-time greatest animated films and helped to spread the art of anime across the world, but with the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki, the future and legacy of the studio remains uncertain.

I’ve tried to give each film its due and get into the respective minds of their creators to do them justice, but at the end of the day I’m just a red mage. I’m not a movie critic, professionally or unprofessionally speaking. My opinions are my own as is whatever level of enjoyment I took from each respective film.

That being said, you’re completely free to disagree with any and all of my assessments of these beloved films (of course). I fully expect you to disagree. I’m going to rank the twenty-one theatrical Studio Ghibli films in order of weakest to greatest. Prepare for controversy! These are just my takes on these films and as such they are my personal perspective on art. All I ask is you be careful where you tread. If you disagree, let’s do so in an orderly and respectful manner and I’ll try to reply in the same vein. If you would, please demonstrate your own ranking of these movies in the comments below!


Ranking the Ghibli films (those to receive the same score are ordered by my preference):

#21. Tales From Earthsea (2006) – 4.9

“A dull fantasy”. Dead on arrival, Tales from Earthsea was Hayao Miyazaki’s son Goro’s first attempt at directing for his father’s studio and it turned into a boring, lifeless, trod-fest full of familial strife during development. It embarrassed the author of the book it was adapted from. Rage Mage fodder.

the-cat-returns-52e92d4943d15#20. The Cat Returns (2002) – 6.6

“A bland spin off”. Hiroyuki Morita’s The Cat Returns is a spin off of Whisper of the Heart but this short film of terrible animation lacks the heart of its predecessor, as if it failed to use any of the resources of the studio that created it. Neither Takahata nor Miyazaki had practically anything to do with it. Passingly funny but only as a forgettable novelty, you can miss this one without missing much.

as-memorias-de-marnie-dublado#19. When Marnie Was There (2014) – 7.4

“A story with something missing”. When Marnie Was There IS missing something. Once I figure out exactly what it is I’ll get back to you. Even with a twist ending, this second film by Hiromasa Yonebayashi is one which seems less than appropriate for the Ghibli name somehow. It’s a strange movie to have the honor of being Studio Ghibli’s last. That doesn’t dismiss it as an outright terrible movie, though, as it still packs a punch in the visual department and has a few moments which may conjure lumps in throats, especially for those who can relate to its protagonist.

maxresdefault#18. My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999) – 7.4

“A family sitcom”. Don’t judge a movie by its animation. Takahata’s My Neighbors the Yamadas is a genuinely funny comedy but its episodic structure will undoubtedly put many off from its laughs. If you can accept the minimalist art style and dry humor, you may just enjoy this obscure Ghibli title.

9qsw5uxwn3qbxemkhsosexactvw#17. From Up on Poppy Hill (2011) – 7.4

“A period piece romance”. From Up on Poppy Hill was Goro Miyazaki’s second attempt at directing for Studio Ghibli and it turned out much better than Earthsea. A simpler, smaller, period piece story about two young lovers who just might be siblings… gross. The movie may make you a little uncomfortable in moments but it captures the nostalgia and charm that makes Ghibli films so special.

pompoko-683x1024#16. Pom Poko (1994) – 7.5

“A modern folk tale”. Studio Ghibli’s weirdest movie to date. Isao Takahata’s comedic take on Japanese myth and folklore is unlike anything else the studio has produced. You may have a “What the heck am I watching?” moment. Yet the characters and the themes are as endearing as ever, if you can get past the tanuki balls.

ponyo-1#15. Ponyo (2008) – 7.6

“A film for five-year-olds”. Ponyo is a strange adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. I suggest that it is the weakest film in Miyazaki’s career with Ghibli. As such, I gave it the lowest overall score out of any of the films he directed. It’s gorgeously animated but not even that can save it from a meandering and nonsensical plot. Maybe it would’ve been better received if Miyazaki churned out more films more often.

oy_poster#14. Only Yesterday (1991) – 7.6

“The lost Ghibli film”. It is the only one to finally receive an English dub 25 years after its original release. Takahata’s reverie about childhood and growing up is an extremely ponderous and contemplative film with very slow pacing. Still, it juggles dual art styles and is undeniably beautiful. I’ve never seen another film that animates a morning sunrise with such elegance and care.

5gl3uo3cpe465razjl3zgh92kew#13.  Secret World of Arrietty, the (2010) – 7.8

“A tiny film about survival”. First film for Studio Ghibli by director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Arrietty is a gentle fairy tale with the pace and sweetness of a summer afternoon. It’s straightforward plot is unusual among Ghibli’s works and it is a small, personal movie with a big message about the value of life.

qijjq797pwvuo2fsth0axn5srzj#12. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya – 8.2

“A poignant tale about the brevity of life”. This sad and joyous film is Isao Takahata’s last directorial work, and fittingly so. It reminds us that life is short, that time does indeed have wings. Princess Kaguya will endure as a perennial retelling of an ancient Japanese folktale. Though it is as inaccessible as Takahata’s work has ever been to wider audiences, it is undeniably one of the most artistic films in the Ghibli canon.

kiki-pos_1440449334#11. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)  8.2

“A magical coming of age story”. Kiki’s Delivery Service is Miyazaki’s tale about growing up told with characteristic heart. Beneath the kiddie image of a little witch riding her broomstick is a complex thematic undercarriage which may defy most expectations. A bright and happy film with a lot to say about finding one’s independence and inspiration.

open-uri20150422-12561-12y850b_3d77163e#10. Whisper of the Heart (1995) – 8.3

“A movie about what it means to be a writer”. From an animation studio renown for their fantasy, Whisper of the Heart may seem like a passable high school melodrama but don’t be fooled. Without showcasing the best in visuals, this is one of the best “ordinary” films by Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki’s writing and the wonderful direction of the late Yoshifumi Kondo make for a surprisingly endearing movie. Best of all, Whisper of the Heart is a profound exploration of the nature of art and artists. It’s an inspiration for writers and artisans everywhere.

howls_moving_castle#9. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) – 8.3

“A visually spectacular fantasy”. With some of the best animation in the entire Ghibli canon, Howl’s Moving Castle is a juggernaut of a film like its quadrupedal namesake. Unapologetically magical and mystifying, the film is bound to captivate the eye. No wonder it’s become one of Miyazaki’s best known fantasy films. Unfortunately, the legendary director’s storytelling process of using storyboards over scripts teeters too far toward the disjointed and even the messy to be truly classic, however lovable the film may be. Unique!

castle-in-the-sky-52e92d0bebc0f#8. Castle in the Sky (1986) – 8.4

“A soaring and majestic adventure”. Castle in the Sky has the honor of being the first official film by the newly formed Studio Ghibli. It is a true family adventure film. Innocent, brave, wondrous, grand, it helped to set in stone many of the storytelling principles which the writers at Ghibli would focus on for the next three decades. It’s such an enjoyable movie, I challenge you to watch it without smiling. If only the casting of the two leads in the English dub was a little more inspired!

11621#7. Porco Rosso (1992) – 8.9

“A funny action flick about an Italian pig”. I love this movie so much. Miyazaki described his hilarious action-comedy as a foolish film since it was made for children but has very adult themes. Perhaps that’s what makes Porco Rosso so affecting. It is my favorite movie after all. I believe it achieves a balance between heavy ideas and lighthearted entertainment, talking about war’s tragedies in one hand and then swaying toward the cartoonish in the other. One of the most distinct films in the Ghibli canon.

usa_full#6. Spirited Away (2001) – 8.9

“A supernatural wonderland”. Undeniably one of Miyazaki’s greatest for its complexities and imagination. Of course, there’s also the fact that it won him an Oscar. Sometimes a little frightening, Chihiro’s stay in the spirit world has evoked many varying interpretations. Perhaps that’s because of the nebulous way which Miyazaki came to tell his stories at this point in his career, leading some (like myself) to consider it disorderly. A flawed masterpiece is still a masterpiece. Perhaps art is even better for its imperfections, cracks through which the sunlight shines.

the-wind-rises-54cf02dda2ef6#5. The Wind Rises (2013) – 9.0

“A final word on war and art”. This is undoubtedly a controversial spot for The Wind Rises, but it’s my opinion that this is a significant film with a powerful message. In true Miyazaki fashion, it has some pacing and editing issues and nobody is claiming it’s a perfect film, but I say it’s a broken finale to an epic career. It’s a film about loss, the wonder of flight and achieving one’s dreams… at any cost? In it, Miyazaki says everything he has always wanted to say, not with explosions and special effects, but with gentleness and meekness, with restraint.

2cehf#4. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) – 9.1

“Dystopian, environmental science fiction”. The unofficially first Studio Ghibli film is one of their best in my opinion. It is insanely creative, noble and dignified, painstakingly beautiful given its age, and it achieves the kind of world-building that modern day film universes crave. Sci-fi doesn’t have much of a presence in Ghibli’s works without it. Nausicaä is a film which proves Miyazaki has talent for the fantastic, a film which has strong themes about his feelings of environmentalism. All of Miyazaki’s recurring ideas begin here.

open-uri20150422-12561-3f0gbl_41aaae60#3. Princess Mononoke (1997) – 9.3

“A dark epic”. This is without a doubt Hayao Miyazaki’s most frightening film, shedding the thin label of “family entertainment” which Studio Ghibli has never truly evaded. At its core, Princess Mononoke is a film about anger and hate and I sense the powerful feelings of its director at the heart of the themes of pacifism, violence, and environmentalism. With this film, Miyazaki set out to speak on his most important issues as powerfully as he possibly could. It is a film which is markedly different from so many others and it is one which cannot be missed. It frequently tops the list for many Ghibli fans and rightfully so.

fireflies_cover#2. Grave of the Fireflies (1988) – 9.6

“A profoundly sad look at the victims of war”. Isao Takahata’s very first film for Studio Ghibli is the most moving in the entire collection. It demonstrates his skill as a storyteller, which he had honed long before crafting this film, which I consider his best. No one can watch Grave of the Fireflies without being changed, without being affected down to your very core. You will rail against the injustice of it all. Even the most unfeeling viewer cannot hope to be impacted in some way. Strangely, it is not an anti-war film, by its director’s own admission. It takes a long, hard look at the tragedy of humanity’s inability to peacefully resolve conflicts.

my-neighbor-totoro-images-8eca62fb-1f66-421f-8936-16b4fc64193-1#1. My Neighbor Totoro (1988) – 9.6

“A masterpiece that captures the heart of childhood”. There is no other film which can top this list. Coming in at number one is the film which launched Studio Ghibli’s image since 1988. No other film has since realized the wonder bound up in the heart of a child. No other film has crystallized the dreaminess, the haze, the magical outlook of the world which belongs solely to children. This will forever remain at the center of Hayao Miyazaki’s legacy to the world. My Neighbor Totoro will always be a beloved film.


Yada da da daaa dann, that’s all, folks! How would you rank the Ghibli films you’ve seen?
-The Well-Red Mage


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17 replies »

  1. Yaaaaaaaaaay!!!!
    I’ve already covered in here (I think?) How awesome Studio Ghibli is,
    But I’ll happily bullet point again; in order:
    That beginning quote? Yes!
    All the films of Studio Ghibli: Excellent!
    Obviously, because of how my mind works (loneliness, depression, etc) I just value the escape, 1st & foremost, but I am thankfully aware of the higher artisanal thinking, design & storytellin that has gone on!
    I liked The Cat Returns cos it was about cats. Lord C’s a cat guy (I identify as a 6ft3 Black/Blue Stripes Siberian Tiger!) Nuff said!
    Grave Of The Fireflies….
    Good God Y’all!!!
    I’ve only watched it once (Never again!) & the loss & pain still stay with me to this day!
    Tales of Earthsea… I liked it! But, as I’ve yet to read the books, I’d personally like more of an understanding of the whole ‘darkness killed my father, but I made peace, puppets of destiny’ issue, it was a tad dark for my likin. The girl character was a refreshin change (at the time) in a world of meek, submissive sub-heroines.
    As to Cagliostro, I valued it as a lighter view to the sometimes deeper themes of Ghibli, but I of course accept it’s not to every1’s taste… I still wish they’d made more tho!!!
    You already know my faves: Howl’s, Spirited & especially Pom Poko!
    The ‘Ghost Parade’ scene… I’ve literally yet to see that level of intricacy, detail & love & respect for the material anywhere else… *Sighs* but of course I’ll happily admit slight bias! *Grins*
    That bit where the eldest Tanuki ascends to heaven on a barge of joy, feasting & love… Truly Beautiful!
    & Castle In The Sky…
    To this day, I still look at all the wind turbines round about here (UK) & think.. What If!?
    & Porco Rosso… Love, Planes, Mama Aiuto Gang!!! Yaaay!!!
    Princess Mononoke, a bit of a bleak ending after all the brilliant pacing & hard story work done before, but I accept it, I guess, cos I know they don’t ever sequel… *Sighs Sadly*
    Also, final note: in Spirited, Lord C will never watch that scene where Chihiro!Sen & No Face are on the train across the water goin past all those stations/islands without feeling a melancholy pang of ‘I Wanna Be There!!!’ in my heart!!!
    Kudos to you, as always, for your excellent work, & I’ll continue to look forward to your writing with great joy & excitement!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bravo for passing the finish line. A month and a half is fast going to soak up all that Ghibli goodness. I didn’t comment on every review but read them all with interest, making sure I avoided spoilers for the handful of titles I haven’t seen yet. Finally have Arrietty to watch this weekend. Our local library has a few Ghibli titles so that’s another to cross off the list 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Congratulations on your accomplishment! The Ghibli movie reviews were fun reads and shows a lot of insight into the many themes portrayed in the movies. Also, I can tell you had fun doing these, so that in itself is success! I mostly agreed with your reviews (you know which ones I didn’t), and also opened my eyes to new Ghibli movies I have yet to see. You also made me want to rewatch movies (something I rarely do) just to catch things I missed. Ghibli itself is magical, and worth covering. Not every movie is great, but the fact they’ve touched so many lives and crossed cultural boundaries is telling. Thanks for reminding us why these movies are as great as they are! I don’t have a specific ranking, but the movies with more childlike wonder and wish fulfillment were most appealing to me. So Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, and Spirited Away are definitely up there. Also loved Castle in the Sky, Porco Rosso, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Princess Mononoke. So I guess I’m stuck in some golden age era of Ghibli.

    By the way, I’m interested in what you thought of Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. I don’t think it’s a Ghibli movie, but Hayao Miyazaki did direct it.

    Anyway, fantastic work on all of these!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Mister P. I appreciate that you’ve commented and shared your thoughts on so many of these. You’re a paragon of civil disagreement! Haha I’ve had a few recent run ins with folks who were less than polite simply because our opinions differed. Like, do you ever get mad? Sometimes that ruffles my red feathers! You prove that you can enjoying reading someone’s work even if you don’t agree with them, that there’s no need to question someone’s perception just because their opinion doesn’t match yours.

      I do feel a little bad for Marnie and Poppy Hill’s ranking so maybe I’ll amend it someday, even though scores in the 7’s are still great and all… Aaaanyway…

      I’m happy that we’ve been able to help spread the word on movies you and others may not have had the chance to see yet. Ghibli’s work truly is amazing in its reach. Thanks for sharing about your fav films here, too.

      As for Cagliostro, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen it and I don’t have any big thoughts about it. I thought about reviewing it after I’d already finished Nausicaa and then thought I couldn’t have something out of place. But as it’s not typically lumped together with Ghibli’s work anyway, it was easier to pass on, even if it was Miyazaki’s directorial debut. Maybe someday I’ll get to it but as of now, I’m happy to return to writing about video games.

      Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. First of all, congrats on writing about all of those movies. I can imagine how tough and challenging it was. But like all tough and challenging things in life, I assume you feel rather accomplished after going through it! They were all awesome, deep, and thoughtful write-ups, and that is quite huge considering how many movies you tackled in slightly over a month.

    I did not know about The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. I will make sure to check it out!

    Finally, great list!

    I am almost in full agreement with your Top 10. I would just throw Totoro (this would be a big change considering it’s your top movie), Howl, and Whisper of the Heart out of it, and replace them with Kiki, Arrietty, and Kaguya. I would probably also have put Poppy Hill a little bit higher; probably just out of the Top 10. But that’s the beauty of life! =P

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks very much for commenting! This was indeed a challenge and I feel less accomplished than appreciative toward these films and their creators. Even with my over-long pseudo-analyses, I know that there’s so much more to say about them. They deserve it. Gems. But yeah I severely underestimated how hard it would be to try to do all of them in a month, especially around the holidays.

      Hey let me know what you think of Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. It’s super charming but slightly depressing too. Miyazaki is a walking contradiction, a self-confessed pessimist who says things like our world is rubbish but at the same time he inspires so many to find joy in life.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the list! I feel bad about Poppy Hill’s placement, actually, but I didn’t want to go back and fiddle with too many final scores. It’s a great film and all, and I’d probably want it over Ponyo and Only Yesterday but below Arrietty, maybe below Ponyo? Gah! Too hard! Lol! Is your top three Kiki, Arrietty, and Kaguya then, with Kaguya being #1?

      Liked by 2 people

      • You are welcome! I know how it feels to want to do a work (a movie, a game, a book, or an album) justice; it’s freaking hard, but I think you did it.

        Nope! My Top three would be Spirited Away, Castle In the Sky, and Kiki, with Mononoke and Porco Rosso wrapping up the Top 5. Kaguya and Arrietty would a part of the bottom half of the Top 10.

        I will let you know for sure! Maybe the fact Miyazaki is a pessimist led him to create this little corner of fantasy to show people the beauty that can exist in our world… I don’t know, I am taking a shot here, but it makes sense… maybe! =P

        Liked by 1 person

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