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Ink & Pixel: Top 5 Studio Ghibli Films

08.14.2014

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I知 always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fanbase, Ink & Pixel has been granted permission to broaden its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy genres. I hope that you enjoy this bold new direction for the column. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at steveseigh@joblo.com so we can discuss it further.

Earlier this month, the world of animation was clobbered with something of a sucker punch when news hit the internet that Studio Ghibli, Japan's most famous animation studio, had announced plans to place all film production on hold in order to - according to the studio's General Manager Tohio Suzuki - 鍍ake a small break. To elaborate, in his statements to the press, Suzuki also had this to say about last year's departure of the studio's founder, Hayao Miyazaki, "Obviously Miyazaki's retirement is an enormous change and we are considering how to proceed from such an event but... we don't believe we can just continue with the same approach as we had before. We are taking a small break to think on how best to proceed from here."

What does this mean for the acclaimed production house that brought us such timeless films as SPIRITED AWAY, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO? Only time will tell for sure, but let's keep our fingers crossed that all Studio Ghibli needs is to go for a nice walk to help clear their collective heads, before returning to what they do best, making amazing films!

Needless to say, the concept of this legendary studio ceasing production on all projects for an undetermined period of time is seriously bumming me out. However, it's presented me with the opportunity to offer you something special this week. Allow me to present to you what I believe to be the Top 5 Best Studio Ghibli films!

5. THE CAT RETURNS

If there's one thing that Studio Ghibli is known for it's presenting animated films that are capable of spiriting their audience members away into impossible worlds where magic and imagination thrive. In director Hiroyuki Morita's THE CAT RETURNS, a young high school student by the name of Haru, rescues a peculiar cat from being hit by an oncoming truck. Unbeknownst to Haru, the cat is indeed Lune, the Prince of the Cat Kingdom. Relieved that their prince is indeed safe, the denizens of the Cat Kingdom visit Haru to bestow upon her a series of gifts - not the least of which is the offer of Prince Lune's paw in marriage, to which a confused Haru mistakenly accepts. Before long, Haru finds herself in world far from her own where magic, insidious plots, and infinite amounts of catnip are king. Will Haru resolve her differences with the Cat Kingdom and return to her own world before it's too late? You'll have to watch the movie to find out.

What I love so much about THE CAT RETURNS is its unabashed lunacy and its successful execution of an adorable world built on the foundation of high fantasy. Is there one little girl (or boy) who has not imagined themselves being whisked away to a world where they can walk, talk, and think like the animals? I think not. Throughout her adventures within the Cat Kingdom, Haru is tasked with a series of trials, which, in my opinion, will help shape her growth as a human being for years to come. Another something special to take away from THE CAT RETURNS is that the Cat Kingdom, complete with its own laws and traditions, is one of the grandest examples of how Studio Ghibli is able to make an inherently whimsical world, believable. If you have yet to experience this amazing film then what are you waiting for? Find a copy of THE CAT RETURNS and watch it today!

4. KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE

The year 1989 saw a cinematic triple threat when Hayao Miyazaki himself wrote, produced, and directed the animated feature KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE. Adapted from the 1985 novel of the same name by author Eiko Kadono, KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE is the story of a young witch by the name of Kiki, who - along with her magical (and quite talkative) black cat, Jiji - hops aboard her flying broomstick to a harbor town called Koriko where she plans to settle for a time in order to prove her worth as an honest to goodness witch.

For me, this film delivers an incredibly powerful message about perseverance, and shares with its audience a memorable tale about the transition we all make (with any luck) from adolescence to adulthood. Through her mistakes and adventures in Koriko, Kiki learns the hard way that growing up is difficult to do, and that we must prove ourselves worthy of taking on the responsibilities thrust upon us as we make our way through life. There are many trials and tribulations to be conquered on her way to becoming a proper witch, and Kiki must face her inner demons of doubt - while simultaneously learning to be selfless - if she's ever to truly understand what it means to grow up and be a responsible witch. I believe this to be one of Studio Ghibli's most mature and emotionally complex films, and that depth of both character and story is why I believe it deserves a spot on this list.

3. NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND

Okay, yes, this film was released in Japan on March 11th, 1984, a year and then some before Studio Ghibli was founded. Nevertheless, the film is considered to be the start of the animation house's celebrated library of feature films. This Eco-friendly tale recounts for us the exploits of Nausicaa, a young princess of the Valley of the Wind. Her self-appointed mission is to forge a peace between the Ohm, an ancient race of colossal insects who live inside a poisonous forest and the Tolmekians, an industrialized nation who have stolen a precious embryo from the creatures, and will go to great lengths in securing it - even if that means setting fire to the ancient forest itself. Sadly, the longstanding conflict is waged due to a misunderstanding between the two races. The Ohm are the guardians of the forest while the Tolmekians are of the belief that the eradication of the forest will pave the way for humanity to retake the land.

Humankind has been ravaging planet Earth from the moment our ancestors crawled from out of the muck and began harvesting its precious resources. The idea of a woman out there, looking out for those who may not necessarily have the means or communication skills to fight back, comforts me. NAUSICAA is a cautionary tale at its animated finest. The film is undeniably beautiful, and manages to plant the seeds of what will eventually become several of Studio Ghibli's repeated themes throughout their many years of making inspiring and thought provoking films.

2. PRINCESS MONONOKE

Released in Japan on July 12th, 1997 and directed by Hayoa Miyazaki himself, PRINCESS MONONOKE shares with its audience the adventure of Ashitaka, a young warrior of the Emishi clan, who - in the act of saving his village from a demon - receives a cursed wound that will, in time, kill him. Ashitaka leaves in search of a cure for his newly acquired affliction. During his journey he encounters Princess Mononoke, a human female co-raised by the wolf gods as well as Lady Eboshi - the villainous leader of a fortified encampment known as Irontown located on the edge of an enchanted forest. Ashitaka, together with Princess Mononoke, attempt to foil Lady Eboshi's sinister plan to slay the God of the Forest and expand her territory.

PRINCESS MONONOKE was the first Studio Ghibli film I saw that compelled me to sit straight up in my seat and say 展ow!. Ashitaka, with his stalwart sensibilities and roguish good looks, reminded me of the dhampir, D, from Toyoo Ashida and Carl Macek's VAMPIRE HUNTER D. Add to that Princess Mononoke's lethal combat moves and intellectualism, and you've got a recipe for animated badassery at its finest! This film delivers all the goods and brandishes a harsh life lesson for anyone who chooses to view it. That lesson being: take care when disturbing the unknown. Information is key to our survival as a species, and the more we go poking in the places where we don't belong, the more are we asking for the consequences of our actions to be our untimely end.

1. SPIRITED AWAY

Known as the most successful film to ever come out of Japan - having grossed an estimated $350 million worldwide - this animated masterpiece was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. SPIRITED AWAY is a high fantasy modern fable depicting the young girl Chihiro Ogino's entrapment in (and escape from) the spirit world; a place where the essences of nature and mankind reside. Standing in her way is Yubaba, a nefarious witch who is also the proprietor of a bathhouse that caters to the aforementioned otherworldly spirits. Other major players involved are Chihiro's parents - being held captive in pig-form - and the mysterious Haku - a young man indebted to Yubaba.

I still remember the first time I saw SPIRITED AWAY. It was featured as part of an anime showcase hosted by the Cinema Arts Center in Huntington, New York. Ever since that evening, I have remained positively captivated by this film's exquisite beauty, imagination, and heart. The Shinto-inspired world created for SPIRITED AWAY boasts perhaps the most varied populous of any location found within the Ghibli library, and that's saying a lot. It reminds me of so many of the stories I wrote during my free time throughout my schooling career. Chihiro, although scared and alone - despite being surrounded by other humans as well as an innumerable amount of gods and world spirits manages to find the courage within herself to uncover the mysteries of her foreign surroundings and in the end, win the day. It's Chihiro's fortitude of spirit that makes her one of my favorite animated characters of all time. This movie is a must see for anyone who has ever had dreams of being spirited away to a place where all of our planet's spectral energy goes to take a much needed vacation.

I hope that, by sharing this list, I've alerted you to some of the best films that the legendary Studio Ghibli has to offer. For an animation nut like me, crafting this list has most certainly been an honor. It's my deepest wish that, not only will you echo my enthusiastic sentiments about these fine films, but also that perhaps your eyes have been opened to the glowing achievements that this studio has accomplished during their many years of creating animated adventures, life lessons, and love letters to all who choose to follow them into the unknown. I know within my heart of hearts that Studio Ghibli will return from their sabbatical, and will, with any luck, continue making memorable movies for many years to come. Thank you, Studio Ghibli, for everything.

Extra Tidbit: Unable to cope with the loss of this amazing studio? Be sure to check out THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAYUGA and WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE, both of which will be Studio Ghibli's final feature film releases until things get figured out.
Source: joblo.comign.com

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