the definitive five best studio ghibli films
We look back at the iconic Studio Ghibli film work of the anime visionary Isao Takahata, who died at age 82.
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The Oscar-nominated director and legendary Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata got his start in the animation industry in 1959, when he joined Toei Animation studio after graduating from Tokyo University. There, he met Hayao Miyazaki, kick-starting a decades-long relationship that existed somewhere in the Venn diagram overlap of friends and rivals.
The pair founded Studio Ghibli in 1985, which would go on to produce some of the most revered anime films, known for their intelligent portrayals of fantastical worlds, ones that dig much deeper than your average cartoon. Isao and Hayao received widespread acclaim for their work, igniting imaginations worldwide with the stroke of a pen. In light of Takahata’s passing, we pick five of his films for you to wile away your weekend watching.
1. Grave of the Fireflies , 1988
Undeniably Takahata’s most well-known film, and arguably his best. Based on a semi-autobiographical short story by Akiyuki Nosaka, the film traces two orphans in the wake of a World War II bombing as they struggle to survive. The film, which both fans and critics fell for, is a wrenching exploration of love, loss and war, or as Empire described it, “A devastating heart-stab of a movie.”
2. Only Yesterday, 1991
Following its 1991 release, this became the highest grossing film of the year and enjoys a 100% certified fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. In 2016 it was redubbed with Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel in the lead roles, and further lodged itself in anime fans’ hearts. It’s a tale of homecoming: after spending most of her adult life in Tokyo, 27-year-old Taeko returns to the country, stirring up a whirlwind of memories and self-reflection.
3. Pom Poko, 1994
This film follows a pack of tanuki -- very adorable Japanese raccoon dogs -- as they are pushed out of their home by suburban developers. Despite the very real themes, in this imagining the animals are shape shifters.
4. Heidi, Girl of the Alps , 1974
This one’s actually a TV series, not a film (although a movie cut was released in 1979), but that’s ok because you just have more to binge-watch. Based on a Swiss novel by Johanna Spyri called Heidi's Years of Wandering and Learning, it follows a young girl who, after being orphaned, has to go and live with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps. Initially fairly frosty about her arrival, over the course of the series, Heidi’s charm slowly begins to warm him up. Directed by Takahata, the show utilised a number of noted anime masterminds, including Hayao Miyazaki, who worked on the scene design and screenplay.
5. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, 2013
Takahata’s last film, and one of his most poignant. After all, it was the film he finally received an Oscar nomination for. Based on an old folktale, the story was reinterpreted in watercolour for a modern Ghibli-adoring audience. A tiny girl is discovered by a couple inside a bamboo stalk, before transforming into a beautiful young women. When the bamboo begins to produce gold, the couple relocate the family to live a life of wealth and splendour, which Kaguya grapples with, yearning to return to the countryside. With a budget of US$49.3 million, this is also Japan’s most expensive film to date. Turn Disney off, turn this on.