10 Anime Films You Should Watch If You Like Studio Ghibli

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2016 has been a paramount year for Studio Ghibli. In May, a UK studio called Fire Panda recreated Oculus and Vive-compatible VR scenes from three of Studio Ghibli’s most well-known classics. The legendary animation studio premiered a prize-winning short, dialogue-free film titled The Red Turtle the same month, in collaboration with Dutch-British animator Michaël Dudok de Witis at the Cannes Film Festival. However, it wasn’t all good news. On October 7, Michiyo Yasuda, a key animator and color designer for Ghibli (as well as Toei Animation, A Production, Nippon Animation and Topcraft) passed away at the age of 77.

The fortuitous film studio was founded by Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki, Isao Takahata and Yasuyoshi Tokuma in 1985 after the success of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984). Its works are often characterized by themes such as environmentalism, childhood, pacifism, feminism, and the absence of traditional villains. Many of the studio’s films feature strong, highly capable female protagonists that negate conventional gender roles in Japanese fiction and animation. On top of the brilliant animation and imaginative worlds, music is also a vital element in Ghibli’s works thanks to the masterful original compositions of Joe Hisaishi et al. Eight of their movies rank among the 15 highest-grossing anime films in Japan, with Spirited Away (2001) sitting at the number one spot. They were international successes as well; five of Ghibli’s films received Academy Award nominations in the U.S. while Spirited Away won an Oscar award for Best Animated feature in 2003.

Not only has Ghibli amassed an enormous amount of fans all over the world, its unique themes, storytelling and animation styles are have also had an influence on many subsequent filmmakers and animators. Luckily, Ghibli isn’t the only studio capable of making excellent films that utilize this slice-of-life or fantasy approach. Although the ingenuity of Miyazaki, Takahata and its other directors can never be replicated, there are many other non-Ghlibli films that are almost or just as magnificent. Some of these movies utilize the talents of former Ghibli employees; others draw heavy stylistic inspiration from the studio’s themes and style. One might even point out Porter Robinson and Madeon’s recent A-1 Pictures & Crunchyroll-assisted “Shelter” short film for drawing influence from Ghibli’s aesthetic and storytelling style. Check out some of our favorite non-Ghibli (but Ghibli-influenced) films below.

5 Centimeters per Second

Similar to: Only Yesterday, When Marnie Was There and Whisper of the Heart
Japanese title: 秒速5センチメートル (Byōsoku Go Senchimētoru)
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Studio: CoMix Wave Inc.
Genre: Romance
Release date: March 3, 2007

Makoto Shinkai is often regarded as the “new Miyazaki” for his ability to conjure up mindscapes that equal or even surpass Miyazaki’s in detail and emotion. Many consider 5 Centimeters Per Second to be Shinkai’s most defining piece of work. The title derives from the speed at which cherry blossoms petals fall — petals are a metaphorical representation of humans, and the falling entails how people start life together but slowly drift into their separate paths. The story follows a boy named Takaki Tōno and his love interest Akari Shinohara in 1990s and 2000s Japan. Unlike his films prior, there is no fantasy or science fiction element in the film. Rather, the 5cm presents real world struggles that real-life humans experience, addressing themes like time, space, people and love. 5 Centimeters Per Second was awarded the Best Animated Feature Film at the 2007 Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

A Letter to Momo

Similar to: Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away
Japanese title: ももへの手紙 (Momo e no Tegami)
Director: Hiroyuki Okiura
Studio: Production I.G
Genre: Fantasy
Release date: September 10, 2011

A Letter to Momo is Hiroyuki Okiura’s first film in 11 years after his critically-acclaimed 1999 film Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade. The story follows Momo Miyaura and her mother Ikuko who travel from Tokyo to the Seta Inland Sea after the death of Momo’s father Kazuo. During her stay there, three droplets from the sky enter Ikuko’s house and transforms into yokai (supernatural monsters, spirits and demons in Japanese folklore) named Kawa, Mame and Iwa. While Momo was originally fearful and distrusting of the yokai, they soon become friends and help each other out. The film grossed for a total of $6.75 million USD worldwide and won 14th Future Film Festival Italy’s Future Film Platinum Grand Priz. It was also nominated for awards at the 27th Warsaw International Film Festival, 31st Hawaii International Film Festival and the 41st Annie Awards.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices

Similar to: Castle in the Sky, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Spirited Away
Japanese title: 星を追う子ども (Hoshi o Ou Kodomo)
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Studio: CoMix Wave Films
Genre: Fantasy
Release date: June 25, 2012

Also known as Journey to Agartha in the UK, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is the followup to Makoto Shinkai’s received 5 Centimeters per Second. The film — his longest to date — is a coming-of-age story which follows a young girl named Asuna Watase discovering and venturing into a mysterious world of the dead. Brimming with adventure, action and light romance, its theme surround the concept of saying “farewell” and the sacrifices required to accept it. Asuna gets attacked by monstrous creatures, rescued by strangers and pursued by a merciless enemy while she is led to discovery a centuries-old secret to life. Many critics and fans alike herald the film as Shinkai’s best, alongside the likes of 5 cm and Garden of Words.

Giovanni’s Island

Similar to: Grave of the Fireflies, Porco Rosso and The Wind Rises
Japanese title: ジョバンニの島 (Joban’ni no Shima)
Director: Mizuho Nishikubo
Studio: Production I.G
Genre: History
Release date: February 22, 2014

The film makes frequent references to Kenji Miyazawa’s Night on the Galactic Railroad and borrows its title name from that of the book’s protagonist. The story takes place shortly after World War II and follows two biological brothers, Junpei and Kanta, who live on the island of Shikotan. Soviet soldiers occupy the island on August 1945, forcing Junpei, Kanta, their family and neighbors to move to the stables while the Russian commander’s family reside in the main house. Tanya, the commander’s daughter, and the other Russian children begin to mingle with the Japanese children at recess, and Junpei becomes friends with Tanya. The film has received many prizes, including Excellence Award at 18th Japan Media Arts Festival in 2014 and the Best Animation Film prize at the 69th Mainichi Film Awards the same year.

Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light

Similar to: Arrietty, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away
Japanese title: 蛍火の杜へ (Hotarubi no Mori e)
Director: Takahiro Omori
Studio: Brain’s Base
Genre: Romance/fantasy
Release date: September 17, 2011

Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light is originally a one-shot shōjo manga written by Yuki Midorikawa. The plot follows a six-year-old girl named Hotaru Takegawa who gets lost in a forest where a yamagami (mountain spirit) and yōkai dwell. A mask-wearing human-like entity named Gin meets her and tells Hotaru that he will disappear forever if he is touched by a human. Despite the limitations on their interactions, they become friends and go on adventures together. Unlike many other films on this list, this anime had a very small staff because it was a very short and was produced domestically. Midway through production, the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami struck Japan but the production crew continued to work on the film. The team wished for the film to help assuage the country after its recover. It won a few prizes including the Animation Film Award at the 66th Annual Mainichi Film Awards and was a domestic success.

The Boy and the Beast

Similar to: My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Tales from Earthsea
Japanese title: バケモノの子 (Bakemono no Ko)
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Studio: Studio Chizu
Genre: Action/adventure/fantasy
Release date: July 11, 2015

The Boy and the Beast is Mamoru Hosoda latest film, following the release of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006), Summer Wars (2009) and Wolf Children (2012.) The plot follows nine-year-old Ren who recently lost his mother, whom he has resided with since his parents’ divorce. Since he is unable to find his father and does not want to live with his legal guardians, the protagonist escapes to Shibuya’s streets to be on his own. Meanwhile, a beast named Kumatetsu meets Ren and takes him to be his disciple and brings him back to the Beast Kingdom. The film was Japan’s second highest-grossing film in 2015, with a total box office gross of $48.6 million USD. It also won Animation of the Year at the 37th Japan Academy Prizes.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Similar to: Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ocean Waves and Spirited Away
Japanese title: 時をかける少女 (Toki wo Kakeru Shōjo)
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Studio: Madhouse
Genre: Science fiction/romance
Release date: July 15, 2006

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is the third major film directed by Mamoru Hosoda, his infamous 2000 flick Digimon: The Movie and One Piece’s Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island. The film is a loose sequel to Yasutaka Tsutsui’s 1967 novel of the same name and revolves around a young girl named Makoto Konno who achieves the ability to time travel and uses the time-leaps to fix problems. The film was released to a small number of theaters in Japan and received limited advertising unlike many other animation features. It was ultimately positive reviews and word of mouth that helped generate interest. The movie won many awards including the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year, Sitges Film Festival’s Best Animated Film and Nihon SF Taisho Award’s Grand Prize.

The Garden of Words

Similar to: From Up on Poppy Hill, Only Yesterday, When Marnie Was There, Whisper of the Heart
Japanese title: 言の葉の庭 (Kotonoha no Niwa)
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Studio: CoMix Wave Films
Genre: Romance
Release date: April 28, 2013

Makoto Shinkai’s followup to Children Who Chase Lost Voices focuses on an aspiring 15-year-old shoemaker named Takao Akizuki and Yukari Yukino, a 27-year-old woman. The two often meet at Shinjuku Gyoen national Garden on rainy mornings: Takao is skipping morning classes to design shoes while Yukino is avoiding work to to personal problems at work. Shinkai wrote the The Garden of Words as a story of “lonely sadness,” which is poetically based off of the traditional Japanese word for “love.” The shoe as a metaphor for life, and Shinkai wished to show through the movie that adults are sometimes no more mature than teenagers because of how awkward and disconnected the growing process is. Though running only 46 minutes long, the film was selected as Year’s Best Animation in iTunes’s Best of 2013 list and won the 2013 Kobe Theatrical Film Award, as well as awards at the Fantasia International Film Festival and the Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film.

Wolf Children

Similar to: Ponyo, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away
Japanese title: おおかみこどもの雨と雪 (Ōkami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki)
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Studio: Studio Chizu and Madhouse
Genre: Fantasy
Release date: June 25, 2012

Wolf Children is Mamoru Hosoda’s second latest film, succeeding the critically acclaimed Summer Wars and preceding The Boy and the Beast. The plot follows a young mother named Hana who raises two half-human half-wolf children, Ame and Yuki, after their werewolf father gets killed while hunting food for his children. To make Hana’s single mother life more challenging, Yuki and Ame constantly switch between their human and wolf forms, and Hana ultimately has to hide them from the rest of the world. In order to make this film, Hosoda founded Studio Chizu, which co-produced Wolf Children with Madhouse. Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, a character designer for anime classics Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (1990) and Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995), designed the film’s characters for the film.

Your Name

Similar to: From Up on Poppy Hill, When Marnie Was There, Whisper of the Heart
Japanese title: 君の名は。(Kimi no Na wa.)
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Studio: CoMix Wave Films
Genre: Science fiction/fantasy
Release date: July 3, 2016

Your Name is Makoto Shinkai’s latest feature film and is inspired by a novel of the same title written by Shinkai himself. The plot follows a high school girl named Mitsuha Miyamizu living in the town of Itomori who is discontented with her life in the countryside and wishes to be a Tokyo boy in her next life. Her dream came true sooner than expected; next morning she switched bodies with Taki Tachibana, a high school boy living in Tokyo. Time passes and they become so accommodated to the body swap and start intervening in each other’s lives but soon, Taki realizes that his and Mitusha’s timelines were out of sync the whole time. Your Name has won numerous awards including 49th Sitges Film Festival’s Best Animated Feature Length Film prize and 60th BFI London Film Festival Best Film prize. The film was number one on its opening weekend at the Japanese box office, and as of October 15, its total domestic gross reached $146 million USD.

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