Friday, 25 August 2017

Every Studio Ghibli Film I Have Seen Reviewed in One Sentence

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind - Pre-Ghibli and has the feel about it of work produced by a man still feeling his feet; I like elements of it but it has never quite grabbed me: 6/10

Laputa: Castle in the Sky
 - The first Miyazaki Ghibli film - feels like he set out to create a blue-print that would almost become cliche by the end of his career: 9/10

Grave of the Fireflies - Slightly (but only slightly) over-rated tea-jerker; I find it a bit too manipulative while recognising its general excellence: 7/10

My Neighbour Totoro - Adorably under-stated modern fairy tale: 9/10

Kiki's Delivery Service - Dubbed versions of films are always terrible and this is doubly so of Ghibli films for some reason; this is the worst culprit - in Japanese it is a charming but throwaway romance; in English it borders on annoying: 7/10 or 4/10

Only Yesterday - The rarest of rare things - a successful film about childhood that is made for grown-ups and depicts childhood accurately: 9/10

Porco Rosso - I've never been able to make my mind up whether this is work of imaginative genius or a good idea in need of a better plot: 7/10

Whisper of the Heart - You'd have to have a heart of stone not to enjoy this film but it is, overall, a little bit too gentle even for somebody who likes understated films: 6/10

Princess Mononoke: Miyazaki's best effort in my view - a really mature, complex and deep story that does genuine justice to the subject matter: 9/10

My Neighbours the Yamadas - This may be my favourite Ghibli film of all from a sentimental perspective, but you may have to have lived in Japan and understand Japanese to really appreciate it; establishes Takahata's artistic vision as far superior and wider in range than Miyazaki Hayao's: 10/10

Spirited Away: You can't possibly argue that this film isn't a great technical and imaginative achievement but I find the denouement slightly perplexing and verging on the disappointing, as with many Miyazaki films: 8/10

Howl's Moving Castle: Beautifully atmospheric curate's egg; there are elements to adore and astound, but I always think of it as somehow less than the sum of its parts: 6/10

Ponyo: As with his first film, this late-era Miyazaki effort is a microcosm of his work - charming, imaginative, complex, beautiful, strange...but with problems of pacing and plot: 8/10

From Up on Poppy Hill: Of great historical curiosity because I lived and worked in and around Yokohama for years, so I have a hard time watching it as just a film; it's like a time capsule in animated form: 7/10

The Wind Rises: I can't decide - is this film the absolute apogee of Miyazaki's artistic and technical genius, in which he raises the bar for animated films forever, or a slightly over-long and even, dare I say it, slightly boring historical epic?: 7/10

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya: This is not just the best Ghibli film of all, but quite probably the best animated film ever made (I'm still not sure I've quite recovered from the weeping wreck it reduced me to at the end) - it's almost as if Takahata watched Miyazaki making The Wind Rises and thought, "You think you're doing something accomplished?": 11/10


  1. Interesting. I still have to watch The Wind Rises and The Tale of Princess Kaguya, but I'm looking forward to it.
    What's the problem with the English dubbing in Kiki's?
    And what did you do in Yokohama? Did you work or study there?

    1. I just think the voice actors in the English dubbed version of Kiki are dreadful. They also change the song she plays on her radio at the beginning, which is a cardinal sin!

      I was an English teacher originally for a couple of years and then I became a legal translator. I lived just down the coast from Yokohama in Chigasaki for 3 and a bit years, but worked in Yokohama, then I moved to a spot on the Den-en-Toshi line called Ichigao, and later just outside Yokohama proper in a posh part of Kawasaki called Saginuma.

    2. I forgot about them changing the song on her radio in the dub, swapping out a very charming kinda folky pop song for a much blander bit of nondescript garbage. Yeah, I'm with ya there.

  2. Agree to 110% about "Princess Kaguya"

  3. totoro is the work of absolute film genius. you try to grasp for some artistic fidelity in a superficial media that only approaches art.

  4. Have you ever seen Castle of Cagliostro? It's Miyazaki in his Toei era but it is well worth checking out.

    I first saw it in the theater at a Cleveland Cinematheque Japanimation festival (that pretty much dates it, ne?) where it was the dark horse of the three movies on offer. (The other two were the forgettable "Lensmen" and the anthology film "Robot Carnival") My brother and I knew nothing about it, but were completely delighted, and it is one of my all time favorite movies, animated or otherwise.

    (Green jacket Lupin III all the way, baby.)

    Porco Rosso and Laputa might not be the best of Ghibli's work but they're the ones that speak to me the most strongly. I guess I just have an intrinsic fondness for scrappy, heart on sleeve adventure yarns.

    The scene in Laputa where the protagonists first begin to explore the flying city is one of those "heart catches in throat from sheer awe" moments that I regularly experience with Ghibli's ouvre. Not many film studios can do that for me.

    Good stuff. :)

    1. I forgot about Lupin III.

      Yeah, there are some bits in Laputa that are incredible. The mood of that film is just amazing.

  5. I pretty much agree with your assessments here... be glad you never saw the Earthsea travesty Miyazaki's son put out, by the way, but if you like the non-Miyazaki Ghibli stuff then I recommend you check out Ocean Waves (海が聞こえる).

    I *would* give lower marks to The Wind Rises, though. Aside from the heavy Miyazakification of the themes and motifs, this supposedly-historical work also mashes together the biographies of two completely distinct people, which destroyed any chance for immersion when I was watching it.

    On a similar note, I feel that the thing that hurt Howl's Moving Castle the most was the need to detach it from the source material. Without the literally-poetic nucleus of the story that you find in the book, it was clearly too difficult a task to get the rest of the story to hold together in adaptation.

  6. You gave such low marks to Howl's Moving Castle and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. I'm not sure I can read your blog anymore.

    In all seriousness, I do have to disagree. Spirited Away had a much worse story than either, and its setting did not capture me in the same was that the moving castle (a cozy little home that can wander the world) or the valley of the winds (a city-state in a fertile valley surrounded by dust deserts and poison jungles, caught up in the wars of plane-riding empires) were able to do. Also, the two are both pretty good inspirations for things to put into a campaign, in my opinion.