The Wind Rises, the new film from legendary Japanese animation masters Studio Ghibli, comes to DVD and Blu-Ray next Monday (September 29).
The film is a fictionalised biography of Japanese fighter pilot designer Jiro Horikoshi. Vision problems prevent him becoming a pilot, so he joins the aircraft division of a major Japanese engineering company instead. His passion for planes and talent are quickly spotted and soon enough he’s on his way to becoming one of the world’s greatest aeroplane designers.
We follow Jiro throughout his life, and the major events that happened to Japan whilst he was working - The Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, The Great depression and the tuberculosis epidemic, through to Japan entering World War II. Alongside all this Jiro grows up, falls in love, makes friends and changes the world of aviation forever.
The Wind Rises is the final film from Ghibli’s main man Hayao Miyazaki, with the Ghibli co-founder recently announcing his retirement from directing. It is may even be the final release from Studio Ghibli as a whole, if rumours are to be believed – the official line from the studio is that that it is only taking a temporary hiatus, but they currently don’t have any more animated features in production.
If that is the case, at least we have the wonderful body of world they’ve produced over the last 30 years to look back on. Here’s our pick of their ten best movies – pick up The Wind Rises on September 29, and see how it compares to this lot…
The Secret World Of Arrietty
For the uninitiated, Arrietty actually makes a great introduction to Studio Ghibli, as it adapts a story already well known in the West - The Borrowers, Mary Norton’s novels about little people who live below the floorboards. Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi expertly creates and epic sense of scale between little Arrietty and the ‘big people’, and there’s some unbearably tense scenes as she tries to avoid their detection.
The Cat Returns
A spin-off from the less remembered Whisper Of The Heart, The Cat Returns starts with awkward teenager Haru saving a cat from being run over. Little does she know that he was actually prince of the Cat Kingdom, and as a reward she is now officially betrothed him! And not just that, she finds herself slowly turning into a cat… ! It’s a smaller film that most Ghibli, but the inhabitants of the Cat Kingdom (including bodyguard cats in with tuxedo-like fur and the morbidly obese Cat King), are infinitely delightful.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Technically this isn’t a Studio Ghibli film, as it was produced before they were officially formed. Yet it was the success of Nausicaa that allowed Hayao Miyazaki, along with fellow director Isao Takahata and produce Toshio Suzuki, to create the studio, and the film has since been followed into the Ghibli cannon. Based on Miyazaki’s own comic series, it’s follows warrior princess Nausicaa through a post-apocalyptic future full of toxic jungles and giant insects.
Kiki's Delivery Service
Based on the children’s book by Eiko Kadono, Kiki’s Delivery Service follows young witch Kiki as she leaves home to set up her own flying-broom courier service in the big city. Accompanying her is her faithful wise-cracking black cat Jiji, who is hilariously voiced by the late Phil Hartman (Troy McClure in The Simpsons) in the English release, making it one of the few times the dubbed version is preferable to the subtitled Japanese original.
An oriental take on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, it focuses on five-year-old Sosuke and his magical pet goldfish Ponyo, who wants to be a real human girl. It’s definitely a film aimed at a younger audience, but when the tidal wave action scenes hit it is as epic as anything else in the Studio Ghibli catalogue. It also has one of the catchiest theme tunes ever, so prepare to have be singing “Ponyo, Ponyo, Ponyo…” for days to come.
Howl’s Movie Castle
After the worldwide success of international breakthrough Spirited Away, all eyes were on Miyazaki’s next film. His follow-up was an adaptation of English writer Diana Wynne Jones’ fantasy novel, and it did not disappoint. It’s the epic story of a young girl cast into the body of an old woman, and her adventures on the titular moving castle trying to break the curse and get back to her original age.
Hayao Miyazaki has always been fascinated with aeroplanes and flight, and the flying sequences of Kiki’s Delivery Service, Castle In The Sky and The Wind Rises are amongst the most spectacular of his career. The greatest expression of his obsession however is Porco Rosso, a barmy but thrilling tale of an Italian World War I fighter ace who is turned into a pig due to a mysterious curse. It’s a wacky, spectacular adventure, which also has a surprising amount of pathos that you would expect fro the strange set-up.
My Neighbour Totoro
A beautiful, simple story that proves how much you can say whilst doing very little. While their mother is in the hospital with an unspecified illness, sisters Satsuki and Mei move with their father to an old house to be closer to where she is recovering. Whilst exploring the surrounding fields, Mei encounters the strange Totoro, a big, cuddly rabbit-like magical creature. Not much else happens, but it’s a subtly moving and occasionally heart-breaking story about childhood, family and imagination.
Grave Of The Fireflies
Originally released in a double bill with My Neighbour Totoro, Ghibli co-founder’s Isao Takahata’s most well-known film is unusual for the studio’s productions as it does not feature any supernatural or fantastic elements. Instead, it’s the story of two young brothers struggling to survive during the firebombing of Kobe at the end of World War II. It’s a powerful anti-war message and easily one of the saddest movies ever made, animated or otherwise.
Hayao Miyazaki finally broke through to Western audiences with this enchanting and slightly creepy fairytale. Ten-year-old Chirio finds herself lost and alone in a magical realm full of monsters and witches, and her parents are mysteriously transformed into farmyard animals. Can she muster the courage to escape the spirit world and return her family to normal? The film creates incredible images of creatures beyond your wildest imagination, and deservedly won the 2002 Oscar for Best Animated Film.