When Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli began garnering critical recognition worldwide, the misconception that animation was only for children was challenged. Founded by respected directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, the studio featured whimsical films that captivates with their intricate and colourful art-styles, giving viewers a peek of a wondrous fantasy land. But the more you watch, the more you realise that there is much more than meets the eye. You’ll find that within the magical worlds, there are elements and themes that reflect our reality. In the end, we get a deeper understanding of our own world.
Despite the widespread acclaim, it’s a known fact that Studio Ghibli films are usually hard to come by as they can only be watched on DVD. Seeing how the company’s former distribution deal with Disney excluded merchandising and editing rights, it appears that they’ve been hesitant in licensing out their films and surrendering creative control to foreign distributors. Because of that, it was a shocking delight when news broke that Netflix has acquired the rights to stream Studio Ghibli films. Starting this February, 21 of the studio’s titles will come out on the streaming platform, rolled out over the course of three months, in batches of seven titles at a time. Everything will be there: their multi-awarded masterpieces, and underrated treasures. The only thing we'll miss is the tragic World War II account of Grave of the Fireflies, which sadly won’t be available since its distributing rights are owned by the publisher of the book it was based on.
So once the films start dropping next month, get ready to re-live these iconic Studio Ghibli films on Netflix. Here are some titles we think you definitely must catch when they drop.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Of course, it’s only apt to start your binging with My Neighbor Totoro. Its titular character is Studio Ghibli’s mascot, who is celebrated as one of the most popular anime characters by IGN in 2009. Released in the first batch, the animated feature tells the story of two young sisters, Satsuki and Mei, as they befriend woodland spirits in Post-war rural Japan. It’s a light-hearted film that captures the simple happiness of childhood. My Neighbor Totoro warms the hearts of audiences, no matter their age, and the number of re-watches they have done.
Spirited Away (2001)
We’re talking about Studio Ghibli films you need to catch on Netflix, so the list would most definitely include Spirited Away, which won the Best Animated Feature in the 2003 Oscars. The Japanese animated fantasy film is a coming-of-age story, revolving around 10-year-old Chiharu who unknowingly ventures into a world of spirits. In the film is likened with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chiharu must recover her past and identity, and ultimately save her parents turned into pigs to return to the human world.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Though Princess Mononoke’s central themes have always been relevant, the film’s message has never been more relevant than today when we’re facing a slew of environmental concerns. Set in the late Muromachi period, the film follows a young prince Ashitaka in his quest to cure the curse of a corrupted god. As he goes about his journey, he discovers the disturbances in nature are caused by a conflict between the gods and humans who consume its resources. Despite being wrapped in fantasy, the story is ultimately about the environment and how it is ruined by excessive greed.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
An Academy Awards Nominee for Best Animated Feature, Howl’s Moving Castle was beloved for its breath-taking visuals, as well as Miyazaki’s masterful presentation of the underlying themes. Howl’s Moving Castle revolves around a young lady named Sophie, who is cursed by a witch into a 90-year-old woman. As she leaves home to find a cure, she encounters a wizard named Howl and we learn more about how magic and technology co-exists and how these play a role in an impending war with a neighbouring kingdom. Through its complex characters, the fantasy-steampunk film ultimately depicts war as it is: inhumane and destructive.
Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Aside from the iconic titles, the lesser known ones produced by Studio Ghibli should also be included in your watch list. Those into sentimental stories should stream Whisper of the Heart when it comes in April. The animated film follows the love story between 14-year-olds, Suzuki and Seiji, who work tirelessly towards their dreams of becoming artists. Though not a fantasy film, here, we witness a completely magical world through the novel Suzuki writes, and through the music Seiji’s handcrafted violins create. Whisper of the Heart tugs at the heartstrings as it beautifully depicts the struggles of those who dream.
This is just our top list of Studio Ghibli films on Netflix, but considering the revered studio's reputation, all their other titles would still surely be worth your streaming too. The animated features’ rich narratives will now be easily accessible to audiences worldwide except those in the US, Canada, and Japan. With all of the titles subtitled in 28 languages and dubbed in up to 20 languages, surely, as Producer Toshio Suzuki put it, "more people around the world will discover the world of Studio Ghibli." Now, the power of storytelling can reach more.
Meanwhile, binge on these available Netflix Originals first.