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Underappreciated Studio Ghibli Movies

Updated: Jul 12, 2022

Studio Ghibli was founded in 1985 by animated film directors Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki and has produced twenty-two feature-length films. Studio Ghibli films have garnered numerous awards and critical acclaim from film critics and animation specialists around the world. Spirites Away was awarded the Golden Bear as the Best Feature Film at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival and won the 2002 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. When Studio Ghibli was first created it broke the mold for animation and shaping the future for animation. The movies created by Studio Ghibli have inspired countless animes and other works: such as Breath of the Wild and ORI AND THE FOREST SPIRIT. Studio Ghibli is a prominent figure in the anime world. Some say that is great and others may have a different opinion. However, Studio Ghibli has proven time after time they are hear to stay. I can’t wait to see what they bring next to the table.

Tales from Earthsea (2006)

  • Directed by Gorō Miyazaki

  • Genres: Adventure, Magic, Fantasy

  • Rating: PG-13

“Calamities are plaguing the land of Earthsea and dragons have been seen fighting above the clouds—something which has never happened before. Sparrowhawk, a powerful Archmage, sets out to uncover the mystery behind these concerning events and meets Prince Arren along the way. Arren is the fugitive heir to the Kingdom of Enlad and a seemingly quiet and distressed lad. Wandering aimlessly in an attempt to escape the dark presence haunting him, he decides to tag along Sparrowhawk on his journey. However, their arrival in the seaside settlement of Hort Town is met with unexpected trouble—Lord Cob, a powerful evil wizard obsessed with eternal life, stands in their way. Forced to confront him, the pair joins forces with Tenar—an old friend of Sparrowhawk—and Therru, the ill-fated orphan girl she took in. But the enemy's cunning hobby of manipulating emotions may just prove to be catastrophic for the young prince.”[Written by MAL Rewrite]

In honesty, this movie is considered a flop and embarrassment to the Studio Ghibli franchisee, however, the hate is undeserved. The movie is based off the book series written by Ursula K. LeGuin. In the defense of this movie, there are many external and internal forces that went into play when this movie was being created. I recommend looking at the YouTube video posted at the bottom for more clarification. When I started this movie, I went into it knowing nothing about the background. I just saw that it was made by Studio Ghibli and was like fuck it, let’s watch it. I personally enjoyed the movie. Although, there were sections that were confusing and a few plot holes, but overall I was entertained the entire way through. The art style has a medieval setting with fantasy elements. The art style is also a bit darker in comparison to the other Ghibli works. This film also does a fantastic job of capturing the raw and turbulent emotions of the characters. We watch them struggle with themselves and the external forces. Like I said before, this movie is considered a flop. However, give it chance with an open mind.

Whisper of the Heart (1995)

  • Directed by Yoshifumi Kondō

  • Genres: Slice of Life, Drama, Romance, Shoujo

  • Rating: G - All Ages

Shizuku Tsukishima is an energetic 14-year-old girl who enjoys reading and writing poetry in her free time. Glancing at the checkout cards of her books one evening, she notices that her library books are frequently checked out by a boy named Seiji Amasawa. Curiosity strikes Shizuku, and she decides to search for the boy who shares her love for literature. Beginning Shizuku’s journey of self-discovery, love, and acceptance.

You might have never heard of Whispers of the Heart but I’m pretty sure you’ll recognize the main character. Whisper of the Heart is a wonderful tale of young love and self-discovery. Whisper of the Heart captures the anxieties that come with adolescences and the struggles of finding your place in the world. The movie does a great job of weaving the elements of fantasy and reality into the movie. However, in comparison to other Studio Ghibli movies, Whisper of the Heart is a bit slow and can seem dull to some viewers. This movie focuses mostly on the teen romance and their dreams, whereas the other movies whisk you away into a fantasy world. This is more of a slice of life and with a bit of melancholy at times. The ending was abrupt and could have been built up more. Even though, the movie targets a younger audience, it is a fun watch for kids and a nostalgic ride for adults. The plot is simple, but that movie has a way of capturing the audience and immersing them into a picturesque world of the characters. The detailing to the characters’ actions adds on to the already realistic anime. The movie does take its sweet time getting started and the ending could have been better. However, this movie does have it charm and has been a staple in the anime world.

Earwig and the Witch (2021)

  • Directed by Gorō Miyazaki

  • Genres: Magic

  • Rating: PG

Not every orphan would love living at St. Morwald's Home for Children, but Earwig does. She gets whatever she wants, whenever she wants it, and it's been that way since she was dropped on the orphanage doorstep as a baby. But all that changes the day Bella Yaga and the Mandrake come to St. Morwald's, disguised as foster parents. Whisked away to house full of magic, Earwigs tale begins.

If you are going into this movie with the idea of watching a movie like Howl's Moving Castle or Spirited Away throw those thoughts out the window. This is Studio Ghibli's first CGI movie. And I have to say it is well done. The music is good, the animation is great, the plot is good and the characters loveable. Although I feel like the plot has a few holes, and the ending was a bit abrupt; I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It was fun and whimsical. A great family movie and a strong foot hold for potential CGI movies to come.

The Wind Rises (2013)

  • Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

  • Genres: Drama, Historical, Fantasy, Romance

  • Rating: PG-13

Jirou Horikoshi dream is to be piolet, however his nearsightedness prevents him from ever becoming a pilot. Leaving his hometown to study aeronautical engineering at Tokyo Imperial University for one simple purpose: to design and build planes. As Jirou strives to fulfill his dreams, he is forced to face the harsh realities of life. Jirou must confront an impossible question: at what cost does he chase his beautiful dream?

The Wind Rises is historical tale of Jirou Horikoshi, the designer of the A6M Zero fighter plane of World War II, or more notoriously known as the kamikaze, planes. These planes were the suicide missions for the Japanese soldiers. Although this movie is presented as a form of biography it loosely follows the Jirou and aviation, but instead it develops into a love story between Jirou and Naoko. The movie is told in a series of flashbacks with dream-like atmosphere. The pacing of the movie is steady, but for some it may seem boring; however, the pacing was done in a very fluid manner it easy to follow along. The characters are charismatic and enjoyable. Although, I feel like the characters do lack a bit emotion in certain situations. The romance in the movie tugs at the heartstrings. Unlike other Studio Ghibli movies were the romance is dream-like and flamboyant; rather The Wind Rises portrays a faint, calm romances that makes you feel happiness. A beautiful and heart-wrenching tale of love blooming through adversity. Furthermore, the usage of watercolors truly brought the movie to life. The artwork is beautifully done, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from Studio Ghibli. Overall, this is wonderful movie that is captivates Hayao Miyazaki’s final film.

Only Yesterday (1991)

  • Directed by Isao Takahata

  • Genres: Slice of Life, Drama, Romance

  • Rating: G

Taeko Okajima is a 27-year-old, independent woman who spent her entire life in Tokyo. Looking to unwind from the rush of the big city, she decides to visit her family in the country to help out during the harvest. Reminiscing about her childhood Taeko vividly meets a young farmer named Toshio. He picks her up at the station, and they quickly develop a friendship. During her stay, Taeko is ponders her life and the choices she has made.

Only Yesterday is movie that respectfully tries to capture the journey of becoming a woman. Originally, Only Yesterday was released as a movie to target women, however, its popularity appealed to men and women. Only Yesterday is a nostalgic and bittersweet, movie of adulthood. Throughout this movie we watch Taeko’s journey as an adult woman coming to terms with her childhood dreams and the person she is today. We can all vouch on how easily it is to fall into the habit of a mundane and repetitive life. We easily forget the dreams and aspirations we had as a child. For example, as a child I dreamed of being a lawyer, vet, chef and many more careers. However, life happens, and we ended up in different parts of life. Only Yesterday tries to capture the reality of life. As we watch the movie, Taeko shows us parts of her childhood she remembers and shapes her. We all have parts of our childhood we remember vividly whether it be good or bad. Moreover, Only Yesterday sticks out in the art style in regards as a Studio Ghibli movie. Unlike the other films that have more flamboyant and fantasy look, Only Yesterday uses more of soft pastel color pallet. The landscapes are done wonderfully and subtly. Overall, this is a great movie to watch. You won’t be disappointed in this movie!

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

  • Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

  • Genres: Adventure, Fantasy

  • Rating: PG-13 - Teens 13 or older

A millennium has passed since the catastrophic nuclear war named the "Seven Days of Fire," which destroyed nearly all life on Earth. Humanity now lives in a constant struggle against the treacherous jungle that has evolved in response to the destruction caused by mankind. Filled with poisonous spores and enormous insects, the jungle spreads rapidly across the Earth and threatens to swallow the remnants of the human race. However, in this dystopian world the farming kingdom known as the "Valley of the Wind” is thriving. Nausicaä, the young princess loves the tranquility of her kingdom. However, their lives are disrupted when an airship from the kingdom of Tolmekia, enters her domain.

Not many know this, but Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was made before Studio Ghibli was founded, it is often considered a Ghibli work. This is a movie most people forget about. However, this where the Studio Ghibli we know, and love started. This movie has heavy subplots and is a bit more violent in comparison to other movies. If you enjoyed Princess Mononoke then you will enjoy this film as well. The strong female protagonist, and the strong nature elements are very apparent. This film takes you into a war torn, dystopian world as the people try to survive. We see the raw emotion from the characters, the decay and toxic environment left behind by humanity but as well as the beauty in the dystopia. For a movie made in the 80s, it is testimonial to the animation and storyline they had. This is phenomenal movie that will not disappoint.

Castle in the Sky (1986)

  • Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

  • Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Romance, Sci-Fi

  • Rating: PG – Children

“In a world filled with planes and airships, Sheeta is a young girl who has been kidnapped by government agents who seek her mysterious crystal amulet. While trapped aboard an airship, she finds herself without hope—that is, until the ship is raided by pirates. Taking advantage of the ensuing confusion, Sheeta manages to flee from her captors. Upon her escape, she meets Pazu, a boy who dreams of reaching the fabled flying castle, Laputa. The two decide to embark on a journey together to discover this castle in the sky. However, they soon find the government agents back on their trail, as they too are trying to reach Laputa for their own greedy purposes.” [MAL Review]

Castle in the Sky is movie lost and forgotten over time. This an amazing movie that gave life to the Studio Ghibli. This film was made about 35 years ago, however, it is a timeless classic. The movie takes you away into a world of fantasy. As kids we have heard, cities in the skies, and Hayao Miyazaki takes you to that city. This film set the standard in regard to what animation should be. The characters are charismatic and compelling. The story line is solid for a movie made in the 80s. This is movie that broke expectations. If I were to compare it to a film today it would be the Demon Slayer: Mugen Train Movie. The hopes and expectations many anime fans had were blow away and that is how many anime fans felt when this movie came out. This is a foundation for Studio Ghibli and many other anime films. This an extraordinary movie to check out!

From Up On Poppy Hill (2011)

  • Directed by Gorō Miyazaki

  • Genres: Historical, Romance, School, Shoujo

  • Rating: G - All Ages

“Not everything that glitter is gold”

In the midst of the 1964 Summer Olympics a wave of out with the old and in with the new has swept across the nation. Umi Matsuzaki a young girl shouldered with the responsibilities of the household and family. Shun Kazama a young man and member of the journalism club with a strong sense of justice and pride. Umi and Shun try to preserve their culture and history of an old clubhouse. They fight to keep the history in era of change. How will the two young fates intertwine?

This is beautiful tale of young love. This was a very light-hearted and heartwarming movie. Studio Ghibli has given us another fantastic anime movie with its impressive scenery, catchy music, engaging story, and personable characters. This is one of my personal favorite movies. I own the DVD and will always recommend it to some. This is not your typical Studio Ghibli movie, where we are taken to a fantasy world or were, we meet supernatural being but instead discover young love. Up From On Poppy Hill, has beautiful art, consistent and vibrant animation, complementing stories and characters with either a whole lot of heart or charm and sometimes both. However, these characters are not rich, complex or have depth; they are simple and plain, like any high school student. We do not get the passionate, vibrant romance we see sometimes in anime but instead we have a subtle, young romance. We see two young teen slowly fan for each other and complexities of young love. The artwork is fantastic! If you are aware of Studio Ghibli’s art, then you know it will be gorgeous. Overall, this a wonderful movie to watch.


“About Studio Ghibli.” Studio Ghibli, GKIDS,

Any-Mation, director. Hayao Miyazaki | The Mind of a Master. YouTube, YouTube, 16 July 2020,

Byford, Sam. “Where to Start with Studio Ghibli.” The Verge, The Verge, 2 June 2020,

O'Connell, Joe, director. Tales from Earthsea - The Power of a Name. YouTube, Beyond Ghibli, 25

Dec. 2018,

“Studio Ghibli.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 June 2021,


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