Why is Ghibli way much more than Totoro?

My Neighbor Totoro

For anime lovers there is nothing quite like the cinematic works of art produced by Studio Ghibli. Crafted by a small team of animators that spends years painstakingly designing each amazing frame and bringing an imaginative story of adventure to life. Friendship, resilience, love and bravery are often at the forefront of these hand-drawn frames. Films like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle create a captivating world that allows viewers to dive into an unexpected fantasy world. 

Spirited Away

Image: Studio Ghibli 

Over the last 37 years the Japanese powerhouse Studio Ghibli has been charming moviegoers around the world with phenomenal success. With six of their movies featured in the top ten highest-grossing animated movies made in Japan, and even one movie that became the first non-English-language film to win the Oscar for Best Animated Film. 

Studio Ghibli was first founded by animator extraordinar, screenwriter and manga artist Hayao Miyazaki, Japanese film director Isao Takahata; and producer Toshio Suzuki. Over the years Studio Ghibli has created 22 feature films, several short films and placed themselves firmly in the heart of many both in and outside of Japan. The Ghibli movies for many are the first experience of Japan and the Japanese entertainment industry. Each movie has its own unique and beautiful artistry, compelling storyline and quirky characters. It is no wonder why Studio Ghibli has been so popular for almost 4 decades. 

Howl's Moving Castle

Image: Studio Ghibli 

Ghibli’s most successful movies are hotly debated. Taking in account the overall net grossing of the film and the pure magic and heart that makes Studio Ghibli work iconic, these are the top movies released. Firstly, the studio’s first real success was Kiki's Delivery Service which first screened in 1989, becoming the number one hit in Japanese theaters that year. In 1992, Porco Rosso was released - a story about the power of personal change, was also a winner in theaters. In 1997 we were lucky to have our screens filled with the primary protagonist and strong willed Princess Mononoke. Next in popularity is the 2004 Howl's Moving Castle that provided us with Calcifer - the resident fire demon. 

Then there’s Ponyo, the delightfully sweet movie about friendship and the environment. Now arguably one of the most iconic movies released by Studio Ghibli is Spirited Away, a fulfilling story line filled with imagination and inspiration that provides an immersion into a fantastical world. Although there are so many more classic Ghibli movies that deserve a mention there is no successful anime list complete without including the heartwarming My Neighbor Totoro. Some even say that this film was their gateway into the anime realm and lead them into the fantastical anime world. 

My Neighbor Totoro Gif

Image: Giphy

My Neighbor Totoro has proven to be a rare film that both children and adults find enchanting. The film follows a tale of two sisters adjusting to their new lives in the countryside, through their curiosity they meet a forest spirit who helps them accept their new life. Since the movie's release in 1988 Totoro, the giant, lovable forest spirit has played a major role in integrating itself into Japanese pop culture. Although Totoro doesn't appear often in the movie he truly leaves a lasting impact, along with the mini Totoros and Cat bus. Totoro is a character that viewers can relate to, an imaginary friend that allows an escapism from reality and a character that creates joy and hopefulness. 

When the two sisters Satsuki and Mei meet Totoro they are dealing with the heavy reality of their mother being ill. Whereas other children are afraid of monsters, the dark, storms and being alone the sisters don’t have the luxury of being scared by these. When Totoro comes along on a dark rainy night his presence as an enormous plush toy brings the girls soothingness. His cuddly demeanor, soft furry body and magical connection to nature gives the sisters a pause in their difficult situation. So, it’s easy to see why My Neighbor Totoro and Totoro have become such an icon for Ghibli films. But even with all of this, Ghibli is way much more than just Totoro! 

Castle in the sky

Image: Studio Ghibli 

Ghibli is so much more than just Totoro! Studio Ghibli creates unique storytelling coupled with beautiful visuals often with female protagonists with powerful personalities. Miyazaki’s heroines do not need a “hero” to face their struggles and work to achieve their goals - like in Whisper of the Heart. A film that follows teenger Shizuku Tsukishima on her path to achieve her dream of becoming a writer. Studio Ghibli is incredibly successful by creating films with different narratives. Ghibli movies are empowering and spark joyfulness, happiness and reflection. By defining it just as the Totoro creator almost puts it in a box it does not belong in. 

Studio Ghibli is a movement that touches on so many themes, with other movies that deserve as much limelight as Totoro gets. Take a look at Castle in the Sky, a visual phenomenon that is still so recognizable 30 years later. Castle in the Sky looks at the human relationship with the environment and the greed and selfishness of man. It’s a movie that reflects on the importance of the Earth and protecting it. Studio Ghibli is a trailblazer in the anime industry that has multiple successful movies, all of which have their own strengths and personalities. So, when you’re searching for your next movie night movie, instead of putting on the comfortable My Neighbor Totoro, why not try something one of Miyazaki’s enchanting and mystical films. 

Earwig and the Witch

Image: Studio Ghibli 

Studio Ghibli has almost created a formula that has allowed their films to be so successful over the years. Captivating stories + lovable characters + impeccably designed worlds = world renowned movie triumph. A sure way to create cult classics right? Unfortunately not quite true for Earwig and the Witch. Earwig and the Witch released in 2020 is seen as a failure for the studio. Many factors made the movie fall short of the classic Ghibli styling which plummeted its popularity and evoked harsh criticism. So, why exactly did Earwig and the Witch fail?

The biggest flaw of the film is the plot development, although based on the novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones, it lacks the complexity and fleshed out storylines that we are used to. While watching the movie it feels slightly disjointed with several overarching plot pieces that don't follow through. Almost an hour of the movie’s 82-minutes run time is devoted to storylines that go nowhere. Typically in Ghibli films we are treated to fantastical stories and worlds, but Earwig and the Witch lacks world-building. Beyond the few scenes in the orphanage, the story only takes place in Wig’s adoptive home, robbing us of the immersion of Ghibli’s previous films. 

Another downfall that arose in the film is the noticeably absent usual admirable and likable female leads. In Spirited Away there is confident Chihiro, Howl’s Moving Castle has brave Sophie, but Earwig and the Witch has spoiled Erica. It seems as though all of the characters in this movie are unlikable with no redeemable qualities. Many have eagerly waited for Studio Ghibli to produce their next beautiful heart tugging movie and Earwig and the Witch is not it. Let’s just hope that this was a learning curve, and the next Studio Ghibli movie, How Do You Live, rumored to be released in 2023 will be Miyazaki's fantastical vision. 

Ghibli Museum Mitaka Tokyo Japan

Image: Adobe Stock

If you want to lose yourself in the world of Ghibli and be immersed in true fantasy, the Ghibli Museum is the most mesmerizing and intriguing place to go. ​​The Ghibli Museum is a museum that showcases the artwork of the Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli. Located in Inokashira Park in Mitaka, a western city of Tokyo, Japan, it’s a must go for Ghibli lovers! The museum is a popular destination for both tourists and locals, so make sure you book your tickets beforehand online. 

The museum combines features of a children's museum, technology museum, and a fine arts museum, and is dedicated to the art and technique of animation. It’s an open space that encourages you to follow the flow you feel drawn to, with no pointed map direction, you can let out your inner explorer and enjoy the experience. While you’re exploring you will come across a replica of the Catbus from My Neighbor Totoro, a café, bookstore, rooftop garden, and a theater for exclusive short films by Studio Ghibli. ​​The Ghibli Museum is an absolute must visit and without a doubt will become the highlight of your trip to Japan, just don’t forget to check out the gift shop!

Sugoi Mart Instagram Account

Like any film fanatic acquiring merch is a major highlight, and Ghibli is no different! Donguri Sora is the official Studio Ghibli shop that is the ultimate paradise for everyone young, old and in between. A true sought after Ghibli store where you can find plushies and figurines of all shapes and sizes. You can also find bags, keychains, tableware, accessories and utensils of all kinds and even limited unique seasonal items.

When you head in store you will be surrounded by the most popular Ghibli characters like Totoro, Jiji (Kiki’s cat), Ponyo, the robot from Laputa and Spirited Away’s No-Face. While you spend time walking down the aisles you will be serenaded by the endless soundtracks from Ghibli movies - some say this is what heaven looks like. But, if you’re not in Japan, Sugoi Mart is the best place to be! You have access to Japan only Ghibli items and merch. Take your time, put your favorite Ghibli track on and sit back and enjoy your virtual browsing. 

Spirited Away gif

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.