The Ultimate Studio Ghibli Film Guide: 2011-2014

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The Ultimate Studio Ghibli Film Guide:
1984 - 1989 | 1991 - 1994 | 1995 - 1999 | 2000 - 2004 | 2005 - 2010 | 2011 - 2015

By 2010 Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli1 had truly established itself as being at the forefront of traditional cel-animated magical films, becoming the first studio to win the Best Animated Film Oscar for a film not originally in English for their phenomenal film Spirited Away (2001). The studio had been founded by two animators, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, alongside producer Toshio Suzuki. Since 2005 Studio Ghibli had been an independent film studio and their reputation ensured that their films were seen worldwide.

Studio Ghibli films emphasise themes of belonging to one's environment, peace, magic, hard work, wonder, flight, strong and wise elderly women and determined young girls. The spirituality of all living things, as emphasised in Shinto polytheistic beliefs and customs, is particularly significant; all animal and plant life is respected. Heroes use environmentally methods of transport, travelling on important journeys by train while those who cycle can be relied upon. Other key themes include transformation and heroines often share a magical flying experience with their heroes. Recuperation and taking time to take stock of you place in life is also vital.

Miyazaki is a Europhile, and many of his films have European features. This includes both architecture and aircraft. Art nouveau and vehicles from the 1920s-1950s are strong artistic influences and frequently appear, with novels from that period also likely to be adapted.

Studio Ghibli's success was now marked with uncertainty; both Takahata and Miyazaki were growing older and new directors were needed if the studio were to continue. At the start of this period it seemed that they had finally found two new directors who were capable of making films in the Ghibli style who both returned to make more films alongside a film each directed by both Miyazaki and Takahata.

The Films

Below is a summary of Studio Ghibli's films during this period. Also mentioned is whether the films pass the Bechdel Test. This can be summarised as whether the film involves two or more named female characters who have a conversation together that does not focus on one or more men. As well as the original Japanese actors to voice each character, the English actors are also listed.

18. From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)

DirectorGorō Miyazaki
PlotIn the time leading up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, 16-year-old Umi Marsuzaki is balancing running a boarding house on Poppy Hill with studying at Yokohama's Konan Academy. She also raises maritime signal flags up her home's mast each day in memory of her deceased father. At school she encounters and befriends Shun Kazama, who runs the school's newsletter. Yet the school's clubhouse, the 100-year-old dilapidated Latin Quarter building, is about to be demolished much to the anger of those who use it. Umi and Shun spearhead the campaign to restore and save it. As Umi and Shun develop strong feelings for each other how will their relationship survive the revelation that Shun is apparently Umi's long-lost brother?
Length88 minutes
Setting1964 Yokohama, Japan
Dramatis Personæ
  • Umi Matsuzaki, 16-year-old schoolgirl who lives with her grandmother on Poppy Hill (Japanese: Masami Nagasawa, English: Sarah Bolger)
  • Shun Kazama, 17-year-old orphaned schoolboy with a secret past and love interest (Japanese: Junichi Okada, English: Anton Yelchin)
  • Miki Hokuto, lodger studying to be a doctor (Japanese: Yuriko Ishida, English: Gillian Anderson)
  • Akio Kazama, Shun's adopted father (Japanese: Nao Ōmori, English: Chris Noth)
  • Shirō Mizunuma, Shun's best friend (Japanese: Shunsuke Kazama, English: Charlie Saxton)
  • Chief Director Tokumaru, school's governor (Japanese: Teruyuki Kagawa, English: Beau Bridges)
  • Hana Matsuzaki, Umi's matriarchal grandmother who runs boarding house (Japanese: Keiko Takeshita, English: Edie Mirman)
  • Ryoko Matsuzaki, Umi's absent mother studying medicine in the US (Japanese: Jun Fubuki, English: Jamie Lee Curtis)
  • Sora Matsuzaki, Umi's sister (Japanese: Haruka Shiraishi, English: Isabelle Fuhrman)
  • Riku Matsuzaki, Umi's 11-year-old brother (Japanese: Tsubasa Kobayashi, English: Alex Wolff & Raymond Ochoa)
  • Sachiko Hirokouji, art student boarder (Japanese: Rumi Hiiragi, English: Aubrey Plaza)
InspirationManga Coquelicot-zaka kara ('From Coquelicot2 Hill') by Tetsurō Sayama and Chizuru Takahashi (1980)
English Release2013

A stronger and much more coherent film by Goro Miyazaki than his 2006 debut Tales From Earthsea, with the mystery of a father lost during the Korean War who may well prove to be the shared father of the two protagonists. Both main characters go to school at Konan Academy, where presumably they are taught how to be barbarians – the school's plan to demolish a historic building certainly seems barbaric.

The film has several key Ghibli themes. Umi is a hardworking girl who is seen preparing food and washing the clothes of all those around her, and she falls in love with Shun, a boy who is frequently seen riding a bicycle in a trait shared with other Ghibli heroes. Umi's grandmother is particularly wise and the head of the household, showing the importance of elderly women in these films, and Umi's life is improved for the better when she follows her advice. Yet no major moment in the journey through life could take place unless it was accompanied by a corresponding train journey, and naturally enough Umi and Shun declare their love at a train station.

The film takes place near a port, a common location in Ghibli films, with many ships visible. One in particular carrying a plaque labelled 'Ghibli' beneath the bridge.

19. The Wind Rises (2013)

DirectorHayao Miyazaki
PlotUnable to be a pilot because of his eyesight but in love with aircraft, Jiro dedicates his life to designing them after having a dream featuring designer Giovanni Caproni. On his journey to study aeronautical engineering in Tokyo he rescues a young girl, Naoko, on a train during the 1923 Kanto Earthquake. In 1927 he begins work for Mitsubishi designing aircraft, unimpressed with how backwards Japan's aircraft industry is. After initial disasters and a trip to Germany's Junkers factory, where he meets Hugo Junkers himself, Jiro is inspired to design an aircraft for the Japanese Imperial Navy in 1929. After this too fails he goes to a resort to rest, where he is reunited with Naoko, who has incurable tuberculosis. With Naoko's love and support Jiro is able to design one of the Mitsubishi A5M, followed by one of the greatest aircraft of all time, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero.
Length120 minutes
SettingJapan 1918-1935, also a short visit to Germany in 1929
Dramatis Personæ
  • Jiro Horikoshi, talented aircraft designer (Japanese: Hideaki Anno, Child: Kaichi Kaburagi, English: Adult: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Child: Zach Callison)
  • Naoko Satomi, love interest dying of tuberculosis (Japanese: Adult: Miori Takimoto, Child: Mayu Iino, English: Adult: Emily Blunt, Child: Madeleine Rose Yen)
  • Kiro Honjo, Jiro's best friend and bomber designer (Japanese: Hidetoshi Nishijima, English: John Krasinski)
  • Mr Kurokawa, Jiro and Kiro's boss at Mitsubishi (Japanese: Masahiko Nishimura, English: Martin Short)
  • Hans Castorp, German tourist (Japanese: Stephen Alpert, English: Werner Herzog)
  • Mr Satomi, Naoko's father (Japanese: Morio Kazama, English: William H. Macy)
  • Mrs Horikoshi, Jiro's mother (Japanese: Keiko Takeshita, English: Edie Mirman)
  • Kayo Horikoshi, Jiro's sister (Japanese: Adult: Mirai Shida, Child: Maki Shinta, English: Adult: Mae Whitman, Child: Eva Bella)
  • Hattori, Chief if Mitsubishi Korkuuki (Japanese: Jun Kunimura, English: Mandy Patinkin)
  • Mrs Kurokawa, Mr Kurokawa's wife (Japanese: Shinobu Otake, English: Jennifer Grey)
  • Giovanni Battista Caproni, Italian aircraft designer (Japanese: Nomura Mansai, English: Stanley Tucci)
AircraftNumerous, including:

Caproni: Caproni Ca.60 Noviplano

Junkers: G.38

Mitsubishi: 1MF10, A5M, A6M Zero
English Release2014
InspirationNovel The Wind Has Risen (1937) by Tatsuo Hori and diaries of Jiro Horikoshi

This is a cross between a fictional story based on a 1930s novel combined with the real events that led to the creation of one of the greatest aircraft of the Second World War. Essentially the world events and aircraft are based on real life, yet Jiro's domestic life is all a work of fiction. As the film shows, Japan's 1920s aircraft industry was far behind that of Europe and the USA yet despite this managed to create the war's supreme carrier-based fighter aircraft. While the fact that this aircraft was used to attack and invade other countries, resulting in terrible loss of life, cannot be underestimated, in terms based purely on design it is a masterpiece of engineering3.

The designer obsessed with creating the ultimate aircraft frequently experiences dreams featuring Caproni, the founder of the aircraft company that designed the Caproni Ca.309 Ghibli aircraft that the studio is named after. The Wind Rises contains many of Miyazaki's themes, including trains symbolising key parts of an individual's journey through life; Jiro meets Naoko on a train and ultimately she is last seen catching a train too. Tuberculosis is another key theme, with films involving characters recuperating from this disease featuring in The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There and it being likely that this is the unknown disease the mother in My Neighbour Totoro may be recuperating from.

This film was long held to be Hayao Miyazaki's last and, when completed, was followed by his announcing his retirement (again).

20. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

DirectorIsao Takahata

A humble bamboo cutter finds a perfectly proportioned, miniature living girl inside a bamboo shoot. He and his wife decide to raise her as their own daughter and she quickly grows into a normal-sized baby, then a quickly-growing child. Having also found gold and rich cloth where he found her, the bamboo cutter believes it is his duty to raise her as a proper princess. The family leave the countryside where she had been happy to live in a palace in the city.

There the girl looses her freedom but soon grows to become a beautiful young woman who all wish to marry. Confined indoors and haunted by a nursery rhyme, can she realise who she really is, be forced to marry against her will or otherwise be confined to a life chosen for her by others?

Length137 minutes
SettingFeudal Japan
Dramatis Personæ
  • Princess Kaguya, princess from the Moon found on Earth (Japanese: Aki Asakura, English: Adult: Chloë Grace Moretz, Child: Caitlyn Leone)
  • Sanuki no Miyatsuko, bamboo cutter who finds Kaguya as a baby (Japanese: Takeo Chii, English: James Caan)
  • Ōna, Sanuki's wife who raises Kaguya as her own daughter (Japanese: Nobuko Miyamoto, English: Mary Steenburgen)
  • Sutemaru, Kaguya's childhood friend (Japanese: Kengo Kora, English: Darren Criss)
  • Lady Sagami, Kaguya's etiquette teacher (Japanese: Atsuko Takahata, English: Lucy Liu)
  • Menowarawa, Kaguya's friend in the city (Japanese: Tomoko Tabata, English: Hynden Walch)
  • Inbe no Akita, Royal Official who names Kaguya (Japanese: Tatekawa Shinosuke, English: George Segal)
  • Prince Ishitsukuri, royal suitor (Japanese: Takaya Kamikawa, English: James Marsden)
  • Lord Minister of the Right Abe, royal official suitor (Japanese: Hikaru Ijūin, English: Oliver Platt)
  • Great Counselor Otomo, royal official suitor (Japanese: Ryudo Uzaki, English: Daniel Dae Kim)
  • The Mikado, royal suitor (Japanese: Nakamura Shichinosuke II, English: Dean Cain)
  • Prince Kuramochi, royal suitor (Japanese: Isao Hashizume, English: Beau Bridges)
  • Middle Counselor Isonokami, royal official suitor (Japanese: Tamaki Kojo, English: John Cho)
English Release2014

This Oscar-nominated film's visual style was intended to resemble tradition Japanese watercolours. At time of production it was the most expensive Japanese anime film yet made, and is also by far the longest Studio Ghibli film. Sadly it would prove to be Ghibli co-founder Takahata's final film before his death in 2018. The titular character's full name is Nayotake no Kaguya-Hime, which means 'bright and glowing princess from the mountains'. The story is an adaptation of a tenth century Japanese story titled The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter about a humble and childless bamboo cutter who finds a tiny baby inside a bamboo stalk who grows up to be extraordinarily beautiful and is wooed by all who encounter her, before it is revealed that she comes from the Moon. This has been called the first science-fiction story.

21. When Marnie Was There (2014)

DirectorHiromasa Yonebayashi

When 12-year-old introverted and detached orphan Anna has an asthma attack, her foster mother sends her to escape from city life and convalesce with her foster family's remote relatives in a rural village adjacent to marshland. Anna has felt completely numb, unwilling to trust or believe anything since she discovered that her foster-mother receives a government subsidy for her upkeep, yet feels strangely drawn to an old, abandoned house next to the swamp. There at the Marsh House she meets Marnie, a young girl who lives there neglected by her parents who are usually away, bullied by her nanny and servants. Yet is Marnie real, or all a product of Anna's dreams? When Anna spends time with Marnie she is taught how to row, how to dance and how to live life again – yet she then wakes up, finding herself having been lying unconscious in the countryside. Is Marnie an imaginary friend, a product of a fevered mind? Yet when a new family move into the Marsh House, Sayaka, the young girl who has Marnie's room, finds a diary written by Marnie and by reading this Sayaka is led to rescue Anna from lying unconscious in a severe storm.

What is the truth behind Marnie? Can she help Anna find her place in the world?

Length103 minutes
SettingInitially city of Sapporo, predominantly fictional seaside village of Kissakibetsu in Hokkaido's Kushiro wetlands
Dramatis Personæ
  • Anna Sasaki, 12-year-old orphan convalescing in the countryside (Japanese: Sara Takatsuki, English: Hailee Steinfeld)
  • Marnie, Anna's possibly imaginary friend living in the Marsh House (Japanese: Kasumi Arimura, English: Child: Taylor Autumn Bertman, Adult: Kiernan Shipka)
  • Sayaka Doi, 11-year-old girl who moves into the Marsh House (Japanese: Hana Sugisaki, English: Ava Acres)
  • Hisako, artist who grew up near the Marsh House (Japanese: Hitomi Kuroki, English: Adult: Vanessa Williams, Child: Mila Brener)
  • Yoriko Sasaki, Anna's foster-mother (Japanese: Nanako Matsushima, English: Geena Davis)
  • Setsu Oiwa, Yoriko's relative who looks after Anna over the summer (Japanese: Toshie Negishi, English: Grey Griffin)
  • Kiyomasa Oiwa, Setsu's husband who does woodcraft (Japanese: Susumu Terajima, English: John C. Reilly)
InspirationWhen Marnie Was There (1967) by Joan G Robinson
English Release2015

This is a haunting mystery that was nominated for the 2015 Best Animated Film Oscar, losing to Pixar's Inside Out. It was based on Joan G Robinson's original novel, which was set in London and the Norfolk Broads and had been nominated for the 1967 Carnegie Medal, losing out to The Owl Service. While some elements seem old-fashioned, such as being sent to the countryside to convalesce for asthma, the haunting tale is open to many interpretations, particularly with regards what actually happened. During their encounters, was Anna only ever reliving Marnie's best friend Kazuhiko's experiences all along?

Hiromasa Yonebayashi had previously directed The Secret World of Arrietty, another mid-20th Century British children's novel featuring a convalescing child staying with relatives in the countryside who befriends a magical, mysterious friend in a story changed to be set in 21st Century Japan.

The Future

Sadly When Marnie Was There was the last Studio Ghibli release before Ghibli went into a 'temporary production break' following the complete retirement from the company of co-founder Hayao Miyazaki. This led to the director Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura, experienced Ghibli producer, to leave Studio Ghibli to establish their own animation company, Studio Ponoc, in 2015. Since then Studio Ghibli has only released one further film to date, international co-production The Red Turtle (2016), though it has announced that Miyazaki has come out of retirement (again) to work on How Do You Live?, provisionally expected to be released to coincide with the 2020 Japan Olympics…

1Pronounced 'Jib-Lee'.2'Coquelicot' is French for Poppy.3The Mitsubishi Zero was a match for early-Merlin engined Spitfires such as the Mark V when dogfighting at low altitudes and low speeds, where they had a decided advantage especially when RAF pilots used tactics that had worked well against the Messerschmitt Bf 109, though Spitfires were faster and better at higher altitudes. Spitfires, however, continued to develop and improve whereas the Zero had already reached the pinnacle of its design.

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