Spirited Away: The Films of Studio Ghibli - Featured

A Beginner’s Guide to Studio Ghibli

*NOTE* This piece originally ran in March of 2012. It has since been updated with new information and links to the re-mounting of the series at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in December and January of 2013-14.

TIFF Bell Lightbox | December 13th to January 3rd

This December 13th to January 3rd, Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox presents “Spirited Away: The Films of Studio Ghibli,” a retrospective of Studio Ghibli, the legendary Japanese animation studio. Newly-struck 35mm prints of fifteen of the studio’s most beloved films will be screened in both Japanese with English subtitles (S) and dubbed English (D).

If you are unfamiliar with Studio Ghibli, we’ve written up a handy “Beginner’s Guide” below!


What is Studio Ghibli?

Studio Ghibli, Inc. is a Japanese animation and film studio based in Tokyo, Japan. It was founded in 1985 by directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata and producer Toshio Suzuki after the success of their 1984 film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The studio has mainly produced films by Miyazaki, but also those of Takahata, Yoshifumi Kondo, Hiroyuki Morita, and Gorō Miyazaki, Hayao’s son. In 2002, Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Often referred to as the “Disney of Japan,” Studio Ghibli is distributed internationally by the Walt Disney Company and maintains strong creative ties to Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios. John Lasseter, the Chief Creative Officer of Pixar, calls Hayao Miyazaki not only a longtime friend but also “the greatest animation director living today.” Much like Pixar, Studio Ghibli enjoys critical adoration, box office success, and a near-perfect reputation.

The films of Studio Ghibli and, particularly, Hayao Miyazaki are celebrated for their universal, affecting, fantastical storytelling; their strong, young heroines; their reverence of the environment; and the stunning aesthetic of their animation.


What Studio Ghibli Films Should You See?

If you only buy one ticket to “Spirted Away: The Films of Studio Ghibli,” it should undoubtedly be the film TIFF Bell Lightbox chose to represent its retrospective, Spirited Away.

Spirited Away [dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 2001]

Winner of the 2002 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, Spirited Away is the perfect example of everything Studio Ghibli gets right. The story is simple — a young girl is separated from her family — and, simultaneously, insane — her parents are turned into pigs. Chihiro, the film’s protagonist, is as charmingly naive and overly-respectful as she is clever and tenacious. Studio Ghibli never skimps on the personalities of their heroines, and Chihiro is no exception. As she searches for a way to reverse what has happened to her parents, the adventure had by Chihiro in Spirited Away is endlessly memorable, featuring some of the most creative animation produced by Studio Ghibli. Spirited Away is, easily, one of the greatest animated feature films ever made. Actually, that sentence does not need “animated” as a qualifier; It’s one of the greatest feature films full-stop.


Screenings: Saturday, December 21st, 7:00pm (Subtitled), Monday, December 23rd, 1:00pm (Dubbed), Monday, December 30th, 3:45pm (Dubbed)

If you have seen Spirited Away and enjoyed the film, below are recommendations of other Studio Ghibli films playing at TIFF Bell Lightbox based on age-appropriateness (though like Disney and Pixar, Studio Ghibli films can be enjoyed at any age!):

Seven (7) Years Old and Younger:

My Neighbor Totoro (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 1988)


Though somewhat light in content for those familiar with Spirited Away and Studio Ghibli’s more ambitious films, My Neighbor Totoro is a nice entry point into Studio Ghibli for younger viewers. It follows two young sisters and their father as they move into a house that may be haunted by spirits. My Neighbor Totoro, instantly recognizable, also provides the image for Studio Ghibli’s logo with the titular character Totoro.

Screenings: Friday, December 13th, 6:30pm (Subtitled), Saturday, December 21st, 4:30pm (Dubbed), Wednesday, December 25th, 2:00pm (Dubbed), Sunday, December 29th, 7:00pm (Subtitled), Thursday, January 2nd, 1:00pm (Dubbed) & 6:00pm (Subtitled)

We Also Recommend… Ponyo (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 2008) – Friday, December 27th, 2:30pm (Dubbed), Wednesday, January 1st, 2:00pm (Dubbed)

Eight (8) to Twelve (12) Years Old:


Kiki’s Delivery Service (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 1989)

The ultimate realization of precocious preteen female fantasy, Kiki’s Delivery Service, a film which promotes self-confidence, should really be distributed by the government prior to junior high school. Kiki, a thirteen-year-old witch, leaves home for a year with her talking cat as a rite of passage and runs a delivery service to pay for room and board while developing her magical powers. If you (or your favourite precocious girl-child) enjoy Kiki’s Delivery Service, you may also enjoy the television series Cardcaptor Sakura by CLAMP, another animation juggernaut in Japan.

Screenings: Thursday, December 19th, 6:30pm (Subtitled), Wednesday, December 25th, 4:15pm (Dubbed), Tuesday, December 31st, 1:00pm (Dubbed)

We Also Recommend… Castle in the Sky (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 1986) – Special Master Class with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, on Thursday, December 12th at 7:00pm (RUSH ONLY). Regular screenings on Sunday, December 15th, 4:00pm (Dubbed) and Thursday, January 2nd, 3:15pm (Dubbed)

Thirteen (13) to Seventeen (17) Years Old:

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 1984)

Establishing the Japanese animated feature film as an artistically credible work, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is an accomplished allegory whose success cemented the career of its director, Hayao Miyazaki, and led to the founding of Studio Ghibli. In the film, Nausicaä is a warrior princess of the Valley of the Wind, one of the last safe ecosystems in an otherwise lethal “Toxic Jungle.” She soon finds herself in the middle of an apocalyptic war between the Tolmekia, a kingdom that tries to use an ancient weapon to fend off an insect race called the Omhu. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind proves that Studio Ghibli’s now iconic touchstones — strong female protagonists, respect for the environment, inventive animation, and fantastical storytelling — were strongly present at the studio’s conception.

Screenings: Saturday, December 14th, 7:00pm (Subtitled), Friday, December 20th, 1:00pm (Dubbed), Monday, December 30th, 1:00pm (Dubbed)

We Also Recommend… Whisper of the Heart (dir. Yoshifumi Kondō, 1995) – Monday, December 23rd, 6:00pm (Subtitled), Sunday, December 29th, 1:30pm (Dubbed)

Eighteen (18) Years Old and Older:

Howl’s Moving Castle (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 2004)

Nominated for the 2005 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, Howl’s Moving Castle maintains the fantasy and friendliness of Studio Ghibli’s previous films, but steps forward, approaching themes of jealousy, covetousness, vanity, and prejudice that all seem a bit beyond the audience of My Neighbor Totoro. Howl’s Moving Castle‘s protagonist is a beautiful young woman named Sophie who encounters Howl, a notorious flirt and feared wizard. Jealous of the brief affection Howl showed Sophie, an evil wizard curses her, turning Sophie into an elderly woman who could never be loved by the vain Howl. On paper, Howl’s Moving Castle sounds like a straightforward love story, but Studio Ghibli infuses the narrative with surprising complications, both physical and emotional, and imperfect characters who don’t hit the notes of a love story in quite the order you’d expect.

Screenings: Sunday, December 14th, 4:00pm (Subtitled), Sunday, December 20th, 3:45pm (Dubbed), Tuesday, December 24th, 4:00pm (Dubbed)

We Also Recommend… Princess Mononoke (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 1997) – Tuesday, December 24th, 7:00pm (Subtitled), Thursday, December 26th, 1:00pm (Dubbed), Friday, January 3rd, 1:00pm (Dubbed)

TIFF Bell Lightbox’s “Spirited Away: The Films of Studio Ghibli” also includes the films Only Yesterday, Porco Rosso, The Ocean Waves, The Cat Returns, My Neighbors the Yamadas, Pom Poko, From Up on Poppy Hill, The Secret World of Arrietty, and the very rare Grave of the Fireflies. Tickets can be purchased in person at the TIFF Bell Lightbox box office or online.