Tonight, Film4 starts a season of films from Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation studio, for the Easter holidays. I’ve been a huge fan of the work of Ghibli for some time and I’ll be visiting the studio’s enchanting museum for a second time later this year, so I’m looking forward to getting a good fix of their films over the next couple of weeks.
If you’re new to the studio’s films, though, I’ve picked my way through the listings and selected some of my favourites that you should try not to miss. Really, though, I’d suggest you record the whole lot on to your PVR and watch as much as you can. Even an average Studio Ghibli film is a work of art.
6.30pm Tuesday 26th March
Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 classic has been the entry point to Ghibli for many western audiences, having won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, so it’s a natural place for Film4 to begin. The story of a ten year old girl who finds herself trapped in a wonderland full of spirits and witches while her parents are transformed into pigs is captivating from start to finish. With beautiful artwork and a gorgeous score composed by long-time Miyazaki collaborator Joe Hisaishi, Spirited Away is a great place to start. As well as this first showing with subtitles, the dubbed version will be on at 4.35pm on Saturday 6th April.
6.05pm Wednesday 27th March
Showing here in Japanese with English subtitles and then dubbed in English at 1.10pm on Wednesday 10th April, this environmental parable set in a fantastical version of medieval Japan is breathtakingly beautiful. A complex, epic story full of impenetrable cultural references, this is still a deeply enjoyable film and one many people have as their favourite.
The Cat Returns
11am Thursday 28th March
Ghibli films often move me and fill me with wonder and joy, but very rarely do they make me laugh out loud. The Cat Returns is probably their most comic film, a loveable tale which begins when a girl saves a cat’s life and gets a surprising reward. One of the studio’s lesser-known films, it’s kind of a sequel to Whisper of the Heart, showing later, or it could be said that it is a story written by the main character of that film. It is showing here with subtitles, but it’s a great film for kids and the dubbed version is on at 3pm on Sunday 7th April.
Kiki’s Delivery Service
4.45pm Friday 29th March
One of Miyazaki’s most easily accessible films, this is a coming of age story about a young witch who goes out into the big wide world and tries to earn a living. Film4 are showing Disney’s dubbed version and this is one of the few films where I’d recommend this over the original subtitled version, all because of Simpsons star Phil Hartman’s terrific turn as Kiki’s sardonic cat Jiji, his final role before his tragic death.
My Neighbour Totoro
4.55pm Saturday 30th March
One of the greatest children’s films ever made, perhaps THE greatest, My Neighbour Totoro is pure, innocent joy from the first frame to the last. In post-war Japan, two girls go with their father to live in the countryside while their mother recovers from tuberculosis in hospital. There, they meet Totoro, a large, cuddly spirit who looks after the forest. From their first sight of the soot sprites who had been living in their dusty old house to their ride on the grinning Catbus, Mei and Satsuki’s magical adventure lifts the spirits every time.
2.35pm Thursday 4th April
This is a bit of an odd one. It starts off like an animated documentary, complete with narration, before becoming a comic tale about shape-shifting raccoon dogs with prominent magical testicles (no, really) and then takes a dark turn towards Watership Down territory. While Miyazaki is rightly hailed as a genius, it is the other regular Ghibli director Isao Takahata who constantly innovates and pushes boundaries, and this is one of his most interesting films.
Whisper Of The Heart
2.40pm Friday 5th April
I utterly adore Whisper of the Heart, on the surface a simple teenage love story, but really a film about the joys and frustrations of being a creative person, about the hard work, determination and passion it takes to be a writer, artist, musician or whatever else you might want to be. There is one scene in this film that melts my waxy pea-sized heart every single time, although unfortunately only the dub is being shown here – the original version with subtitles is so much better. Do try to catch this on the channel, as it’s not one of the films that is likely to be shown often. Yoshifumi Kondō’s first film as director, sadly he died only a few years later so we never got to see what else he might have produced.
Grave Of The Fireflies
12.15am Friday 5th April
Probably the most heartbreaking animated film ever made, Takahata’s masterpiece is a horribly difficult watch but absolutely must not be missed. There are very few films that have so brutally and heartachingly portrayed the impact of war on the innocents. Once watched, this film is never forgotten. Bring tissues.
Laputa: Castle in the Sky
2.30pm Thursday 11th April
The first film to be released by the studio back in 1986, Castle in the Sky is a ripping fantasy adventure set in a world of flying cities. A great chance to see how incredible the studio’s output was right from the start.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Saturday 13th April
The season concludes with a film which isn’t strictly-speaking from Ghibli, coming from 1984, before the studio was formed. An exciting post-apocalyptic fantasy set in a world with giant insects, the film was cut to ribbons in an appalling 1980s English dub, but here it’s presented in the original Japanese with subtitles.
Porco Rosso 4.35pm, Thursday 28th March. An Italian WWI ace fighter pilot is turned into an anthropomorphic pig and hunts down airborne pirates. This film is even more fun than it sounds.
Arrietty 5.15pm Sunday 31st March. Delightful retelling of The Borrowers, this is the dubbed version with a terrific British cast including Olivia Colman and Geraldine McEwan.
Howl’s Moving Castle 4.35pm Monday 1st April dubbed in English and Friday 12th April in Japanese with subtitles. One of Miyazaki’s most popular films, based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones.
The Castle Of Cagliostro 3.15pm Tuesday 2nd April. Miyazaki’s directorial debut from 1979, this instalment in the Lupin III anime franchise is great fun, although the dub isn’t too good.
Ponyo 2.50pm Wednesday 3rd April. This incredibly sweet children’s film from 2008 broadly based on The Little Mermaid is Miyazaki’s most recent and is ever so cute.
Ocean Waves 11am Thursday 4th April. Not often seen, as it was made for TV rather than cinematic release, a man spots an woman in a crowded railway station and tells the story of how he first met her in high school.
Tales From Earthsea 2.25pm Monday 8th April. Directed by Hayao’s son Gorō Miyazaki, this is probably the least well-received of the studio’s films. Perhaps worth a watch just for that reason?
Only Yesterday 12.55pm Tuesday 9th April. Another of Takahata’s boundary-pushing films, this drama follows a woman in her late 20s as she stuggles with her career and romance while she reflects on the trials of growing up in the 1960s.
Little Norse Prince 11am Thursday 11th April. Takahata’s directorial debut from way back in 1968, which Miyazaki worked on as well, is an epic set in pre-Viking era Scandinavia.