A Ghibli movie a day keeps the doctor away

Sometimes it feels like there’s a Studio Ghibli movie-shaped space in between the hectic moments of our lives. Here are seven films from the legendary animation house to lift your spirits during the week.

University, work, and stress go hand in hand for most people. We simultaneously juggle different deadlines, stress over how to keep food on the table and wonder when we’ll find the time to pencil in a day out with friends.

Mental rest is critical to maintaining our busy lifestyles, which is why a lot of us might find watching a movie or binging a television show therapeutic after a long week and science agrees.

So what better way is there to optimise relaxation than with a movie from the legendary animation house Studio Ghibli? Their unforgettable stories, soothing soundtracks, and calming colour palettes make them a must-have in my personal self-care list, and I’ve put together 7 Ghibli films for you to enjoy every stressful day of your week.

Monday — Only Yesterday

Image: GKIDS

We all dread going to sleep Sunday night with the thought of returning to work or school the following morning, but Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday softens the blow by reminding us of the charm that comes with the ordinary.

Only Yesterday is a nostalgic winner, switching seamlessly between protagonist Taeko’s adult life in 1982, and her childhood in 1966. There’s something lulling about the way adult Taeko enjoys the beautifully green Yamagata countryside on her time off from the office, but the highlight of the film comes from her 10-year-old self’s growing pains – something any of us can relate to. The first stirrings of attraction, embarrassment over physical puberty, frustration with math, and complicated family relationships remind the audience of their own adolescence and their ability to shape the future.

Tuesday — Lupin the Third: Castle of Cagliostro

Image: Courtesy of ichise via Tumblr

11:45 on a Tuesday morning is apparently when stress peaks for most people, but Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro is the perfect movie to unwind with in the evening, though a quick disclaimer: it actually officially precedes Studio Ghibli and was produced by Tokyo Movie Shinsa.

In contrast to the tranquility and nostalgia of the previously recommended film, everything about Hayao Miyazaki’s feature film debut is loud and turbulent. It’s action-packed on the surface, with charming thief Lupin racing his way through car chases, swimming through aqueducts, scaling gothic palace walls to get to the princess locked in the topmost tower, and a dramatic final battle inside a clock tower. Each of the characters is likeable in their own right, but the female characters breaking out of their stereotypes to step into more heroic roles is a trope ahead of its time.

Wednesday — The Tale of The Princess Kaguya

Image: GKIDS

Let’s slow things down as the week also eases up, with Takahata’s The Tale of The Princess Kaguya. The gorgeous, hand-drawn masterpiece revisiting Japan’s most famous folktale steps out of line with the typical illustration style of most Ghibli films for a more traditional look.

You can tell how much detail goes into each brushstroke when you’re watching the lively young princess tumble around in the pastel floral watercolours of the countryside, or when she’s sitting with a koto (Japanese stringed musical instrument) on her lap in the mansion she’s taken to in the capital to join other nobility. But for all the effort that goes into illustration, there’s equally as much elegance in the fluidity of the animation. The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a visually arresting film that gently reminds the audience to cherish life.

Thursday — Howl’s Moving Castle

Image: GKIDS

None of us are strangers to insecurity, which can drop in on us any day of the week. Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle is a particular comfort to me in these times.

The unconventional love story follows a self-deprecating, young hatter named Sophie after she is turned into an old woman by a jealous witch’s curse and takes shelter in the flamboyant wizard Howl’s grinding and puffing titular moving castle. Sophie’s inability to find beauty in herself may sound familiar to some of us, but her growing confidence and courage as she protects her newfound family is nothing short of engaging and heartwarming.  

Friday — Ponyo

Image: GKIDS

It’s finally Friday and the perfect way to celebrate the start of the weekend is with Ponyo, the ultimate feel-good Studio Ghibli film.

Miyazaki’s take on “The Little Mermaid” delivers sentimentality and childish wonder in the story of how a high-spirited little goldfish befriends a human boy. Ponyo features some of the prettiest settings I’ve ever seen – deep blue rolling waves teeming with phosphorescent fish, soft green hilltops sprinkled with little pink flowers, ancient sea creatures cruising atop submerged roads framed by trees and road signs. The movie hits all your sentimental spots too, with Ponyo and Sousuke’s infectious exuberance and innocence. Whether they’re running around the house, joyfully shouting names of ancient sea creatures, or curled up on the sofa together, sleeping, they leave your heart feeling impossibly full.

Saturday — Spirited Away

Image: GKIDS

Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is probably the most famous of Studio Ghibli’s filmography, and it’s not hard to see why. The elements of fantasy, mesmerising setting details, and dynamic orchestral score culminate in a cinematic experience that feels just as good, if not better, than a day out at the movies. This is it, the highlight of your weekend.

Our protagonist, Chihiro, is plunged into a dark adventure at a grand bathhouse for spirits, complete with an entourage of curious spirits, witches, dragons and more, after her family takes a wrong turn on the way to their new home and her parents are turned into pigs. Fun fact? The film, which went on to receive an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and become the most successful film in Japanese history, was made without a script.

Sunday — Porco Rosso

Image: GKIDS

We’re wrapping up our Studio Ghibli marathon, and what other way is there to go out but with a bang? Porco Rosso might not be as well known as Miyazaki’s more representative works (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke), but don’t let that fool you.

Porco Rosso details the adventures of seaplane pilot Porco Rosso, once a veteran WWI fighter ace and now a freelance bounty hunter. The valiant pig foils not-so-heinous airborne pirates, narrowly avoids arrest by the secret fascist police, and dukes it out with an American pilot “for his pride, for his lover, and for his fortune.” A strange curse had left Porco an anthropomorphic pig after he was left the only one alive in his squadron during the war, but between the the aerial thrills and in the softer, sentimental moments, you can catch a glimpse of his human form ‘Marco’. Porco Rosso’s lighthearted narrative unwinds to romantic music flitting over the scenic Italian seaside, but the underlying consideration for love, loss, honour, innovation and warfare are what leaves you feeling like the weekend has come to a perfect close.


Featured image: Flickr

Words: Claire Chung | Subbing: Elise Fritts

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