Studio Ghibli cartoons: 7 anime on deep themes

We love the founder of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki, but besides him there are many other good directors who talk about important things in the language of animation. War, death, the pressure of others, the search for your own path – all this is told through the stories of children who are faced with the big world. 

“Whisper of the Heart” 1995 

Whisper of the Heart (1995) Trailer

“Whisper of the Heart” is Kondo Yoshifumi’s debut directorial work, directed by Hayao Miyazaki: he wrote the script and drew part of the storyboards. In tandem, they created a touching story about first love, which raises questions of growing up, finding their own path and the inner vicissitudes of adolescents. 

In the center of the plot is a schoolgirl Shizuku Tsukima, who is in middle school. Her life is filled with the usual things: quarrels with her older sister, get-togethers with friends, unwanted attention from a classmate and important exams, on which she depends on whether she will study in high school. And her main love is books: she spends all her free time in the library and sometimes writes poetry that she herself seems primitive. 

Falling in love overtakes her unexpectedly: she discovers that the same books as she had been read by a certain Amasawa before her. It turns out to be a mischievous boy from a parallel class, who once read her poems without asking and ridiculed them. But after getting to know him better, Shizuku realizes that this is a very unusual young man: he makes violins and dreams of going to Italy to study as a violin maker. Acquaintance with him, the first feeling and a figurine of a cat from an antique shop inspire Shizuku to write a story and make you think about what she wants from life. 

“Arietti from the land of the midgets” 2010

Trailer of the cartoon “Arieti from the land of the Lilliputians”

This is a screen version of Mary Norton’s novel about loot – little people the size of a Thumbelina who live in ordinary houses (or near them) and steal sugar, pins, clothespins, napkins and other necessary things. It was made by the youngest director in the history of Ghibli, a student of Hayao Miyazaki, Hiromasa Yonebayashi.

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Arietti is a loot, very brave and curious. She is not afraid to go outside, although there is danger at every step: from the threat of being eaten by a frog to being caught by a man. And in no case should they be seen by people – this is how Arietti’s parents teach.

One day, a new tenant comes to the house under which the Arietti family lives – twelve-year-old Syo, who suffers from a heart defect. Once his mother lived in this house, and she believed in little people and told him about them. Therefore, Syo was not surprised when, first in the garden, and then at night in his room, he saw Arietti. He decided to befriend her, and Arietti, too, albeit with great care, responded to his friendship. And this led to dangerous consequences for her family. 

“Firefly Tomb” 1988 

Grave of the Fireflies – Official Trailer

A heartbreaking story about a brutal war and about children who are forced to grow up in this difficult time. Directed by Isao Takahata, co-founder of Ghibli, who managed to create one of the best animes in the studio’s history. The story of a brother and sister, touching the soul and making one realize all the horrors that war brings with it. 

Fourteen-year-old Seita and his younger sister live with their mother in the city of Kobe, which is under bombardment by the US military. His father serves in the Imperial Navy and has not been in touch for a long time. During the next bombing, most of the houses in Kobe, including Seita’s house, are burned down. And the mother of the children is mortally wounded, and they are left all alone. Seita is forced to take responsibility for her younger sister’s life. 

Both of them are sent to live with their aunt, who takes the children into the house, gives them a room, feeds and gives them water. But Seite thinks that she constantly unjustly reproaches him, every now and then reminding him that hard times have come, there is not enough food, and he does not study anywhere and does not work. Tired of this, the boy decides that he can feed and raise his sister himself without any help. 

“Tales of Earthsea” 2006 

Tales From Earthsea – Official Trailer

This is an interpretation of the cycle of Ursula Le Guin’s novels about the wizard of Earthsea, directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son Goro. This is his first directorial work, which, of course, could not escape comparisons with the work of his father. But if you watch “Tales”, abstracting from the fact that the son of one of the main animators of Japan was engaged in it, then you can enjoy watching it. 

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The action of the picture takes place in the Middle Ages – in the very one in which dragons, wizards, princes and knights exist. Dark times have come in Earthsea: babies and animals are slain by an inexplicable disease, a drought reigns in the country, and fighting dragons have also been seen not far from human lands. Something is wrong with the young Prince Arryn, he unexpectedly kills his father and flees the city. 

In the desert, fleeing the wolves, he encounters a wizard who calls himself the Hawk. Hawk invites Arryn to become his travel companion. Together they set off on a journey full of dangers and adventures, which will help Arryn deal with his own demons, because inside him there is a struggle of darkness and light. 

Memories of Marnie 2014

When Marnie Was There – Official Trailer

A beautiful cartoon about the friendship of two girls, nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Film. Studio Ghibli’s first job after Hayao Miyazaki announced he was retiring. 

The main character Anna is uncommunicative and withdrawn, and sometimes she is very rude to others. Her adoptive mom Yoriko is worried – lately it seems like Anna is not interested in anything. And the girl also has health problems, so Yoriko, on the advice of the doctor, sends her to rest in a small coastal town with her family’s relatives. 

Anna likes the city. Especially his landscapes and a beautiful abandoned mansion on the shallows, which for some reason seems familiar to her. She even notices one evening that lights are on in the windows of the house, and at night she dreams of its inhabitants more and more often. Once, having quarreled at a city festival with local girls, Anna sails to an abandoned house on a boat. And on the shore, a lively and confident girl named Marnie is waiting for her. 

“From the slopes of Kokuriko” 2011 

From the slopes of Kokuriko. Russian Trailer (2011) HD

The second directorial work of Goro Miyazaki, in which he reinterprets the war through the story of his first love. In fact, anime is a series of everyday life for two schoolchildren, Umi and Shun, who do their homework, help their parents around the house, chat with friends, do various school activities and face the first deep feeling. 

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Umi lives in a large family of mostly women. She does not have a father – he died during the Korean War, and her mother is away. Despite the fact that she is only fifteen, she is quite mature. And all the household chores – cooking, cleaning, washing, darning socks for her little brother – also lie on her shoulders. 

Xiong is an ambitious guy, one of the main school leaders and an inhabitant of the Latin Quarter, a club of interests: there is a newspaper, and circles of philosophy, chemistry, archeology … The main problem that worries all schoolchildren is the building in which Latin quarter “, is dilapidated and they want to demolish it. Umi and Xiong, along with other activists, are fighting to save him. 

“Yesterday” 1991 

Only Yesterday Official US Release Trailer #1 (2016) – Studio Ghibli Animated Movie HD

The picture is intended rather for an adult audience. This is the story of a young woman who must understand what she wants from life – to start a family or build a career. The anime is imbued with nostalgia for the sixties, to understand some scenes you need to know the peculiarities of Japanese culture and mentality, and some critics say that the saffron assembly line is propaganda of rural labor. But this does not prevent you from enjoying viewing and enjoying incredible landscapes. 

“Yesterday” is two parallel lines: the past and the present of twenty-seven-year-old Taeko. She has lived in Tokyo since childhood, and while her classmates went to the countryside for the summer, she spent her holidays in a stuffy city. Therefore, already an adult Taeko loves to spend holidays with relatives in the countryside and help them collect saffron. 

Taeko is going on another trip when her sister tells her that at her age it is time to stop being so frivolous and think about marriage. This conversation makes Taeko immerse herself in the memories of how she studied in the fifth grade: about quarrels with her parents, first falling in love, a conflict with a local bully, anticipation of the first trip out of town … And in the present, a young farmer appears in her life; before her the question: what does she even want? 

Cover: still from the movie “Arietti from the Land of the Lilliputians”

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