Often heralded as the Japanese version of Disney, Studio Ghibli’s fame has risen remarkably since its establishment in 1985. Yet the “Disney” label masks the studio’s unique qualities: the animations created by the now-retired Hayao Miyazaki and his team are breathtaking and the films’ themes and characters are complex. Here are 10 of the best.
‘Ponyo’ | ©LorenJavier/Flickr
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Bizarre at some points, yet entertaining and uplifting throughout, Ponyo is Ghibli’s version of The Little Mermaid. Fascinating in its imaginative plot and animation, Ponyo combines a strange fantasy with a charming reality. Venturing from her underwater home, Ponyo (a fish princess) befriends a boy on the surface and consequently disturbs the balance of nature. Despite incorporating some complex meditations, Ponyo is not classified as one of Ghibli’s epics, yet it is still a thoroughly enjoyable film.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Kiki’s Delivery Service is a heartwarming tale of a young witch’s adventures in a new town. The film was the first released under the Disney-Ghibli partnership. Despite taking place on a much smaller scale than some of Ghibli’s other classics, Kiki still spins into exciting ventures and danger. Sweet and charming, the tale is wonderful for children, with the brave and independent Kiki an attractive role model.
My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
Released at the same time as Grave of the Fireflies, My Neighbour Totoro was a lighthearted alternative. The character of Totoro, a huge friendly bear, has now become the mascot of the company. With a whimsical sense of fun, the film is bound to ignite nostalgia in all of its viewers. Depicting the adventures of two little girls who befriend spirits, the film enchants its audience in the simple pleasure of childhood.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Based on the novel of the same name, Howl’s Moving Castle tells the story of Sophie, a young hatter, who meets the mysterious wizard Howl. After a jealous witch turns her into an old woman, Sophie is flung into a sequence of adventures with Howl and the occupants of his magical castle. The animations adds to the wonder of the story — in particular, the castle itself. Viewers will find themselves immersed in the fortunes of the well-developed characters and the relationships between them.
The Wind Rises (2013)
Miyazaki’s final film, a poignant historical biopic, was a grand farewell. The Wind Rises is loosely based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese aircraft designer. Like his protagonist, Miyazaki made something remarkable, a film entwining dreams with reality, love with war, and grief with hope. It’s too weighty for the very young, but older children and adults will appreciate the film’s humor and romance. The depiction of Horikoshi’s ambition and imagination, which he sustained through the years of national suffering, is remarkable.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)
Exquisitely animated, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is based on a well-known Japanese folktale. It’s the story of a Princess’s troublesome life in the capital and her longing for her carefree childhood. The pale watercolor style gives the film a softness, especially suitable for its depictions of childhood. This focus on the use of color for expression is most prominent in Princess Kaguya, giving her depth and drawing the audience into her emotions. A thought-provoking tale and one that may leave you in tears, this is one of Studio Ghibli’s finest films.
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Grave of the Fireflies depicts the struggles of a brother and sister in the aftermath of World War II. Unlike the majority of Studio Ghibli’s work, it is realistic — there are no fantastical elements swooping in to help the orphans (or very few caring humans). Despite the melancholic theme, the film isn’t all doom and gloom. The children care for one another and the scenes with the fireflies are enchanting. Haunting in its depiction of post-war society, Grave of the Fireflies is eye-opening on the subjects it addresses.
Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)
Studio Ghibli’s first film, Laputa: Castle in the Sky is an endearing aerial adventure with captivating characters. Examining serious themes and creating complicated conflicts, the film has a moral message yet still does not forget to entertain. Pirates offer comedic relief and the protagonists Pazo and Sheeta are a lovable pair. Miyazaki’s passion for aircraft comes to the fore in the variety of gliders and zeppelins seen zooming across the screen.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Princess Mononoke stormed into Japanese cinemas in 1997, quickly becoming the then-highest-grossing film. Frequently described as an anime epic, the film teems with monsters and warriors, though not at the cost of wit or romance. The main characters are San, the princess, who protects the forest and its gods, and Ashitaki, a cursed warrior trying to free himself while keeping the peace. Some scenes are too graphic and frightening for younger viewers, which emphasizes that Studio Ghibli films are not necessarily for children. Overall, Princess Mononoke encompasses all that Studio Ghibli is about: the fight between industrialization and the preservation of nature, strong heroes and heroines, Japanese legends, and beautiful animation.
Spirited Away (2001)
Spirited Away, Studio Ghibli’s most famous film, won an Academy Award and international acclaim and became the highest-grossing film in Japanese history. It follows young Chihiro as she and her family get trapped in a dangerous spirit world. Miyazaki’s phenomenal animation draws upon Japanese culture, refuting the oft-made and simplistic suggestion that the film is a Japanese Alice in Wonderland. Chihiro is introduced to a series of fantastical characters, including Haku, a young boy-cum-dragon, the witch Yubaba, and the silent spirit No-Face. The film is dazzling in its characterisation, setting, and plot.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.