Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
A princess fights to stop mankind from waging war on a species of insects the size of dinosaurs in this post-apocalyptic plea for peace. Made before Ghibli was formed, it highlights Miyazaki’s passion for nature and his affinity for strong female leads.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
A gentle fable about sisters who move to a forest town to be closer to their sick mother, few films evince such a sweet understanding of how children make sense of the tragedies that cloud the world around them. And even fewer feature a giant cat that is also a bus.
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Takahata’s heart-shattering drama follows two orphaned siblings as they try to survive the final days of The Second World War. A simple, almost neorealist take on the collateral damage of war, this is perhaps the best animated film you’ll never want to see again.
Only Yesterday (1991)
There are no talking toys, no beauties, no beasts – there aren’t even any forest sprites – just a woman trying to make peace with the girl she used to be. Largely told via flashbacks, Isao Takahata’s tale uses animation just to illustrate the fluid shades of memory, its sketches making palpable our imperfect sense of the past.
Only in Japan.
Spirited Away (2001)
Miyazaki’s coming-of-age classic tells the wistful story of a girl whose parents are transformed into animals when she wanders into a magical bathhouse. A deliriously imaginative riff on Alice in Wonderland, Ghibli’s only Oscar winner is a beautiful fairy tale with a moral as elusive as childhood itself.
The Wind Rises (2013)
Miyazaki’s swansong will never be mistaken for a kids’ movie: a fictionalised biopic of warplane designer Jiro Horikoshi, this haunted, but humanistic film coheres into a bittersweet lament for all of the beautiful things that have been destroyed by tragedy. The master saved the best for last.