Returning to theaters nationwide, the 2022 Studio Ghibli Fest by Fathom Events is bringing some of our favorite Ghibli movies back to the big screen for a limited time. In 1985, Studio Ghibli was founded by Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, and Toshio Suzuki in Tokyo as a studio for Japanese animation. While the studio has produced several short films, television commercials, and television films, it is most widely known for its feature-length animated films. The studio is highly regarded not only in Japan, but around the world for creating some of the most praised watercolor and 2D animated films of all time, most of which include elements of Japanese culture, magic, youth, and environmentalism. Studio Ghibli films are known for being vibrantly aesthetic and are designed to capture the attention of both young and old viewers alike.

During this year’s Studio Ghibli Fest, you’ll be able to see Princess Mononoke, Ponyo, The Cat Returns, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Only Yesterday, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Spirited Away. Be sure to mark your calendars and get your tickets for all your favorite events now – they’ll go fast! Now, let’s get into ranking all the movies in the 2022 Studio Ghibli fest. Read on to see what lands in the #1 spot and to see when each movie is in theaters.

7. Only Yesterday

When you think of a Studio Ghibli movie, you might think of the magical and mystical plots, or the captivating animation full of rich, vivid characters. Maybe you think of the mouthwatering food that you desperately want to try, or the original music scores that heighten some of your favorite scenes.

Only Yesterday steps away from all of that to instead offer a more realistic slice-of-life story that caters to a more adult audience. 27-year-old Taeko (voiced by Daisy Ridley in the English dub), a single woman, has spent her whole life living and working in Tokyo, and finally decides to take a trip to the countryside to visit with family friends. The narrative goes back and forth between Taeko in the present-day – helping with the safflower harvest while becoming close with a man named Toshio – and her childhood – dealing with both the good and bad moments of adolescence, including puberty, young love, school troubles, and the beginnings of discovering oneself. It’s a nostalgic film that is perfect for young adults, and you’ll find yourself reflecting on your own childhood in the process. Would your younger self be proud of who you are today? Have your dreams and aspirations stayed the same or changed over the years as you’ve matured? Only Yesterday is a thoughtful, relatable movie perfect for reminiscing, but straying away from what we traditionally know and love about Studio Ghibli movies puts it at the bottom of the list.

In theaters August 28 and 29.

6. The Cat Returns

While Whisper of the Heart (1995) introduced us to the Baron – a cat figurine with a soul – it is by no means necessary to see the original to be able to follow along and enjoy The Cat Returns. In Hiroyuki Morita’s directorial debut, Haru, a timid teenager (voiced by Anne Hathaway in the English dub), is unwillingly whisked away to the Cat Kingdom after saving the Kingdom’s cat prince from a busy road. The contrast between the cats and Haru is amusing, with Haru being offered gifts of catnip and mice in return for her helpful act, and the Cat Kingdom itself being made up of five lakes that form a cat’s paw is a laugh out loud surprise.

Invoking that Ghibli magic, Haru has a suppressed ability to talk with cats and invokes the help of the Baron, an enchanted stone raven named Toto, and a large cat named Muta to escape from the Cat Kingdom, where she begins to transform into a cat herself while being betrothed to the Cat Prince. The world feels more shallow and less developed than other Ghibli tales, with less detailed animation to capture the viewer’s interest, but it has a timeless message for all ages: learning to believe in yourself. It’s a whimsical, lighthearted story with low stakes, which makes it an enjoyable film to relax and get lost in, but the lack of depth puts it lower on our overall ranking. That said, it gets bonus points for having Tim Curry as the voice of the creepy and demanding Cat King.

In theaters for the 20th Anniversary on June 26 and 27.

5. Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke is a visually appealing film, which puts it above some of the others on this list, but it is a heavy film to take in. Not quite on the level of heaviness that Grave of the Fireflies boasts, but it still is loaded down with often dark, gory, and frightening elements.

Set in the late Muromachi period of Japan, Princess Mononoke is a fantasy, a supernatural film that focuses on environmentalism and the consequences of human greed, and the relationship between humans, gods, and nature. Long ago, humans were at one with nature, but over time, hatred and war, along with demons, have corrupted the balance. The film is also heavily inspired by Japanese folklore, as Mononoke is not a character in the film – though it is San’s nickname – but is the Japanese word for a vengeful spirit that possesses someone and makes them suffer, even causing disease and death. The protagonist, Prince Ashitaka, becomes infected with one of these curses during the film, as a consequence of Lady Eboshi wanting to tear down the forest for profit. Lady Eboshi herself is not pure evil, however, as she strives to find a cure for the lepers and disabled in her town. This duality invokes the idea that no single creature is completely good or completely evil and will spark questions as to whether good intentions justify bad actions. The film is worth a watch for the thematic lessons that are to be learned from it, as well as the great visuals of scenery and the impeccable, starry night design of the Great Forest Spirit, but the frightening and unsettling moments put it lower on the list.

In theaters for the 25th Anniversary on April 3, 4, and 6.

4. Kiki’s Delivery Service

Kiki’s Delivery Service might be the ultimate in fun Ghibli movies. Kiki (voiced by Kirsten Dunst in the English dub) is a thirteen-year-old witch-in-training, accompanied by her talking black cat Jiji and her trusty broomstick, who moves to a seaside town for a year to search for her independence and master her skills. But she’s not the potions and spells witch that you might be familiar with. Instead, Kiki starts a business in the new town running – as you might expect from the title – a delivery service. Similar to The Cat Returns, the stakes are also relatively low for most of the film, but the world in Kiki’s is far more expansive: from Kiki’s hometown, to the seaside city she flies to and takes residence in, to a cabin in the forest, and of course, the variety of people that she meets along her journey, including many women that help her in different ways along her journey. Osono helps her with housing in exchange for her assistance at the bakery, an elderly customer helps her spark a new friendship, and Ursula helps her rediscover her passion and purpose.

Overall, Kiki is simply a fun and enjoyable character to watch. She’s disappointed by the boring, blue dress she must wear as a witch, she’s adamant about ignoring Tombo’s pursuit to win her attention, and she can’t believe how expensive groceries are once she must provide for herself. The only reason Kiki’s falls below some of the other films on this list is simply because, while the animation and art are gorgeous and enticing, especially for being originally released in 1989, the films that follow have so many more little details that help breathe life into them. Even so, Kiki’s Delivery Service is magical, fun, inventive, and full of great lessons – everything you want out of a Studio Ghibli movie.

In theaters July 31, August 1 and 3.

3. Ponyo

Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Ponyo follows a little goldfish named Brunhilde who desires to live on land as a human. The visual storytelling in Ponyo is magnificent. In fact, the first seven minutes of the film contain no dialogue at all, and even without it, we can understand that Brunhilde is not like her other goldfish sisters, and she has a desire to sneak away from their father to discover what the surface is like. In her goldfish form, Brunhilde befriends the five-year-old boy Sōsuke, who calls her Ponyo. With the help of magic, Ponyo turns herself into a human to be with Sōsuke, though this causes an imbalance in the ocean with disastrous consequences.

It’s an adorable, lighthearted tale of friendship, familial love, and learning to trust one another to do what’s right, with an emphasis on respecting nature as well – a common element in most Studio Ghibli films. The English cast in many Ghibli movies is always a treat, but this one is particularly inspired, including Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, Tina Fey, Matt Damon, and others. Ultimately, Ponyo gets a spot above Kiki’s Delivery Service simply for the gorgeous animation and detailed artistic elements. Seriously, just the opening underwater animation full of rich colors and imaginative sea life is a work of art. And anything with the beloved Betty White in it is automatically worth watching.

In theaters May 15, 16, and 18.

2. Howl’s Moving Castle

If you’re a fan of metaphors, then Howl’s Moving Castle is the movie for you. Nearly everyone in the film is cursed at one point or another: the young main protagonist, Sophie, is cursed into becoming a 90-year-old woman, a fire demon named Calcifer and a wizard named Howl are cursed to be linked together, the Witch of the Waste is cursed to lose all of her magical powers, and a prince is cursed into becoming a scarecrow while his country engages in a pointless war.

A bit heavy at times, the film takes a firm anti-war stance, with military officials and warfare being a main plot point of the film, offering the view that war is a selfish act with only cruel consequences. Even Madame Suliman, an omniscient political sorceress behind the war, is unable to see how foolish the fighting is. She calls upon Howl to join the fight, though he cowardly runs away from both sides and instead transforms into an even more monstrous bird-like creature. It is also one of the few Ghibli films to focus on old age rather than youth, as Sophie becomes more confident and outspoken in her old age.

When it comes to animation, the design of Howl’s castle is worthy of immense praise, having almost a steampunk quality to it. The exterior looks to be made up of many different faces – a reference to Howl’s multiple aliases and the way he puts on appearances – while the interior is expansive and completely filthy – also a reference to Howl’s dilapidated inner state of being. Howl’s Moving Castle beats out many of the films on this list for its deep and rich character development – as Sophie and Howl are both some of the most well-rounded Ghibli characters and learn to become better versions of themselves – grand visuals, necessary lessons, and engaging mystical elements. The voice cast is also stellar, of course, including the likes of the late Jean Simmons, Emily Mortimer, Christian Bale, and Billy Crystal as the sarcastic Calcifer. Master filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki has described it as his favorite of his films, so you know it’s a fantastic one.

In theaters September 25, 26, and 28.

1. Spirited Away

Despite their cultural significance and artistic excellence, Japanese animated films are rarely given the spotlight at the Academy Awards. Spirited Away made history by becoming the first Japanese animated film to be nominated in the Best Animated Feature category, and it remains to be the only one that has ever won the award. It’s a well-deserved award, as the film tackles themes of Western consumerism, environmentalism, as well as traditional Japanese mythology.

Why is it the number one pick on this list? It has everything you could ask for in a Ghibli movie, and then some. It has a relatable premise: Chihiro is a 10-year-old girl who is reluctant to move to a new home and terrified of everything new, so naturally, she is thrown headfirst into a coming-of-age story that will test all her limits. The detailed visuals of the bathhouse and the spirit world extend to even the smallest of background elements, enticing the audience into thinking they might want to take a trip to the spirit world, too, just like Chihiro’s parents do. It’s almost as if you can smell the rich flavors that are packed into the abundant amounts of food in the restaurants of the spirit world, and feel the relaxing bath salts that the spirits soak in. The spirits and characters are unique in their design, with Chihiro being just too small for her clothes, as if she has something to grow into throughout the film, and Haku taking the form of both a teenager that Chihiro can relate to and a strong dragon. Kamaji looks elderly and frightening with his many sets of arms, though in actuality, ends up helping Chihiro along her journey. No-Face has even become one of the most popular Studio Ghibli characters of all time – a lonely spirit that models the greedy behavior of those around him until he turns into a frightening monster. Chihiro can still see the good in him though and helps him to return into the calm spirit that he is. There is an abundance of other exciting characters that fill the frame, even animal and plant spirits.

Through Chihiro’s journey, the movie enforces the idea of self-growth, while remaining true to oneself. Furthermore, Spirited Away is rich in story without being too heavy on the audience. To wrap it all up nicely with a bow, Joe Hisaishi provides a beautiful soundtrack to the film. Not only does it come out on top for our Studio Ghibli ranking, but many would agree that Spirited Away is one of the greatest animated films of all time.

In theaters October 30, November 1 and 2.

  • Editorial