Studio Ghibli: Films That Emotionally Destroyed Me

Screenshot of Nahoko and Jiro from ‘The Wind Rises’. Copyright goes to Studio Ghibli.

Hey! Hallie here!

Studio Ghibli films have a tendency to make audiences extremely emotional. I’ve cried at least once during the majority of their films. But some films hit just a bit harder than others. After crying, yet again, at the end of one of Ghibli’s films just yesterday, I decided it would be fun(?) to talk about all of the Ghibli films that have absolutely destroyed me emotionally. On this list there will definitely be sad films, but some of these films are more emotional by simply confronting everyday struggles that audiences can relate to. So with that out of the way, let’s get started! SPOILERS AHEAD!

‘Howl’s Moving Castle’:

We’re starting out with a film that isn’t really sad, but dealt with mental health in a way that I found deeply personal. And no, I’m not talking about Howl sliming his entire house for the sake of being dramatic. I’m talking about Sophie and her journey overcoming her self hatred. Sophie begins the film as a reclusive hat maker, uncertain about her interactions with everyone else who works in her stepmother’s hat shop. Pretty early on in the film we see her get turned into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste, and surprisingly, she accepts it pretty easily. From the way she speaks to herself we begin to learn that Sophie doesn’t see much of a difference between her usual appearance and her appearance as an old woman. As an old woman she feels plain and unattractive, which is evidently not uncommon to her. The only real surprise she experiences is the fact that she’s having an adventure, which is something she never envisioned for herself. As the film goes on we see that the spell on her is something she’s partially responsible for, as it begins to dissolve in moments where she experiences self confidence. When she stands up for what she believes in by defending Howl to his former tutor, she turns young again. As a direct contrast, in a moment where she completely forgets herself and her self hatred when admiring the flower garden Howl gives her as a gift, she turns back into an old woman by telling Howl that she isn’t pretty or capable. At the end of the film Sophie completely rids herself of the spell by losing all of her self doubts, embracing her abilities to protect Howl and her new-found family, and believing that she is deserving of Howl’s love. It’s a gorgeous transformation and one that makes me emotional every time I watch the film.

‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’:

Here’s another film that deals incredibly well with mental health. This movie is almost entirely about overcoming a loss of passion in your craft and even in the world. Kiki starts out her journey excited and eager to prove to the world that she’s a skilled magic user. While trying to find what she wants to do with said magic, she decides to open a delivery service. But her first deliveries go horribly wrong. The first results in a temporary loss of the toy she’s trying to deliver and a hasty attempt to get it fixed while Jiji takes its place. The second seems as though it will go well when she encounters two elderly ladies who are very kind, but ends badly when the recipient rudely accepts the delivery while simultaneously insulting it. Meanwhile, Kiki tries to balance the interest of Tombo and the social life he promises with her work, and at one point Kiki even gets seriously ill. All of that results in Kiki losing her magic and slipping into a deep depression because of it. This sequence is incredibly raw, but serves as a very realistic look into feeling inadequate and lost. It’s cathartic to watch Ursula explain to Kiki that artist blocks are difficult but normal, and even more cathartic to see her find new purpose when she rescues Tombo at the end of the film.

‘When Marnie Was There’:

This movie centers around the character of Anna, a foster child with social anxiety, clear depression, and asthma. She gets sent away to her foster mother’s sister, or her aunt, to get some fresh air to help ease her asthma and also to take her away from some of the stressors that may have caused her depression. The exploration of Anna’s depression throughout this movie completely shatters me. As a foster child, Anna feels as though none of the people around her truly care for her and that they will get rid of her should they ever find her annoying. Because of this she’s distant. She spends most of her time sketching but refuses to show others her drawings. However, it’s clear she wants other people to be interested in her sketches and she wants to let others in, she’s simply afraid of being abandoned in the same way she believes her blood relatives abandoned her. Because of this she lashes out, at one point calling a girl she’s meant to befriend a “fat pig”. What makes matters worse is the reveal that she knows her foster family gets money to take care of her and she fears that it’s the only reason they keep her around. It’s through her relationship with Marnie that she’s able to see everything through a new perspective. Not only do Marnie’s encouragements bring up her confidence, but an outside perspective allows her to see just how much her foster family loves her. At the end of the movie Anna discovers that Marnie was her grandmother and is finally able to know how much her blood relatives loved her as well, giving her peace and the ability to start healing.

‘The Wind Rises’:

If you know anything about the man this movie is based off of, Jiro Horikoshi, you know this movie isn’t happy. Though it’s a fictional retelling of his life, it’s still about the man who invented one of the deadliest war planes of all time. But Hayao Miyazaki turns this story into a beautiful piece about the morality behind creating art during times of tragedy and the fraught idea of greatness. Jiro is an extremely kind man with a kind heart. He attempts to give his dinner to starving children and he carries a stranger on his back to safety after a horrendous earthquake. But his dream is to make planes and this dream is one he intends to realize while Japan is fighting a losing war. He struggles with his dream, trying to design a plane that does justice to his large imagination while encountering many failures. And then he meets Nahoko, a woman who he briefly encountered when he was young, and the two fall in love. He proposes to her without much haste but she refuses because she’s suffering from Tuberculosis. Meanwhile, at the retreat where this romance occurs, he meets a German man who is clearly against the war and makes Jiro question his role in it entirely. At this point it feels as though Jiro could take two paths, one where he continues trying to perfect his plane-crafting during a pointless war, or one where he dedicates himself to the woman he loves. But, of course, the movie carries out this true historical figure’s destiny by having him complete his art while Nahoko, whom he marries when her illness gets worse, passes away. And while Jiro grapples with the fact that he wasn’t there for her, he also acknowledges his art was something he relied on his entire life. It’s a sad movie, but also a fascinating look at the need to create even when the world is at its bleakest.

That’s my personal list! Noticeably absent from this list are ‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya’ and ‘Grave of the Fireflies’. I left these two out for different reasons, though I enjoy them both. ‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya’ has some of the most gorgeous animation I’ve ever seen as well as an emotional story, but, for me personally, the sad nature of the story became more frustrating after a movie full of immoral characters making decisions they were warned against by Kaguya herself. As for ‘Grave of the Fireflies’, I was 100% emotionally devastated by this film. But I was so destroyed by it that I really don’t want to spend too much time talking about it. The movie is basically just two children starving to death. Need I say more? In any case, I highly recommend all of the films I listed above. Sure they’ll destroy you, but who doesn’t want to be destroyed by something as beautiful as a Studio Ghibli film?

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!


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