Howl’s Moving Castle – 2004 – directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Sophie, a 19 year old young woman working as a hat maker, is cursed and is subsequently transformed into a 90 year old woman. She leaves home to try and lift the curse. This is probably my favourite Studio Ghibli film. I love Sophie as the main female protagonist (she’s feisty, even as an old woman), and who doesn’t love Calcifer? Seriously he is awesome. It is visually stunning, and I really enjoy the interactions between the main cast of characters.
Princess Mononoke – 1997 – directed by Hayao Miyazaki
This film follows the journey of the last Emishi prince, Ashitaka, and his attempt to make peace between the human settlement, Irontown, and the creatures of the forest surrounding it. It takes place in Japan, during the transition from medieval period to the early modern period. One of the main themes of this film is the destructive relationship humans have with the natural world. I absolutely love this film, although in many way it is quite brutal and sad – in terms of what humans are capable of against the natural world. This film is a very close second favourite.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind – 1984 – directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Although technically made before the formation of Studio Ghibli I’m still counting this in my list. Princess Nausicaa desperately struggles to two warring nations from destroying each other and the dying planet they inhabit. The most prominent themes are anti-war and environmental focus in this film, and the use of fear as the main motivation of any action, instead of the idea of good vs evil. Again I absolutely love the characters, and it is also visually amazing.