There have been many iconic anime films over the years, from the works of Satoshi Kon with Perfect Blue to Katsuhiro Otomo’s masterpiece Akira. Even so, these masterful films don’t even come close to the beauty and popularity of the works of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.
One of the most famous and loved of these films is My Neighbor Totoro, the heartwarming tale of two sisters adjusting to life in the country as they meet the titular forest monster who helps the girls come to terms with their new life. However, there are arguments that, for one reason or another, some of Miyazaki’s other works are superior to My Neighbor Totoro, going so far as to knock it from its pedestal as the best Studio Ghibli has to offer.
10 Best: Was Written By Hayao Miyazaki
Hayao Miyazaki is the mastermind behind every beloved film from Studio Ghibli, as well as being one of the founders of the company. Aside from working on the animation process, he is also responsible for writing a fair few of the movies he has worked on.
Alongside My Neighbor Totoro, he also wrote Ponyo and Spirited Away, among many other films that are just as well known and loved as My Neighbor Totoro. Spirited Away has even been credited for the studio’s surge in popularity in the west.
9 Better: Spirited Away
For many film-goers, Spirited Away is the film that introduced them to Studio Ghibli in the first place. Spirited Away tells the story of Chihiro Ogino, a young girl who must find a way to return her parents to human form after being turned into pigs as a mysterious woman puts her to work in a bathhouse for spirits.
At one point in time, it was the highest-grossing film in Japan, and still leads lists of both the highest-grossing films of all time as well as the best-reviewed. Even more impressively, Spirited Away also won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, and was the first and only anime film to win this award.
8 Best: Totoro Is An Original Story
Many of Studio Ghibli’s films are based on works originally penned by writers not associated with the studio, most notably films like Tales from Earthsea and The Tale of Princess Kaguya.
Totoro, on the other hand, is an entirely original story by Miyazaki with some influence from his life growing up in post-WWII Japan. The character of Totoro comes from the town of Tokorozawa, close to where Miyazaki grew up, and he has memories of children in the area frequently mispronouncing the towns name as Totoro.
7 Better: The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Many movie-goers choose to ignore the ratings and recommendations of film critics, choosing instead to go on their own subjective enjoyment and decide for themselves whether a film is good or bad. On the other hand, it can be hard to ignore a recommendation that has a 100% approval rating.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya is one of the few films reviewed by Rotten Tomatoes to have been given a perfect score, and one of two Studio Ghibli films to be given that rating. Comparatively, My Neighbor Totoro received a rating of 94% which, while not a bad film by any means, is still a few percent short of perfection.
6 Best: The Character of Totoro Has Become The Studio’s Mascot
It’s clear that a studio takes great pride in a film they have created when the titular character becomes its mascot. For it’s first few films, the studio’s logo was simply the text used in its now much more famous version, but without Totoro.
These days, it’s hard to imagine the signature design being anything other than what we have now come to expect when watching a Ghibli film for the hundredth time.
5 Better: Only Yesterday
Only Yesterday shares a few stand-out elements in common with other Studio Ghibli films. Firstly, it is one of the few films with no fantasy elements present, and is a much more adult-centered drama story of returning to your roots and rediscovering yourself.
Secondly, it is the only other Studio Ghibli film that has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, putting it in very high standing. Although it didn’t get an English language release until 2016, many years after its initial release in 1991, that hasn’t stopped it being a favorite among western Ghibli fans.
4 Best: Covers Heavy Themes In A Whimsical Way
The two main characters, Satsuki and Mei, have an ill mother who remains in hospital for the duration of the film, and the threat of death looms over her throughout the movie. Although the film focuses more on how such young children deal with the idea of losing their mother rather than the illness itself, My Neighbor Totoro never holds the audience’s hand through the harder moments.
The story of a sick mother is also based on Miyazaki’s own life, with his own mother being hospitalized with tuberculosis in much the same way as Satsuki and Mei’s mother.
3 Better: Grave of the Fireflies
Grave of the Fireflies is a very different kind of Ghibli movie, and shows that the studio isn’t limited to the fun movies they are more well known for. Released alongside My Neighbor Totoro as a double feature (the studio believing it to be too much of a financial risk to release it by itself), it is in stark contrast to the lighthearted family film that captured the hearts of many.
Based on the short story of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka, Grave of the Fireflies is a semi-autobiographical recollection of the author’s life during WWII, specifically his survival of the firebombing of Kobe. It holds no punches, choosing realism over artistry which results in many scenes being hard to watch, but anyone would be doing themselves a disservice to ignore Grave of the Fireflies because of that.
2 Best: Totoro Appears In Many Other Films
Filmmakers love to put cameos in their works, especially in animated films. The character of Totoro has appeared in a handful of other Studio Ghibli movies, including Pom Poko, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Whisper of the Heart.
However, he also makes a surprise appearance in Toy Story 3 as one of Bonnie’s stuffed toys. This is because, aside from many of the animators being fans of Miyazaki’s work, Disney now owns the distribution rights to the English dubs of all of Studio Ghibli’s films.
1 Better: Castle in the Sky
Also known as Laputa: Castle in the Sky, it was the first movie released by Studio Ghibli and, like Totoro, is one of the few early works not based on an existing story.
While The Castle of Cagliostro and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind were also written by Hayao Miyazaki, they were released before the creation of Studio Ghibli, so technically don’t count towards this list. Laputa tells the story of Sheeta, a girl who falls from the sky and into the arms of Pazu, who go in search of the floating island of Laputa and find answers to their respective pasts.
Studio Ghibli has produced many of the most memorable anime films ever made. Here's why Totoro is their best, and a few of their better offerings.