When it comes to any great film, there are always those individual scenes that becomes imprinted in minds of its audience. Whether it's a image, a line of dialogue, or a feeling you get when you watch it, these are the signs that a film has truly left an impact on you. Studio Ghibli, being the animation titan that it is, had plenty of scenes like this all across their movies. Moments that would come to define each individual film and help set them apart from each other. Scenes that could be used to help introduce curious newcomers to Studio Ghibli's lasting legacy in producing quality animated films.
But what kind of scenes stand out to us the most? Is it the surreal magic locations like the introduction to the Bathhouse in Spirited Away, the down to earth Safflower harvest from Only Yesterday or the high flying action of Porco Rosso?
As part of GKIDS Studio Ghibli contest, we here at AFA have compiled a list of our favorite moments from some of our favorite Ghibli films, along with our winning submission from the above contest. Keep in mind, this list a personal list. These are all scenes that we enjoy on different levels, not a countdown on which one is better than the rest ('cause let's face it that would be almost impossible).
With all that out of the way, let's jump right in!
When sisters Mei and Satsuki go to meet their Dad at the bus-stop, the bus arrives and there's no sign. In the dark and pouring rain, the pair wait anxiously for his arrival. They wait and wait, little Mei falling asleep on her sister's back. Until that is, a familiar furry giant arrives by their side.The older girl offers her father's umbrella to the slightly soggy forest spirit. As what appears to be headlights appear out of the dark, it seems the bus might be here at last. But they are not headlights but eyes and this is no normal bus.. this is the magical Catbus. The sisters watch in amazement as the furry feline bus comes bounding into view and stops by their side. After thanking Satsuki for the umbrella with a gift of a package of seeds, Totoro climbs aboard and the magical bus runs into the night.
Satsuki's first meeting with Totoro (and our first encounter with the Catbus) is one of the most iconic scenes, not just in Ghibli's filmography, but also in animation as a whole. Just as with the film as a whole, the scene is in no hurry, and Miyazaki allows events to unfold in their own time. There's very little dialogue, but we understand everything we need to. It's a masterclass in visual storytelling. With Joe Hisaishi's classic score providing the perfect soundtrack, what's not to love? In a film that is full of classic scenes, this is arguably the standout of the lot. And let's be honest here... we'd all sell our Grandmother for a ride on the Catbus.
Porco Rosso (Dan Hamman) -“Idiot.”
One of my favorite scenes in all of Ghibli is a small but perfect moment from Miyazaki's 1992 opus Porco Rosso. It encompasses the classic story of doomed love at the heart of the movie.
Curtis, the bullish and naive American pilot/film star has trespassed on to Gina's secret garden and rushes into a proposal, proudly laying out his plan to become a big star and then, president. Gina laughs at him and remarks 'You're an idiot. I like that in a man'.
She explains that she can't, she's gambling on waiting for 'someone' who 'only comes out at night', but that if he arrives she'll tell him that she loves him. We all know it's Porco and we all know that he's going to play her around until the end of their days. And then suddenly, we hear an engine, and Porco's trademark red seaplane appears in the sky.
Gina rushes out to the balcony at the water's edge as Porco's plane rushes past. He circles then begins to tumble and soar around the sky, showing off, knowing that he's driving her crazy inside. As she watches his plane, her memories come flooding back. In a flash of rushing water and a cross-fade, we're transported back to Gina and Marco's courting days, when he was also impressing her with planes. The two teenagers riding on an old wooden seaplane gently rise from the water and they soar into the sky together, the envy of crowds on the water below. Marco, taken with delight, looks behind to smile at the young, enchanted Gina, just as the rushing winds push her dress up flashing her bloomers. He turns back, red faced. We land back in the present with adult Gina as the memory fades. She continues to watch Porco until he inevitably flies off. "Idiot." she says.
The movie is all about nostalgia and things lost in the past, and this scene plays on cinema's magical ability not just to show us memories, but for us to feel them too, and the complicated feelings that arise when reflecting on loss. It's not an altogether happy or sad moment for Gina, but it hints at the longing in her, the fluttering heart of a teenager beneath a cool, mature demeanor. This complex characterization is classic Miyazaki and makes Marco and Gina's romance one of the most compelling in the Ghibli canon.
My Neighbors the Yamadas (Christoph Harvey) -Fighting over the TV
My favorite scene from My Neighbours the Yamadas is part of the “Father as role model” section. Here we get some (really) short scenes showing how Takashi behaves with his family. We have one where his trying to get his wife to find something only to realize it is right in front of him, another driving Matsuko, his wife, to distraction on his day off.
The standout scene however is one played out in many homes, only taken to a new level. Two people want to watch something on the TV at the same time and one of them is going to win. It opens with a beautiful abstraction of a baseball game that looks like it is being drawn and colored as you are watching it. Takashi, reading the paper, declares “Game’s still on”. Matsuko takes the remote and what follows is part ballet, part samurai conflict as Takashi “protects” the TV from her attempts to change the channel.
You know how it is going to end but the final tactical flourish and the cry of defeat wraps up a view of almost my family wanting to watch different things on the TV. The scene is perfect in length, comic timing and all of the character animation – from the Yamadas to the scenes on the TV – are sublime. It is a stand-out scene in what is, for me, an exceptional feature.
Princess Mononoke (Rachael Ward) -Attack on Iron Town
From start to finish this rather long scene is a real thrill ride. The main action sequence featuring San is impressive to say the least with just how much detail the animators were able to put in to the movements of the characters. Add wonderful fight choreography on top of that and you've got a real nail biter of a scene. But part of what makes this sequence particularly tense is tied to the film's theme in that the struggle of Mankind vs. Nature is not as clear cut as it may seem.
However, it is the ending of this scene that gets me emotional every single time. In order to diffuse the situation, Ashitaka steps into the fray, using the power of his cursed arm to incapacitate both Eboshi and San. The image of that the curse (a bunch of worm like snakes, twisting and snapping around his arm) is chilling to say the least, becoming an embodiment of hatred. Even after successfully preventing San and Eboshi from killing each other, Ashitaka takes a bullet to the chest as he tries to leave from an enraged townswoman. Yet, he still keeps going. Determined to leave the town with San in peace before things escalate even further.
I love scenes with great character moments, and as far as Ghibli goes, this is one always stood out to me the most. Through most of the film, it is quickly established what kind of character Ashitaka is. A noble young man who is driven to find the truth behind his curse and a way to cure it. However it is in this moment that his conflict between what he feels is right and wrong is truly put to the test. He is being draw into the conflict whether he wants to or not, but he chooses not to let the emotions of the others (San, Eboshi and the townsfolk) corrupt his judgement and try to find the course of action that would benefit everyone. Even at the cost of his life.
It is an emotional scene and I find something new to love about it every time I see it.
My Neighbor Totoro (Ali Harris)“Do I look like a big girl?”
As a huge fan of practically everything related to Studio Ghibli, you would think my favorite scene from one of their movies would be an epic, grandiose moment. Well, not exactly. I tend to go for the quiet moments of pure serenity, those special scenes where there is no music and limited dialogue. And my favorite one of all comes from the delightful children’s story My Neighbor Totoro (1993), directed and written by Hayao Miyazaki. When I was a four-year old kid, this was the first Ghibli film I ever saw, and I instantly found a connection with the two sisters, especially the mischievous and curious Mei.
My favorite scene occurs when Mei is putting on her sandals and sunhat to “tend” to the garden of weeds growing outside the house. Her father, a history professor, is busy grading papers and is quietly observing her from his desk.
Silently, she turns to him, smiles, and says, “Daddy? Do I look like a big girl?” to which he promptly responds, “You sure do.” After leaving, Mei tromps through the yard and returns with a handful of small, yellow flowers.
Quietly, she begins to line them up on her father’s desk and says, “Daddy, you be the flower shop okay?”
Smiling, her father takes on of the flowers and continues grading papers.
Such a brief scene, yet it has so much beauty to offer. No music plays throughout the entire minute. Instead, we are given a chorus of bird chirps and whispering wind, accentuated by the soft patter of Mei’s feet and the scraping of a pen over paper. Also, the innocence of childhood and the bond between a daughter and her father is really cemented here. I especially love how Mei asks her father to pretend his desk is a flower shop and how he sweetly plays along with her imaginary game. Whenever my own dad was busy at work, he would often do the same thing whenever I pretended to be a superhero. I loved this scene as a child, and I still love it now.
Why? Because it is a perfect reminder that kid’s animated films (and adult animated films) sometimes need quiet moments to be a true masterpiece. And it takes us back to those special moments of innocence that defined our childhood.
Last but certainly not least, here is our special entry from Todd Newman!
Only Yesterday (Todd Newman)Ending Sequence
My favorite scene in a Studio Ghibli film comes at the end of “Only Yesterday” when Taeko decides to go back to Yamagata, Toshio, and a new life. The director, Isao Takahata, has the scene occur under the final credits rather than make it a big splashy sequence, almost treating it as an afterthought, which gives it even more poignancy and emotional impact, as if it was part of the beautiful flow of life, with all of its joy and sadness. Best film ending ever. I cry every time I see it.
A big thank you goes out to Todd and everyone who submitted their thoughts on their favorite scene for our summer contest. For those of you who missed out and would still like to share your thoughts on your favorite Studio Ghibli Scene, feel free to leave a comment below. We would love to hear your thoughts.