Studio Ghibli films are well known for their breathtaking portrayals of outdoor scenery and nature. Influenced by co-founder Hayao Miyazaki’s love of the natural world, the vibrant landscapes within Ghibli films create an unparalleled sense of place through detailed hand-painted background art. When combined with natural movements like the wind and sounds like the quintessential buzz of cicadas, these backdrops can transport you to another place and time.
As a lifelong Ghibli fan, I always get most nostalgic for these films in the springtime. Here are some of my top picks to watch when warmer weather is on the way.
Set in the 1950s, Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro) is an early Studio Ghibli classic written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. A professor and his two young daughters, Satsuki and Mei, move into an old, long-vacant home to be closer to the hospital where their mother is recovering. Said to be inspired by the landscape in the Sayama Hills region of Japan where Miyazaki owned a home, the scenery is a highlight of this film. My favorite scenes are the ones in which the Totoro sleep in their camphor tree home.
The Secret World of Arrietty, based on Mary Norton’s classic children’s book The Borrowers, provides a view of the outdoors from a miniature perspective. Before undergoing heart surgery, Sho is staying with his aunt to regain his strength when he meets a small borrower named Arrietty. The family estate is surrounded by a large manicured garden, and seeing it through Arrietty’s point of view is stunning. The little details in this film are my favorite. Even the smallest water droplet is filled with wonder.
A more recent Ghibli film, From up on Poppy Hill is set in 1963 Yokohama and features gorgeous panoramic views of the mountainous coastline. The main character Umi lives in a family-owned boarding house at the top of a hill overlooking the rest of the city and the sea. The scenery in this film is a blend of natural landscape and man-made cityscape. The use of natural lighting in panoramic shots of the shoreline is breathtaking.
Whenever I think of Howl’s Moving Castle, I think of the scenes that take place in the grassy, lush countryside valleys. Based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones, this dream-like fantasy film follows main character Sophie as she travels in a rickety moving castle searching for a way to restore Howl’s heart. The scenes of stars falling over the wet, grassy meadows capture the essence of this Academy Award-nominated film.
Recently released to the English language market, Only Yesterday follows Taeko as she takes a vacation from her busy city job to help out with the traditional harvest of safflowers in the rural countryside. Though this romance anime focuses heavily on the relationship between Taeko and Toshio, the beautifully-animated countryside and traditional farming practices also show the strong relationship between humans and nature.