After years of resistance to streaming, Studio Ghibli announced it would stream exclusively on HBO Max in 2020. Streaming won’t be the only way to see Studio Ghibli movies digitally. Animation distributor GKIDS announced yesterday that for the first time ever, Studio Ghibli titles will be available digital-to-own in North American starting December 17th.
Digital copies of the films will be available in Japanese-language and English-dubbed versions. Each Ghibli title is priced at $19.99, and will be available on Apple TV, Amazon VOD, VUDU, Google Play, and other platforms. There will also be a $99.99 six-film bundle that will include Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away.
GKIDS lists the following Ghibli feature films available for digitally starting this month:
- Castle in the Sky
- The Cat Returns
- From Up on Poppy Hill
- Howl’s Moving Castle
- Kiki’s Delivery Service
- My Neighbor Totoro
- My Neighbors the Yamadas
- Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
- Ocean Waves
- Only Yesterday
- Pom Poko
- Porco Rosso
- Princess Mononoke
- The Secret World of Arrietty
- Spirited Away
- The Tale of The Princess Kaguya
- Tales From Earthsea
- When Marnie Was There
- Whisper of the Heart
The Wind Rises will be available in the third quarter of 2020.
No word yet on Ghibli short films and music videos being made available digitally as of now. There is one notable omission in this list: Isao Takahata’s heartbreaking Grave of the Fireflies.
Based on Akiyuki Nosaka’s semi-autobiographical short story, Grave of the Fireflies recounts the struggles of an orphaned brother and sister trying to survive in the waning days of World War II. The film is often listed as one of the saddest movies ever made. As much as I love it, Grave of the Fireflies is the sort of film I have a hard time revisiting. It’s just that emotionally taxing; I don’t think a movie has made me cry as hard.
Looking back on our Ghibli/HBO Max story, I noticed that Grave of the Fireflies will not be available to stream next year either. That makes Takahata’s movie the only Studio Ghibli feature film without any announced digital-download or streaming release.
The omission of this film from the HBO Max streaming list and the GKIDS digital-to-own list makes me wonder if Ghibli is particularly protective of this film and the power it has over audiences. GKIDS programmed the movie for Ghibli Fest in 2018, and perhaps this movie—which is an outlier in the family-friendly Ghibli library—will remain an exception to the rest of the Ghibli digital library.
We’ll have to wait and see if Grave of the Fireflies will be made available for steaming and downloads. Perhaps we will get some comments from Studio Ghibli reps about the decision. If Grave of the Fireflies remains available only on Blu-ray, DVD, and theatrical exhibitions, it may lend a certain mystique to Takahata’s masterpiece.
Let us know what you think about digital Studio Ghibli and Grave of the Fireflies in the comments below.
Here is a Tweet from GKIDS regarding Grave of the Fireflies, which explains why it is absent from the streaming and download library.
We handle theatrical rights only. Ghibli sold off rights to Grave shortly after it was produced, to fund their earliest productions, so it has always traveled separately from the rest of their catalog.
— GKIDS Films (@GKIDSfilms) December 3, 2019