[All this week, Flixist is holding Ghibli Week by bringing you all sorts of Studio Ghibli related posts to celebrate the U.S. release of Ghibli’s newest movie, The Secret World of Arrietty, on Friday, February 17th! Check back throughout the week for lots of Ghibli-related goodness!]
The romance is a bit of a staple in Studio Ghibli movies. That said, sometimes they’ve done it better than other times. Since it’s both Valentine’s Day and Studio Ghibli week, I put together this list of the five best Studio Ghibli romances!
And when I say romances, I mean romances within movie’s storyline, not like Miyazaki’s hot fling with Totoro a few years back… we’re not going to go there. But there will probably be spoilers.
5. Porco and Gina: Porco Rosso
Porco Rosso is a ladies man. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but he gets all the ladies. One special lady in particular. Gina is a woman with a past, and even though she’s tried starting over to make a new life, she has one weakness from that past: Porco. During the Great Depression, Porco Rosso is a former flying ace who works as a freelance pirate hunter. Gina runs a runs a hotel that Porco frequents and she can sing in French just like Edith Piaf. The hot-shot American pilot Curtis soon falls for her, but unfortunately for him, she only has eyes for Porco.
Porco is also close to Fio, a young girl with a mind for engine mechanics who soon begsins to travel with Porco in order to fix his ship. When Porco raids the pirate island that Curtis is staying on, Curtis captures him and Fio and challenges Porco to a duel – and if Porco loses, Fio will have to marry Curtis. Porco accepts.
It’s eventually revealed that Gina was married to Proco’s best friend and fellow pilot, but he was killed in a battle during presumably WWI. Since then Gina and Porco have maintained a close relationship. Porco and Gina’s are the kind of kids that you just want to be together, even though feelings of guilt or shame plague their ability to move forward. Their relationship is definitely not that last in the world of Ghibli that will diffuse the line between men and beast…
4. Haru and The Baron: The Cat Returns
In The Cat Returns, average middle school girl Haru enlists the help of the incredibly debonair and British-accented cat named Baron Humbert von Jikkingen to help her when a legion of cats who are trying to kidnap her and force her to marry the Cat Prince. The Baron is an orange cat who speaks, walks on two legs and wears a suit and has a top hat and cane, of course. I mean really, who wouldn’t fall in love with that!? It’s not just me, right? Right!?
3. San and Ashitaka: Princess Mononoke
Ashitaka is the last prince of the embattled Emishi people. He is noble to a fault, but while defending his people from a rouge boar spirit poisoned by hatred and evil, Ashitaka accidentally gets poisoned himself and has to be sent away from his village. He makes his way toward where the boar spirit came from in hopes of lifting his curse. He eventually comes across several men who were drowning in a river after being attacked by the wolf spirits lead by the giant wolf Moro. Ashitaka sees the wolf spirits across the riverbank, accompanied by a young girl wearing a wolf pelt. Moro is hurt and bleeding, and the girl immediately tries to help her by sucking blood out of the wounded area. Yes, the first time Ashitaka meets San, Princess Mononoke, she has wolf blood all over her face. (My kind of woman.) The wolf spirits leave and San shouts at Ashitaka to “Go away.”
Ashitaka and San’s relationship is interesting because of how opposite they are. Ashitaka is the pinnacle of the intellectually and spiritually civilized human, and San is a wild beast who tries to kill Ashitaka on more than one occasion. Despite these obvious differences in practice and theory, Ashitaka falls hopelessly in love with San, and though his tireless efforts to show tenderness towards her, and through his intrinsic nobility, he brings a touch of her humanity back. Ashitaka never tires to change San, though. In fact he falls in love with her because of exactly who she is. Ashitaka and San use their different abilities and connections to work together for the peace of both of the worlds that they inhabit in Princess Mononoke.
2. Chihiro and Haku: Spirited Away
Ten years old is a bit young for a full-fledged romance, but ten years old is a bit young for a lot of the stuff Chihiro does in Spirited Away. On her way to moving to a new home with her mom and dad, the family ends up stopping at an abandoned old amusement park, where Chihiro’s mom and dad find some freshly prepared food sitting out and decide to help themselves. Chihiro wanders away from her parents and finds a grand old bathhouse and a young boy who warns her to leave right away. When Chihiro returns to her parents, she finds that they have magically been turned into hogs! Chihiro tries to get out of the park, but she finds that it is too late, that night has fallen and a mighty river has swollen between the park and the real world. Chihiro is soon met by Haku, the boy she met earlier, who escorts her into the bathhouse. It becomes apparent that Chihiro and her parents are stuck in the spirit world, more specifically, at a bathhouse for spirits. Haku tells Chihiro to make her way to the boiler room and to ask the boiler man for a job at the bathhouse, since that way Yubaba – the evil witch who rules the bathhouse – can’t harm her.
Chihiro eventually secures a job working in the bathhouse, under the condition that she change her name to Sen, since Yubaba controls her workers by stealing their names. Sen is warned that if she forgets her real name that she will be doomed to live in the spirit world forever. Through working at the bathhouse, Sen realizes that Haku can transform into a dragon. When Haku gets very injured by spirits in the form of paper birds, and Sen tries to protect him. The paper birds however, are actually being controlled by Yubaba’s twin sister, Zeniba. Zeniba tells Sen that Yubaba stole Zeniba’s golden seal on Yubaba’s orders and that she must return it. Sen also learns from the boiler man that Haku has been placed under a spell by Yubaba and that if she went to return the golden seal that it might help him. Sen secures Haku in the boiler room and then escapes for Zeniba’s house without a second thought of the consequences…
Chihiro and Haku’s relationship is like Ghibli’s take on puppy love. The main characters are young, or at least appear to be, and their relationship is one of attachment, but with a twist of Ghibli magic. Spirited Away is one of the most beloved Ghibli movies, and it has a lot to do with Chihiro. She’s a hardworking klutz, but has the best of intentions. Her arc within the movie shows her develop from a selfish child to an independent young lady. Haku’s character has a quiet strength and refinement, but he is missing his sense of self until Chihiro helps him discover it. Their young love is a head-over-heels adventure that leads both characters to understand themselves better and grow as individuals.
1. Howl and Sophie: Howl’s Moving Castle
Howl starts off his relationship with Sophie by saving her from some aggressive guards and then telling her, “Don’t be alarmed, but I’m being followed.” The young Sophie is soon turned into an old woman by the witch that is following and in love with Howl. Sophie then runs away from home and ends up seeking shelter in Howl’s moving castle. Howl is soon summoned to serve the king in the war he’s waging against a nearby kingdom. After Howl has a pity-party about accidentally dying his hair, Sophie agrees to go to the king in his stead – disguised as his mother – to report to the king’s army that he is too much of a lazy son to be sent to battle. The King’s witch tries to tell Sophie that Howl’s heart was stolen by a demon and that he is too dangerous to be allowed to live without a heart. Sophie doesn’t believe her. While speaking to the king’s witch, Sophie accidentally lets it slip that she is in love with Howl. Howl arrives in time to save her from the king’s witches, and tells Sophie that knowing that she’d be there gave him the courage to show up.
Howl later creates an extra room in the moving castle for Sophie, and creates a portal to a secret garden for them to share. Throughout these events, Sophie’s age curse slowly waivers and slips away when she lets her guard down around Howl. Her insecurities about her looks soon restore her age curse, though.
The great thing about Howl and Sophie’s romance is that they both need each other. Both are plagued by magical spells and by everyday insecurities. Once Howl, the notorious womanizer, realizes the he is in love with the plucky but unassuming Sophie, he realizes that he finally has something that he wants to protect, and that he must stop running away from his problems. Sophie begins to stand up for herself on the first day in the moving castle, after she admits being tired of being treated like an old woman, presumably for her whole life until that point. Eventually, the characters start referring to their rag-tag group as a “family” and you know it’s all over from then on out.
Ghibli is a studio full of romance, love and loss. However, through their trademark magical twists, Studio Ghibli’s love stories don’t feel forced or tired, but simultaneously believable and unreal. And that’s the mark of a great love story.