The animated characters of Studio Ghibli come in many shapes, sizes, and levels of cuteness. While some are meant to intimidate, others add more wonder and enchantment to their fantastical movies.
These Studio Ghibli animals can be based on real animals – there are several Studio Ghibli cats – rooted in mythology or purely new creations. Regardless of appearances, though, the creatures can play key roles in a movie, often hinting at a deeper meaning in the story or providing human characters with more information about their environment.
Updated on June 5th, 2022 by Stacie Rook: My Neighbor Totoro has been adapted for the stage in London, but it’s not the only Studio Ghibli movie to have received the theater treatment, as Spirited Away also came to life this year in Tokyo. In both cases, Ghibli’s famous animals are central to the stories, and take on new spectacular forms in this live-action arena.
Totoro – My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
One of the most widely-known animations from Studio Ghibli is My Neighbor Totoro. In the movie, co-protagonist Mei is the character who first interacts with the creature, a great woodland spirit who lives in a tree near her new countryside home. Mei then gleefully introduces Totoro to her older sister, Satsuki, and their father.
Totoro acts as an embodiment of nature in the film and helps Mei and Satsuki to explore and appreciate their surroundings with care. Often accompanied by two smaller Totoros, the spirit has become the mascot for the Studio Ghibli company, exemplifying the studio’s motifs of fantasy and environmentalism.
Calcifer – Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
In Howl’s Moving Castle, Calcifer is a fire demon who makes many demands but is never seen as a very threatening or dangerous character. On the contrary, his fiery personality leads him to becoming friends with heroine Sophie, who appreciates his skill, but isn’t intimidated by his declarations.
Originally a falling star, Calcifer was saved by the wizard Howl and entered into a contract with him. Though Calcifer can be chaotic, he has no evil intentions and is in fact one of Howl’s Moving Castle‘s most likable characters thanks to his witty remarks and the friendships he shares with those around him.
Soot Sprites – My Neighbor Totoro (1988) & Spirited Away (2001)
Tiny soot sprites, also called Susuwatari, can be seen in one of Studio Ghibli’s best movies, Spirited Away, working for Kamajī the boiler man. They are under a spell to work by carrying coal to the burners, and they charmingly eat konpeito candies for lunch. Before this memorable appearance, though, the sprites were also seen in My Neighbor Totoro, hiding in the attic before escaping from Mei.
Although they only make small appearances, the soot sprites make a big impact and add to the wondrous feel of their movies. They’re also shown to have a lot of personality, playfully halting their work when Chihiro helps them in the boiler room, eager to slack off.
Baron Humbert Von Gikkingen – Whisper Of The Heart (1995) & The Cat Returns (2002)
Given a long name that echoes his chivalrous persona, Baron Humbert Von Gikkingen is actually a statue of an anthropomorphic cat who wears a dapper suit. He first appeared in Whisper of the Heartin which his statue gave Shizuku inspiration for her novel, then once more, as the movie’s title suggests, in The Cat Returns.
The Baron’s presence in the second film is far larger, as the statue comes to life and assists main character Haru on her journey into the Cat Kingdom. The Baron has a sincere yet stoic personality, which is contrasted to great effect with his cute appearance.
The Kodama – Princess Mononoke (1997)
The Kodama are tree spirits that appear in Princess Mononoke when the forest is healthy. Their presence is accompanied by a curious clicking noise as they tilt their heads, and they fade in and out of sight.
While their unusual looks might be a bit unsettling for first-time watchers of the film, the story soon proves that Kodama are a good omen. The cute observers are based on figures of the same name from Japanese folklore, and Ghibli’s Kodama help to reinforce the movie’s environmental message.
Oritori-Sama – Spirited Away (2001)
The oritori-Sama are giant duck / chick-like spirits that visit the Bathhouse in Spirited Away. Despite only having a small scene in the film, they are very memorable, thanks to their fluffy appearance and wide-eyed stare.
Servants of the god oritori, these spirits take time to unwind at the Bathhouse, submerging themselves in blissful-looking waters. Some of the best spirits in Spirited Awaythe oritori-Sama are nonetheless important as they show that not all parts of the Spirit Realm are frightening.
Teto – Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind (1984)
One of the earliest creatures created by Studio Ghibli, Teto is seen in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. A gift from Nausicaä’s mentor Lord Yupa, Teto is a fox-squirrel who usually perches on Nausicaä’s shoulder.
In spite of his sweet appearance, Teto was initially ferocious, biting Nausicaä’s finger as soon as the two met, but Nausicaä’s calm response to the attack soon allowed Teto to trust her. A loyal companion, Teto proves that Nausicaä has talent when it comes to interacting with wildlife.
Jiji – Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
The titular protagonist of Kiki’s Delivery Service is accompanied throughout her story by Jiji, her talking cat. Notably, there are major differences in Jiji’s personality between the original Japanese-language and dubbed English-language versions of the film.
In the dubbed movie, Jiji is sarcastic, talkative, and cynical, making him a comedic character who balances out Kiki’s determined personality. In the Japanese version, though, he is humble and cautious, which somewhat impacts the movie’s tone. Either way, though, Jiji is one of the cutest cat characters in Studio Ghibli’s history, with a simple yet memorable design.
Baby Boh – Spirited Away (2001)
Yubaba’s son Boh first appeared in Spirited Away as a human baby. A gigantic spoiled infant who tried to terrorize Chihiro into playing with him, the figure is one of many Spirited Away characters with mythological origins. In this case, the inspiration was Kintarō, a Japanese folk hero.
Initially selfish and demanding, Boh is turned into a precious little mouse by Yubaba’s twin sister. He then goes on a long adventure with Chihiro, through which he learns valuable life lessons, becoming more independent and caring. This change even leads him to stand up against his mother on Chihiro’s behalf at the movie’s climax.
Niya – The Secret World Of Arrietty (2010)
The Secret World of Arrietty follows a family of Borrowers, including daughter Arrietty, who struggles to keep her loved ones safe while also exploring the human world around her and learning to be independent. The movie’s antagonists are the humans who might destroy their home, and (it seems) the family cat, Niya.
To a Borrower, Niya seems the ultimate villain, with sharp fangs and keen hunting instincts. In spite of early misgivings, though, Niya later turns out to be a friendly cat who makes friends with Arrietty, later helping her to reunite with her human friend Shō when their family must flee.
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