The magic of Studio Ghibli's films delights children and adults alike, but their whimsical tones can be misleading. Ghibli's collection features some seriously heart-wrenching scenes, not to mention some of the scariest movie moments that people can remember from their childhood. Master storyteller Hayao Miyazaki has given us some of the most beloved characters of all time, including Jiji the black cat, the adorable Soot Sprites, and the furry giant Totoro. It's no wonder young people are drawn to these charming, brightly colored worlds - but what makes Studio Ghibli's work most memorable and timeless is their refusal to simplify their stories and pander to youth.
Themes of war, grief, loss of innocence, and the harm we do to the environment are never swept under the rug. Many kids are introduced to these terrible truths through Studio Ghibli's works.
Even adults can walk away from a Studio Ghibli film not only feeling moved and enchanted, but also thoroughly disturbed. It's this genius blending of beauty and horror that lingers in the memory as Ghibli fans grow up. We've gathered some of the most horrifying and disturbing moments from the Studio Ghibli universe. What was the most traumatizing cinematic moment you experienced as a kid?
- 1220 VOTES
Seita Watches His Mom Die In 'Grave of the Fireflies'
Grave of the Fireflies is not a movie for the faint of heart. It shows in raw detail the toll that war takes on human life, following the stories of a boy and his younger sister trying to survive in WWII Japan. While told with tenderness, it's also raw and unflinching. In one of the most traumatizing scenes, the young hero Seita is told that his mother was grievously injured during a firebombing. The boy tries to hold in his grief as he sees his mother lying on the floor of the school, bundled in bloody bandages. The close-ups to her face reveal that her skin has been burnt beyond any hope of recovery, and her breath comes in sickening rattles. It's unclear whether or not she hears her son's words as he numbly speaks to her. Just before the scene ends, we hear her labored breathing come to a stop.
Though Seita tries to put on a brave face for his little sister, Setsuko, a feeling of dread lingers as he assures her that their mother will simply be staying in the hospital for a while. A subsequent scene shows his mother's corpse crawling with maggots, as two men roughly take her away to be burned. The cold, hollow moment drives home the deep cruelty, needless suffering, and callous disregard for human life that conflict brings.
- 2133 VOTES
Okkoto's Fate In 'Princess Mononoke'
Perhaps the most visually disturbing moment in the Studio Ghibli films is that of the old boar deity, Okkoto, covered in bloody-red tendrils as he succumbs to hatred and despair. Princess Mononoke's way of depicting this curse produces a skin-crawling effect. The wet, worm-like appendages cover the face of the blind boar god, writhing and undulating as they overtake him. The cursed substance is produced from his very body as he realizes the samurai have invaded his woods and tricked him into thinking his fallen tribe members have arisen from the afterlife to join him in battle. He cannot control his rage and disgust for mankind, becoming something corrupted and monstrous. Creepy details, such as the creature's eyes drifting in different directions as he screams in agony, truly get under your skin.
San, trying to stop him from falling into the depths of his anger, is caught up in the bloody mass and gets trapped underneath the tendrils, suffocating under their weight. Ashitaka's vain attempt to dig San free from the gooey substance is a gut-wrenching sight. It becomes even more upsetting when we see Okkoto perish moments later: It's horrible to think that this proud, ancient deity has met such a pitiful end because of the human interlopers.
- 3129 VOTES
The Demise Of The Forest Spirit In 'Princess Mononoke'
Princess Mononoke features one of the scariest moments in animation history. It leaves us feeling deeply disturbed when Lady Eboshi shoots the sacred deer god as he emerges from his hiding place in the woods. Eboshi's first shot pierces the forest deity's neck, but it only leaves his face warped for a moment before he continues on his path. Eerily, he doesn't even spare her a glance. The ancient god silently strides forward, and with a ghostly breath, takes both the lives of Okkoto and Moro, the leaders of the boar and wolf clans. As he stretches his neck upward to the sky, transforming into his gargantuan spirit form, Eboshi refuses to stand down. In a sickening instant, she blasts the god's head from his shoulders in an explosive strike.
As the head warps and his eyes glaze over, the god's body crumples, ending the lives of the samurai who get in his path. This scene is rendered with such a sublime sense of horror and pain that it truly feels as if you've viewed the profane slaying of something holy. It becomes more powerful when you think of the themes that drive Princess Mononoke - when we treat nature as something to be conquered or cleared away, dire repercussions are sure to follow.
- 4114 VOTES
Someone In 'Princess Mononoke' Gets Both Their Arms Shot Off
Princess Mononoke has a much darker tone than many Ghibli movies, which is evident even in its opening sequences. When Prince Ashitaka sets out from his village to find the source of his cursed scar, he encounters a group of samurai raiding a peaceful village. Ashitaka moves to defend himself, but a strange force overwhelms him as he reaches for his bow. His wounded arm bulges and ripples in a grotesque, spasmodic way, and suddenly he is filled with tremendous strength and rage. As he lets his arrow fly, it strikes into the sword hilt of a ruthless samurai who is about to slay an innocent woman.
Shockingly, the arrow rips off both of the man's arms and pins them to a nearby tree. This jarring, unexpected image shows just how scary Ashitaka's curse is. Letting loose more arrows, the shots cleave men's heads from their body in clean strokes. The strange precision of the wounds proves particularly disquieting.
- 576 VOTES
Cob's Transformation In 'Tales From Earthsea'
The strange, androgynous villain of Tales from Earthsea, Lord Cob, appears as a beautiful and sleek sorcerer throughout the film. However, when Arren finally loses his sword and slices Cob's arm clean away, a deeply disturbing change occurs. With white, blank eyes, he suddenly appears to be a wizened, decades-older version of himself. His maimed limb melts into a noxious black ooze on the ground, and bit by bit, Cob's slow decay commences. He stretches in height, his body melting into a tar-like substance as his eyes grow ever larger, all with a maniacal grin plastered on his face. He manages to get hold of Therru and absconds with the young girl as Arren gives chase.
In a subtle change, Cob continues to transform in the following moments: His body becomes blocky, his neck collapses, and his eyes sink into dark pits. His mind, too, seems to erode as he spirals into incoherent ravings about his fear of dying and how he desperately wants more life. He appears as a withered wraith in the moments before Therru is able to assume her true form of a dragon and burn the crazed sorcerer alive. The whole effect is deeply unsettling, and it is easy to feel a sort of pity for the thwarted villain.
- 6135 VOTES
The Parents In 'Spirited Away' Transform Into Pigs
Never eat someone else's food without asking first! Even 10-year-old Chihiro in Spirited Away knows not to do that - but her parents simply refuse to listen to her warnings. After unknowingly blundering into the spirit world, Chihiro and her family discover an empty market town. The numerous stalls are laden with tempting dishes, all hot and fresh. With no one around to stop them, Chihiro's parents assure her that they can simply pay later, and they both dig in to the feast. Chihiro begs them to stop, but they just keep stuffing their faces. She wanders away for a while to explore the town, but as dusk descends, so do the local spirits.
In an unforgettably frightening sequence, ghost-like beings appear in the streets and shops, all beckoning to Chihiro as she flees in terror. When she finds her parents, it's only to see them animalistically feeding on the now horrid-looking scraps of their dinner. Their bodies have grown swollen, snouts have replaced their noses, and hooves are where their hands used to be. The more they gorge, the further they are transformed into huge pigs. Chihiro is helpless to watch as a spirit beats her father away from the counter with a whip.
This unforgettable moment brings home how frightening it would feel to be stranded in a strange land as a child and to lose the safety and protection of your parents. The idea of watching those you love being punished for their mistakes - and seeing the ugliest sides of their personality reflected in their appearance - is also chilling.