Following the news last year that the beloved director Hayao Miyazaki was retiring, many fans of his have gone back to watch some of his old films. For many people, Miyazaki films hold a special place in their heart. Most fans have a favorite, be it Spirited Away (my favorite by far), My Neighbor Totoro, or Howl's Moving Castle. But what if I told you that several of Studio Ghibli's films create a sprawling narrative story that takes place over several millennia? That Hayao Miyazaki's stories revolve around the relationship between man and spirit? Would you believe me, or call me crazy? Perhaps a bit of both?
However, only Ghibli original stories are included in this timeline. That means no KIki and definitely no Howl's. If it's based on a story in a manga, book or another movie that wasn't produced by Miyazaki or Studio Ghibli, it is disqualified from this timeline.
Also, spoilers for those who haven't seen these movies. This entire article is spoiler city, so is is your only warning.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Taking place somewhere In the Muromachi period of Japan ( Between 1337 (heh, leet) and 1573 AD), Princess Mononoke is, at the end of the day, the story of how man gains the power and technology to defeat and hold back the spirits of the world. The same spirits who, for centuries, had forced humans to obey their laws of harmony. Laws that humans, ultimately, couldn't agree with. During the film's climax, we get to see humans defeat the spirits for the first time by decapitating the Forest Spirit God, which then turns into a giant walking behemoth that proceeds to mess up everybody's day. And while the Forest Spirit gets his head back and all is well with the world, one can't help but wonder if this is he event that triggered the recession of spirits that we see in later films.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Ah, Totoro! A classic family movie. Taking place, one can assume, in 1988, this film actually begins a line of movies where children stumble across the spirit world and observe how these spirits fare in hiding. Totoro and his friends actually seem to be doing pretty well for themselves and long ago discovered to stay away from adults, lest things get weird. Throughout the entire movie, you see all these supernatural spirits that are just out of sight of mankind, hiding right under our noses. There really isn't much to say about this film regarding the timeline that hasn't been said elsewhere, so I'll end my discussion of it here.
Pom Poko (1994)
Pom Poko is one of the lesser known Ghibli films, but is a major lunch pin for my theory. In this movie, which takes place around its release date (1994), we see the spirits of Earth fighting a losing battle against mankind and their industrial machines. This is honestly one of the more depressing of Ghibli's films because the Tanuki (think raccoon dogs with famously huge dangly parts), ultimately lose everything. At the end of the film, those who can shapeshift do so to escape the ever shrinking forest while those who cannot are relegated to living on golf courses, and eating mankind's leftovers and trash.
Spirited Away (2001)
Here we go again, another story about humans stumbling ass over elbow into the spirit world and not knowing what they're getting themselves into. By this time (roughly 2000ish) pretty much everything spirit related has hidden itself well outside the view of humans, hiding mostly in places humans abandoned. Humans have effectively dominated the planet and driven all spirits to these hidden places. This includes Haku, our male lead. He was a river spirit that was forced from his river when it dried up because of a human construction project. Spirits by this time are coming to Yubaba's bath house for relaxation. In this movie, we get to see very well how humans are treated with disgust and disdain by spirits, which given what humanity has done to the spirits, you can't really blame them.
Ponyo is a special case among Ghibli movies, as the kid who falls headfirst into a strange world is a spirit and not a human. Taking place in 2008 based on the technology available to the characters. Other unique characteristics include the presence of a God (Granmamare, goddess of mercy and Ponyo's mother) for the first time since the Forest Spirit in Princess Mononoke and a human/wizard who somehow became a water spirit (perhaps he drowned).
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
This is where the timeline gets a little crazy and the numbers I give as dates really are my best guess. While the movie says "it's been 1000 years since the Seven Days of Fire", I can only guess at how far into the future the Seven Days of Fire are. Thus, I'm giving this a date of 3500 AD, because Miyazaki has said nothing regarding the exact date in any interviews I have found on Nausicaa.
There are a lot of little bits and pieces that fit together between the two movies. But I think I'll start with one of the seemingly obvious ones. Nausicaa was a princess. A full blown, she will sit on a throne one day, princess. Keep that in mind. Also, another thing you should keep in mind is this tree.
I'll end this section with this, around the end of the movie we learn that the Toxic Jungle serves but a single purpose: to purify the air, land and water destroyed by the Seven Days of Fire. It is also revealed the the jungle will eventually cover every piece of land on the planet to do so. So when the water, and land are toxic, there's nowhere to go but up.
Laputa: the Castle in the Sky
Recognize that tree? Probably not, it was barely a seedling when we saw it last. What about the Laputan royal line? Is it such a stretch to believe that Nausicaa had Laputa built to escape the encroaching Toxic Jungle? Especially given how much Sheeta and Nausicaa look alike. Think I'm kidding about that?
this is Sheeta from Castle in the Sky
And this is Nausicaa. They literally look like mother and daughter. The only real difference I see between them is the hair.
Which brings us to our next point, Laputa's place on the timeline. Because Nausicaa knows that every piece of land on earth will eventually become Toxic Jungle, it is very likely that she would have begun construction on Laputa as soon as she had the chance to. Really there are only two pieces of information we need to determine the date in Laputa. How long people were on Laputa and how long Laputa has been abandoned.
The answer to the first is harder than the second. We know that they had to be on Laputa long enough for the earth, sea and air to be completely purified by the Toxic Jungle. But after that happened, how long were they on Laputa? They could have stayed on the floating city for centuries or even millennia after it was safe to return to the surface. So I'm gonna go with the 1000 years on Laputa, because they were there long enough to develop semi-sentient robots and change their last name to Laputa.
As for how long Laputa has been abandoned, this ones a bit easier. Laputa still had a royal line, a little scattered and exiled, but they still knew who they where and where they came from. However Laputa had fallen into myth, and all the robots had shut down and were covered in moss. For that, I'm going to have to guess that Laputa has been abandoned for 150 years. This brings our date to 4650 AD.
Whether you believe me or not, sit down, watch the movies and decide for yourself. Watch them in this order and you will notice the small connections between them, it seriously all just clicks together.