Ghibli movie titles

Literal translations

A literal translation of a movie title is often unwieldy. What you want is a short idiomatic translation that conveys the right tone, but these are endlessly debatable. Here are my collected literal translations of Ghibli and Ghibli-related titles, offered in aid of understanding why the official titles aren't always literal.

Official English Transliterated Japanese Literal English Notes
Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon (1965) Garibaa no Uchuu Ryokou Gulliver's Space Travels
The Adventures of Hols, Prince of the Sun (1968) Taiyou no Ouji: Horusu no Daibouken Hols's Great Adventure: Prince of the Sun Horusu is sometimes interpreted as Horus. The official French release is one example. That is phonetically reasonable, and the Egyptian Horus is associated with the sun, but it is clear from other nomenclature in the film, and statements by the makers, that a Germanic name was intended. The film is also known, horribly, as “Little Norse Prince Valiant”.
Flying Phantom Ship (1969) Sora Tobu Yuureisen The Ghost Ship that Flew in the Sky
Puss in Boots (1969) Nagagutsu wo Haita Neko The Cat who Wore Boots
Animal Treasure Island (1971) Doubutsu Takarajima N/A The official title is a literal translation.
“Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” (1971) Ari Baba to 40-ppiki no Touzoku N/A The counting word for people, nin as in yonjuunin no touzoku, is used in the film to recount the original story. In the title, it is replaced with one for small animals, hiki, signalling the anthropomorphic selling point.
“Panda! Go Panda!” (1972) Panda Kopanda Panda and Panda Cub The inane official English title may be an attempt to simplify the dubbing of the intro music, though I haven't heard it dubbed.
Heidi: A Girl of the Alps (1974) Arupusu no Shōjo Heidi N/A
3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (1976) Haha wo Tazunete Sanzenri 11700 km in Search of Mother The ri of the original title corresponds to about 3.9 km, shorter than a traditional English-language league (which was around 4.8 km on land, most of the time). The series is also known as Marco, and as From the Apennines to the Andes. The latter is a direct translation of the chapter title of the original work.
Conan, the Boy in Future (1978) Mirai Shōnen Konan N/A Best known as Future Boy Conan.
Anne of Green Gables (1979) Akage no An Red-Headed Anne The official English here is the title of the novel basis, and pretty good as such. (Green Gables becomes Guriin Geeburusu in Japanese, so why complain.)
Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro (1979) Rupan Sansei: Kariosutoro no Shiro N/A Personally I think it would work better as “The Castle...”.
Chie the Brat (1981) Jarinko Chie N/A
“Gauche the Cellist” (1982) Sero Hiki no Gooshu N/A
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) Kaze no Tani no Naushika N/A I believe some early releases used “Winds” in the plural, which is worse because the valley is famous for the consistency of its wind, almost always coming from one direction and therefore keeping the spores out. An early English-language dub with heavy cuts was called “Warriors of the Wind”.
Sherlock Hound (1984) Meitantei Hoomuzu Holmes, the Great Detective The character's name in the English-language dub is apparently Sherlock Hound. In the Japanese original it's Sherlock Holmes, the first subject of fan fiction at scale.
Castle in the Sky (1986) Tenkuu no Shiro Rapyuta Laputa: Castle in the Sky “Castle in the Sky” is Disney's title, because “Laputa” means “the whore” in Spanish, as Swift knew. An older commercial title was literal.
Grave of the Fireflies (1988) Hotaru no Haka N/A Also known as “Tombstone for (the) Fireflies”. Hotaru is written very unconventionally, with characters meaning approximately “raining fire” and foreshadowing the death and afterlife in the plot, but it is nonetheless clear that fireflies are the primary meaning.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988) Tonari no Totoro Totoro of the Neighbourhood “Totoro who Is Next to Us” would also be quite literal, and includes the sense that Totoro (nature) is simply within reach. Considering that “totoro” is a childish mispronunciation of “tororu” (troll), “The Twoll Next Door” is also literal.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) Majo no Takkyuubin A Witch's Parcel Delivery Company
Only Yesterday (1991) Omohide Poroporo Reminiscence in Large Drops “Poroporo” is an onomatopoeic adverb; it is informal and does not render well as a description of memory in English. Significantly, it can be interpreted as meaning “weeping (openly)”, i.e. “Reminiscence with Rolling Tears” or something like it, but in major English-speaking cultures that suggests more sadness than is present in the film.
Porco Rosso (1992) Kurenai no Buta The Crimson Pig The official English/Italian title is of Ghibli design and means simply “Red Pig”.
Ocean Waves (1993) Umi ga Kikoeru It Is Possible to Hear the Sea Often rendered as “I Can Hear the Sea”, which is much better, given that the effect of the pronoun doesn't need a pronoun.
Pom Poko (1994) Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko Ponpoko: Heisei Tanuki War Heisei was the imperial era from 1989 to 2019, thus meaning roughly present-day. Tanuki are raccoon dogs, not raccoons, yet the film is also known as “The Raccoon War”. The “n” of Ponpoko does sound like an “m” in the context, so the official transcription is correct as such. The word is onomatopoeic and refers to the sound of tanuki drumming their bellies. It comes from a 1919 poem by Noguchi Ujō which became a 1925 song used in the film. It was a hit by a Japanese child singer of the time, animated in “Belly Drum Dance at Shōjōji Temple” (1933). According to Catherine Munroe Hotes, the ultimate origin of this notion of belly drumming is with amused local commoners speculating about the strange sound of meditative percussion coming from a Buddhist temple.
Whisper of the Heart (1995) Mimi wo Sumaseba If You Clear Your Ears “If You Listen Closely” is frequently used by fans, and works well.
Princess Mononoke (1997) Mononoke-hime The Mononoke Girl This one is difficult. I have a whole page about it. The official Japanese artbook suggests “The Spirit Princess”.
My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999) Hoohokekyo Tonari no Yamada-kun [The cry of the Japanese nightingale] Yamada of the Neighbourhood The bird's cry has no direct English equivalent. The addition of “kun” to “Yamada” implies familiarity and precludes the social superiority of Yamada to the observer. I think it's supposed to make the Yamada family seem closer to the audience. “Yamada” should not be pluralized in English; kun implies an individual.
Spirited Away (2001) Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi Sen and the Mysterious Disappearance of Chihiro The character for “Sen” is also the first one in “Chihiro”. Their close positioning is meant to look curious. “Kamikakushi” breaks down to “(gone as if) concealed by god(s)”, so the cause of her disappearance is humorously foreshadowed. It is possible to read the title as indicating that both characters are spirited away.
The Cat Returns (2002) Neko no Ongaeshi The Cats Return the Favour Ongaeshi is the traditional, ritualistic repayment of social debt. The title thus alludes to a folk tale about a crane. “How the Cat Returned the Favour” and “The Way Cats Return a Favour” both work.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) Hauru no Ugoku Shiro N/A
Tales from Earthsea (2006) Gedo Senki An Account of Ged's War Ged's identity is only apparent if you've read Le Guin, or the credits. Gedo Senki is in fact the Japanese title of the entire series of 6 books. I assume it refers to the hypodiegesis known in the original as The Deed of Ged, which is not a record of war but a chanson de geste in a larger sense.
Ponyo (2008) Gake no Ue no Ponyo Ponyo on the Cliffs The original can be read as implying that while Ponyo is normally “below the cliffs”, i.e. in the sea, this story is about an exceptional time when she is “atop the cliffs”, i.e. on land. Cliffs (from below) are all she's seen of land. “Gake no ue” can also be read as “by the precipice”, suggesting greater drama. More prosaically it refers to the house on the cliff.
The Secret World of Arrietty (2010) Karigurashi no Arietti Arrietty the Borrower The Japanese title of Mary Norton's original series of novels is Kobito no bouken (lit. Adventures of the Little People). The Borrowers, which was the first novel, is called Yukashita no Kobitotachi (lit. The Little People Under the Floor).
From Up on Poppy Hill (2011) Kokuriko-zaka Kara N/A
The Wind Rises (2013) Kaze Tachinu N/A
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013) Kaguya-hime The Noble Young Lady Kaguya
When Marnie Was There (2014) Omoide no Mānī The Memory of Marnie The word for memory here, omoide, is written in its most common form, 思い出. It breaks down to thoughts and feelings (思い) coming out (出). This etymology would not normally be on a speaker’s mind but it is evident even to children. An overly literal reading would therefore be “Marnie of My Mind”, suggesting, as the protagonist Anna initially believes, a figment of the imagination. The memories are not simply Marnie’s own: that would have required the nouns to be in reverse order. It’s “Marnie As I Remember Her”, emphasizing the recovery of Anna’s history.
Earwig and the Witch (2020) Āya to Majo Aya and the Witch The character’s name was changed from Earwig to Aya in the translation of the original novel, probably because the English term does not transfer well. In English and in Japanese, the film has the same name as the novel published in each respective language.
The Boy and the Heron (2023) Kimi-tachi wa Dō Ikiru ka How Do You Live? In the film, protagonist Mahito finds a copy of the novel Kimi-tachi wa Dō Ikiru ka (1937) by Yoshino Genzaburō. That book gave its striking name to the project of making the film, but the film is not an adaptation of the book. For the Japanese release of the film, the name still stuck, but overseas releases got a more descriptive, albeit less meaningful title. The “you” in the title of the book is a second-person plural, so the title should be read as a somewhat accusatory “What do you people think you’re doing?”, not as “How does one choose how to live?”