Animation films have their master directors like any genre of film, Walt Disney, John Lasseter, Richard Williams, but there is one name we should all be securely placing in our minds, and our hearts, Japanese master director Hayao Miyazaki. Being the only foreign director to win an Oscar for Best-Animated Feature Film, he has garnered comparisons to some of the great directors even outside of his genre and rightfully so.
He is like the Japanese version of Steven Spielberg if you ask me, though all of his films are animated, they are all diverse. Being a partner and good friend with Walt Disney Studios and Pixar Studio’s head honcho, John Lasseter, doesn’t hurt your already Hall of Fame resume.
With over 30 years worth of material under his belt in directing, producing, writing, and animating, he has since inspired countless film and television directors for his visionary style of storytelling while producing some of the strongest female characters in film.
10. Ponyo (2008): It’s a visually impressive rendition of the tale of the Little Mermaid with a childish flair that Ghibli seems to have down to a tee. It is not strictly for kids of course as it follows themes relating love, missing your parents, and growing up. A great film worth watching if you love the ocean as well, it’s just stunning.
9. Nausica of the Valley of the Wind (1984): One of the first real films Miyazaki did, it stands the test of time though the story is strong for 98% of the film, I felt an empty void once the ending came along. It’s not that the ending is bad, but rather just thrown in there for the sake of ending the movie. A sign the film was being made by a younger filmmaker (though Miyazaki was 43) it also showed the brilliance that was yet to come.
8. Porco Rosso (1992): A World War I pilot who lives his life as a bounty hunter to track down “air pirates”, but what makes this action-comedy so great is that our main character is an anthropomorphic pig…yep. Just watch it.
7. The Wind Rises (2013): Supposedly Miyazaki’s final works as a director, it is clearly a passion project as it chronicles the childhood to adulthood of a boy to man who dreams of flight, but due to his sight, is unable to fly planes. Instead, our protagonist becomes a world class aviator and plane designer in a time or war and destruction. It’s quite tragic in nature, but beautifully human. Without his trademark spirits and dragons, The Wind Rises loses nothing of it’s quality. REVIEW HERE
6. The Secret World of Arriety (2010): Though not directed by Miyazaki, it has the exact touches of a great Miyazaki film while not physically a large landscape for the film, it gives great detail in a minimized view as it delivers a story inspired by the classic tale of the “The Borrowers”. The inventions and imaginative ways these little people live their lives is a treat on it’s own.
5. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989): It’s hard to believe this film even came out in 1989, but it holds up superbly capturing what most people hope to discover, what they’re good at. Another grand coming of age film that focuses on the outcomes of kindness, hard work, and the realities of human nature it also boasts Miyazaki’s not so secret love of flight. With good humor and even more heart it delivers as a great film for a first time Miyazaki viewer.
4. Castle in the Sky (1986): I am sure Miyazaki inspired Pixar in more ways than one, but this is surely to be the film that started that trend. With endless adventure and stratospheric ideas, another superb voice ensemble carries this film. Some consider a little dryer than his other films, but my guess is that they aren’t used to animation being in the style of a regular live-action film though there is constantly something worth marveling at.
3. Princess Mononoke (1997): One of the first PG-13 films by Miyazaki, this is a fantasy epic chock full of some the most adult themes and thematic elements Miyazaki has put on screen. Decapitations, demon like beings, and the destruction of the natural world are shown through this gorgeously animated feature with one of the most sweeping stories he has put on screen. With no clear black and white heroes, it deals with the humanity heroes overcome to do the impossible, but it also doesn’t become just an animated epic, but strictly an epic.
2. My Neighbor Totoro (1988): A relationship between kids and their parents, something I have had the pleasure, and privelage to relate to all my life. Inspired by one of my least favorite stories of all time (Alice in Wonderland) and makes it’s own. This was the film that put Studio Ghibli on the map for Japan and American audiences giving us more or less the trademarked mascot for Miyazaki films and Ghibli as an animation studio for the ages. A story of two young girls who move out to the country side with their father into a creepy house shows us how a glass can always be half full, not empty. The girls overcome their fears of loss and growing up with the help of magical forest spirits who resemble a bunny and a Snorlax offspring that becomes their guide to growing up.
1. Spirited Away (2001): The film that started it all for most of us American fans will always come in at number one no matter how cliche it may be. From the beautifully composed soundtrack starting with “One Summer’s Day” by the underrated Joe Hisaishi, it takes you into a wonderfully animated world of spirits and magic all while keeping your inner childlike wonders fed. There is a reason this is the first and only film since to win the Best-Animated Feature Film at the Oscars, it is just that good. It’s now iconic characters have broken into popular culture with force and are only going to grow with time, and once we are gone, they are going to live on like the spirits and magical beings from the film itself. Never will this film or any of Miyazaki’s films ever…spirit away.
I hope you all enjoyed this list and are big fans like I am. Japan’s treasure is my guy Miyazaki, always humble and working hard on his fairy tales and the proof is in the pudding. Let me know what list you guys would like next and what your favorite Miyazaki films are!