5 Essential Hayao Miyazaki Films
Hayao Miyazaki fans were ecstatic to learn that the king of Japanese animation is coming out of retirement for another movie. The prolific filmmaker is the co-founder of anime titan Studio Ghibli, the brand behind hit flicks such as Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, and the critically acclaimed Spirited Away. Miyazaki gained a cult following for his distinct style, which capitalized on whimsical storylines, complex heroines, and a nuanced approach to animation that put his Hollywood contemporaries to shame.
He had a healthy obsession with the machinations of aviation, and he often dwelled on themes that dealt with the importance of nature and the grave effects of militarization. Yes, his films always ran deep, but they were always wholesome enough to still be enjoyed by children. The kids, after all, were always his primary audience.
His latest project, Boro the Caterpillar, was originally slated to be a short film. But not happy with the results after 5 years of working on it, he decided to expand it into a full-length feature which will be released in 2019.
To reboot your Miyazaki memory (and to keep you entertained before Boro’s eventual release), here’s a short list of Studio Ghibli gems that have made an impact on anime pop culture:
Princess Mononoke (1997)
A young prince named Ashitaka gets caught in a war between the gods of a forest and the humans wasting away its resources. After a malevolent demon attacks his unsuspecting village, he’s inflicted with a curse. And in his quest to find answers to the demons’ origins, he meets San, a young woman who runs with a pack of wolves who aids him in his journey. Miyazaki’s environmentalist approach to cinema is on full-display in this fantasy epic as mankind’s twisted abuse of Mother Nature is brought to light.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Light, charming, and utterly quaint are the adjectives that best describe the movie that has made its titular character a cultural icon. When sisters Satsuki and Mei move to the countryside with their father, they discover a friendly forest spirit that helps them work out their repressed familial issues. Just to illustrate how massive and influential Totoro has become, the fluffy being is one of the most famous cartoon characters of all time and even represents Studio Ghibli as the brand’s mascot.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
This post-apocalyptic adventure is set in a distant future where the air is polluted to the point of destruction. A young princess named Nausicaa must protect her homeland from the kingdom of Tolmekia, a ravenous people out to annihilate a population of mutated giant insects that provide the Earth a unique source of energy. It’s simultaneously heart-warming and action-packed, and is a must-watch for fans of the war film genre.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
This adaptation of British writer Dana Wynne Jones’ beloved novel is a love story disguised as a war fantasy. When a witch’s curse turns the young Sophie into an old woman, she goes on an adventure to break the spell as a bloody war between two nations is on the brink of climax. She meets a cast of quirky characters along the way, one of whom is a sly wizard named Howl. He owns a flying castle that’s run by a talking ember. By weaving in elements of magic and Steampunk technology into the already-trippy plot, Miyazaki makes Howl’s Moving Castle a veritable visual treat.
Spirited Away (2001)
Many critics claim that this is Miyazaki’s masterpiece, and they’re right for doing so. It tells the tale of Chihiro, a young girl whose life is turned upside down when she accidentally enters a parallel dimension. Her name is taken from her, and she must serve in a bathhouse for spirits. In order to get back home and reclaim her identity, she must impress her new employer, a moody witch named Yubaba. Oozing of the kind of melancholy that can soften even the hardest of hearts, Spirited Away is not unlike the Lewis Caroll classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. There are weird creatures, menacing antagonists, and a girl who comes of age through learning that, in order to survive in a crazy world, the only person you can rely on is yourself.