Up until just a few months ago, I had never seen a single film from director Hayao Miyazaki. It was something I’ve been wanting to do for a while and just recently, there were many different events around New York offering a chance to see all of his films on the big screen. Unfortunately, I missed out on my chance to see his very first film, “Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro,” but I at least got to see all 10 of his films under Studio Ghibli. A heads up right up front: I love all of these films, so ranking them was no easy task. That being said, let’s get to it!
10. “Ponyo” (2009)
It’s kind of insane to think that even when Miyazaki is at his worst, he’s still able to make an adorable, gorgeous film like “Ponyo.” The settings are rich with lively colors that beautifully compliment the energy within the characters themselves. The only thing holding it back for me is that it doesn’t have as much of an emotional punch as I hoped it would have, but the relentless charm is too irresistible.
9. “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” (1984)
One thing that Miyazaki is a master at is creating strong, layered female characters and that all starts with Nausicaä, a character with such fierce determination and inspiring sincerity. “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” is a terrific showcase of world-building and a great starting point for Miyazaki to delve deep into the importance of protecting the environment, a theme that would later be built upon and more defined in one of his later films . . . but we’ll get to that later.
8. “Porco Rosso” (1992)
Man, oh man, this one was so much fun to watch. “Porco Rosso” is one of the funnier films of this bunch thanks to a great amount of witty banter between the characters that thankfully doesn’t sacrifice making these characters feel human, even when the main character is a pig. It was also really exciting getting to see this on a 35mm film print.
7. “The Wind Rises” (2013)
Miyazaki’s most recent film is definitely his most grounded. You’d think a film about a man achieving his dream of engineering planes during World War II wouldn’t be that compelling for an animated narrative, but “The Wind Rises” is a beautifully human story following a character with such a caring personality that make his aspirations more engaging.
6. “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004)
“Howl’s Moving Castle” is one of the most vibrant films I’ve seen in a while. The world feels so unique and the characters inhabiting that world are full of life, whether they be human or not. It also features the most engaging romance out of any of these films, really getting you to care about both Sophie and Howl.
5. “Princess Mononoke” (1997)
Animation is such an amazing medium because of the infinite possibilities of what you can imagine and “Princess Mononoke” has an epic sense of scope unlike any other animated film, hand-drawn or otherwise, while also providing the most thoughtful and impactful message on protecting the environment that Miyazaki has given us in these films.
4. “Castle in the Sky” (1986)
Laputa is one of the more beautifully realized worlds in animation, let alone from Miyazaki. “Castle in the Sky” is an incredible amount of fun, never sacrificing the wonder of the adventure for developing these rich, lively characters. Like most of the movies on this list, I was watching in complete awe from frame one.
3. “Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989)
Kiki is my favorite character in any of these movies! Her personality is so genuine and caring, while also being independent. Her adventures in finding her place in a big city make “Kiki’s Delivery Service” a pure joy to watch from beginning to end. What a delight.
2. “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988)
This is the first Miyazaki film I saw. This is where I fell in love. “My Neighbor Totoro” is essentially a film with no plot, and yet I was always engaged. The bond between the sisters, Satsuki and Mei, is so infectious, making for such a heartfelt and relentlessly charming experience. It also goes without saying that Totoro is just the best thing ever.
1. “Spirited Away” (2002)
Here it is. The big one. All of the things you come to expect in a great Miyazaki film: outstanding world-building, strong characters, an instantly memorable musical score, stunning animation, a fast pace, an enchanting story, a tremendous sense of wonder. It’s all mastered in “Spirited Away.” Every second of this film, I felt like I was seeing something I had never seen before on the big screen. To call it one of the most magical movie-going experiences of my life is an understatement beyond belief. It’s a masterpiece.
Thank you for looking through my ranking of the beautiful work of Hayao Miyazaki. I’ll probably end up doing rankings like this more often when a major film in a franchise opens. I’ll probably do my next list leading up to the release of “Jigsaw” at the end of the month, ranking the previous seven films in the series.
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Thanks for reading!