If one man encompasses what it means to be a master of anime then that man is Hayao Miyazaki. Here are my thoughts on the directorial efforts of his that I have seen.
The Castle of Cagliostro
The Castle of Cagliostro is easily in my top 5 favorite animated features of all time. Very few films balance breathtaking adventure, slapstick comedy, and mystery as well as this one does. Even if you’re not familiar with Lupin and his buddies, you will very likely dig on this movie the moment it begins. This is also one of the best loved and most influential anime features of all time and it is easy to see why. Even on a pan and scan VHS, I loved the hell out of Castle. Ultra-highly recommended even for the casual viewer not well versed in the world of anime.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Wow. Just wow. Despite everything by Miyazaki I’ve seen, nothing compares to the sheer awesomeness of Nausicaa. This post-apocalyptic fantasy came to me by way of a bootleg VHS and my life has never been the same since. Nausicaa is haunting, sad, and very entertaining even in its heavier, Earth Day message-laden moments. This came out in 1984 but it feels much older somehow. The animation and direction are masterfully done. This is easily my favorite of Miyazaki’s films. Essential.
Laputa: Castle in the Sky
I have seen Laputa two or three times now and it has barely managed to hold my attention with each viewing. I’m not sure what I’m missing. The action is good and the characters seem interesting but somehow this film never comes together for me. That being said, I will happily give it another shot, maybe it’ll click.
My Neighbor Totoro
If this wonderful children’s film doesn’t melt your heart, you ain’t got one, darn it. Totoro is one of the sweetest and strangest films targeted at kids that I’ve ever seen. While I’m not really in the mood for a film like this very often, I feel like I am a better person having seen it.
Kiki’s Delivery Service
And here is yet another kid’s film from Miyazaki. Kiki’s Delivery Service is an excellent rainy day movie to lift your spirits. I was very skeptical going into this film (especially with the lame opening song in the English dub) but it delivers on the fun and the surprising amount of tension in the silly magical goings on. Don’t eat so many pancakes.
This could very well be one of the most original animated films ever. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Porco Rosso is an adventure film of the highest order with lots of comedy and straight-faced weirdness. This one isn’t essential but it is definitely worth checking out if you are on a Miyazaki kick.
If you were looking for a thematic follow-up to Nausicaa, then look no further. Princess Mononoke became my most anticipated film in 1999. My girlfriend at the time had acquired a bootleg of this film but I was so excited at the possibility of a US theatrical release that I refused to watch it. Luckily, this film did indeed get a theatrical release and I was there to see it on the big screen. Even with the so-so English dub (I have to go with the Japanese on this one), the experience was electrifying. Shit, just thinking about this film makes me want to watch it again.
This kid’s film has a secret: it scares kids! I caught Spirited Away in theaters in 2002 and was instantly swept up in the supernatural oddness. Even with a less than rudimentary knowledge of Japanese superstitions and folklore, I was still caught completely off guard by how wacko this film is. I came out of the theater with a spring in my step and creepy spirits in the corners of my mind.
Howl’s Moving Castle
For some dumbass reason, I avoided Howl’s Moving Castle for as long as possible. The trailers just made it look like it was going to be really bad to me. And while it may never be one of my favorites, this film has grown on me. If you happen to be a fan of book (I’ve never read it), don’t be put off by how different HMC is from the source material because I think you’ll be in for a treat.
I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when Ponyo came to theaters in the summer of 2009. Obviously, it looked like a kid’s film and it most certainly is. However, there is so much magic and so much wonder in this freaky movie that anyone could dig on it if they gave it have a chance. Oh and drug users should watch this. Somewhere during all the underwater trippy insanity, I looked over at my wife and whispered, “This is such a good drug movie.” I have mentioned it before on this blog but the Ponyo rap song at the end of the English version made everyone run out of the theater before the credits had barely even started. Hilarious.