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My Top Five Hayao Miyazaki Movies

by on May 9, 2014


This weekend’s release of The Wind Rises will be Hayao Miyazaki’s final bow. The legendary film maker’s retirement is genuinely a huge loss to the anime and film industry, so what better way to mark the film maker’s swansong than to run down my top five favourite Studio Ghibli movies in celebration of his career. Please bear in mind this isn’t intended as a definitive list, but rather my own personal favourites. So without further ado, let’s begin!

5. Kiki’s Delivery Service

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A gorgeous and heart warming tale of a young witch trying to find her place in the world, Kiki’s Delivery Service is based on the 1985 novel of the same name. Centrally themed around the concepts of belonging, growing up and taking responsibility, 13 year old Kiki and her loveable talking cat Jiji, move to the big city where Kiki uses her ability of flight to run a delivery service. It’s full of charm and the strong emotional core offers a perfect starting place for anyone keen to explore Miyazaki’s back catalogue whether you’re six, sixteen, or sixty.  It also showcases Miyazaki’s capacity for creating strong, likeable, female protagonists and his success in subverting gender stereotypes – a strength Miyazaki manages to uphold in all of his works.  Kiki’s Delivery Service is honest, sincere and a bittersweet delight.

4. Laputa – Castle In The Sky

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One of the more action packed films on this list, Castle In The Sky feels like a Miyazaki interpretation on what a George Lucas film should be. It’s a swashbuckling fantasy epic that tells the tale of a young, headstrong boy, Pazu, who discovers a girl floating down from the sky with a magic crystal. Together they race against sky pirates and the military to uncover the secrets of the crystal and its link to the legendary floating castle. The steam punk world is incredibly imaginative, and despite the exhilarating, non-stop action sequences, deep meditative lessons lurk beneath. Castle In The Sky is charming and silly at times but it also frequently astounds you with strong, uplifting moments.  Such is the quality of Miyazaki’s work that the English dubs of Studio Ghibli movies are notable for having well known Hollywood stars voice acting with the likes of Christian Bale, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Dakota Fanning to name a few. It’s worth watching Castle In The Sky just for Mark Hamill’s brilliant and sinister portrayal of the antagonist Muska, should you choose to watch the English dub over the Japanese.

3. My Neighbor Totoro

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The purest and sweetest of films, the beauty of My Neighbor Totoro lies in its simplicity. In fact, there is actually very little in the way of plot.  A family moves into a house haunted by dust bunnies to be closer to a hospital where their ill mother resides, but in the process the two young girls, Satsuki and Mei, befriend the mystical creatures, Totoros, that live in the mystical forest that surrounds them.  It’s success stems from its benign spirituality and ability to capture the simple grace of childhood. Yet whilst being soft and approachable, it carries an undercurrent of emotional crisis, managing to somehow warm your heart but remain inexplicably powerful. It’s also worth watching just to see arguably, Studio Ghibli’s most iconic character himself. Such was the significance of My Neighbour Totoro, that Pixar decided to tribute the company by giving Totoro a cameo appearance in Toy Story 3.

2. Spirited Away

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The Oscar-winning Spirited Away tops many people’s lists and quite rightly so, but it’s my number two, missing out on the top spot very narrowly. Like so many from the Western audience, Spirited Away was my first foray into Miyazaki’s work and yet no matter how many times I watch it, there is always something new to discover in its obscenely clever and meticulously crafted world. It stars Chihiro, a young girl who finds herself transported into a magical kingdom filled with dragons, mischievous spirits and monsters, where she must break the spell of its wicked ruler to rescue her parents and return home. Many liken it to a Japanese Alice in Wonderland or Wizard of Oz, but it acknowledges themes such as pain, death, materialism, spiritualism and love in ways that Western animated films wouldn’t dare. It’s hard to put into words the sheer breadth and width of the staggering imagination and originality in Spirited Away. At times, watching it feels as if you are witnessing an explosion of Hayao Miyazaki’s creative ability. It’s a spellbinding masterpiece that every film lover need to experience. The quintessential Ghibli film.

1. Princess Mononoke

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It was a tough choice as my brain was screaming for Spirited Away to take first place. But my heart went for the truly wonderful Princess Mononoke. Mature, dark and violent-natured for a Miyazaki film, Princess Mononoke tells the tale of a young warrior, Prince Ashitaka, who is forced to leave his village after suffering a cursed wound fighting a demon. He finds himself caught up in a war between the old gods of the natural world, the wolf clan and their human daughter San, and the rising human civilizations. What makes it stand out however, is its startling power, eloquent symbolism and moral ambiguity. There are no clear cut heroes, no clear cut villains and it doesn’t hold your hand and give you the all answers. Miyazaki drew 80,000 of the film’s frames himself and you can feel that dedication and passion as Princess Mononoke immerses you into a thematically rich, relatable story but with unprecedented levels of imagination and creativity. The conflicts within are used to subtly comment on very real-world issues of environmentalism, but in a manner that is wholly unpreachy and thrilling to watch. Powerful, disturbing, moving, joyful and heart-breaking; Princess Mononoke manages to effortlessly mix the poignant with the majestic. It also features, in my opinion, one of the most memorable musical scores you are ever likely to hear. It tops my list because it encapsulates everything that is great about Studio Ghibli, and is a tragic reminder of what the world of animation and film has lost now that Miyazaki is retiring.

Agree with my list? Let me know what your top five favourite Studio Ghibli movies are in the comments section below or tweet me @indoimran.

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  • beerhound
    May 9, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    I wouldn’t even be able to comprehend trying to make a top ten list yet alone a top five. But this was a brilliant read. It’s nice to read an article from reddit where the writer clearly knows what he’s talking about, although I’m sad Spirited Away ddnt take top spot!

    Reply

  • Dohvakin
    May 9, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    Agree with above. Interesting to see where The Wind Rises will fit into people’s lists, not seen it yet but looks amazing

    Reply

  • Nina
    May 10, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    I love Studio Ghibli <3

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  • May 10, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Thank you for the kind comments. I watched The Wind Rises yesterday. I probably wouldn’t have it in my top five. It was a lot slower paced and less action orientated but still a must see if you are a fan. Very sad ending so don’t expect to feel good afterwards haha!

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    • Jon Turner
      May 11, 2014 at 6:34 pm

      “The Wind Rises” certainly won’t be on my top favorite Miyazaki movies anytime soon. It’s not BAD; I still give it my highest rating, but I found it strangely off-putting compared to many of his other films. It just wasn’t what I was expecting. Still a good film though.

      Personally, my top five would include “Castle in the Sky” (at #1), “Princess Mononoke” (at #2), “My Neighbor Totoro” (at #3), “Kiki’s Delivery Service” (at #4), and probably “Castle of Cagliostro” at #5. Although to be honest, “Whisper of the Heart” would be a good contender for #5 because even though Miyazaki didn’t direct that one, he DID write the script for it. I loved everything about that movie.

      I also agree that the dubs for every one of these movies are fantastic. I just can’t watch them in Japanese. I simply can’t. And yes, Hamill IS the star of “Laputa”; he really nailed the villain role to a T and beyond. But I thought everyone else in that film did a great job as well.

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      • James
        May 12, 2014 at 7:22 pm

        Watched Laputa the other day not really expecting much from it. It was sooo good. With the air ships and pirates and crystals it had a real final fantasy vibe to it (you know back when FF was still good). Highly recommended!

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  • dwayne
    May 10, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    Hard to even pick for me. My first was Totoro so it will always be special, but really any of your top five could be number1.

    Reply

  • Abi
    May 11, 2014 at 12:03 am

    Great read Imran :)

    Reply

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