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Ranking The Feature Films Of Hayao Miyazaki

Filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki has a long and rich history in the world of animation and Japanese cinema. He got his start as an artist at Toei Animation getting into directing on television shows like Lupin III and Sherlock Hound. With the creation of Studio Ghibli in 1985 Miyazaki would go on to create one of the most impressive filmographies, animated or otherwise. With Nerdist’s announcement of The Collected Works of Hayao Miyazaki (and Amazon exclusive) coming to blu-ray this November 17th, I wanted to stack up and compare his entire feature catalogue that is included in the boxset (although it does come with some juicy extras including a pilot Miyazaki directed in the early 70s). Now, Miyazaki has gone on record declaring that he is officially retired from feature filmmaking (a CGI short is forthcoming), but I’m not holding my breath as he’s said this after completing every film of his since Princess Mononoke (in ’97). For now though we have eleven great films to explore with my list from most favorite to lease favorite below. Be sure to let me know how you rank his films in the comments section!

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1. Princess Mononoke

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My first exposure to the films of Hayao Miyazaki, Princess Mononoke is one of my favorite films of all time period. It has a fearless sense of sublime and history that still resonates with me. Following the courageous and kind-hearted Ashitaka as he travels far and wide to make sense of the struggle between nature versus industry, past versus present, and peace versus war, it’s the women he comes across (the stately and ruthless Lady Eboshi and Princess Mononoke herself, the fierce and relentless San) that gives the film its limitless vitality. Miyazaki has never again constructed such a bold and intricate tableau quite like Princess Mononoke.

2. Spirited Away

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There is something continually enigmatic about the fantastical journey of Chihiro, a little girl who finds herself embroiled in the politics of a Japanese bathhouse while trying to free her parents from an evil witch. Spirited Away is equally lyrical and somewhat existential in showing Chihiro’s struggles to grow up and learn how to fend for herself. Like a dream, Spirited Away feels like something that comes from inside and from within. I’m still trying to unlock its meaning.

3. My Neighbor Totoro

Studio Ghibli / Via

Little did Miyazaki know that in inventing the iconic Totoro (part bear, part cat, and all heart), he would capture the imagination of millions. While underneath My Neighbor Totoro lies deep anxiety and sorrow, the childhood adventures of two sisters Satsuki and Mei exude great hope and bravery as they adapt to their new life out in the countryside. No one can argue that My Neighbor Totoro is a bonafide classic that will be enjoyed for generations to come.

4. Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind

Studio Ghibli / Via

A modern day environmental fairytale and Miyazaki’s first original feature, Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind is a breathtaking snapshot of one woman’s struggle against the forces of humanity still hellbent on making the same mistakes as their ancestors. Like Mononoke’s Ashitaka, Nausicaä is pure of heart, fighting every inch to save the world and the ones she loves. Despite all the forces conspiring against her, she succeeds, making Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind a spiritual endeavor that somehow rings true.

5. Porco Rosso

Studio Ghibli / Via

Equally whimsical and melancholy, Porco Rosso follows the exploits of a man-turned-pig scraping by after World War I. Miyazaki let’s his grumpy flag fly, creating one of his most unique characters, showing that there’s always the potential for redemption after all the bad things. Porco Rosso is life in-between swashbuckling adventures and how to finally look oneself in the mirror and feel okay, if only for a moment.

6. Castle In The Sky

Studio Ghibli / Via

Miyazaki’s first official Studio Ghibli film (the company was founded in 1985), Castle In The Sky is the perfect adventure film, filled with a daring princess (Sheeta), a plucky hero (Pazu), rogues and scoundrels with a heart of gold (the Dola gang), a maniacal villain (Colonel Muska), and a lost civilization to discover. Castle In The Sky features another iconic Miyazaki creation (the Laputa robot) and is a delight from beginning to end. This film is my Indiana Jones.

7. The Wind Rises

Studio Ghibli / Via

Perhaps Miyazaki’s most oblique work, The Wind Rises is a semi-fictionalized telling of aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi’s life designing and building planes that are eventually used during World War II. It’s an adult story that refuses to dovetail into didacticism at any point. Dreams are for dreamers and Miyazaki shows how heartbreaking and how beautiful this can actually be in The Wind Rises.

8. Howl's Moving Castle

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Adapted from the Diane Wynne Jones novel of the same name, Miyazaki unravels the epic fantasy to suit his needs filling it with humor and grace. In Howl’s Moving Castle Sophie is a dutiful girl working in a hat shop until she gets transformed into an old woman after getting caught up in the politicking of a modern day wizard named Howl and the different warring factions around her. Ultimately it’s Sophie’s doubling down on being herself that saves the day, a Miyazaki message through and through.

9. Kiki's Delivery Service

Studio Ghibli / Via

Absolutely charming, Kiki’s Delivery Service follows the adventures of a young witch Kiki as she tries to make it in the big city near the coast. She’s got plenty of determination and sincerity, but the big town is much more modern than she’s realized. Miyazaki has crafted a quaint and moving coming of age tale that is simply delightful.

10. Ponyo

Studio Ghibli / Via

Ponyo is a very primal film, like some dali version of The Little Mermaid, but overflowing with plenty of love and affection. Ponyo is a fish that is rescued by a little boy named Sōsuke. She desires to become human (and does) much to the chagrin of her father Fujimoto, who is just trying to maintain the balance of the world. Ponyo feels more like visual poetry than a straightforward narrative, but no logic is necessary. Just let your heart be your guide.

11. The Castle of Cagliostro

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Miyazaki’s feature debut, he took Japan’s James Bond and put his own spin on it. Lupin III is a gentleman thief, but after fleeing the Monte Carlo Casino with fake bills sourced from the Cagliostro region he finds himself rescuing the Princess Clarisse from her forced marriage while also facing off against a squad of assassins, his long-time nemesis Inspector Koichi, and an evil Count. Castle of Cagliostro is a groovy adventure that’s way more dynamic and enjoyable than it needs to be and showed Miyazaki’s potential to awe and astonish from the get go.

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