(A beautiful soundtrack from Miyazaki’s ‘Castle in the Sky’)
Many consider him to be the Japanese equivalent to Walt Disney. But to fans of anime, and animated movies in general, prized director Hayao Miyazaki is in a league of his own.
He’s been revolutionizing animation since his early projects in the late 80s, including one of the films in the popular ‘Lupin the Third’ series. In 1985, he established Studio Ghibli; a collaborative effort with other renowned Japanese filmmakers.
Unfortunately, last year Miyazaki announced his retirement from the business aged 73, with the farewell piece ‘The Wind Rises’. It ended up being his third Oscar nominated picture, losing to Disney’s ‘Frozen’. His legacy will live on through his son Goro Miyazaki, who has already directed the critically acclaimed ‘From Up On Poppy Hill’, although it is doubtful whether his cinematography will come even remotely close to the quality of his father’s.
Through masterful English dubbing that remains faithful to the original Japanese screenplay, Miyazaki’s films have transpired into global phenomenons.
In other words, if you love cinema and have never heard of Miyazaki or his movies, you need to binge on them immediately.
If you cannot understand what all the fuss about Miyazaki is about, these are five of his masterpieces which you should definitely check out:
1. Castle In The Sky (1986):
One of Miyazaki’s first features was also one of his most imaginative, with mesmerising animation and a spine-tingling score.
Like many of his later projects, environmental themes of climate change and man’s destruction of nature play an important role in ‘Castle In The Sky’.
It follows a boy and a girl from different worlds but with a common mission; to find the long-lost magical land of Laputa.
Throughout their journey, the children encounter countless friends and foes, and come to appreciate the beauty of being adventurous and chasing their dreams.
Personal rating: 9/10
2. My Neighbor Totoro (1988):
Often misconceived as merely childish, this cartoon was revolutionary in more ways than one.
‘Totoro’ has arguably become one of the most recognisable anime characters, and eventually earned a place as Studio Ghibli’s mascot.
This movie is a particular favourite among those parents who want to show their children an animation that isn’t typically Western. However, this does not mean it is solely directed towards a younger audience.
As two sisters move out to the countryside with their father and discover mythical creatures, serious subject matters emerge including sibling rivalry and family sickness.
Despite being one of Miyazaki’s shortest films, it manages to let the imagination of viewers of all ages run wild.
After all, it doesn’t hurt to retain our childish wonder every once in a while.
Personal rating: 7/10
3. Princess Mononoke (1997):
Known as Miyazaki’s only animation that is unsuitable for the whole family, ‘Princess Mononoke’ evokes powerful environmental messages alongside stunning visuals and exciting action sequences.
Not afraid to be gory and dramatic, this movie has become one of Studio Ghibli’s most influential.
With strong-willed female protagonists and the recurring theme of man versus nature, an epic war film comes to life in cartoon form, and it’s just as entertaining as any other live-action picture.
Personal rating: 8/10
4. Spirited Away (2001):
Winning an Oscar and becoming Studio Ghibli’s biggest commercial success definitely contributed to the massive acclaim of ‘Spirited Away’.
Brimming with fantastic imagination and an utterly beautiful score, this is where any stranger to Miyazaki’s work should start.
Despite its extraordinary fantasy throughout, the film manages to remain relatable and touching.
The vast array of diverse characters distinguishes this animated film from all the others, and it is extremely interesting to see Chihiro, the female protagonist, develop from cowardly to brave.
Putting Studio Ghibli on the world map like never before, it is no wonder that fellow filmmakers have called this Miyazaki’s best work.
Personal rating: 10/10
5. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004):
Apart from its complex and slightly confusing plot, this relatively recent effort from the director offers a visual feast of animation, particularly with the titular mechanical castle.
Nominated for an Academy Award, and having Christian Bale as part of the English dubbing cast, resulted in yet another successful Ghibli movie, even if it lacks the resilient strength of its predecessors.
The gist of the storyline itself is quite out of the ordinary – main character Sophie, a teenage girl, is cursed with permanent old age, and seeks the help of renowned wizard Howl to break the spell.
Everything mystical and magical ensues, a love story unfolds and a heart-warming tale of bravery solidifies.
Basically, this film is so beautifully versatile that it can suit almost any taste.
Personal rating: 7/10