In 2002, Roger Ebert , an acclaimed film critic had proposed that Hayao Miyazaki is most probably the best animation filmmaker in history, admiring his depth and artistry of films. He was right. For cinephiles, especially the ones who have a certain obsession with Japanese films, Miyazaki ranks among the top directors they should watch. This is because of the fact that he is one of the most accessible and admired of the Japanese filmmakers for a diverse range of people of all age. Miyazaki is singularly notable for his brilliant animation and artistic sensibilities crafting visually stunning movies. His career began at Toei Animation in Japan in 1963. And by 1979 made his first animation film, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. Next he went on to make Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and its huge success led to the formation of Studio Ghibli. Studio Ghibli soon became synonymous with Miyazaki and his fantastic work.
Miyazaki subsequently went on to direct twelve more feature length films apart from making numerous short films and working in various other capacities for other similar animation productions. Among these contributions of Miyazaki is his work in Heidi, Girl of the Alps for scene design, layout and screenplay. Heidi, Girl of the Alps was one of the most visually stunning adaptation of a brilliant novel which was a favourite among the 90s kids in India when it was serially broadcast in Cartoon Network. Choosing from among his best works is always a tough job for any cinephile. However a general consensus has been reached since his retirement in 2013 about his most landmark films. In 2014, he was awarded an Honorary Academy Award. The Wind Rises(2013) was his final feature-length movie.
Among some of the common themes that Miyazaki pursued in most of his films were anti-war themes, aviation, environmentalism, pacifism, feminism. His most important theme was nature as an unanimous force and how man and nature is connected in various ways.
Here is a list of five of his films, which truely highlight his capabilities as a master filmmaker.
Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind (1984)
This is the second film by Miyazaki and the first under Studio Ghibli. Though the film started off before the formal creation of the Studio. At it’s time of release it’s animation and visuals were ground breaking and earned it widespread acclaim. The film ran into controversy because it’s North American release was a complete disaster and prompted Miyazaki to enforce a “no-edits” rule for future projects.
The film is set after a millenium has passed since an epic apocalyptic war which had forced mankind to live at the fringes of a forest populated by giant insects. The forest is populated and Nausicaa, the princess of the Valley of the Wind, is one of the few people left that truly understands the environmental significance of the forest. She fights to keep two sets of rival human survivors from going to war over an ancient technology that could destroy everything. There are endless references to modern issues like the nuclear arms race, ecological consciousness etc.However all that is relegated to the background due to the tremendously engaging story told with beauty and clarity.
Laputa: Castle In The Sky (1985)
The third film by Miyazaki prompted the world to notice his brilliance in animation and more specifically manga. This film belonged to the steampunk sub-genre of fantasy fiction.
Sheeta, an orphan inherits a mysterious crystal that links her to the legendary kingdom in the clouds – Laputa. She meets a quick-witted and fearless young man Pazu, and together they make their way to the ruins of Laputa. However there are evil government forces that want to use the ancient yet advanced technology of Laputa, and only Sheeta and Pazu stand in their way.
Castle in the Sky is an epic fantasy with a deep mythology and rollicking action-adventure, one that competes with any modern film for spectacle and stunning set-pieces. It’s a must-see for all who love mystery, fantasy, and adventure–especially when these genres are combined.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
The most beloved of Miyazaki’s film My Neighbour Totoro features the iconic furball forest spirit, Totoro. Totoro is actually about the siblings Mei and Satsuki and their parents. Totoro later went onto become the mascot for Studio Ghibli.
Set in post-war Japan, in a village where a man and his two daughters move into a small house so they can be closer to their ailing mother. It is here that they discover the magic of the natural world that is all around them. Tiny dust balls in the empty house are actually creatures, and the woods are filled with pointy-eared spirits, the most cuddly of which one of the girls dubs Totoro.
The film places real and fantasy adjacent to each other and often involves various real medical issues and addresses them through fiction and fantasy.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Set in the pre-Modern Japan, this is supposedly the most gory and grisly of Miyazaki’s films. It’s raw and uncensored tone makes it a great movie to watch, especially if you love stories about journeys toward peace, love and acceptance. The film is an exceptional commentary about the dynamic between humans and nature.
Banished from his village,young warrior prince Ashitaka is afflicted with a deadly curse after an act of valor. As he searches the forests of the west to find a cure that will save his life he chances upon Wolf and Boar-Gods, and men and women, both venal and noble. He finds himself caught in the middle of a battle between a group of rifle-toting ironworkers of Iron Town and the angry gods of the forest led by the arrogant Lady Eboshi. Things get even more complicated when he meets the fiery Princess Mononoke, a young woman raised by wolves and who is crusading against Lady Eboshi. Lady Eboshi supposedly projected as a villian is also a feminist crusader assembling a loyal band of ex-prostitutes and lepers and other “unwanteds” to create an iron-mining stronghold out of nothing.
The film is perhaps the finest of Miyazaki’s visual creativity uniting seamlessly with his thematic concerns, like anti-war and his unparalleled storytelling. The films aesthetic quality has a sense which transports us into a new plane of perception and reaffirms Miyazaki’s command and craftsmanship. The film is often termed as “the Star Wars of anime,”.
The Wind Rises (2013)
This is Miyazaki’s last film after which he announced his retirement. It is one of the most quite and affecting films from Miyazaki. It’s the most mature production from Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki. After Porco Rosso this film also feature anti-war and aviation themes very importantly. It is belived to be inspired by a real life engineer who developed the Mitsubishi A5M. Miyazaki has faced criticism for sugarcoating the evnts and facts of a deadly warmongerer however the contemplative aspect of the film overshadows this fact. The limitless power of imagination and the way that designs can transcend their purpose is a key theme of the film. The flight sequences in “The Wind Rises” might be Miyazaki’s best ever.
At the core of this film is a compelling story of an aviator’s quest for perfection in design.Considering this to be his last film, once can say he ended his filmography on a high note, with sweeping and beautiful visuals and an incredibly humane story. The movie takes flight not due to its incredible flying sequences but also in the fact that how one man’s imagination can be incoporated for various purposes and is an obvious allusion to Miyazaki reflecting on his own creative life in the story.
Apart from these, Spirited Away(2001), Porco Rosso(1992), Howl’s Moving Castle(2004), Ponyo(2008), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), and The Cat Returns (2002) are some of the other equally enchanting and visually splendid production directed by Miyazaki. These films are equally vibrant and thematically rich as is Miyazaki’s all films. For all the unintiated cinephiles, Miyazaki’s world waits with a tremendous sense of awe and wonder which will overwhelm the viewer with its beauty.