Hayao Miyazaki is without a doubt one of the finest filmmakers out there when it comes to animated movies. His projects span over five decades, and although his 2013 film was supposed to have been his last, he is currently working on a new feature-length animation. And nobody can complain, as the legendary Japanese director has never put a foot wrong – all of his films are highly rated and universally loved. Therefore, it’s quite a difficult task to select the very best of his films, without just including the full list of feature-length projects that he directed. Still, I will try to offer a shortlist, chronologically arranged. I am sure that some might disagree with me leaving out certain titles, but such is the nature of this task.
1. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Miyazaki had made great films before this one, however this has proven to be the most noteworthy of his early projects. It revolves around a premise that 100 years from now, the Earth will be ravaged by pollution and war – a distinct possibility with climate change evolving the way it does. Warrior princess Nausicaä tries to act as a pacifist and prevent further escalation between two warring nations that have sandwiched her people in-between.
2. My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
This is a magical adventure that tops many lists of Miyazaki fans. It tells the story of two young sisters, who move with their father in the countryside in order to be closer to their hospitalised mother. They soon discover that the nearby forest is inhabited by magical creatures, and the two sisters embark on a series of magical and strange happenings.
3. Porco Rosso (1992)
Perhaps the most underrated of the titles of this list, Porco Rosso is an early exploration of the Japanese filmmaker’s fascination with airplanes and flying vehicles. It is set in 1930s Italy, during which the sky is dominated by air pirates and bounty hunters of all sorts. One of these pilots is Porco Rosso, who has been turned into an anthropomorphic pig, and makes his living by accepting contracts – most of which involve rescuing those who have been kidnapped by air pirates.
4. Princess Mononoke (1997)
Another fan favourite, this 1997 project sees warrior Ashitaka striken by a curse while defending his village from a rampaging demon god. He thus finds himself forced to venture towards a forest, which is the backdrop of a deadly war between two sides – a somewhat similar premise to the one in the first entry on our list. He tries to then play peacemaker between the two factions, having seen the good in both. This project took Miyazaki a whole 16 years to finalise the concept of the film, and 3 years to make it.
5. Spirited Away (2001)
Widely regarded as Miyazaki’s masterpiece, Spirited Away is also the most notable entry in terms of success – it won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003, and holds the distinction of being the highest grossing film ever that is made in Japan. Chihiro, a 10-year-old girl who finds herself forced to accompany her family as they move to the countryside, wanders a magical world ruled by gods, spirits and witches.
6. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
This one is Miyazaki’s second highest-grossing film, building upon his refreshed international popularity following Spirited Away. Based on a novel by British writer Diana Wynne Jones, it probably offers the most remarkable visual style out of the entries on the list, although some fans think that the storytelling is not quite on par. An 18-year-old Sophie is cursed by a witch to live in the body of a 90-year-old woman, and she later finds herself helping Howl in the task of overcoming a war.
7. The Wind Rises (2013)
As mentioned earlier in this article, The Wind Rises was supposed to be Miyazaki’s final feature project – and it received a very warm reception as a result. This was entirely on merit, though. It brought back a wonderful visual style as it told the story of Jiro Horikoshi, a man who had to juggle his love life and making Japanese fighter planes during the Second World War – thus coming full circle on the Japanese director’s fascination with aircraft. It ended up not being Miyazaki’s final project, which is even more good news.