“It came from Japan: THE 10 Miyazaki Films” by Leader K

Leader K

For my big Holiday project i have decided to get a little more extensive than usual. Yes this is another “top ten” and yes it is more animation, but this time it is a bit more focused. The top ten of the ten Miyazaki films! It is long!!!


Hayao Miyazaki is one of the biggest names in animation history. In his long career he has helped to create, helped to inspired, and helped to bring up many a promising films and directors that may one day surpass him. The date ingrained on the mans gravestone will be a Japanese holiday and it will be celebrated by all fans around the world. The only reason “Miyazakian” has yet to be used to define works like his is because there just isn’t enough works that match his to justify its use.

Now because Miyazaki to this date has only directed ten major films, there is obviously going to be a lack of suspense in this top ten. Anyone who knows Miyazaki films will be able to easily guess the order. But i am one, while being a both a big fan of animation, am still a critic, and as i critic i know full well Miyazaki is great, but not perfect. He is the “Japanese Disney” (or Pixar, take your pick), but neither he nor Disney is perfect and i dare say while none of his films are bad-as he is too good at what he does-many of them are far from “masterpiece” level, as the marketing will tell you. Because his list in relatively short it is not hard to pin down what makes a Miyazaki film, both good and bad. Half of these ten are the masterpieces that so many fawn over. The other half are just good, yes…just good (O the blasphemy!) .

That said all these films deserve to be seen multiple times, the lackluster of the bottom half comes directly from their comparison to the top half, which are so great that they stunt everything next to them.

Note: Now i know i’ve already made a top nine animated films in the past, and yes this list directly contradicts the other at one point. But you must understand that when it comes down to my favorite movies, the list is in constant flux day by day with many titles changing places. I literally think about it for one out of every five minuets in the day. One day i might update my top favorites list but that is for another time!

10. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

When a person wishes to create something they go on a journey, of the mind, and yes of the heart. This journey may last from a view minuets to a whole lifetime, and the creator might never find their way back. The intellect is racing, the emotions are heightened, and inspiration can come from all direction instantly. Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, and yes, Miyazaki are those types of creators. They leap first and damn the consequences.

To put in laminae terms (and thereby undermine the entire sappy analogy) Miyazaki (at least from my perspective!!! I will stress that point!!!!!) Builds an image in his head, and then writes/finds a story to match it. Much like some songwriters create a tune and add lyrics to match afterwords. Sometimes it is wonderful and other times the story serves no other purpose than to give a reason behind the images. Its hard to say as half of Miyazaki’s films try to bring to life some issue, usually pacifism, environmentalism, and they are never very subtle. The other half have story lines that seem superfluous. In both cases there are good and bad.

This is the case for Howl’s Moving Castle. Though based on a novel by Diana Wynne Jones, the only things in common the two have are superficial (basic plot on character names). It is the themes of the novel that hold out to the reader, those being destiny, courage, blah blah…..
As one might expect from an adaptation that must tell a story that previously had all the time it needed be be told, now shortened to the length of about an hour and a half, a lot is lost. The themes are a given for Miyazaki and Disney, but the characters are so radically changed that it would be better not to associate the two. I much preferred the novels rendition over Miyazaki’s ham-handed pacifism, (as many parts of this film were based on Miyazaki’s reaction to the money-grubbing war in Iraq).
The biggest problem is dialogue, where as all of Miyazaki’s films can transfer a thousand words in only a few seconds of animation it does not translate like it did in earlier films. Written by “New Legend” in Japanese animation Mamoru Hosoda (creator of my favorite film The girl who Leapt through Time, and Summer Wars) i was expecting some dialogue that sounded more natural, as if it were a world where everyone doesn’t just shut up and wait for there turn to talk only to be shot down by the supposedly wiser and smarter heros as if there breath sprayed diamond dust. Maybe its because this is Miyazaki’s third movie about a giant magnificent castle and i’ve already seen him do it better, but i do find this to be his weakest film of all. The story feels like a copout to give Miyazaki a platform for his admirable but preach politics, and the set pieces feel contrived solely for Ghibli to show off their animation skill, which are indeed top notch.

All that said the film is not bad, its just (like i said above) stunted by the things that came before it. The animation is beautiful and clever, the characters are all likable enough (bland as they are), and the atmosphere is engrossing as all Miyazaki films are.

Rating: 6.5 0f 10! Worth watching, maybe even twice!

question: why is it this film in particular is always in the kid’s section (along with Ponyo), while the rest of his work in in the anime section next to the babes and samurai?

9. Ponyo (2008)

A kids movie. That is what it is and that is all it is trying to be. The inner child of an adult my enjoy it, but it makes no attempts to entertain adults with there snide and sterile realities. Its a selfish film. An adult my admire the cuteness, and beautiful animation and say “this is the stuff i want my kid to see”. But the number of questions that arise in the mind of a older (darkened) fellow will leave anyone who’s main concerns are the economy and war less than mystified. Everthing is magic, and thus limitless, and thus unreasonable to a mind that was forced to accept a world without fantasy year ago (bitterness). In that way Ponyo is immune to criticism because there is absolutely nothing wrong with it by the standard it has set for itself. It is a kids film if Miyazaki were to just make a kids film. The only emotion is whimsy, the only character is charm. It is fantastic by all accounts except for the stigma that it is with no shame “a movie made for young children”. If you thought Disney’s version of Hans Christians Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid” was a little to light and fluffy, than wait until you see Ponyo. Though at least Ponyo has a more originality than even the original story (not to mention the bleeding feet, half naked virgins, and nitwit ideas of how to destroy yourself for the sake of a punk that you’ve never met).
The mom was my favorite character by far, and i dare say i would like the movie more minus the magic and plus more of the mom and her son just going about there lives. Like that Yukio Mishima book “The Sailor who fell from Grace with the Sea”…*images of crazy children and torn up cats circle through my mind*……on second thought nix that book reference.

Rating: 6.8 of 10! Great for the kids, pretty good for you to!

8. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Same as Ponyo where a small and slightly scattered family living in a close nit community in a beautiful part of Japan where logic and reason are brushed to the wayside in the name of meaningless, yet wonderful fairy tale fun. Like Ponyo you will learn nothing that will help you IRL, but you will escape from the torture of reality for a short while. The only thing that this film has to put it above Ponyo (they are the same movie, except for Ponyo’s false antagonist) is the title character: Totoro. This iconic figure trumps all mascots for all films anywhere. He is literally the face of Ghibli, he has his own song, he has an astroid belt named after him, he’s even made cameos in Toy Story 3, South Park, The Sandman (comics), and Samurai Jack. Not to mention that one of the worlds more popular Pokemon Snorlax is an obvious homage/ripoff of him. You cannot, i repeat, CAN NOT beat Totoro!

Rating: 7 of 10! Lovable fluff, buy at a reasonable price! (Tototro gets a 10 for himself.)

7. Naussica: of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Naussica is the sad case of what was almost a masterpiece, but untimely falls victim to poor pacing, bland designs (though the animation itself is fantastic even by todays standards) and disappointing case of “the manga was better”. The manga is absolutely fantastic (and i say this as a person who is not a manga reader so take from that what you will). Naussica in the manga makes Naussica of the film look like a wimp, and that a big deal considering Naussica in the film is the only character worth a damn. Once again Miyazaki creates a believable and interesting world, a large cast of memorable and interesting people that due to the squashing of the plot lose every opportunity to relate to the audience. Annnnnnddddddd YES! It is still Miyazaki and thus still great in every respect outside of its pacing and character development, as while i remain entertained i cannot find myself caring about these world altering events anymore than the randomness of Totoro and company playing with acorns or sleeping in for the day. Its a lot of sound and fury, trying to mean something, but ultimately just settles for pretty good.

To take material that would have scored a perfect ten and cut it into film length you get a Rating 7.3 of 10. Worth multiple views, unless you read the graphic novels, then its only worth one!

Note: The “first” of Miyazaki not so subtle environmentalist films.

6. Castle in the Sky (1986)

A concept taken from Gulliver’s Travels effectively brought to life and synchronized with Miyazaki’s still-at the time-developing style. Made directly after Naussica these two of the ten look the most alike in design, as Totoro would advance the animation from that point forward and Castle of Cagliostro was a beast of its own. Everything that was done wrong with Naussica: poor pacing, and lack of character development for all character except the main hero, all of these problems are solved. The pace is smooth throughout, never going to fast or to slow save and few moments near the end that could have been timed better, and damn near every one who gets a name gets a moment to make us remember them. Unfortunately, though we gain good characters we lose the more inthralling story concept of Naussica, and while the characters of Castle in the Sky succeed, the story is just a vehicle. “There is the plot! Let’s follow it.” We as the audience spend most of our time with the two characters that know the least of what is going on, and we do not fully comprehend the gravity of the event until the final boss in the last twenty minuets of the film with a big heaping does of exposition. This would be a bigger problem if we didn’t already have The Joker voicing the main villain assuring us no matter what the silly things distracted us, his villainous voice kept us focused on our priorities: ensuring the guy with the scariest voice didn’t win.

Rating: 7.5 of 10! Shelf worthy!

Note: English dub is a mixed bag, on one hand you have Anna Paquin murdering whatever accent she was trying to do. On the other hand Mark Hamil playing the lead villain and he is great.

5. The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

I loved Lupin in all its incarnation, so having a movie made by Hayao Miyazaki (who directed the anime from 1971-1972) is just badass! Easily the best and most popular of the eleven or so Lupin movies. Lupin and the gang go on a crazy adventure in the Principality of Cagliostro to save damsels and foil villains, but not without skimming a little of the top. Cagliostro is Miyazaki’s first major directed film being 31 years old today and by looking at it you would never suspect this. It looks old yes, but thirty years ago this must of been jaw dropping, and it still is. The creator of “Indiana Jones” Steven Spielberg notes that Cagliostro is “One of the greatest adventure films of all time”. Don’t believe me? Just check the box art on the DVD, right smack-dab on the front to be immortalized so long as film remains appreciated.
The story is an adventure story, meaning it isn’t much of a story without characters that we can admire (that is why Mario Brothers cannot be a good movie). Lupin as a character undergoes a few small changes with every new incarnation, and many fans of the series complain that the Lupin of Cagliostro is a little to nice, not so much the lecherous wise-guy he is better known as. But seeing as the overall quality of the film is above many of the other movies in the Lupin line, i can forgive this.

Rating: 8 0f 10! Buy it! Steal it! Love it!!!!!

4. Princess Mononoke (1997)

By and far Miyazaki’s most adult film. Innocent villagers being slaughtered by murderous bandits, decapitations, brutal curses plaguing its victims with terrifying blackened flesh, mountains of bodies, rivers of blood, and never once in all this will you find all these dark events anything but absolutely gorgeous! This is the film where Ghibli truly refines there animation. The images are sharp and iconic, the movements are fluent and detailed, and the action scenes carry enough characterization that the emotions would get across all the same if it were a silent film (that would be awesome).
That of course brings us to the characters. It is indeed a full and rich cast of many interesting people, all of whom are easily and happily remembered, but don’t have nearly enough screen time(a recurring problem for many Miyazaki films). Again a picture is worth a thousand words, and what little dialogue Miyazaki does use is put to excellent use, and thats partly the problem. Everyone is so likable that you want to see more, but there simply isn’t enough time in a feature film to fully satisfy all the emotions it brings up, specifically the romance which seemed to play a central role, only to be assumed to happen in the future after the film. When it comes to the romance it feels to me that of all the risk taking Ghibli went through to make to adult film, the wimped out on what seems to be the easy part. If it were a series some of these problems could be mended, but as it is the film just feels way to fast at parts, and a little to slow in others.
Not sense Naussica has Miyazaki’s environmentalist message been so heavy. It is at times distracting, but can be forgiven considering the detail and work Ghibli put in to make the film look fantastic! It is a technical masterpiece!

Rating: 8.5 of 10! After watching it you will literally be in debt to Ghibli for giving you so much awesome!

3. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Kiki’s Delivery Service is (on the surface at least) a lighthearted “coming of age” film about a young witch (witches are both real and social accepted in this world) who must live on her own for a year to further develop her skills. But as the powerfully stupid religious groups who boycotted this movie said, “It has darker intention!” Replace the word “darker” with “deeper” and your right on the mark. This is in many ways the “deepest” of all of Miyazaki’s films. It’s a story about identifying ones relationships with others and how they translate into ones creativity and ultimately help to develop a persons unique identity! It deals with the meaning of life in a subtle and charming way that doesn’t way to heavy on the audiences mind to take them from the story. Subtly in a Miyazaki film! No this is not a joke. Its themes are universal, and the lessons learned are not just for the sake of the characters, there is indeed something to learn here (which cannot be said for most of Miyazaki films). The lighthearted tone and charm of the film allows one to open their mind and truly seek understanding or maybe to look to help Kiki see her feelings! At the risk of coming off to sappy i’ll end it here. Kiki’s Delivery Service is the smartest of all Miyazaki’s films.

Rating: 9 of 10! You will wish you were a witch!

2. Porco Rosso (1992)

It is a film that makes you envious of sky pirates and bounty hunters spraying bullets at each other. Like Mononoke the scenery in Porco Rosso gives another layer of depth to everyone standing in front of it. This time rather than the vast grassy fields and forests, we mainly stick to the sky and oceans of the Adriatic. We follow a gruff yet playful fellow who goes by the odd name of Porco. This is due to the fact that for some reason he has been transformed into a pig (Anthropomorphic pig) who now lives as a bounty hunter shooting down pirates who swarm to the oceans of the Adriatic. Rather than seek remedy to his aliment Porco has become comfortable with what he is, accepting it a penance for the fact that he survived many battles before while others did not.
Porco Rosso holds its spot on this list because it is (simply put), the best at what it is trying to do. Porco is easily the most enthralling male character of all Miyazaki’s films, maybe for the fact that he is an adult. He lives a fantasy life in a a fantasy world where he is ironically the only “normal person” in a place of cartoon characters. This makes him much more unpredictable than other Miyazaki male leads who more often than not fall into predictable roles and who’s thoughts you could read if you were ten-years old. And because of this the romance in this film is more believable and helps to elevate the film rather than come as a given as it does in Ghibli’s many more typical films.
The flying scenes and plane battles are equal parts funny and aw inspiring, while the designs themselves vary between character to character, the regular folk look like classic Ghibli background people (good but not memorable), while the pirates seem to draw more inspiration from western works like The Loony Toons , exaggerated to every extreme, with all sorts of hight and size differences. It is Porco and the other main cast that have the most detail (as is to be expected) but they lean closer to the less exaggerated, yes even Porco.
You have no good reason not to see this film. Really i dare you to find one! Go ahead, I’m waiting…………exactly! Go buy the dame movie! In fact buy several copies and make your friends pay you back later!

Rating: 9.7 of 10! You will never look at a pig in a negative light again!

1. Spirited Away (2001)

Any one else would be just fine with the nine previous films that made up this list. For all their flaws one cannot deny Miyazaki without Spirited Away is still the best animation director thus far in our short history. But i guess that just wasn’t good enough for him. In 2001 Miyazaki made his arguably most important film. Spirited Away won best picture in Japan, as well as about thirty other awards from around the world. It is to this day one of the three films to win the Academy Award for best animation and actually deserve it! It is everything Miyazaki and accomplishes everything it sets out to, it even accomplishes everything his previous films set out to and ties a beautiful bow around the entire collection. As i have already praised this film enough in my Top 9 Animated films, i’ll just give my rating, and end with this: nothing i say or do can help nor hurt this film, it goes beyond my simple little corner of the internet, and it deserves to be in a vault (along with The Girl who leapt through Time, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly) for protection for the survivors of the apocalypse to see, SO THEY WILL FOREVER KNOW THE MEANING OF ART!!!!!!!! Kneel before the might of Miyazaki!!!

Rating: 10 of 10! Everything a movie should be! One of the best of all time!

Until The next Gym Challenge! Good night!

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6 Responses to ““It came from Japan: THE 10 Miyazaki Films” by Leader K”
  1. Vapor says:

    Is he the one that always sneaks in a dog or am I thinking of someone else?

  2. Leader K says:

    That is someone else, (i do not know who). Ghibli put a lot of cats in there movies, as japanese tend to be cat people!

  3. ImmaFrog says:

    Why do japanese suck at live action but are extremely good at animation?

  4. Miyazaki made such beautiful films. I love them all.

  5. Johnk919 says:

    Keep working ,fantastic job! bbgeaegfkbgg

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] covered this film on my Top ten Miyazaki movies so there is no real need to repeat myself (http://riddlerreviews.net/2010/12/17/it-came-from-japan-the-10-miyazaki-films/). But what i didn’t mention much was the apocalyptic aspect of the movie. Set a thousand […]

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