When it comes to animated movies, people love to tout Pixar movies as the cream of the crop. However, while Pixar has released some tremendous films and deserves all the credit they receive, they are still not the best of the best. That is reserved for the animated output from Hayao Miyazaki.
The legendary Japanese animator and storyteller started off as a television director back in 1971 and then transitioned into one of the best-animated filmmakers in the world over the next three decades. Even his worst movies are better than many studio's best efforts. With so much greatness to choose from, here is a look at the 10 best Miyazaki films of all time.
10. Kiki's Delivery Service
Released in 1989, Kiki's Delivery Service was the first Miyazaki movie that came after he received worldwide accolades for My Neighbor Totoro. With this movie, he proved that he was not a one-hit wonder; he was a master of many different styles of storytelling.
When it comes to this film, Miyazaki told a smaller coming-of-age story about Kiki, a 13-year-old witch who has to spend a year living on her own before she can continue training. When she starts to lose her powers after falling into depression, she has to overcome her insecurities and find her place in the world.
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9. Spirited Away
Possibly the most popular of the Miyazaki movies for mainstream audiences is Spirited Away. Released in 2001, Spirited Away is Miyazaki taking on the themes of a classic fairy tale but doing it in a way that is wholly and completely unique. Spirited Away is about a girl named Chihiro and her parents, who are turned into pigs.
They end up in a universe that is completely the opposite of the world in which she came from. When she ends up forced to battle malevolent spirits, she realizes the horror and has to grow up fast in order to survive. The movie won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature and sits at the top of many fan's lists of the best Miyazaki movies.
8. Castle In The Sky
Released in 1986, Castle in the Sky was the first Miyazaki movie produced by Ghibli Studio. The movie is also his first truly great film and is one of the most exciting and adventurous movies that the filmmaker ever created. The movie features two kids; a girl with the power to float in the air and a boy who wants to find the flying city of Laputa.
The two head off together on their adventure with evil government agencies and space pirates standing in their way. This might not be the most beautiful or artistic film he ever created, but this is Miyazaki thrilling audiences with one of the most entertaining stories of his long and successful career.
7. Porco Rosso
Most Miyazaki movies have one thing in common: a love of flying and adventures through the air. Porco Rosso, released in 1992, lives in that world. The hero of the movie is Porco, who happens to be a pig that is an aviation ace. That might make this one of the most bizarre movies of Miyazaki's career, but it is no different than any other animation studio's talking animal movies.
Porco is basically an antihero in the film noir sense; a hero who is only out for himself but soon realizes that he is on a crash course to save others. He is like a pig-Han Solo. There is also the fact that Porco used to be human but was cursed to live life in the body of a walking, airplane flying pig. This only adds to the depth that Miyazaki fans are used to.
6. My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro is the Miyazaki movie that put the filmmaker on the map. Released in 1988, the animator had already made some great movies but it was this one that crossed over and took America by storm. The movie is so iconic that the character of Totoro—the giant rabbit/cat hybrid thing—is the Studio Ghibli symbol.
The movie takes place in Japan after World War II and follows a small family in a rural village. The two daughters discover a magical world all around them, including new friends like Totoro. The movie was groundbreaking and influenced so much of what came later — especially the animation studio Pixar.
5. Princess Mononoke
While one of three films could be named the best Miyazaki movie of all time, there is a strong case that Princess Mononoke might sit in that prized top spot. Ranked 92% fresh by critics and 94% by fans, there is no denying the excellence on display in this 1997 animated release.
This was a true crossover film, released by Miramax in the United States after a massive Japanese theatrical run. The movie follows a warrior named Ashitaka (who is banished) and heads into a land of spirits, gods, and other warriors and falls in love with a princess there. The movie is very adult oriented for a film that is also geared towards children and has strong philosophical moments mixed in with a dramatic storyline where ideas of right and wrong are often blurred. It is pure Miyazaki.
Ponyo received a little bit of controversy when it was released. Unlike many Miyazaki movies that lived a strong life as foreign-language animated films, Ponyo was released with the entire intent on making it more accessible to people who don't like to read their movies. As a result, it was made from the start with a second audio track with famous American voices including Noah Cyrus, Cate Blanchett, and Matt Damon.
One of his final films as a director, Miyazaki told the story of a fish-girl named Ponyo who dreams of one day becoming a human girl. Kind of like a Little Mermaid story in reverse. It isn't one of the best Miyazaki movies but it might be the most visually dynamic looking. Plus, it's a lot deeper than originally given credit for.
3. Howl's Moving Castle
Howl's Moving Castle was an Oscar-nominated animated film for Hayao Miyazaki and one that was well-deserved of that honor. Based on the book by Diana Wynne Jones, this Miyazaki movie tells the story of a girl named Sophie who is turned old through a magical spell, falling in love with a handsome wizard.
What makes the movie so spectacular is the beautiful imagined animation. It's possibly the most gorgeous movie of Miyazaki's career. It also proves to be deep, as the main story plays out with a backdrop of war. This is something that added a lot of subtext to the Miyazaki movie and proved that things were never simplistic in the worlds of his films.
2. The Wind Rises
The Wind Rises was the last Miyazaki movie before the master retired from filmmaking (although he has since returned). Hitting theatres in 2013, it was a movie based on the true story of Jiro Horikoshi — the man who created the Japanese Zero Fighter which was used in World War II. While that might seem controversial, this movie has too much heart to malign.
It's about the power of imagination and how nothing is out of reach for someone who reaches for their dreams. Miyazaki has specialized over the years in flight; from moving castles to witches soaring through the air. He then attempted to finish his career with the true story of a man who dreamed of flying and with it, Miyazaki might have created the most spectacular flying animations of his career.
1. The Castle Of Cagliostro
Hayao Miyazaki started his career as a director back in 1971 with the television series Lupin the Third, which he directed 15 episodes for. A few years later, he returned to the franchise and directed the movie The Castle of Cagliostro, his feature film debut and one featuring Lupin III.
While this was one of the rare non-Studio Ghibli Miyazaki films, the movie started with a heist and then moved on into a huge plot as they sought out the evil Count Cagliostro. This is a little more cartoony than most of his later work, but it is still a well-directed, action-packed debut for Miyazaki. It remains an entertaining movie 40 years later.