The Wind Rises and 5 Other Must-See Hayao Miyazaki Movies

Image from The Wind Rises
Image from The Wind Rises
The Wind Rises from Hayao Miyazaki
The Wind Rises from Hayao Miyazaki

The Wind Rises is Hayao Miyazaki’s latest and perhaps last film.  Mr. Miyazaki announced his retirement, but then later withdrew it, making this the sixth time that the co-founder of Studio Ghibli has “retired.”  The famous animation creator, known for his talents as an artist, writer, director, and producer, has produced a wide body of films.  Although he has been known in Japan and among anime fans for some time, his breakout movie in America was Ponyo, the first Studio Ghibli film to be in wide-release across the United States.  Compared to Miyazaki’s other films which were screened in less than 50 US theaters, Ponyo was shown in more than 900.  However, if you only know Miyazaki’s work from this small selection of films, you’re missing the bigger picture.  Most of Studio Ghibli’s pictures have been released by Disney (with the exception of From Up On Poppy Hill). These are 5 must-see Hayao Miyazaki movies to add to your list.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind – Often considered the first of the Studio Ghibli films, this is still one of his best.  It tells the story of a young princess of the valley in a post-apocalyptic Earth.  Legends tell of a savior who will heal the relationship between humans and the battered planet.  Although it isn’t said precisely what destroyed the earth – merely referring to it as the Seven Days of Fire – the viewer is left to imagine the world was ravaged by the actions of humans.  Starring the vocal talents of Shia LaBeouf, Patrick Stewart, Edward James Olmos, Mark Hamill, and yes Jodi Benson (of Little Mermaid fame) who played the mother of one of the characters in the film, it is chock full of gifted actors.

Castle in the Sky (Laputa) – One of Miyazaki’s most enduring fan-favorite films, it is credited with the most tweeted movie moment in history.  With a rate of over 143,000 tweets a second, it eclipsed the number two moment (same film) of 11,349 tweets.  The popular story is about a young girl named Sheeta who has a magic crystal tied to the legendary floating island of Laputa.  She is aided by a young boy named Pazu and together the two of them become involved in a magical adventure which eventually leads them to the lost floating island.  Again, this Miyazaki film stars the talents of many famous actors including Anna Paquin, James van der Beek, Andy Dick, Cloris Leachman, Mandy Patinkin, and…Mark Hamill!

Kiki’s Delivery Service – A cute and endearing story of a young witch trying to earn her “witch credentials.”  Many of Miyazaki’s films have a sense of the enchanted, the mystical, and the supernatural and this one is no different.  Apparently the world isn’t fazed by a witch living among them, and when you consider the fantastic world they live in it’s no wonder.  But the world is also fairly normal and in it Kiki’s story is a whimsical coming-of-age story about a girl who is trying to find her way in the world.  She is joined by her talking cat Jiji and a young boy named Tombo.  Miyazaki is somehow able to corral some of the best vocal talent time and time again and in this movie Kirsten Dunst plays the title character with a cast that includes Phil Hartman, Janeane Garofalo, Brad Garrett, and Debbie Reynolds.

Howl’s Moving Castle – One of Miyazaki’s most acclaimed movies, it was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards.  It is the moving tale of a young woman named Sophie who becomes cursed into being an old woman and searches to find a cure.  Sophie meets an enchanted band of unique characters from the magical wizard Howl, his young apprentice Markl, the fire-demon Calcifer who is more a dancing flame, and Turnip-head.  This band of odd fellows journey together on a wild adventure where nothing is quite what it seems.  Some very talented folks lend their voices to this animated feature including Christian Bale as Howl, Lauren Bacall as the Witch of the Waste, Josh Hutcherson as Markl, and Billy Crystal as Calcifer.

Mei and Totoro enjoying a moment together.
Mei and Totoro enjoying a moment together.

My Neighbor Totoro – My favorite Miyazaki film, this one captures all the sweetness of Kiki’s Delivery Service but with a difference.  Although it has magical elements, the viewer can imagine that it is in the minds of the two girls featured in the movie – Satsuki and Mei.  Yet we know and the girls know that Totoro is real.  It’s hard to explain who or what Totoro is except to describe him as that protector that all children believe in.  He is a mix between cat, teddy bear, dog, and squirrel.  Definitely animal, he is defined only by the sound he makes.  But he is adorable.  And his world is invisible to all but the innocent eyes of a child.  Perhaps no other character is as loved as Totoro himself than the Catbus who plays a major role in helping Satsuki and Mei on their own journey of self-discovery and family.  If there’s only one Miyazaki film you’ll see, this one should be it.  It features Dakota and Elle Fanning in the roles of Satsuki and Mei as well as Lea Salonga and Tim Daly as the girls’ parents.

Now to be fair there are other well known Miyazaki films like Spirited Away (which won for Best Animated Feature) and Princess Mononoke, but these five films will give you a great understanding of the life work of this genius animator.  Watch them today!

3 thoughts on “The Wind Rises and 5 Other Must-See Hayao Miyazaki Movies

      1. Yes, we went to the Ghibli Museum for the first time in October. Not sure why it took us so long to finally go, maybe because M hadn’t watched a majority of the movies. He had to rent a bunch from Netflix and had a Miyazaki movie marathon before we left for our trip!

        I haven’t done a review of the museum….this is mostly because photos weren’t allowed inside. I have done a review of the Straw Hat Cafe that was on the premises. It was such a cute restaurant, the food is all organic, and the menu is seasonal. When we went, the popular item was the omurice in a shape of a straw hat. So kawaii, you can read about it in my post here:

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