Thursday, August 13, 2009

Top 5: Hayao Miyazaki

In celebration for the American release of Hayao Miyazaki's latest flim Ponyo tomorrow, I've decided to count down my top five favorite films from the famed Japanese filmmaker.

For those who do not know, Miyazaki is essentially Japan's equivelant of Walt Disney. His films tend to be highly imaginative, deep, thought-provoking, emotional, and above all else fun. Miyazaki's latest, Ponyo, released in Japan last year to great reviews and wound up being the highest grossing Japanese film of the year. Tomorrow Ponyo releases here in America with the help of the head of Pixar John Lasseter, who has overseen the American release of all of Miyazaki's works. I'm very excited about Ponyo, but needless to say this is not about his new film, but is more about what truly is my favorite film from a filmmaker that I deeply admire?

5. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind - Nausicaa is the story of Princess Nausicaa who leads the people of the Valley of the Wind, one of the few remaining places in the world that hasn't been consumed by toxic jungles. Nausicaa is an epic adventure filled to the brim with deep ecological and pacifistic messages. Not to mention the film features some trully thrilling action set pieces and has a wonderful heart that is inherent in nearly all of Miyazaki's works. The film finely treads the line between science fiction and fantasy to create a spellbinding film that is an animated classic for adults, not children and it definitely deserves its place on this list for its sheer scope and wonderment. The last ten minutes of the film are some of the most awe-inspiring I've ever seen in any film, whether it be live action or animated.

4. Spirited Away - For many Miyazaki fans this film would top their lists, and I must say that it surprised even me to find it at number four, but alas these things happen. Spirited Away is the story of a young girl named Chihiro who finds herself working in a bathhouse for the spirits. The film is a deep film that is about the triumph of the human spirit. It's a serious film that many children will not appreciate, but adults will revel in the density of the story and the genuine emotionality inherent in the film. It is a film that has all of Miyazki's trademark themes alive inside of it, and it might just be his most personal film he has ever made. Even though the ending to the film feels slightly rushed, there is no denying that Spirited Away is a genuine masterpiece.

3. Princess Mononoke - This one nearly made the top spot for me, but the two films that precede this one are just a slight notch ahead. Princess Mononoke is an epic story set within feudal Japan about the war between the spirits of the forest and the encroaching humans that try to destroy them. Princess Mononoke is a beautiful film, rife with imagination, wonderful characters, and epic battles. The film is sweeping in its scope, giving live action epics like The Lord of the Rings a run for its money. The story is wonderfully told, the romance between Ashitaka and San is truly beautiful, and the finale is one to be remembered. This is an emotional film that truly deserves all the accolades bestowed upon it; one of the few animated films that transcends its hand-drawn exterior to become simply an amazing film.

2. My Neighbor Totoro - I featured this film a few weeks back in my Hidden Gems segment, and I stand by what I said then. My Neighbor Totoro is a wonderful film; it's funny, emotional, and entertaining all wrapped into one. It is quite possibly Miyazaki's most human film he has ever made, the human characters taking the forefront and the fantasy the back. This is easily one of the finest children films ever produced. It's a film that is all about hope and it is because of this that this film is so high on the list.

1. Howl's Moving Castle - No other film on this list can make me feel quite as good as Howl does. It's a quirky love story about a wizard and a bewitched woman who transforms into a 90 year old woman. Howl is a funny film, highly imaginitve, filled to the brim with awe-inspiring fantasy. When I say that I have never seen a film quite like this before, it truly applies to this one. There is no other film I've ever seen that it can be compared to. The film is deep and thought-provoking, it features a very dense story without ever feeling convoluted, and it tells a very sweet story of romance and true love. Miyazaki has made what I think to be his finest achievement with Howl's Moving Castle. The characers are all lovable and very well layered; the action within the film is exhilirating and really adds to the story; and the world is so intricately conceived and jam-packed with detail its beautiful. This is a film that will have you with a smile on your face for the rest of the day after watching it. It's one of the most enchanting films I've ever seen.

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