Ranking the Films of Hayao Miyazaki

Photo Credit:http://moviemezzanine.com/studio-ghibli-retrospective-my-neighbor-totoro/

As depressing as it is, with The Wind Rises now in theaters, we now have the complete filmography of Hayao Miyazaki. One of the greatest animators and storytellers of our time has had a phenomenal career spanning five decades, but with only 11 films with him at the helm. Here’s our ranking of those films.



Photo Credit:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079833/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_2211. The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

The only bad film Miyazaki made, the director’s first film just never quite comes together. It starts off interestingly enough with a fun action sequence and an established noir tone. But the closer it comes to fantasy, the more detached we become from action around it. Looking back, it feels very much like “early work”.


Photo Credit:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087544/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_2010. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

I know most fans will disagree with me, but the main character, Nausicaa, is painfully annoying. While Miyazaki’s second film certainly has his signature storytelling and ideas, as well as a rousing climax, Nausicaa is far too perfect to even root for. She seems so blissfully unaware of how much everyone adores her, too. But the climax is admittedly charged with emotion.


Photo Credit:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097814/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_169. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Kiki’s Delivery Service is littered with great ideas, and the first half plays out a lot like some of Miyazaki’s more classic films. But the second half struggles to maintain the momentum. The intentions are noble, having the lead witch’s powers slowly but suddenly receding as a symbol of growing up. But the execution isn’t quite as refined as, say, every other film below it on this list.


Photo Credit:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104652/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_158. Porco Rosso (1992)

Starting here, every other film on the list I really like. But Porco Rosso may just be Miyazaki’s weirdest film. It stars a pilot who has been turned into a pig-like humanoid thanks to a curse (voiced somewhat sarcastically by Michael Keaton if you watch the American dub). The film is sometimes so absurd you can’t help but laugh with it. Other times, it’s a astoundingly feminist film.


Photo Credit:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0876563/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_37. Ponyo (2008)

Benefitting from newer animation technology, Ponyo is one of Miyazaki’s most gorgeous films, allowing him to tell the story more with visuals than dialogue. What puts it here on the list is that it isn’t necessarily Miyazaki’s story. Instead, it’s his take on The Little Mermaid. It’s not a bad thing, but the original ideas in the top five films are what gives Miyazaki the legacy he has.


Photo Credit:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092067/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_186. Castle in the Sky (1986)

You’re going to hear me talk a lot about this particular talent of Miyazaki’s in the films ahead, but this was the first peek we got of it in his career. Miyazaki is probably the best writer of children characters in all of cinema. This is also present in Kiki’s Delivery Service and Ponyo. But what sends Castle in the Sky above those two is the sense of wonder as its main characters discover and explore the titular locale.


Photo Credit:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119698/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_135. Princess Mononoke (1997)

Easily Miyazaki’s darkest film, Princess Mononoke tackles such issues as man vs. nature, the environment, and war. The first of his films to benefit from a more modern style of animation, Mononoke is gorgeous to look at while telling an engaging story with some very memorable characters.


Photo Credit:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0347149/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_74. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Probably the most character-driven film on the list, this epic fantasy is simultaneously gorgeous, hilarious, and harrowing. The huge war scenes will startle you as much as the odd situations a young woman in an old woman’s body will have you in stitches. We end up with one of Miyazaki’s most ambitious and confident films.


Photo Credit:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2013293/3. The Wind Rises (2013)

Miyazaki’s final film is also his most personal. Going for a more subtle fantasy than his fans are used to, The Wind Rises is full of wonder as we follow the story of the real-life engineer behind Japanese fighter planes in World War II. But the film also doubles as a gorgeous farewell from the director, proving to us just one last time that he is a true artist.


Photo Credit:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096283/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_172. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Seriously though, he’s the best writer of children, like, ever. This wonderous children’s tale is also Miyazaki’s warmest film. Able to compete with anything Disney and Pixar has ever produced, this classic features some of the director’s best fantastical creations (cat-bus!). However, the genius behind this film is the simplicity of the story that makes it easily accessible, but no less endearing.


Photo Credit:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0245429/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_121. Spirited Away (2001)

This is the Miyazaki film everyone has heard of. A flawless demonstration of modern animation, Spirited Away doubles as a world-building fantasy and a small coming-of-age story. The complex, well thought-out world is unforgettable as we are introduced to the bizarre happenings of a literal ghost town. The journey and the message make this film the masterpiece it is today, while also making Miyazaki the worldwide phenomenon he became in the last decade.


Do you agree with out rankings? What’s your favorite Miyazaki film?


By Matt Dougherty

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