Miyazaki. With Walt Disney’s actual influence as a film artist/director (vs. his acknowledged brilliance as a businessman, innovator and producer) an ongoing debate for decades there is little disagreement from most cinephiles that Miyazaki is the grand master of animation amongst auteurs. It’s actually hard think of who would be 2nd behind him? It would probably be Sharpsteen, Satoshi Kon, Docter, Bird, Stanton, or Lasseter, but name the 4th or 5th best movie from those guys… even 3rd in some cases… very weak. Miyazaki has 10 archiveable films and though they’re not all top 100 films of their respective decade, they all bear his trademarks and are quite magnificent. His weakness here would be that he only has one top 500 film- a weakness for sure—but he’s has 3, bordering on 4, top 100 films of their decade and again, the level and and quality of authorship.

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From Princess Mononoke – incredible landscape and in line with Miyazaki’s thematic dogma

Best film: Spirited Away. I think it’s overrated by TSPDT standards but it’s a gorgeous and imaginative film and certainly feels like the culmination of Miyazaki’s artistry.

  • Third or fourth time viewing- caught it on the big screen
  • Picturesque– still-frame beauty
  • Miyazaki, if he hadn’t already, firmly cements himself as a master of surrealism—as far as cinema- along the likes of Luis Bunuel and David Lynch
  • Wizard of Oz, Alice, pantheism- Yellow Submarine and perhaps early Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands)- like expressionism and influence
  • Miyazaki is a world- creator- filled with color and imagination—draws such beautiful skylines, nature, grass and flowers
  • Love the moving trepidation allegory- very real
  • The narrative is imaginative for sure- but there’s a bit of random number generator feel to it- very unique- especially in animation with the likes of early Disney so formally and thematically buttoned-up and bookended
  • The Chihiro/Sen character is one greatest in cinema animation history- her overwhelming goodness wins over this new world— a blend of spirit, human, animal
  • There’s a darkness to Miyazaki’s world- a bit of realism- there’s isn’t Grave of the Fireflies but it can be haunting
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Spirited Away– Miyazaki’s “Alice”- transcendent shot here – floral wall-art work

total archiveable films: 10

more wall-art– perfect use of animation lighting

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  1 (Spirited Away)

no one else in animation has taken mise-en-scene to the levels Miyazaki has– rich decor here from Spirited Away

top 100 films of the decade:  3 (Spirited Away, 2.  Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbor Tortoro)

most overrated:  #249 on TSPDT for My Neighbor Totoro is just way too highly rated film. I don’t have it in the top 500 so the TSPDT consensus and I are pretty far apart.

most underrated:  Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is not in the TSPDT top 1000 and it should be. It’s Miyazaki’s sophomore effort and from what I’ve read is the beginning of his penchant towards surrealism and pantheism (I’ve yet to see his debut feature The Castle of Cagliostro).

gem I want to spotlight:     Howl’s Moving Castle. I, like many others, was a little disappointed when this came out as his much anticipated follow-up to Spirited Away.  Looking back now this is clearly an oversight and this follow-up is nearly as brilliant as its much ballyhooed predecessor This actually happens all the time in cinema history following up great films (to everything from The Magnificent Ambersons to Marie Antoinette). Thankfully we have the benefit of time and repeat viewings

stylistic innovations/traits:    He’s an overlooked artist when discussing the history of surrealism in cinema (we typically get to Bunuel and Lynch and rightly so—but Miyazaki should follow closely after). He’s also known for his strong feminine heroines and like I said almost pantheistic eco-friendly (skylines, nature, grass, flowers in magnificently beautiful landscapes) view of the world. Some of his greatest images are an absolute flooding of the mise-en-scene— beauty and detail that is almost unnecessary (at least for commercial success) but welcomed and appreciated by cinema and art lovers. It’s all quite handsome and of course is an impeccable coupling with his distinct and beautiful animation.

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flooding the mise-en-scene- this from Howl’s Moving Castle
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remarkable detail- this from Porco Rosso
from Spirited Away– perhaps Miyazaki’s (and animation’s?) finest single image

top 10

  1. Spirited Away
  2. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
  3. My Neighbor Tortoro
  4. Princess Mononoke
  5. Howl’s Moving Castle
  6. The Wind Rises
  7. Castle in the sky
  8. Ponyo
  9. Kiki’s Delivery Service
  10. Porco Rosso
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framing characters in nature from Kiki’s Delivery Service
surrealism and imagination from My Neighbor Tortoro

By year and grades

1984- Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind HR
1986- Castle In the Sky R
1988- My Neighbor Tortoro HR
1989- Kiki’s Delivery Service R
1992- Porco Rosso R
1997- Princess Mononoke R/HR
2001- Spirited Away MS
2004- Howl’s Moving Castle R
2008- Ponyo R
2013- The Wind Rises R

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives