Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli, and probably the most famous Japanese name in the film industry, has announced his retirement. He has actually “retired” before, in 1997, but to our everlasting good fortune, returned to business with Spirited Away in 2001. Assuming, however, that this time he really will not be gracing our screens after his latest offering, The Wind Rises, we give you our top choices of his films to look back on.
My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
The symbol of Studio Ghibli, and beloved teddy of millions, is the Totoro. And no wonder, following this film that manages to hit the peak of heart-warming without straying into the saccharine. The story follows two little girls with a sick mother, and their communications with various spirits, Totoros, and ultimately, each other. Convincingly real characters interact seamlessly with delightfully fantastical elements, leaving images that linger in the mind. A fluffy grey Totoro with a leaf on his head holding an umbrella provides a defining picture for Studio Ghibli.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
This is one of those films that manages to take entirely different turns to the book, and yet still retain its grace and substance. Miyazaki’s take on Diana Wynne Jones’s novel becomes a story in its own right. Howl, a flamboyant wizard, is joined in his travels by Sophie, a hatter who was not really looking for adventure. For Sophie, under a curse that turns her from a young lady to a ninety-year-old woman, this is a journey of liberation, age giving her a freedom from the self-esteem issues that many viewers will recognise in themselves. Studio Ghibli’s beautiful animation breathes life into characters that one cannot help but adore.
Spirited Away (2001)
By far Miyazaki’s most famous film, Spirited Away was also one of the first to be truly appreciated by a Western audience. And rightly so. This stunning coming-of-age fantasy follows 10-year-old Chihiro’s journey through the spirit world. A world where nothing is quite as it seems, and characters who are far more than token heroes and villains. Even after multiple viewings, this film still has the ability to utterly transport a viewer to a new world, one of spirits and magic. The combination of mythological Japan and modern-day Japan is deeply intriguing. But it is the characters that provide the warm heart to this film. The efforts of, among others, the sisterly Lin, timid No-Face, and mysterious Haku to help Chihiro save her parents are real and delightful. Show this film to your siblings, parents, children, grandparents – anyone would find it a complete joy to watch.
A final note – listen to the soundtracks of any of Miyazaki’s film. Joe Hisaishi’s collaboration with Hayao Miyazaki created some of my absolute favourite film music. Try One Summer’s Day (Spirited Away), Princess Mononoke Theme Song (Princess Mononoke), and Howl’s Moving Castle (Howl’s Moving Castle).
PHOTOS// Thomas Schulz, thelexicinema, imdb