Movie Monday: The Extraordinary Films of Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki is a Japanese director, producer, animator and illustrator for animated films. He is also co-founder of the famed Studio Ghibli, in which he brings to life some of the mangas he’s written while producing and directing many other animated films.

What makes his filmography so amazing, other than its gorgeous animation, is the themes he explores throughout his films. Treating individuals’ relationship with nature, love, family, pacifism, good versus evil, and clearly taking an anti-war stance, Miyazaki also portrays mostly Japanese cultural heritage, even basing some of his film’s settings off of real-life places  in Asia.

Miyazaki’s mostly known in the Western hemisphere for his most popular film, Spirited Away, which won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2003, and easily makes one of 2000’s best films.

  1. 1. Princess Mononoke (1997)

    Princess Mononoke is a breathtaking fantasy war film in which Miyazaki goes heavy on the themes of pacifism and environmentalism. It’s set in the historical Muromachi period (1336-1573) and presents an Emishi prince called Ashitaka that looks to lift a curse given to him upon killing a demon while defending his village. In his journey, he encounters the Forest Gods and how humans relate to nature.

  2. 2. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

    Kiki’s Delivery Service is an adaptation of Eiko Kadono’s novel, which goes by the same name. In it, we see how Kiki, a young witch, along with the cutest little cat called Jiji, opens up a delivery service, taking advantage of her flying abilities. Throughout the film, Miyazaki shows this young girl’s journey to adulthood and explores vulnerability and the finding of one’s purpose.

  3. 3. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

    My Neighbor Totoro is a wholesome film set in postwar rural Japan and revolves around the lives of two young girls, Satsuki and Mei, which move with their dad to a new house closer to the hospital where their mom is staying. In her new hometown, Mei discovers and befriends a spirit called Totoro, which later reveals himself to Satsuki. While there seems to be not very much of an important theme going on, it does a great job of showing everyday life themes like childhood and growing up, innocence, illness, respect of nature, and others. Aside from that, this film is animated in a way that’s so pleasing and wholesome to watch, it’s become one of Miyazaki’s greatest films.

  4. 4. Ponyo (2008)

    Ponyo is Miyazaki’s tenth film, which tells the story of Brunhilde, a goldfish and daughter of Fujimoto, a wizard, and scientist that lives underwater, and Gran Mamare, a goddess. Eventually, Brunhilde changes her name to Ponyo, given to her by Sōsuke, a five-year-old boy that finds her after finding her ashore. Wanting to become human, Ponyo unbalances the world due to the huge amount of magic she uses to transform. Throughout the film, Ponyo and Sōsuke seek to pass Gran Mamare’s test, which, if passed, will restore the Universe’s balance and grant Ponyo her wish of becoming a human.

    Aside from Miyazaki’s usual stunning animation, this film reminds us of The Little Mermaid, but gives it a much more heart-warming twist, also being inspired in Japanese folktales. It presents themes like acceptance, love, decision-making, which serve great lessons for a children’s film.

Hayao Miyazaki’s remarkable animation and topics in his films make manga and anime reach all types of audiences around the world. This shows how well these films make in the box office, even reaching nominations for Academy Awards, which isn’t really that common for animes. These films can be seen by anyone of any age, whether it’s a kid or an adult, like Miyazaki, with such delicacy and sensitivity, manages to treat from everyday life themes like growing up and childhood to other much-complicated themes like war, good versus evil, and climate issues.