BySonora Hospital-Medina, writer at
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Sonora Hospital-Medina

Hayao Miyazaki is best known for his films with Japanese animation film studio Studio Ghibli. Animator, Writer, Producer, Director; this man is amazing! (And, incidentally, BFFs with PIXAR's own John Lasseter)

Whether you are an avid Miyazaki fan or you have absolutely no idea who I am talking about, these are 5 of his Studio Ghibli films you HAVE to watch:

1. My Neighbor Totoro

This classic Ghibli movie is beautiful.

When two girls move to the country to be near their ailing mother, they have adventures with the wondrous forest spirits who live nearby.

My Neighbor Totoro focuses on the magic of nature. It shows a relationship between two sisters and the forest behind their new house and its beauty shines through the animation. One of the main attractions Ghibli/Miyazaki films have is the artistry behind each scene. This movie in particular is masterfully drawn.

2. Kiki's Delivery Service

Kiki's Delivery Service also has beautiful art throughout; however, what makes this a must-see is the character development.

A young witch, on her mandatory year of independent life, finds fitting into a new community difficult while she supports herself by running an air courier service.

This film is a coming-of-age film at its heart. Kiki starts out an innocent girl filled with excitement and idealism. Throughout the course of the movie, she is exposed to the real independent world. While she has a nice family to live with and good friends, she begins to lose confidence when she is bombarded with anxious social situations. She loses her ability to fly and talk to her cat Jiji until she regains her self-confidence. It is an extremely relatable movie, despite being about a 13-year old witch!

3. Spirited Away

Spirited Away is a mind-boggling movie that makes you think and never stops surprising you. When I first saw it, I was freaked out in the first 10 minutes (her parents get turned into pigs). Little did I know what a fascinating movie experience was ahead of me.

During her family's move to the suburbs, a sullen 10-year-old girl wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches, and spirits, and where humans are changed into beasts.

Once again, nature plays a large part in a Miyazaki film. The bulk of the movie takes place in a spirit bathhouse. We encounter a River Spirit and a Radish spirit, among others. It references the relationship humans have with nature: for example, the River spirit is initially a large muddy pile of garbage that no one wants to wash (due to the smell). After Chihiro (the main character) steps up to help him by pulling a thorn out its side, it turns out, the "thorn" was actually a bicycle handle. Once they pull it out they discover years of pollution within.

This film is not only an environmental commentary. It is also a coming-of-age film. Chihiro starts the film dependent and, frankly, whiny. After her independent experience in the bathhouse she is able to appreciate her (sometimes annoying) parents. This film is also very relatable despite being surrounded by river spirits and dragons.

4. Howl's Moving Castle

This is my favorite Miyazaki film...

When an unconfident young woman is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch, her only chance of breaking the spell lies with a self-indulgent yet insecure young wizard and his companions in his legged, walking castle.

This film is less focused specifically on nature, and more focused on character development. Almost every character matures and develops self-awareness. Some go from low-self esteem to self-confidence, while others go from over-confidence to humility. Another theme seen throughout is acceptance of others, despite internal or external flaws. Throw in a hilarious fire demon, Calcifer, and this movie is gold!

5. The Wind Rises

This film leans more on the romance and history side of Miyazaki's genius...

A look at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II.

I was actually able to see it in the movie theaters, which was amazing. Being able to experience the beautiful animation on the big screen was mind blowing.

Due to the subject matter, many shots were from an aerial point of view. Not necessarily birds eye, but above regular eye level. This film captures viewers from all angles: romance, humor, and suspense. It is about various love relationships, but not exactly how you may think. Yes, there is a man and woman relationship, but there is also man and machine. Again, not what you may think. I am not talking about man and smartphone, I am talking about a man and his adoration of planes. An adoration starting from childhood toys to designing fighter planes for World War II. Though it is no longer in theaters, it is a definite must-see, even if only on your smartphone!

Honorable Mentions:

(because do you know how hard it is to only pick 5?)

  • Princess Mononoke
  • Porco Rosso
  • Castle in the Sky
  • Whisper of the Heart
  • Nausicaa Valley of the Wind
  • Ponyo


What's YOUR favorite Miyazaki/Ghibli Movie?


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