ANN Hayao Miyazaki page

My average ranking: 7.91

Director Pantheon: Hayao Miyazaki Rating
Castle in the Sky (movie) Very good

Laputa: Castle in the Sky is, in a sense, the most typical of Miyazaki's films in that it displays most obviously his strengths and weaknesses as an anime director. On the positive side, the action sequences are entertaining, the visuals are superb - particulary his sense of motion - there are many memorable moments and ideas, and his wit has not yet become stale. On the down side, the characters, other than Dola, are mostly forgettable. Like other of his films, they are drawn with audience acceptability in mind - you rarely see an adventurous character design in a Miyazaki film (Spirited Away being an exception). Worse, they are defined by their role in the plot, rather than the plot being propelled by their dilemmas. (Compare with Full Metal Alchemist.) The flatness of the characterisation becomes truly annoying with the laughable villainy of Muska and the General - there's no sign of the ambiguity of Lady Eboshi or Yubaba here. Miyazaki's quest to make films that are entertaining for both children and adults is also hit and miss. There is an underlying savagery that I hope kids don't always pick up - just think of how many people fall to their death in the climax. Special mentions to Dola and her gang, and to one of the most memorable sequences in anime - Sheeta falling from the sky.
Conan, the Boy in Future (TV) Decent

Howl's Moving Castle (movie) Good

A plot that's all over the place, uninteresting characters and an uncharacteristic lack of wit make this my least favourite Hayao Miyazaki film. Most damning, seeing it in a cinema exposed its limitations even as a spectacle. I certainly derived more enjoyment from Tales from Earthsea at the cinema - despite its flaws Goro Miyazaki's film was visually impressive. Still, Howl's Moving Castle is a Hayao Miyazaki film so it isn't irredeemable.
Kiki's Delivery Service (movie) Good

It's wholesome; it's nice; it has a fun cat called Jiji and a sweet girl who's also a witch, but Kiki's Delivery Service lacks significance. There's nothing particularly wrong with it but somehow it never manages to go beyond being a film for young girls.
Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (movie) Good

Despite its release date of 1979 Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro carries its age well. I suspect that's because Miyazaki continues to produce successful anime so that his characteristic style remains acceptable to 21st century eyes. Re-mastering the film has also given it a vibrancy that some neglected contemporaries lack. This vibrancy accentuates the visual splendour for what is basically a cops and robbers story. Thank you, Miyazaki. One drawback, though. Haven't I seen Clarisse before? Think Nausicaa or Fio. For all his artistic ability, Miyazaki likes to recycle character designs.

Not bogged down by any of Miyazaki's ideological fixations, this is entertaining from start to finish. For sure, it jumps from one storytelling cliche to the another, but, wow, those cliches are animated with supreme verve and aplomb.

My Neighbor Totoro (movie) Very good

There is no plot, as such, in childhood and nor are their morals to be understood from every experience. Totoro is unusual among children's movies in that it presents the wonder of childhood without the moralising that plagues just about all its peers. Mei and Satsuki move to a new country house, meet their neighbours - including the faintly threatening but sweet natured Totoro - start a new school life, face a crisis when their mother's illness looks to be taking a turn for the worse and Mei becomes lost. Totoro may be the only unusual thing in that list but the film stands out due to its unbridled charm and optimism.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (movie) Excellent

Beautiful imagery and a ripping tale ensure that Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind remains fresh after all these years, even if the animation and Joe Hisaishi's arrangements indicate that Miyazaki doesn't yet have the luxury of his later works' generous budgets. Nausicaa herself and some of the other characters are likeable even if they are one dimensional. As so often happens with Miyazaki the most complex character, relatively speaking, is the villain - in this instance Kushana whose bravado hides a painful history. The story telling and artwork are so good the problems are really only quibbles.
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (movie) Good

The viewer can, figuratively speaking, drown in the wonderful images of this beautiful anime. Visually it's on a par with the first half of Princess Mononoke and parts of Spirited Away. I found particularly thrilling the storm sequence where Sosuke and his mother race the waves up the hill in their car while Ponyo cavorts alongside in the ocean. I also loved the prehistoric fish swimming along the flooded scenery. The plot isn't anything to write home about and the environmental message is worthy if routine for Miyazaki. Just the same, if you ever get the opportunity to watch it on the big screen, take it.
Porco Rosso (movie) Excellent

One doesn’t watch Miyazaki films for the complexity or depth of the protagonists. One does so because he is a master artist and storyteller. Porco Rosso stands out because it combines his many talents with a protagonist who displays qualities absent in his other works. Normally, his stand-out characters are, at best, ambiguous (Dola, Lady Eboshi, Yubaba). Porco is a cynical has-been (“All middle-aged men are pigs,” he says and I can vouch for that) whose generous, but suppressed, heart is redeemed by two remarkable women – Fio and Gina – along with his own efforts to prove himself to himself against the dastardly Curtis. Porco Rosso has all the Ghibli trademarks – beautiful backgrounds, brilliant animation and bucketloads of wit. Sometimes the movie isn’t sure whether it’s telling a kid’s story or a midlife crisis story, but the Milan sequence, involving Porco, Fio, Fio's grandfather and his extended family, is my favourite bit of Miyazaki ever.

Extended review

Princess Mononoke (movie) Excellent

Starts off beautifully, especially in the historical reconstruction of village and farming life and in those scenes where Ashitaka is journeying with his red elk, but falls in a hole once he leaves Iron Town with a bullet hole in his heart and an unconscious San over his shoulder. The second half is wooden, partly because the animation is less attractive but mostly because it and the plot can no longer carry two of the least interesting characters in the entire Miyazaki ouvre. San is particularly weak despite her dramatic blood-spattered entrance on a riverbank. The most memorable character, Lady Eboshi (pictured left) - one of Miyazaki's finest creations - simply doesn't get enough screen time. Still, this is a film I frequently watch even though, all too often, I fail to finish it.
Spirited Away (movie) Masterpiece

Still Hiyao Miyazaki's best film to date, combining the extravagant artwork of his later works and, in the story of the coming of age of Chihiro, matching the character depth of Porco Rosso. Most of the subsidiary characters are not only appealing but even Chihiro's antagonists have their good points. Along with the typically beautiful background animation, this ambiguity in some of his characters is one of my favourite Miyazaki qualities, even if they don't appear often enough in his films. Happily, there is a wit that is too often absent in other works from this period such as Princess Mononoke and Howl's Moving Castle and, once or twice, the plot moves too rapidly to follow first, or even second, time round - such as Zeniba's first appearance at the bathhouse, but that's only a small gripe. Younger animators are now taking the medium further than Miyazaki ever has and, to some extent, the beauty of his films is a product of their comparatively lavish budgets but Spirited Away's human story of a girl growing up has enduring appeal.
(The) Wind Rises (movie) Very good

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