I own every Miyazaki film I have seen, and I’ve only seen the ones I have because I own them. Feel free to clutter up the comments with statements of disbelief that I don’t own/haven’t seen My Neighbor Totoro or Porco Rosso.
Howl’s Moving Castle
This is the story about a young girl being cursed and turned into an old woman, then getting a job working in a fantastic mechanical house. I remember it being packed with wonderful imagery but having a kind of bland story. (Girl falls in love with handsome wizard, has to rescue him from some grand cataclysm with the power of friendship, etc. etc. etc. Been there, done that.)
Kiki’s Delivery Service
My personal favorite. A young witch, accompanied by the late Phil Hartman in the body of a black cat, sets out into the big wide world to try and make a life for herself. Very much a coming-of-age story, Kiki deals with a variety of troubles and tribulations, from common things like being a social outcast among other kids her age to more specific ones like losing her magic when the banality of existence comes crashing down on her.
Kiki’s also stands alone, at least amongst the films I’ve seen, in that it’s setting isn’t some quasi-spiritual realm of indescribable wonder and mystique. Rather, it’s more or less just our world (albeit a much friendlier, more ideal version of it). I’m more prone to appreciate the concept of our world having wondrous things in it, like cute witches who ride broomsticks, than I am to a setting where everything is alien and therefore the extraordinary becomes mundane.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
I only watched this once, and it was years ago. I remember it being enjoyable despite being a bit on the preachy side with its pro-environmentalism message. I also remember having difficulty telling whether the title character was bottomless or simply wearing skin-tight flesh-colored pants.
Very much a kid’s movie. Which is fine, just… not what I was expecting given the rest of my Miyazaki library is a little more nuanced. Cute kids do cute things, save the day, become best friends, the end. No real development or conflict. The basic story outline is based on The Little Mermaid, though only very loosely. I wish they had taken one cue more and made Ponyo a mute; I got tired of listening to her scream everything at the top of her lungs. Yes, I know this is how five-year-olds communicate. This is why I don’t socialize with very many five-year-olds.
Violent, bloody, and maybe a touch too long. It beats the same environmentalist drum Nausicaa does, but the message isn’t quite as overbearing. The natural world is primal and vicious, while the industrialized world is depicted as having virtue and compassion. It’s more a story of two opposing shades of grey. It also features a guy with a magic evil arm fighting a giant spaghetti monster. Oh, and a reindeer.
Essentially the pinnacle of the “weird, alien, spiritual world” I mentioned earlier… except the story focuses on one perfectly normal little girl’s interactions with it. I like that the protagonist has a clear goal to work towards through the whole movie. At the outset this goal looks absolutely unobtainable, and so the story becomes about how the girl removes the obstacles in her way while also carving out a place for herself in a world which neither needs nor nurtures her.
I think all six of these movies are terrific and I would recommend all of them to anyone who loves animation.
I am also reminded of the bilious contempt for Disney which I observed during some of my earliest interactions with anime enthusiasts. The perceived irony of Disney distributing some of the most beloved anime movies ever created in the North American market makes me chuckle.