Hayao Miyazaki: Ranking His 10 Movies

A fond look back at the movies directed by the now-retired master of animation — everyone of them a winner

  • Share
  • Read Later

On Friday, Oct. 4, the New York Film Festival hosted its second screening of Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film, The Wind Rises. TIME critic Richard Corliss offered his review of the movie from the Venice Film Festival — and included the sad news that esteemed director of some the best-loved animated features was retiring from filmmaking.

In fact, Miyazaki, who is best known for the work he made in collaboration with Studio Ghibli, had semi retired after he had finished work on the 1997 film Princess Mononoke. Retirement didn’t seem to agree with the filmmaker, though, as Miyazaki continued to work, putting out some of his best known films, including the Academy Award winning film Spirited Away. Now, after working in the film industry for half a century, the retirement may stick and filmmaking may lose one of its greatest storytellers.

In light of the news, we are ranking Miyazaki’s greatest films. That said, there truly are no bad Miyazaki movies, — even his strangest films are eminently watchable and highly enjoyable. Watch them all and see for yourself.


10.  Porco Rosso (1992)

Porco Rosso follows the adventures of an early-1900s Italian fighter-pilot who was born with a pig’s head and makes a living as a bounty hunter. While the film is one of Miyazaki’s strangest, it does reflect Miyazaki’s interest in planes, which has carried through into his last feature film, The Wind Rises.


9.  Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

The first feature film of Miyazaki’s career, Castle of Cagliostro follows master thief Lupin the Third as he attempts to recover from mistakenly stealing a load of counterfeit bills from a casino. What follows is what Steven Spielberg called the greatest adventure film ever made.


8. Ponyo  (2008)

The loose retelling of The Little Mermaid tells the story of a boy who befriends a daughter of the sea named Ponyo. Ponyo desperately wants to be human and live with her friend’s family, but her father, the King of the Sea, has different ideas, at least when he’s paying attention to his wayward daughter and not mixing elixirs to clean up the mess man has made of the ocean.


7. Howl’s Moving Castle  (2004)

Based on the novel by Diana Wynn Jones, the movie follows the adventures of a young girl smitten with a dashing wizard named Howl. The girl is cursed by a witch, who is jealous of the wizard’s affections, and becomes an old woman, She goes to work for Howl in his magical moving castle while war and love unfurls swirls around them. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.


6. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind  (1984)

Set a thousand years in the future, Princess Nausicaa is the young defender of a dying post-apocalyptic world. Nausicaa is tasked with protecting her village from both giant insects and the destructive forces of the remaining traces of humanity.


5. Kiki’s Delivery Service  (1989)

One of Miyazaki’s most accessible films, the story follows a young witch named Kiki who leaves her family to make her way in the big city. She starts up a delivery service and follows adventure and her beloved black cat Jiji wherever they lead her.


4. Castle in the Sky  (1986)

Castle in the Sky — or Laputa as it is known in Japan — is an epic steampunk fantasy that follows the saga of a young orphan named Sheeta who inherits a mysterious crystal that leads her to the legendary kingdom floating in the clouds. It’s annual airing in Japan resulted in the most Tweeted moment of all time,  revealing how popular the film remains.


3. My Neighbor Totoro  (1988)

Another family favorite, the film is far stranger than Kiki’s Delivery Service. The story follows two sisters who find themselves sharing a forest with Totoro, a giant rabbity creature who is the local forest god. Totoro leads them on a series of Alice in Wonderland-like adventures. Throw in a Cat Bus (a bus that is a cat), soot sprites and and a tear-jerking tale of two young girls with an ailing mother and you’ll begin to understand some of the  wide appeal of the film.


2. Princess Mononoke  (1997)

The rather environmental-friendly tale tells the story of young prince Ashitaka, who leaves his village in the hopes of lifting a deadly curse cast upon him. In the forest, Ashitaka finds himself caught between a group of rifle-toting ironworkers who are using up the forest’s resources; angry forest gods, led by a pack of boars, and Princess Mononoke, a young woman raised by wolves.


1. Spirited Away   (2001)

When Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs, she has no choice but to move in with the spirits who visit the nearby bathhouse in the hopes of earning their freedom from the witch who owns the place. What follows is an imaginative adventure filled with Miyazaki’s favorite themes of family, loyalty, friendship and environmental preservation. The film won a well-deserved Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

MORE: Is Hayao Miyazaki Gone With ‘The Wind’?
MORE: 2013 Fall Films: 13 Movies We’re Looking Forward To