Nov 152013

After looking through this site for a little while you might well ask yourself, why all the Miyazaki? If you’re an anime fan, you might ask yourself, why all the Miyazaki? (Implying that there is a whole lot more available, and you would be right.) The answer to both is essentially the same – in my opinion it’s the best entry point for American kids to get into Japanese animation, also known as anime. Depending on the movie you can start quite young and there is a good variety of material to please both boys and girls. There is also a good age range for the material from young kids to teenagers.

Miyazaki is a partner in an anime studio called Studio Ghibli, they have a variety of films with which Miyazaki was involved but for the sake of brevity I’m only going to focus on the films Miyazaki himself directed.

I’ve ordered this list by age recommendation youngest to oldest.

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

My Neighbor Totoro

This scene blew my mind

Age recommendation: 5 and up
If you were to ask any anime fan which Miyazaki film a child should start with I guarantee they would say Totoro. If you didn’t limit it to Miyazaki and let them choose from any anime there’s a very good chance they would still say Totoro. If there was only one Miyazaki film I could tell you to show your kids, it would be Totoro. ‘Nuff said.

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Age recommendation: 5 and up
Our kids first saw this one when they were 5 and 7 and they still watch it years later. The main character, Kiki, is a witch in a harmless and very matter of fact sort of way. She is a strong female lead and it is a nice coming of age story. Supporting characters Tombo and especially Kiki’s cat Jiji make this palatable for boys as well.

Ponyo (2008)

Age recommendation: 5 and up
You may have actually heard of Ponyo because it was one of Miyazaki’s first films to have success as a theatrical release in the US and Canada. Like Totoro and Kiki, Ponyo is appropriate for all ages but I would also say it’s targeted to a notably younger audience than the other films. It’s an interesting take on the Little Mermaid idea with a fish (Ponyo) who wants to be a girl.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)

Age recommendation: 9 and up
I think this is one of Miyazaki’s most entertaining films considering it’s chock full of sky pirates, a quest for a lost (floating) city, and lots of adventure and action. While Kiki may appeal more to girls, this one definitely has some serious boy energy. Although just as there was stuff in Kiki that can appeal to boys and there are definitely some strong characters here for girls. This is also where we start to break out of the all-ages recommendations. There is fighting, guns, and peril that won’t appeal to younger children.

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

(Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature)
Age recommendation: 9 and up

This film pushes up the age recommendation not just for some violence and peril but also for creepy mystical characters and themes that could be confusing for younger children. Which witch is good? Which witch is bad? Which witch is disguised as what now? Consider it a challenge to your child’s development of narrative flow and context – or yours, for that matter, considering that some threads are left unresolved and/or ambiguous. Despite all that, however, this is one of my favorite Miyazaki films next to Castle in the Sky.

Porco Rosso (1992)

Age recommendation: 9 and up
Even if you’re already aware of Miyazaki and have watched a couple of his films I think there may be a good chance that you haven’t seen this one. It’s about a WWI pilot who has been turned into a half-man half-pig flying mercenary. Same old story. If your kids are obsessed with aviation (as Miyazaki is) and the history of fascist Italy and the Adriatic in the time between the wars then this is a must-see. Warning, lots of shooting with some smoking, drinking, and “romance”. And fascists.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Age recommendation: 10 and up
Nausicaä was produced by Isao Takahata and is considered the start of the partnership and organization that became Studio Ghibli. Even though it’s a relatively early film for Miyazaki as director it is as rich and compelling as any of his other movies. Add to that yet another of his strong female lead characters, some thrilling action, and a good environmental message and you’ve got another winner.

Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away

Parents turned into pigs – check
Losing identity in the spirit world – check
Adorable anyway – check!

(Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature)
Age recommendation: 11 and up
Along with Ponyo, you may have also heard of Spirited Away since it’s the most successful Japanese film in history (in worldwide release), made more money than Titanic at the Japanese box office, won an Academy Award, and is often considered one of the greatest animated films of all time. Yay for Spirited Away! Now, here’s why you’re not going to show it to your kids until they’re older: the parents of the lead character (Chihiro, another strong girl) get turned into pigs, there is a giant stack of creepy freaky characters, and Chihiro almost loses her identity and gets sucked forever into the nightmarish spirit world. However, once your kids are ready, it’s quite good.

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Age recommendation: 12 and up
I’m going to call this Miyazaki’s most mature film purely from the standpoint of age appropriateness, and that because of the overt violence. Maturity is, of course, a relative thing. Kiki’s Delivery Service is mature because of the complexity of her emotional self-discovery, Howl’s Moving Castle is mature because of the ambiguous nature of good and evil, Porco Rosso is mature because, fascists. So while the violence may be a bit much for younger kids, teenagers can totally get into the epic scope of the story and the always reliably strong characters and adventure.

Bonus: Pom Poko (1994)

Age recommendation: 7 and up
In the interest of making this an actual top ten list I’m going to throw in one more film. One that was directed by Miyazaki’s co-founder of Studio Ghibli, Isao Takahata. We originally picked this one up thinking it was a Miyazaki film (ah, how naive) and despite its sometimes freakishly surreal scenes there was a period where our daughter watched it obsessively. If your child loves animals like our daughter, they would like this one. A few warnings, there is some violence as the raccoon dogs (you think they’re raccoons, but they’re not) fight with each other over their vanishing resources but the battles are very cartoonish. Also, the males have very prominent testicles (referred to in the English dub of the movie as “pouches”). This is apparently an integral part of tanuki (raccoon dog) folklore and they use them in their shape-shifting in very, shall we say, creative ways. You kind of have to see it to believe it.

Do you agree or disagree with my assessment or have something to add?

Scroll down just a little…the comments are Right There!

Let me know what you think.

  2 Responses to “Top Ten Hayao Miyazaki Films”

  1. I love Miyazaki and his films, and I couldn’t be more extiecd to see Ponyo, but this was just a dumb thing to say. I still have respect for Miyazaki and his wonderful films, but it’s a shame when it comes to this subject Miyazaki has no idea what he’s talking about. It would be one thing f he was anti-war, but to say something like “I won’t visit the country that’s bombing Iraq” just comes off as ignorant and childish.We saw a little anti-war theme in Howl’s Moving Castle (unfortunately), but it didn’t come off as offensive like this does.Iraq was a country where woman were treated like dirt, and people found any excuse to stone them, it was a country where children were taut to hate everyone and everything that doesn’t look and think like them. Iraq was a country that thrived on hatred and lived on intolerance. But now they are able to do things they once could never dream of, like vote. They have more freedom now then they ever did before the U.S.’s so called “invasion.” So was it really that bad of a thing, the Iraq war? Not when you think of the progress Iraq has made.I just hope a wonderful mind like Miyazaki’s doesn’t become one of those “politically obsessed” filmmakers who starts throwing in an agenda in his films, because if that were to happen, the world will have lost the greatest wonder the world of film has seen since Walt Disney.

    • I’m not sure what I said in my post to inspire your very impassioned and, frankly, confusing comments about Iraq. It’s true that Miyazaki said the reason he didn’t come to the Oscars when Spirited Away won for Best Animated Feature was because he didn’t want to come to the country that was bombing Iraq. But he didn’t make a fuss about it at the time and only provided that explanation at the San Diego Comic-Con six years later. I applaud him for standing up for his principles and I hate to disappoint you but there’s more than a little anti-war theme in Howl’s Moving Castle – and I don’t think it’s at all unfortunate. There’s a strong moral center to many of Miyazaki’s films which is one of the reasons I encourage parents to seek them out. In addition to his strong anti-war stance parents should also take note of his other political obsessions, foremost among them environmentalism, which is integral to films like Ponyo and Nausicaä.

      If you don’t think war is a bad thing I recommend you watch Grave of the Fireflies. I would not recommend it for children under age 14 because it is easily the saddest cartoon of all time. And for one reason, it is incredibly effective at demonstrating that war, any war, no matter how much you try to justify it, is bad.

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