Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hayao Miyazaki

I wrote about Hayao Miyazaki (pronounced Hi-ow Me-a-zah-ki) back in December of last year, when I first started discovering his movies, which had been recommended to me for years. I had thankfully started with his masterpiece My Neighbor Totoro, and eventually went through his entire catalog. I recently saw his new film Ponyo, which he has said will be his last (although he's said that before). While on the lower part of my favorites list of Miyazaki's, Ponyo still had some of Miyazaki's trademarks, a fractured family of some sort, a young protaganist, a strong ecological message, and a story full of magic both good and evil.

But it made me think that I should go back and briefly review my feelings towards Miyazaki, since I hadn't done so since first discovering the 68-year-old masters work. Mostly hand animated, always a large chunk done by the man himself, Miyazaki's movies are endlessly fascinating to me. So this is my list of his movies I've seen, in preferred order, I've also decided to give ratings out of 4 stars to them, so you can see how highly I think of the mans work:

1. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind-1984-4 stars

While it has some major flaws, notably the parts of Joe Hisaishi's score that echo Nintendo games, Nausicaa is Miyazaki's greatest achievement. It encompasses all of his trademarks beautifully, and Nausicaa is the young female protagonist all the subsequent Miyazaki female heroes are measured against. The tremendous climax of the movie having one of my favorite scenes in his catalog, in the massive destruction caused by the "God Warrior". A terrifically animated epic that has topped my Miyazaki list since I first saw it.

2. My Neighbor Totoro-1988-4 stars

No need to re-review this one, as my feelings haven't changed on it since first viewing. Well, they may have, but it's been a strengthening. It's brilliant, and the movie I would start others on if they were looking to get into Miyazaki's work.

3. Spirited Away-2001-4 stars
The movie for which "Academy Award Winner" was attached to his name (for Best Animated Feature), Spirited Away is Miyazaki's most overflowingly magical experience. It's interesting in that the lead doesn't start out as the plucky, intelligent, independent young girl that most Miyazaki heroes are, but it's fun to watch her grow into that position as the spellbinding tale goes on.

4. Castle in the Sky-1986-3.5 stars
Probably my favorite example of one of Miyazaki's other recurring themes, flight. There are dozens of incredible sequences of flying in this action extravaganza. One of his most straight-forward and accessible adventure tales, I think. The sequence of the robot's destruction of the castle is one of the most memorable in the Miyazaki's catalog. It's frighteningly well done, and truly a joy to watch. Also, probably the earliest example of some of the wonderfully poetic images Miyazaki gives us during his movies. The early morning scene showing the fog covered mountain village still sticks in my mind, as does the Castle in the Sky itself.

5. Princess Mononoke-1997-3.5 stars

This one is a bit lower than it is on many peoples lists. I like it quite a bit, and it's Miyazaki's most epic movie, without question. But it just didn't resonate with me as much as it did some. I've been meaning to revisit it, because there was so much I loved about it. The demon battle that opens the movie is one of my favorites of the many action sequences in his movies. I also liked the complexity of characters, as we're rarely quite sure which side everyone is on (including the titular Princess). I think this might have something to do with my feelings, it's a bit harder to crack than his other movies.

6. The Castle of Cagliostro-1979-3.5 stars
Miyazaki's feature length entry into the long running Lupin III series is a terrific little piece of fluff action in the vein of an Indiana Jones style tribute to 1940's and 50's advenure serials. The only version I was able to see was a pretty poorly dubbed version (the only dubbed version of a Miyazaki movie I'd seen until Ponyo's surprisingly good dub), and was only able to see it on Netflix's streaming video. Still, it was fun for what it was, although it's not exactly Miyazaki shooting for the stars or anything.

7. Howl's Moving Castle-2004-3 stars

A fun trip into a strange world, Howl's Moving Castle was the last time Miyazaki said his newest movie would be his last. It's about wizards and curses and apocalyptic visions and such things. Most memorably, it's got the moving castle of the title. A wonderous visual invention of endless fascination for me, it's one of Miyazaki's greatest creations, even if the movie itself is not one of his best.

8. Ponyo-2009 (though technically came out in 2008, just not here)-3 stars
His most simplistic tale, his most kiddy friendly. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but since complexity of character is nearly always one of Miyazaki's strengths, it's a bit disappointing. Some of the visuals are exquisite, and the star studded dub (including Liam Neeson, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Betty White, Cloris Leachman, Lily Tomlin and others) that my girlfriend and I saw in the theater was surprisingly good, especially Tina Fey as the mom. But overall, the story just wasn't as interesting as some of his others.

9. Porco Rosso-1992-3 stars

I was really looking forward to Porco Rosso, since I knew it was about a pilot who's been magically cursed to have the face of a pig, and I always loved the flying scenes in Miyazaki's movies. I also had heard it was kind of his tribute to the 1940's movies. Fedoras, cigarettes, dames, etc. And while it has one of Miyazaki's most beautifully poetic sequences, a flying above the clouds, it's still one of his lesser efforts.

10. Kiki's Delivery Service-1989-3 stars
This was the first Miyazaki movie I ever heard of, seeing it at the video store when I was a kid. It's a charming story, with some sweet characters, Kiki and her cat being the most obvious, but I found the climax of the movie to be unsatisfying. It's not a waste of time, neither is Porco Rosso, they're both good movies. But I would really only say these last 3 are essential if you're a Miyazaki nut like myself.

So even on what I may think of, or talk about, as a lesser Miyazaki movie, I've still liked all 10 movies that I've seen. It's remarkable consistency. I can't think of another director that I've seen this many movies from and liked them all. Maybe Kurosawa or Scorsese, but even then, I've liked some of their movies less than I've liked the "lesser" Miyazaki's. So here's a whole (quite long, I guess) post dedicated to one of my favorite directors of all time, a true genius of cinema. Hayao Miyazaki.

1 comment:

cocosdeliveryservice said...

he is an absolute genius. im very sad to hear that ponyo will be his last. the other directors of animation at studio ghibli just dont measure up to him.
my neighbour totoro is my favourite movie of all time. :)