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Hayao Miyazake recently announced that he was retiring and his anime career of nearly fifty years was at an end. Miyazake was best known as the co-founder of Studio Ghibli and he directed  many of their most famous films, his retirement to me, is really sad news, but I think that a retrospective look at the legacy that he will retire from is definitely the order of the day, it also allows me to re-watch all of the films.  I would like to take this time to say that I am no anime expert, I have seen some of the more commercial favourites, and arguably Studio Ghibli is, well, as commercial as anime is going to get – apart from Pokémon I guess? (Microsoft Word autocorrected Pokémon for me, so I think that answers my question) I do also watch the dubbed versions, which is apparently the kiss of death for any anime lover but I really like them, I like trying to guess the voice talent because I’m sad.  So in order of release, according to Google, here is my ultimate Hayao Miyazake list.

Castle In The Sky/Laputa (1986)

I watched this film a few weeks ago while I was feeling really down and honestly it perked me right up. Castle was the first Studio Ghibli released; talk about start as you mean to go on. This film offers everything that you would expect from a Miyazake film, it predominantly deals with childhood and the struggle of power, which are the two main themes in most of Miyazake’s work.  Castle starts in the middle of the back story, but don’t be put off it’s actually really refreshing; Miyazake sets the film in a time when human’s built large cities in the sky but they were all wiped out because people abused their power, there is a legend that one city, Laputa, is still in existence. The plot follows a girl named Sheeta who carries a powerful amulet, we meet her in the middle of an abduction on an aircraft, then it all turns a bit Baz Lurhmann because everything happens at once.  There is a struggle and Sheeta falls from the plane, but the amulet makes her float right into the arms of Pazu. Pazu’s father dedicated his life in search of Laputa and so he has continued his work after he died, and there you have it, that is the basic idea of Castle In The Sky.  The reason this film is so brilliant and cheered me up is because it promotes the message of friendship and selflessness, considering that the target audience for these films is children, I don’t think that is a bad message. That’s the beauty of Miyazake, he makes films for children and for adults, it isn’t mindless drivel and you wouldn’t feel embarrassed going to the cinema to see it without children. The other amazing thing about this film is even the people you don’t like such as the pirates who are trying to kidnap Sheeta have some excellent dialogue that had me in bits.  The dubbed version features voice talents such as Anna Paquin, James Van Der Beek, Mark Hamill and Mandy Patinkin. So basically they have Sookie Stackhouse, Dawson from Dawson’s Creek, Luke Skywalker and Inigo Montoya, before he was Inigo Montoya – what isn’t there to like?

My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

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Miyazake’s second release in the Studio Ghibli collection and perhaps one of his most famous is the absolutely perfect, Totoro.  I want to put into words how much this film amazed me with its sensitive comment on how children deal with hardship and how fearless they can be, but I really can’t.  It follows the Kusakabe family but focuses on the two girls Satsuki and Mei, they move to the country to be near their sick mother and find that the nearby forest is full of spirits.  As the two sisters frolic in the woods and boisterously march around their new house I can’t help but feel happy, the voice talents of Dakota and Elle Fanning really compliment the film, they obviously have a natural rapport with the characters as they are both sisters, and the conversational tone between them flows as if they were both put in a room and someone recorded it, much like Boo in Monsters Inc.  Alongside the two main characters being children, the film’s backdrop displays the innocence and purity of childhood on a green and earthy background and reminds us that some things in life are perfect and beautiful. Although there is a darker undertone looming in the background of this film, it only makes the simpler aspects seem more precious, when the portly Totoro arrives it embodies the mothers sickness into a playful character. I think that Totoro and the other spirits are there to remind the audience that this film is about escapism in a child’s mind and serves to illustrate escapism in its purest form – imagination. There is so much debate on which of Miyazake’s films are the best, but I think My Neighbour Totoro is by far my favourite.

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

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I strongly recommend this film if you are a fresher, if you’ve just moved all your stuff in and waved your parents goodbye, put this on and make a cup of tea because Miyazake has got your back.  Kiki is a fledgling witch and it is tradition for them to fly away from home to develop their skills, Kiki doesn’t really have a great many skills, her mother points out that for starters she’s rubbish at flying a broom she doesn’t know potions. Kiki is fearless and on a spur of the moment grabs her broom and her talking cat Jiji and takes to the sky to find a new town, on her way there she meet’s a stuck up snooty witch, also in training, that puts her down but she still precariously navigates herself to a nearby city. When she arrives she’s told off for flying in the road and the new city she now lives in becomes an unfriendly and lonely place.  Although Kiki’s Delivery Service is slower in pace than most Miyazake films, and the lessons are slightly less important, I still think it’s a really good addition to the collection. It is definitely something that makes me feel at ease and more relaxed in my environment, good for freshers and hangover blues, they both go hand in hand after all.

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Usually everyone really loves this film, but unfortunately when I watched it I found it really sad and it made me feel unhappy. I think that anime should make you feel happy, especially Studio Ghibli so apologies to Mononoke fans but I can’t write about this film to your satisfaction.  If you haven’t seen it by all means go check it out – I think I’m just weird.

Spirited Away (2001)

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One of the most beautiful Miyazake films, it’s a delight for the eyes to watch and a heart warming story to listen to. Spirited Away is about a disheartened girl called Chihiro who is moving to a new town with her parents, leaving her friends behind. On the way to their new home they stop at an abandoned fair ground for lunch, Chihiro’s parents find unattended restaurants and begin to eat the food. Night falls and Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs, scared and confused she runs into the spirit world and becomes trapped in a bath house run by an evil witch called Yubaba. It’s now up to Chihiro to fend for herself and save her parents before Yubaba eats them and steals freedom forever.  This film really put Miyazake on the mainstream map and got rave reviews and there’s a reason for that, it’s simply flawless. The connection it has with children and the stress of growing up and moving is really important and touched me, as I had to move away from everything I knew once. The ability to cope without her parents and make friends in new places is something that Chihiro and everyone must learn at some point in their life and as Miyazake points out, some have to do it sooner than others.  I won’t say much more about this film because I don’t want to spoil it, but also I’m not too great at describing in detailed big words why a film is totally fantastic, just believe the hype and watch Spirited Away. I argue it is the ultimate Miyazake film and anyone looking to boost their collection can’t leave this film out.

I want to include Ponyo but that’s a film I want to write a whole post about, so watch this space. I am really sad that Miyazake is hanging up his anime coat, but the collection of films that he made have enriched my life and continue to teach me lessons and relate to my life, regardless of my age or the situation I am in. Whatever a person is going through in life, I believe that Miyazake holds the answer to how everyone should try to be with each other and how we should live our lives. It’s just a shame there isn’t a bit more magic and dragons in this world.

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