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Remember: When It's Raining: Top 5 Miyazaki Films

Saturday, August 22, 2009

When It's Raining: Top 5 Miyazaki Films

Rain can be a real bummer when you are trying to spend time outside. There are many ways to fill the void in your downtime when rain keeps you trapped inside. A new ongoing series of posts here on Remember will offer some rainy day alternatives that will help pass the time.

Top Five Hayao Miyazaki films

Miyazaki is a Japanese animator and filmmaker who has been active in Japan since the 1970’s. Recently, his films have become a success with American audiences. In 2005 Time Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people alive. Miyazaki is considered the “Japanese Walt Disney” although I consider him to be Disney’s superior.

The films of Miyazaki have certain recurring themes and characteristics. The most pronounced of those themes is the manner in which human beings interact with nature. Miyazaki incorporates old Japanese folklore into his films and creates a sentient nature that comes in direct contact with a human world. His use of magic is grounded in that folklore and as such is made more believable than say a giant beast swing dancing in France with a girl who speaks unaffected English.

There is always a lesson embedded in the narrative of a Miyazaki film and in most cases, it is a lesson worth thought. However, at no time do his films become heavy handed didactic tomes on modern civilization. Part of his genius is his ability to allow these prescient issues to lie beneath the main plot line until, as you are watching, you have an “Oh Yeah….” Moment.

My first encounter with a Miyazaki film came by accident as a young child. My parents took my brother and I to West Coast Video and allowed us to pick out a movie on our own. I chose a film named Totoro and a lifelong love developed. Today, in the rain, I present my 5 favorite Miyazaki films. Get your Netflix queue ready.

For the record: I advise watching these films in Japanese with English subtitles. The English overdubs never do it for me.

1. Spirited Away

This award winning film was released in the United States in 2002. It tells the story of a young girl named Sen who ends up a servant in a bathhouse for spirits after her parents are transformed into pigs. Sounds strange? The entire movie is like taking a trip into a lost world of forgotten wonder. It is an incredible film and certainly one that you will never forget. The score was composed by Joe Hisaishi and it is as wondrous as the film itself.

The Japanese Trailer:

2. My Neighbor Totoro

This film was released in Japan in 1988 and made it to the shores of the United States in 1993. The story is focused on two young girls and their father who move into a new house in the Japanese countryside while their mother is in a hospital recovering from illness. The young female protagonists eventually encounter a forest spirit named Totoro who helps them as they await news on their mother. My simple explanation does no justice to the natural grandeur of this film. As a child, this is the one that got me hooked and I still watch it every few months.

One of the best scenes in the movie:

3. Princess Mononoke

This is a much darker film than most of Miyazaki’s work that focuses on a direct conflict between human beings and the ancient guardians and spirits of the forest. It is surprisingly violent and the undercurrent message about our current relationship with our environment is palpable and chilling. If you are worried that animated films are just kids movies, watch this one first. This is no kids movie. The film is thought provoking and sad.

English Trailer:

4. Kiki’s Delivery Service

One of the more trippy Miyazaki films and one where I should mention his penchant for strong female heroines. As much as nature and the environment are what I would consider the main theme of nearly every Miyazaki film, he creates boundary breaking female characters that really break the mold of traditional Japanese culture. Kiki is a great example of it and a very interesting film about inner strength and consequences. This movie was also the direct follow up to Totoro.

English Trailer:

5. Howl’s Moving Castle

There is so much going on in this movie that at points it is hard to decipher exactly what is happening. You will though and the reason this is on my list is the sheer magnitude of the animation and the beauty of it. It is loosely based on a novel that Miyazaki added his recurrent themes to. While I wouldn’t consider Howl his best, it is worth seeing just to see it. It’s beautiful.

English trailer:

So, there you have it, my top five Miyazaki films to spend a rainy day watching. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, may I recommend journeying to a theater to see his latest film, Ponyo, which is currently playing. I haven’t seen it yet but I intend to this week. What do you think of the list? Did I miss your favorite?



Anonymous monkey momma said...

My family has become HUGE Miyazaki fans since Spirited Away turned us on to his work. (But, parents would want to watch these movies first to determine if their kids could handle the themes and visuals. Some of it's really intense. Don't let the animation deceive you: these aren't kids' movies.)

I have no qualms with your list, except maybe you should add Castle in the Sky, but I beg to differ about the English voice-overs. For one thing, my kids couldn't read the subtitles when we first started watching these movies, so the voice-over was a necessary evil. Also, having Christian Bale do Howl's voice was AWESOME. Seriously - could he be any hotter? Good lord, my crush on Howl rivals the crush I had on Speedracer in the 70's. I also liked Billy Crystal in that movie as the little flame dude. And having James Van Der Beek do Castle in the Sky made that movie what it was to me. There has been some great vocal casting in those movies.

We can't wait to see Ponyo - that will be our next movie outing. In the mean time, we're enjoying the sunshine.

August 24, 2009 at 12:45 PM  
Blogger Jon Turner said...

I don't know if I'd call Van der Beek a great casting choice for the lead character in Pazu, but he did a fairly good job nonetheless; of course the real stars of that dub were Muska and Dola, although the supporting cast was excellent too.

I also agree that the Miyazaki movies all have excellent dubs. They're not perfect, but they don't deserve to be dismissed.

September 11, 2009 at 1:50 AM  

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