Subscribe to the APA Newsletter
On the occasion of Comic-Con's Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea screening, APA recalls our top ten scenes from Miyazaki films.
Ask five people what their favorite Hayao Miyazaki movie is, and it wouldn’t be surprising to get five different answers. Very few directors in the world can boast a resume of such a large but uniformly beloved array of films, and Miyazaki is in that tightly closed fistful. Can you really fault anybody for favoring Laputa over Princess Mononoke, or Porco Rosso over Kiki’s Delivery Service? Not likely, as each of his best films have perfectly justifiable reasons for being a fan’s favorite.
Miyazaki’s films are not simply highly respected; they incite a nostalgia upon their recollection, partly because his films are tinged in nostalgia themselves, but also because each film is full of those special moments – what fans refer to as the master’s “magic” – that replay in our minds whenever we try to remember what we hold most dearly about them. The following clips are our favorite moments of Miyazaki’s magic, and are representative of his well-observed insights into life. They encapsulate everything from the haunting to the amusing to the moving to, quite simply, the delicious. --Bryan Hartzheim
(in chronological order)
The Castle of Cagliostro (1979): The final attack on the castle
In the final scene of Castle of Cagliostro, which is arguably the best animated Lupin III film, there’s no time for you to catch your breath as Lupin, Goemon, Jigen, Fujiko, and even Lupin’s enemy, Zenigata, all join up for the final attack on the castle -- to save the film’s damsel in distress. Watch for the famous fight in the clock tower that many animators have paid homage to.
Laputa (1986): Eating of toast
Miyazaki loves food. He says so in interviews. And even if he had never told us, we’d know by the way he lovingly draws every loaf of bread in Kiki’s Delivery Service or the giant feasts in Spirited Away. But there’s something about the gooey egg on toast that seems especially delicious in Laputa: The Castle in the Sky. That hungry Japanese children have demanded that their mothers make for them (see above) since the film premiered over twenty years ago.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988) : The Catbus Sequence
The scene itself needs not much explanation. The older sister finally meets the furry creature while with waiting with the younger sister for their father at the busstop. An umbrella is offered, and then the magic begins. My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro) is probably one of Hayao Miyazaki’s most recognizable flicks, namely, for the titular character, Totoro, who has become an iconic character in Japan, as he is featured on the Studio Ghibli logo quite prominently. My Neighbor Totoro is his third feature film for Studio Ghibli, and it played as a double feature with Grave of the Fireflies.
Kiki's Delivery Service (1989) : Kiki's flying sequences
Kiki makes flying seem so easy. While it is a movie that’s been treated as a film for a much younger audience, Kiki’s Delivery Service has been a favorite of fans all across the board. The film is nearly flawless in all aspects: the art and animation, the soundtrack, the loveable characters. Miyazaki shows us that sometimes, simplicity is best.
Nausicaa (1984): Nausicaa dies…and lives!
This is the ending that made Miyazaki early on in his career – a scene that made stone-cold salarymen across Japan weep like suckling infants. Nausicaa nearly gives her life to protect her people and to hopefully stop the raging Oumu from destroying her village. But the Oumu respond to her sacrifice, ceasing their attack and healing Nausicaa. Nausicaa’s biblical embodiment of courage and compassion saves a remade and devastated world from total despair.
Porco Rosso (1992): The aviator graveyard
When Marco gets lost in the clouds, he breaks through into a clearing and sees what appears at first glance to be a rainbow. But the ring is actually comprised of the ghosts of his fallen comrades, endlessly flying their planes in circles through the sky. We briefly see Marco as he was (before a crazy witch transformed him into a pig) and we realize that the scene is not only a haunting image of death, but also a rueful meditation on the ceaseless progression of life. The scene expresses Miyazaki’s worldview quietly, but as strongly as any of his sprawling ecological epics – that life is precious, and we’re very, very lucky to have it.
Princess Mononoke (1997): Plantlife returning at end
Lush landscapes, intricate creatures and an in-depth storyline that needs not much explanation as the film won the highly coveted Oscar for Best Animated Film. Miyazaki’s films are full of messages and in this film, in which we thought would be his final film, he visualizes for us, in the way he knows best, the fight between man and nature. In a film that seems to be nearly impossible to visualize in a live-action context, the message is the one thing that resonates with reality.
Spirited Away (2001): The train ride
The lengthy train ride to Zeniba has no bearing on the film’s character or plot. But possibly more than any other Miyazaki moment, it conjures up a mood, an atmosphere, and a world – aided by Joe Hisaishi’s haunting score – of lonely, isolated souls. In tone, the scene is reminiscent of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After Life or anything by Mamoru Oshii. If somebody wanted to animate the end of James Joyce’s short story, "The Dead," this is what it would look like. Chihiro and her strange friends can merely observe and watch transitioning spirits pass them by in silent amazement. The scene manages to be spooky, sad, cute, warm, and ultimately very affecting.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) : Howl and Sophie’s First Meeting
In this scene from Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle (Hauru no Ugoku Shiro), Howl and Sophie meet for the first time in a dark alleyway of Market Chipping, away from a crowd watching a parade of soldiers. Sophie, a young woman who plays third fiddle to her beautiful older sisters, is cast opposite the dashing, charming, and immensely handsome wizard Howl. Howl saves Sophie from some lecherous soldiers, which makes for a very magical moment, as Howl ascends to the sky with Sophie -- unbeknownst to the crowd of townspeople below. It not only sets the audience up for their dynamic relationship, but it has lured in numerous fangirls to fall in love with the self-absorbed, yet kind-hearted boy.
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (2008): Ponyo’s Return to Sousuke
In Miyazaki’s tenth and latest film for Studio Ghibli Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (Gake no Ue no Ponyo), Miyazaki takes us to the sleepy fisherman’s town of Sōsuke, where a five year old boy (inspired by his son Goro) meets a fish girl, Ponyo. Ponyo is later taken back to her home in the ocean, but Ponyo uses her magic to escape and return to Sousuke. The combination of water, two female characters with very strong drives, and Joe Hisaishi’s beautifully crafted musical score showcases Miyazaki's ability to use elements of nature to create a awe-inspiring moments of epic proportions. It’s touching to see how badly Ponyo wants to be reunited with Sōsuke, to see her dash quickly from side to side, across the crashing waves...
Compiled by Bryan Harzheim and Kanara Ty
Contributions from William Hong, Brian Hu, and LiAnn Ishizuka
Date Posted: 7/31/2009