The second and last part of my tribute to this amazing Japanese director:
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Original title: Mononoke-hime
Ashitaka, a young warrior and prince of the Emishi tribe, contracts a contagious and fatal disease, while trying to save his tribe from a demon’s attack. While travelling in order to find a cure for his illness, he meets Princess Mononoke (also known as Spirit Princess), a girl that was raised by wolves.
“Princess Mononoke” is one of Miyazaki’s most mature and complicated films in terms of both structure and content. Its main theme is the environment and, in particular, it questions whether human and nature can co-exist in harmony. As always, neither good nor bad can be defined with precision, as we watch every living creature fighting for its survival.
Spirited Away (2001)
Original title: Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi
Ten-year-old Chihiro is travelling with her parents towards their new home. By making a wrong turn with their car, they end up at Yubaba’s bathhouse, a magical place where all kinds of spirits are gathered. Chihiro’s parents are transformed into pigs and held hostage by Yubaba, leaving Chihiro responsible for their escape.
“Spirited away” is not just Miyazaki’s most famous film but, at the same time, it’s the only Japanese film to have won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, one of the most USA dominated categories. Once again the director has chosen a female lead between childhood and adulthood, age-wise. Additionally, Miyazaki comments on Japan’s alienation from its own culture and the heavy influence of capitalism.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Original title: Hauru no ugoku shiro
An eighteen-year-old girl who works as a hatter at her mother’s shop, Sophie, meets unexpectedly a mysterious and charming magician, Howl. Soon after their first encounter, an evil witch transforms Sophie into a ninety-year-old lady. In order to break the spell, she resorts to Howl’s magical moving castle, where her amazing journey will begin.
Based on Diana Wynne Jones’ novel of the same name, “Howl’s moving castle” is yet another incredible adventure. Besides the fact that both leads, Sophie and Howl, are fighting their own personal demons, Miyazaki decided to put a war in the background of this story, obviously influenced by the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Original title: Gake no ue no Ponyo
Ponyo is a little goldfish living in the sea with her father and sisters. One day, she swims away from her family and ends up at the dry land, where a five-year-old boy, Sōsuke, finds her and saves her. Ponyo falls in love with Sōsuke and demands from her father to transform her into a human being, in order to be with him. Unfortunately, her decision will turn nature upside down…
Another fairy tale-like film created by Miyazaki, so innocent, that reminds me a lot of “My Neighbour Totoro”. The vivid colours, the animation and the original plot, compose a children’s film, that will be enjoyed by quite a few adults as well.
The Wind Rises (2013)
Original title: Kaze tachinu
A fictionalized biopic of Jiro Horikoshi (1903–1982), an aircraft designer known for building the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, used by the Empire of Japan during WWII.
“The Wind Rises” is Miyazaki’s swansong, his final film before his official retirement, in 2013. A director that had always been connected with anything aerial, couldn’t have chosen a different theme for his on-screen goodbye. Although some reacted against the film’s main theme (besides the fact that Miyazaki is a well-known pacifist), I personally believe that his direction did not leave any room for doubt.