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A scene from the 1988 anime film ‘My Neighbor Totoro’.

Mr. Movie: Miyazki's last (or first) hurrah

I mostly like Disney animation products, especially Pixar. But there’s a completely different kind of animation that will bedazzle the biggest Disney fan.


Many people are not familiar with the Japanese form of animation called Anime. I knew nothing about it until Spirited Away won the Oscar as best animated feature in 2002. 


The finest practitioner of the art is Hayao Miyazaki. He is now 77 and has said he’s retiring. He personally writes, directs and produces each of his screenplays.  Every frame of every movie is hand drawn. The lush beauty and exacting detail is simply amazing! There just isn’t anything remotely like it. And to top it off, these are wonderful stories. 


Just recently, Studio Ghibli released for the first time in America the first of their features, Only Yesterday (1991). Taeko, a young woman with a good job in Tokyo, decides to spend the summer on her grandmother’s farm. The main crop is saffron, and the story of how it is grown and harvested is fascinating in itself. While working on the farm, Taeko has memorable flashbacks to “my fifth grade child.” The ending is a real upper, and the drawing is just marvelous.


Castle In The Sky (1986) is a magical floating island called Laputa. It is sought by our heroine Sheeta and her intrepid sidekick Payu. Unfortunately, it is also the target of vicious (but extremely dull-witted) pirates, and of the military. The spaceships and gardens and the resolution of the story are all quite wonderful.


In My Neighbor Totoro (1988) sisters Satsuki and Mei have just moved with their father (their mother is ill and in the hospital) to their new house near an enchanted forest. The film features two amazing creatures: The Cat Bus, with eight legs for wheels and glowing eyes for headlights, and Totoro, a huge nondescript forest creature who is charmingly protective of all little people. The girls cope with their new home, their new friends and their mom’s illness amid scenes of eye-popping beauty.


The title character in Kiki’s Delivery Service (1998) is a 13-year-old witch just starting out. In this world, witches aren’t bad. Kiki blends her budding talents (including, of course, flying!) into the perfect business — a delivery service!


A young prince sets out to discover what’s wrong in the forest, why men and nature can no longer peacefully co-exist.  On his travels, he meets and befriends Princess Mononoke (1999), a spirited girl raised by wolves. The prince slays an incredible forest beast which has fur made of live snakes. They battle the evil foundry workers, who will stop at nothing less than totally destroying nature. 


Chichiro and her parents are on their way to their new home when they encounter a strange and quiet amusement park. The parents are turned into pigs and disappear. They have been Spirited Away (2002) to a magical city. Their brave little daughter has all sorts of adventures and meets all sorts of creatures in attempting to reunite with her folks. 


As a bonus, I’ll throw in When Marnie Was There (2014), a wonderful film that may be Studio Ghibli’s last. Mr. Miyasaki was not involved in this one, but it is nonetheless absolutely fine. 


Now, all of these films have plenty of dramatic tension, but none is really scary like a slasher movie. Any child who can handle fairy tales will be fine. All other ages will enjoy them tremendously. And all are available on DVD.