Top 10 Must-Watch Films Handpicked by Hayao Miyazaki

Top 10 Must-Watch Films Handpicked by Hayao Miyazaki

Discover a curated list of cinematic gems recommended by acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki From Spanish classics to Polish masterpieces, these unforgettable movies will captivate and inspire (348 characters)

Japanese filmmaker and animator Hayao Miyazaki, renowned for his creation of beloved classics such as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Princess Mononoke, has established himself as a visionary in the industry. Co-founding Studio Ghibli, a prominent animation powerhouse, Miyazaki's films stand out with their intricate storytelling, well-developed characters, and meticulously hand-drawn animation. His unique visual style transcends barriers of language and culture, making it instantly recognizable. While initially intending to retire following the release of The Boy and the Heron this year, Miyazaki seems to have had a change of heart.

In addition to his own exceptional works, Miyazaki, like any great filmmaker, exhibits a diverse taste as an avid movie enthusiast. Throughout the years, he has expressed high praise for a wide range of films, including Soviet masterpieces, Spanish war dramas, and, naturally, animated films. Given his seal of approval, it is highly likely that fans of Miyazaki's revered creations will also find enjoyment in these recommended movies.

10. 'The Spirit of the Beehive' (1973)

A classic of Spanish cinema

Top 10 Must-Watch Films Handpicked by Hayao Miyazaki

Image via Bocaccio Distribución

Considered a milestone in Spanish cinema, The Spirit of the Beehive is the impressive first film by Spanish director Víctor Erice. The story takes place in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and centers around a young girl named Ana (Ana Torrent). After watching the 1931 film Frankenstein in her isolated village, Ana becomes enraptured by the story. This captivation motivates her to explore the barren countryside, where she stumbles upon a wounded soldier seeking refuge in an abandoned barn.

Explore the raw truths of post-war Spain in this film, expertly contrasting Ana's pure imagination with the harshness of the adult world. Poetic and contemplative, this movie is filled with symbolism and allegory, allowing for boundless interpretation. Miyazaki himself listed it as one of his top ten favorite films, and its appeal is easily understandable.

Catch it on The Criterion Channel.

9. 'Priest of Darkness' (1936)

An early entry into the jidaigeki subgenre

Top 10 Must-Watch Films Handpicked by Hayao Miyazaki

One of the three remaining films by acclaimed Japanese director Sadao Yamanaka, Priest of Darkness is a notable contribution to the jidaigeki genre. The captivating narrative unfolds in the impoverished area of Tokyo during the early 1800s, revolving around the charismatic but principled yakuza leader, Kochiyama Soshun (Chojuro Kawarasaki). Alongside Soshun's gambling ventures, his wife Oshizu (Shizue Yamagishi) operates a lively tavern. However, complications arise when a samurai's sword is mysteriously stolen.

8. 'The Snow Queen' (1957)

Yamanaka, a highly influential filmmaker, played a pivotal role in shaping some of the greatest Japanese movies of all time. His works served as a source of inspiration for renowned directors such as Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, and Yasujirō Ozu. Known for their minimalist style, tender storytelling, exceptional cinematography, and dynamic pacing, Yamanaka's films left a lasting impact on the industry. One such film, Priest of Darkness, even secured a spot in Miyazaki's top ten favorites.

A new take on a fairy tale classic

Top 10 Must-Watch Films Handpicked by Hayao Miyazaki

The Snow Queen, a Soviet animated film directed by Lev Atamanov, is a captivating adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's beloved fairy tale. The film follows the courageous journey of Gerda as she sets out to rescue her friend Kai, who has been imprisoned by the Snow Queen in her icy palace. Along her quest, Gerda encounters a captivating array of enchanting characters, including a talking raven and a compassionate robber girl, who lend their assistance.

Renowned for its stunning hand-drawn animation and unforgettable character designs, The Snow Queen has left a lasting impression on viewers. "When I watched the Soviet film The Snow Queen, it brought me immense joy as an animator," expressed Miyazaki. "I realized that there could be no greater calling than creating such a magnificent world—perhaps even surpassing its greatness." This film showcases the powerful potential of animation, as it presents a gritty interpretation of a fairy tale, encompassing various perspectives and endless possibilities.

7. 'Ashes and Diamonds' (1958)

A masterpiece of Polish realism

Top 10 Must-Watch Films Handpicked by Hayao Miyazaki

Taking place right after World War II, this Polish film delves into the inner turmoil faced by Maciek (Zbigniew Cybulski), a young resistance fighter who is given the mission to eliminate a Communist leader backed by the Soviet Union. Maciek grapples with profound questions of ideology, loyalty, and the ambiguous boundaries between right and wrong. Through his journey, the movie provides a thought-provoking exploration of political unrest and disillusionment in post-war Poland.

Ashes and Diamonds, considered a masterpiece of Polish realism and one of the top films of 1958, holds a special place in director Miyazaki's heart. Recalling his childhood, Miyazaki fondly remembers his father's love for cinema and how he would frequently take him to see movies. Among the films that left a lasting impression on Miyazaki were Ozu's works, Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thief, Andrzej Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds, and Bresson's Journal d'un cure de campagne. These cinematic experiences, Miyazaki recalls, have resonated with him far more than Westerns or action films.

6. 'Ballad of a Soldier' (1959)

A sobering look at the cost of war

Top 10 Must-Watch Films Handpicked by Hayao Miyazaki

After displaying tremendous bravery on the battlefield, young soldier Alyosha (Vladimir Ivashov) is bestowed with a well-deserved medal. However, instead of relishing in the glory, he humbly requests permission to see his mother. Granted a fleeting furlough, Alyosha embarks on a perilous journey across war-ravaged Russia, where he must navigate the constant threat of German bombs. Along the way, he encounters a captivating ensemble of individuals, each harboring their own unique tale of love, heartbreak, and selflessness.

The film Ballad of a Soldier is highly praised in Soviet cinema and received a nomination for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. It stands out for its subtle storytelling and impressive technical work, earning recognition from renowned director Miyazaki who included it in his top ten list. The film delves into political narratives, highlighting the significant repercussions that the decisions of a few individuals can have on the larger population. You can stream it on The Criterion Channel.

5. 'The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird' (1952)

A heavy influence on Miyazaki

Top 10 Must-Watch Films Handpicked by Hayao Miyazaki

The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird, directed by Paul Grimault, is a French film known for its whimsical nature and is considered one of the greatest animated films of all time. The story revolves around a chimney sweep and a shepherdess who join forces with Wonderbird (voiced by Peter Ustinov) in their daring attempt to escape the clutches of a merciless dictator. Grimault, a highly esteemed animator, has created many remarkable works, and this film stands as one of his most notable achievements.

4. 'Blood Splattered at Takadanobaba' (1928)

Miyazaki has expressed his deep admiration for the renowned French animator Paul Grimault since his youth and this admiration remains unchanged to this day. Indeed, elements of Grimault's influence can be observed in several of Miyazaki's movies. In Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro, Miyazaki directly pays homage to Grimault by referencing his work, specifically Mr. Wonderbird. Additionally, in Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky, there are noticeable resemblances between the characters and the metal gardeners, reminiscent of Grimault's artistic style.

A precursor to the samurai genre

Top 10 Must-Watch Films Handpicked by Hayao Miyazaki

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In the development of jidaigeki, director Daisuke Itō played a crucial role alongside Yamanaka. Working predominantly during the Silent Era, Itō gained renown for his unique shooting style characterized by a highly mobile camera. One of his notable films, Blood Splattered at Takadanobaba, has captured the admiration of Miyazaki. Based on true events, this film centers around Nakayama Yasubei, a masterless samurai who comes to the aid of his uncle and engages in a fierce duel against multiple adversaries.

Although only a portion of the film has survived, Blood Splattered at Takadanobaba is filled with humor and dynamism, solidifying its position among the top samurai movies. The fast-paced narrative contributes to the intensity of the sword fighting sequences. As one of the earlier examples of a samurai film, Blood Splattered at Takadanobaba remains a fascinating glimpse into the subgenre's future development towards more refined works.

3. 'The King and the Mockingbird' (1980)

Another take on a well-known classic

Top 10 Must-Watch Films Handpicked by Hayao Miyazaki

The King and the Mockingbird, a highly esteemed film by Grimault, holds great regard by Miyazaki. It serves as an enhanced and comprehensive adaptation of the story presented in The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird. The captivating narrative unfolds within the kingdom of Takicardia, ruled by an arrogant king and his formidable robot army. However, an intrepid shepherdess and a resilient chimney sweep embark on a voyage to defy the oppressive regime. Throughout their odyssey, they receive assistance from a wise and elusive mockingbird, whose melodious tune holds the key to liberating the kingdom.

"I was greatly impacted by the French animator Paul Grimault and his film, The King and the Mockingbird. During the formation of Studio Ghibli, we were inspired by the films and filmmakers of the 1950s, and it was through Grimault's work that I grasped the importance of utilizing vertical space."

2. 'Hedgehog in the Fog' (1975)

One of animation's most stunning efforts

Top 10 Must-Watch Films Handpicked by Hayao Miyazaki

Hedgehog in the Fog, directed by Yuri Norstein, is a captivating Soviet animated film. Following the journey of Hedgehog, a charming protagonist, the story takes us through a mystical and misty forest as he sets out to visit his friend, Bear. However, an intimidating eagle-owl haunts Hedgehog throughout his adventure, forcing him to confront his fears and uncertainties in a world adorned with enigmatic creatures and surreal landscapes.

Renowned as a surreal masterpiece, Hedgehog in the Fog stands as a pioneering classic in the realm of animation. Norstein's exceptional storytelling and innovative animation techniques create an alluring and dreamlike ambiance. The fog itself becomes a compelling character within the narrative, further enhancing its allure. The film holds a special place in the hearts of those in the former Soviet Union, earning a global following. Even Miyazaki, a renowned filmmaker, considers this film as one of his top twenty-five favorites and acknowledges its influence. Though their visual styles differ, Norstein and Miyazaki's work share a kindred spirit.

1. 'Tale of Tales' (1979)

An unforgettable collection of stories

Top 10 Must-Watch Films Handpicked by Hayao Miyazaki

Another Norstein film that Miyazaki included in his list of top twenty-five favorites is Tale of Tales from 1979. Instead of a linear plot, the film consists of a collection of vignettes portraying different memories. These memories unfold in a non-sequential, dreamlike manner, aiming to capture the essence of real recollections. Throughout the sequences, several characters reappear, such as a poet, a young girl and a bull, and a gray wolf. While not explicitly stated, Tale of Tales has been interpreted as a contemplation on the implications of World War II.

Norstein's Tale of Tales is often regarded as his masterpiece, and rightfully so. The hand-drawn animation is beautifully simplistic yet compelling, while the stories showcase a delicate sensitivity. The enchanting soundtrack, predominantly showcasing works by Mozart and Bach, perfectly harmonizes with the mesmerizing visual imagery. This remarkable creation truly exemplifies an artist's pinnacle, as they endeavor to encapsulate the emotions of an entire society.

Editor's P/S

As a long-time fan of Hayao Miyazaki, I was thrilled to discover his top 10 must-watch films. His recommendations span various genres and decades, showcasing his broad cinematic taste. It's fascinating to see the diverse range of influences that have shaped his unique storytelling style. From the Spanish classic The Spirit of the Beehive to the Soviet animated film The Snow Queen, each movie on this list promises a distinct and enriching cinematic experience.

Miyazaki's appreciation for the works of acclaimed Japanese director Sadao Yamanaka is particularly intriguing. Yamanaka's minimalist style and focus on tender storytelling align closely with Miyazaki's own approach to filmmaking. It's no surprise that Priest of Darkness, with its captivating narrative set in 19th century Tokyo, finds a place among Miyazaki's top favorites. The film's exploration of human nature and the complexities of the yakuza underworld echo themes often present in Miyazaki's own works.