If there was an annual competition for “most charmingly sentimental filmmaker,” Hayao Miyazaki would probably win each and every year that he decided to release a movie.
Here are the top 10 Miyazaki creations that most inspired our imaginations.
10. Laputan Robots – Castle In The Sky
Laputa: Castle in the Sky is an adventure film drawn to evoke the feeling of thrilling discovery through the exploration of ages long past.
It is almost like Miyazaki’s version of Indiana Jones in that regard. Unlike most of the director’s work, this film is mostly devoid of nonhuman characters, save for the only functioning inhabitants of the eponymous floating castle: the Robot Guardians.
Only one of them plays a large part in the film, and it serves as one of many gateways the main characters come across on the road to discovering the lost Castle in the Sky.
This robot is animated with loving simplicity, bearing a design that has striking visual similarities to the title character of The Iron Giant and the city guardians in Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
But what this robot of ancient times has over its successors is how old and worn it appears.
No gaudy or overdramatic design has been added to make this guardian more imposing, which allows Miyazaki to explore both its warrior side and its peaceful and good-natured side.
Aged and half coated with moss, this warrior is a relic of a time long gone, but still manages to see the humans that discover it as people worthy of protection and understanding.
Like the island it protects, it is capable of great destruction, and also great compassion.
9. Ohmu – Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind
Of all of Miyazaki’s creations, the Ohmu are the least attractive at first glance.
Looking like a strange cross between a pillbug and a crab, they are introduced initially as antagonists in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind – the opening sequence features the titular protagonist being run down by an aggressive Ohmu larger than a locomotive.
Despite this violent introduction, these creatures later reveal themselves to be more three-dimensional than your average beast of the wilds.
As revealed halfway through the film, these large armoured slugs protect the diseased (yet slowly recovering) forests and animals from harm in this post apocalyptic world.
They are creatures of simple design, and simpler emotion – in their natural state they are docile creatures with blue eyes, but when they feel threatened, their eyes turn red and they attack in hordes, overwhelming any potential threats to their home.
The simple indicator of their emotion – eye color – later comes back in the climax of the film for several key moments of suspense as Nausicaa tries to avert a horde of Ohmu from destroying her friends.
Nausicaa’s bond with a baby Ohmu (pictured above) gives the third act a sturdy emotional heft, and the inscrutable faces of these creatures makes their eventual compassion that much more surprising and rewarding.
Not traditionally “cutesy” by any stretch of the imagination, their eventual acceptance of the human main characters is heartwarming nonetheless.
8. Heen – Howl’s Moving Castle
Most people who have ever owned a dog know what a dog acts like in old age – for reference, see the image above.
One of the more peripheral characters on this list, Heen the dog does not show up until around halfway through Howl’s Moving Castle.
When Grandma Sophie goes to visit the Grand Sorceress, Madam Suliman, she finds this small asthmatic dog walking alongside her.
Initially mistaking it for Howl in disguise, she allows this dog to follow along with them for the remainder of the film.
While it is difficult to discern what sort of dog he is Heen is the type of amusing side character Ghibli animators specialize at bringing to life.
His frail barks and lazy expression amusingly capture the character of a dog that is long past its prime but still has some life left in it- even if its expression is one of constant annoyance with the human characters and plot going on around it.
Despite the innocent appearance, Heen is a dog with an agenda. A spy for Madam Suliman, he hides his true goal without much difficulty – as no one suspects a simple dog of espionage.
However, despite this seemingly duplicitous job, Heen never brings the main characters to harm.
At the end, it is he who manages to convince Madam Suliman to end the futile war effort framing the whole story – quite an accomplishment for a wheezing old mutt.
7. Haku (Dragon/River Spirit Form) – Spirited Away
The “Dragon form” of Haku has a pivotal role in both Spirited Away’s plot and its thematic message.
When first encountered in this appearance, Haku is seen at a distance, flying free through the sky. When he shows up again, he is under attack by a horde of flying paper airplanes, bloody and enraged.
Sen’s subsequent caring for the unconscious dragon-like creature helps pave the way for their mutual revelation about his past.
This form of Haku has one startlingly obvious difference from its human counterpart – it is completely honest.
Unlike the reserved and enigmatic human Haku, the River Spirit swings violently between emotional extremes; rage and fear being the most common.
The scenes between this dragon and Sen allow the otherwise terse relationship between them to flourish in the spaces between their human form scenes.
This River Spirit is the truest form of Haku, all the things he’s trying to hide with the facade of a humanoid sorcerer.
The elegant yet fierce design of the creature displays all the power and freedom Haku has had to suppress ever since his river was destroyed by housing developments.
This begs the question: If you looked this impressive as a dragon, why would you choose to use a human form at all?
6. Jiji – Kiki’s Delivery Service
A black cat crossing your path signifies bad luck, but a black cat flying past you on a witch’s broomstick?That’s a question for the ages.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is a film that defies many superstitions about witchcraft, turning the tropes of a witch in training and her companion feline into a charming story of discovery.
As the only character on this list who has extended amounts of dialogue, Jiji works as a perfect foil to the enthusiastic Kiki, a cat with a dry sense of humor.
Together they create a very entertaining double act, making Kiki’s story engaging right from the get-go.
Although everyone in the movie is friendly to Kiki, Jiji is her only friend in the truest sense of the word; her complete confidant.
He is Kiki’s connection to the magical world, as she alone can speak with him when no one else can.
At one point in the film, a depression causes her to loose this ability temporarily, poignantly revealing just how alone she is without her droll little friend.
Jiji isn’t just a side character, however. He is given his own character arc when he spies an attractive cat living near the loft him and Kiki stay at.
His blindly romantic escapades provide an amusing counterpoint to his laconic behavior earlier, and prove that even cats can have a soft spot emotionally – at least according to Hayao Miyazaki.
5. The Forest Spirit – Princess Mononoke
What does a god of nature look like? How does it behave? These questions may seem unanswerable, but Hayao Miyazaki tackles both with his vision for the incarnation of the forest itself in this creature.
The obvious center of the battle for nature, this bizarre, otherworldly creature is distinguished by a imposing physical presence and its strange, enigmatic nature.
Only glimpsed once or twice before the epic finale, the Forest Spirit is a creature of grace and mystery.
Its face has an ageless quality – eyes that suggest centuries of wisdom, yet do not bely any frailty. Every time its feet touch the ground, small ferns spring up, age, and die in turn.
This creature is a collection of such tantalizing details that make it a believable embodiment of nature.
The most crucial aspect of this character, however, comes much later in the film. As part of a continuing conflict between the humans and animals, Lady Eboshi of Irontown follows protagonist Ashitaka to the home of The Forest Spirit, where she kills it by blowing off its head.
Yes, you read that right: Hayao Miyazaki, the creator of My Neighbor Totoro, kills the god of nature in this film.
The consequences are enormous, for the creature once full of life transforms into a gigantic monster and starts to destroy everything in sight in order to recover its lost head.
While calling it an unsubtle environmentalist metaphor would be a massive understatement, the primal power unleashed by the death of this beautifully imagined creature is an awe-inspiring feat to behold.
4. Catbus – My Neighbor Totoro
You know what would make commuting to work every day a lot more enjoyable? If the bus was a cat, that’s how!
Viewed through the eyes of Satsuki while waiting for her father at a bus stop, the Catbus is a roaringly surreal vehicle that arrives to pick up the title character.
Never explicitly named, the Catbus lives up to its description: it is a giant furry feline mode of transportation.
It has all the benefits of the Knight Bus from Harry Potter – such as invisibility to all but the main characters – but with the added benefit of leaping tall trees in a few short bounds and running (driving?) on telephone wires when necessary (not to mention the lack of any shrunken heads hanging from the windshield).
It only shows up twice in the film – once in the movie’s most iconic scene, once at the the climax.
Both times it makes a striking entrance – with eyes lighting up like headlights, fur coated interior and exterior, and a window that enlarges to create a door, this is a subtly but lovingly designed creature.
At the climax of the film, when Satsuki fears she has lost her little sister Mei, Totoro calls upon this bus to aid her – and it does, with speed only twelve legs can provide.
This creature is as caring and compassionate as any in this film, but also efficient and helpful – not to mention, it looks like it would be extremely comfortable to ride in.
3. Turnip Head – Howl’s Moving Castle
Sometimes simple is best. Miyazaki is nothing if not skilled at spotting the magic in everyday objects.
A scarecrow with a penchant for getting stuck in whatever random places it is possible to get a scarecrow stuck in, Turnip Head is one of the most open-hearted characters in a movie full of deceit amongst its supporting cast.
On many occasions, Turnip Head goes out of his way to help out Sophie and the other characters in Howl’s Castle – this ranges from such small things as helping hold a laundry line or fetching Sophie’s shawl to acts of near heroism like nearly sacrificing himself to prevent his friends from sliding off a cliff.
Although Sophie notes when he first appears that turnips are her least favorite vegetable, it is impossible for her to not appreciate the company of such a enthusiastically friendly individual.
His contribution to the narrative itself is twofold: firstly, he leads Sophie to Howl’s Castle to begin with, and second comes with the revelation of his true identity.
2. No Face – Spirited Away
How could you not love that face? No Face is an interesting case, of course.
This is one of Miyazaki’s most uniquely endearing creations because he manages to jump between supporting protagonist and antagonist without losing any audience sympathy.
A inherently lonely character, he has no place is the spirit world, but no clue where he belongs.
None of this is clear to Sen when she first opens the door of the bathhouse for him – he is standing (or rather, floating) out in the rain, so she thinks he’d like to come inside.
This simple act of kindness sets a conflict in motion entirely driven by No Face’s central character trait – his lack of an identity.
A spectral figure with a mask that recalls the Shy Guys from Super Mario Brothers, No Face does not have a voice of his own.
His curse is to imitate others, luring people in with gold and devouring them. Through the course of the film, he becomes more and more of a bloated reflection of the worst qualities of people – greed and rage.
Motivated by fundamental loneliness, his devouring of the people is his way of fitting in, but the only one he really cares about is the only one who ever acknowledged his presence with kindness: Sen.
1. Totoro – My Neighbor Totoro
There is really no other creature than Totoro that could take the number one spot on this list.
Whether it is the mini-Totoro, the medium-sized Totoro or the giant Totoro that charms you the most, this singular creation gives simple magic to the world it is brought into.
So many films choose to emphasise how scary and troubling it is to move to a new home, but My Neighbor Totoro finds the magic in the same situation – with the Totoros as charming guardians to Mei and Satsuki’s new home.
Despite being the title character of the films, Totoro does not have much screen time at all.
Satsuki and Mei’s exploration of their home are framed by their run-ins with these charming neighbors.
Whether it is at a bus stop, in their backyard, or under the house, every scene they share brings something new and delightful.
If you need any more convincing of the undeniable magic this character brings, look no farther than the iconic bus stop scene (pictured above).