16. The River Spirit, Spirited Away
Much of Miyazaki’s work centers on transformation, and few transformations are more memorable than the sludgy trash-infested monster who — after a rather memorable bath — stands revealed as an ancient river spirit. Also doubles as a great anthropomorphized anti-litter campaign.
15. The Submarine, Ponyo
A boat redesigned as a fish, usually seen with a glimmering air bubble on one end: Familiar but also mystically weird.
14. No-Face, Spirited Away
A creature that initially seems incapable of any expression — little more than a mask and a semi-transparent body — No-Face is both terrifying and strangely endearing, even when he’s growing to monstrous sizes and occasionally devouring people.
13. The God-Warrior, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Miyazaki’s first great incarnation of nightmarish elemental grandeur, in all its goopy glory. Basically invented Shadow of the Colossus 20 years early.
12. The Demon, Princess Mononoke
All of Miyazaki’s films circle around the corruption of nature, but that’s most vividly captured in the demonic possessions of Mononoke, wherein spirits of the forest are consumed by sinewy blackness. It’s like Rob Bottin’s work on The Thing mixed with early Todd McFarlane.
11. The Fox Squirrel, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
10. Yubaba, Spirited Away
A very human monster or a very monstrous human, the owner of Spirited Away‘s bathhouse is one of the most memorable witches in movie history. Evidence for Miyazaki’s expressive talents: She has a twin sister, Zeniba, who looks exactly like her but somehow immediately reads as the kind grandmotherly yin to Yubaba’s conniving yang.
9. Goliath, Castle in the Sky
Flying machines float through much of Miyazaki’s filmography. This airship seems to combine several different epochs of plane design into one jury-rigged monstrosity.
8. The Kodama, Princess Mononoke
Eerily adorable little forest spirits who resemble a Snoopy portrait by Edvard Munch.
7. The Sea of Decay, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Also known as the Toxic Jungle, Miyazaki’s vision of a poisoned and poisonous environment is oddly beautiful, a Technicolor dreamscape of life without humanity.
6. The Flooded Village, Ponyo
Very little actually happens in Ponyo. It’s a great work by an old master, meditative and observational. That’s especially true in its quiet climax, when the lead characters take a boat ride through a flooded seaside village. Where others might see biblical disaster, Miyazaki finds whimsy.
5. Air Foil, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Miyazaki’s best flying machine is also one of his simplest. Every kid wants one. Hell, every adult wants one. Have they been invented yet?
4. The Catbus, My Neighbor Totoro
Strange, terrifying, SO FUZZY. Also practical!
3. The Forest Spirit/The Night-Walker, Princess Mononoke
By day, a noble creature that looks a bit like a deer. By night, an elemental vaguely amphibious Lovecraftian god. Both creatures are scary, yet both have a certain regal grandeur. Miyazaki’s best and weirdest image of transformation.
2. Howl's Moving Castle, Howl's Moving Castle
Not Miyazaki’s finest film, Howl’s is positively logjammed with visual ideas and hopscotching plot. But it deserves a place on the list of great animated films just for its titular visual, a mobile acropolis that seems to contain the whole history of architecture. The best argument ever made for steampunk.
1. Totoro, My Neighbor Totoro
The master’s greatest creation. A spirit of the forest who suggests an oversized rabbit and a plump kitty, with wildly expressive eyes. Like many of Miyazaki’s creatures, Totoro can seem a bit scary — when he yawns, he looks a bit like the shark in Jaws gnawing on the end of the boat. He also somehow exudes ancient wisdom and childlike wonder. AND HE’S SO CUTE.