4. "Whisper of the Heart" (1995) You'll never hear John Denver's "Country Roads" the same after seeing this elegant, epic drama, storyboarded by Miyazaki and directed by Yoshifumi Kondo (who, sadly, died in 1998, leaving this one stunning work on his directorial resumé). Awkward teen Shizuku is grappling with stressful high school entrance exams, her crush, her parents -- oh yes, and a rotund magical cat she meets on a commuter bus who runs a mysterious antique shop. One of the best films ever made about the soul's need to etch out an identity.
2. "Spirited Away" (2001) The girl-in-wonderland subgenre can serve as an intelligent method for exposing the ludicrous and corrupt nature of those in authority. In "Spirited Away," Miyazaki’s sublime and wondrously
haunting film about a child's quest to save her family, an indictment of society's burgeoning greed emerges. In one of the finest scenes of the film, the pint-sized girl
is confronted by a nasty client at a fantastic bathhouse, a previously svelte water
spirit who has gorged himself on the bathhouse’s luxuries and is now a bulging,
man-eating Goliath, determining his next meal based on who foolishly accepts
his gold coins. This film won the best animated feature Oscar.
1. "My Neighbor Totoro" (1988) This Miyazaki classic evokes a magic summer countryside as a lonely girl and her younger sister explore their new home, complete with whimsical dust bunnies and a giant tree that harbors Totoro, an over-sized genially grinning fuzzy yet scary forest spirit who protects them as their hard-working father cares for their hospitalized mother. When they are stranded in the rain at a dark bus stop, Totoro conjures up a 12-legged furry cat bus to ferry them home. A must-see.
Watch below backstage interview footage from Comic-Con 2009 of Lasseter talking about making the English-language version of "Ponyo."