Princess Mononoke
5. "Princess Mononoke"  (1997) Set in 14th century Japan, Miyazaki’s visually sublime fable packs more imaginative breadth than a dozen Hollywood animated fantasies. The story of a prince who must bridge the gap between animal gods and the greedy humans devouring their land, “Mononoke” is no cuddly children’s film. Rather, it is an ambitious ecological parable that deftly avoids pandering, a film whose animals don’t so much talk with their mouths as they do communicate telepathically. Yet in spite of its lofty themes, brilliantly conceived sequences in a shadowy forest or a brawling village elevate the film to the level of pure cinema.

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.

Only Yesterday
3. "Only Yesterday" (1991) This gorgeously evocative double period-piece by Isao Takahata,  produced by Miyazaki, follows listless twentysomething Taeko as she makes her way to the countryside where her sister's husband's relatives live. A series of parallel flashbacks reveal Taeko's ordinarily turbulent adolescence as she struggles with puberty, difficult subjects at school and -- what else? -- boys. While Ghibli is typically known for its dazzling fantasy lands, this stirring, subtle portrait, along with "Whisper of the Heart," prove it's one of the most nimble, intelligent studios to deal with the coming-of-age genre.

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."