Hayao Miyazaki

(Copyright © 1999-2020 Piero Scaruffi | TErms of use )
6.0 The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
7.2 Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (1984)
6.8 Castle in the Sky (1986)
7.0 My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
6.7 Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)
6.9 Porco Rosso (1992)
7.4 Princess Mononoke (1997)
7.3 Spirited Away (2001)
7.0 Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
6.5 Ponyo (2008)
6.0 The Wind Rises (2013)

Hayao Miyazaki (Japan, 1941) specialized in animation films that merged visual virtuosity, pagan mythology and mystical symbolism to view imaginary landscapes through the eyes of children. He debuted in 1971 with the television series "Lupin the Third", which became his first feature film, Rupan Sansei - Kariosutoro no Shiro/ Lupin III - The Castle of Cagliostro (1979).

The sci-fi and fairy-tale overtones of Kaze no Tani no Naushika/ Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (1984), adapted from Miyazaki's own manga "No Nausicaa," are drowned in a delirious eruption of bluish landscapes and overgrown vegetation. There are quotations from Star Wars, Barbarella and World War II films. The message is utopian, environmentalist and pacifist.

The action is set in the post-apocalypse world, thousands of years after the war that destroyed human civilization.
A female explorer gets off a flying machine and enters a thick jungle to test its giant spores. She hears and sees the explosions of an enraged giant insect (a Ohm) chasing some humans. She takes off on her flying machine and drops bombs that stop the monster. It turns out she has just saved the life of Lord Yupa, a friend. He gives her a tiny fox-squirrel, which she names Toeto. She is a princess, Nausicaa, daughter of Jihl. Lord Yupa is coming to visit their Valley of Wind. Yupa and the ill Jihl the poisonous jungle (the Fukai, the "sea of decay"), that already covers most of the Earth's surface, keeps expanding, causing more and more humans to die. An old woman, Obada, says that Yupa is the man who will defeat the Fukai. During a storm, they see a Tolmekian spaceship attempt an emergency landing. The spaceship crashes and explodes, but Nausicaa is able to save a girl, but the girl is fatally wounded. She, Lastel, princess of Pejite, was a prisoner and, before dying, asks Nausicaa to make sure that the cargo is completely destroyed. The people of the Valley have to make sure that nothing contaminates their crop. Nausicaa even escorts a giant insect in the sky. On this mission she again contemplates an Ohm. In the meantime, Lord Yupa tells how he heard of a giant warrior unearthed by Tolmekia, a savage military state.
Sure enough, the Tolmekian army invades the quiet and peaceful Valley of Wind. By the time Nausicaa can walk back to the castle, her father has been murdered. Furious, Nausicaa slaughters the attackers and humiliates the handsome Kurotowa. But Yupa stops her, because the invaders could slaughter the entire village. Nausicaa accepts to surrender to spare the villagers. Kurotowa's boss, who turns out to be a woman, Kushana, proclaims that she wants to unify the human colonies and burn the jungle. But Obada warns her that this has been tried countless times, and every time the Ohms have taken a terrible revenge on humans. Kushana feels confident, though, that she can use her giant warrior against the jungle. The spaceship was carrying the giant warrior and now they have to resurrect him. Yupa plots to make that plan fail. Kushana decides to take back with her the princess and a few hostages. As they are flying, they are attacked by a fighter jet. It is Lastel's brother Asbel, coming to avenge his sister. Nausicaa wants to stop the bloodshed and appears to Asbel as Lastel, giving the Tolmekians a chance to kill the attacker. Their plane on fire, Nausicaa saves Kushana. But the moment they land Kushana, ungrateful, points her gun to Nausicaa. They are stranded in a lake. Ohms emerge from the waters, attack Kushana and befriend Nausicaa, as if sensing good and evil. Nausicaa flies away to explore the lake. She rescues Asbel who is about to be killed by insects, but loses her flying machine in the battle. Nausicaa and Asbel crash in an area below the Fukai and realize that the poisons are actually useful: the Fukai is cleaning up the Earth that was polluted by humans. In the meantime, the news that Kushana's plane has crashed has reached Kurotowa in the Valley of Wind. He is in charge of reviving the giant warrior, and suddenly he is in charge. Kushana, now a prisoner of Yupa, advises the people of the valley to steal the giant warrior from Kurotowa and use it to destroy the Fukya. She bears a visceral hate for the Fukya. All their plans are changed by the discoery that a few poisonous spores have attacked Valley of Wind: now even Obada is in favor of burning the forest.
Asbel takes Nausicaa to his capital, Pejite, but they find it in flames. The survivors tell them that Tolmekians have used insects to destroy the city. The people of Pejite are now planning to attack the Valley of Wind to recover the giant warrior and destroy the forest. Everybody wants to destroy the forest. Nausicaa in vain tries to explain that the forest is good. Hostility towards the Tolmekians prevails and she and Asbel are silenced.
A rebellion against the Tolmekian starts in the Valley of Wind. Yupa proves to be a glorious samurai, invincible with the sword. Now it's warfare all over the place. Nausicaa, freed by Asbel's mother, is rushing back to help her people. Kushana has recovered her command position. But the scariest thing is that the wind has stopped. Obada sense the hatred in the air. And Nausicaa can already see it: an army of furious Ohms marching towards the Valley, because the Pejite army has hanged a baby Ohm to bleed to death. Nausicaa attacks. Wounded, she still manages to free the baby Ohm, which in turn heals her wound. Kushana, who has been warned of the attacking Ohms, decides to start using the giant warrior even if it is not completely revived. The giant warrior obeys Kushana's command and burns the Ohms in a giant ball of fire (a metaphor for the nuclear weapon?) But the giant was revived too soon and begins to dissolve. The Ohms continue to advance by the thousands. Nausicaa lands with the baby Ohm in front of them. The horde hits Nausicaa and kill her body, but then stops, as if feeling guilty. Theit tentacles lift her in the sky and resurrect her. Obada says that this is what the prophecy said: that someone would come and build a bridge between humans and Ohms. Peace reigns over the world and life returns to normal in the Valley.

Tenkuu no Shiro Laputa/ Castle in the Sky (1986) is another sci-fi adventure, but this time it is more focused on fast-paced action than on metaphor. If Nausicaa was inspired by "Alice in Wonderland", this one is inspired by "Gulliver's Travels". If the former was post-apocalyptic, this one is pre-apocalyptic, as the world is still run by humans who fight each other for power. The pacifist overtones of the first movie are ostensibly still present, but the amount of violence and destruction is colossal.

Sheeta, a sad child, is flying on board an airplane with a distinguished gentleman, when the airplane is suddenly attacked by a pack of pirates on flying machines, led by the evil and old Dola. The distinguished gentleman is actually a body guard who protects her from the pirates. But, instead of being grateful, she hits it with a bottle and then escapes through the window. The pirates are looking for her and cause her to fall from the plane. The pirates were after the magical crystal that keeps her from crashing and makes her float gently down into the arms of a peasant boy, Pazu. She has reached a simpler, rural world (a mining community) that is the antithesis of the sci-fi world from which she started. Sheeta awakens in a magnificent, peaceful world. She has no idea how she survived the fall, but Pazu thinks it has to do with the crystal she is wearing around her neck. Except that the magical power of the crystal is useless with Pazu, who crashes into the roof when he tries it on himself. She tells Pazu that the stone has been in her family for generations, and she inherited it from her grandmother In Pazu's life she sees a photograph of a land called Laputa. The picture was taken by Pazu's father, an aviator. Nobody believes Pazu's father when he told the world that Laputa was a castle floating in the sky. Pazu, now an orphan, has been dreaming all his life to go and look for Laputa. Sheeta spots the pirates, who have landed and are searching for her. The villagers defend Pazu and Sheeta from the pirates, so that the children have time to sneak away on a train that rides a scary route on a very high railway, amid a landscape of houses hanging from the side of vertical cliffs. Chased by both Dola's pirates and Muska's agents that come out of an armored train, the children eventually fall from a very tall bridge that is collapsing, but, again, the crystal works its magic and let them float gently down into a mine. They have a picnic in the mine and Sheeta finally tells her story: she is an orphan from a mountain kingdom, where she lived until she was suddenly kidnapped by the men who took her on that airplane and who are the same people who came out of the armored train. They wander inside the mine until they meet Uncle Pom, who not only believes in the existence of Laputa but thinks that only their civilization knew how to make crystals such as Sheeta's. Uncle Pom says that only the people of Laputa knew how to create such crystals, and in doing so were able to construct a huge floating island in the sky. Through this new knowledge Pazu and Sheeta are able to ascertain that Laputa truly does exist. As soon as they leave the mine, they are captured by the same people who kidnapped her the first time, the men of the distinguished gentleman. They are taken to a fortress, Tedis, run by a general. The gentleman is a government secret agent, Muska, who accuses the general of having complicated his job by allowing pirates to decode their messages and find out that they were transporting Sheeta. Muska explains to Sheeta that he believes in Laputa's existence, because they found a Laputian robot. In fact, he thinks that the same force of the crystal is what kept Laputa floating in the sky. Muska needs Sheeta's cooperation because only a magic spell can turn Sheeta's crystal into a compass leading to Laputa's location. Sheeta happens to own the crystal because she is the legitimate heir to the throne of Laputa. Muska convinces Sheeta to cooperate in return for letting Puza go. Pazu is released, but hardly happy: for his entire life he has dreamed of rediscovering Laputa. The moment he walks into his home, Pazu is captured by Dola and her pirates. Dola explains to Pazu that the government agent wants the power of the crystal for himself, and is using Sheeta, who will probably be killed anyway. Pazu volunteers to help the pirates fight the government agents and free Sheeta.
In the meantime, Sheeta accidentally discovers the magic spell. She recites a formula that her grandmother taught her and that activates the Laputian robot, that has been programmed to find his princess, Sheeta herself, and take her back to Laputa. A gigantic battle erupts between the robot and the soldiers of the fortress, and then, when they arrive on their flying machines, the pirates. The robot is destroyed. Pazu rescues Sheeta, but Muska has the crystal that now points the direction to Laputa. The pirates, Pazu and Sheeta speed up in the same direction aboard their spaceship, hoping to catch up with the government agents. Dola can listen to everything the children can say in their room, and she overhears Sheeta talk about the many spells that her grandmother taught her, including the spell of "doom". The government agents have Sheeta's crystal to guide them, but the pirates soon have an equivalent guide: Pazu sees the ghost of his father who helps Pazu and Sheeta land safely on Laputa. The kingdom was destroyed, and its ruins are overgrown with vegentation. The only surviving being is a robot that tends to the gardens. The government agents are already there, and have captured Dola and the pirates have been captured. Sheeta is captured too, while Pazu frees the pirates. Muska admits to Sheeta that he too is a descendant of the Lupatian race. He has to fight off an attempted coup by the general and his soldiers, by killing all of them. He then replaces the army of soldiers with an army of robots. Sheeta manages to snatch the crystal from Muska and run away. Pazu finally reaches her, but the only way to save themselves is to utter the spell of doom, that destroys the entire castle. Pazu and Sheeta rejoin the pirates, who are now their friends, and head for home. What is left of Laputa is still floating in the sky.

By comparison with the previous orgies of action and painting, Tonari no Totoro/ My Neighbor Totoro (1988) is a domestic comedy, set in a rural village of post-war Japan. It is however the film that make Mizayaki famous worldwide.

A girl, Satsuki, and his sister toddler, Mei Kusakabe, are riding in their father's slow truck overflowing with furniture. They are moving into their new home. The girls start playing around the house and soon realize that strange miniscule beings inhabit it. Mei manages to capture one, but it turns into dust before she can show it to anyone. A good old neighbor tells them that those creatures only inhabit abandoned houses. A boy who works in the fields nearby, Kanta, comes to bring some food and tells Satsuki that the house is haunted. The following morning the father takes the childre on a biking trip to the hospital where mother is recovering from an illness. Another day, when her father is working and Satsuki is at school, Mei wanders alone around the house and finds a family of tiny white "Totoros" (squirrel-rabbits) that she follows down into a hole. She finds herself in a forest and befriends a giant Totoro. When Satsuki comes back from school, she finds Mei sleeping. Another time, the two sisters are caught in a storm and the shy boy, Kanta, leaves them his umbrella. Later they wait in the dark for their father at the bus stop. The giant Totoro appears to both and gives them a package. He then boards the bus for Totoros. When their father's bus arrives, they walk back home and open the package, that only contains acorns. The girls plant them in the garden. At night the Totoros come dancing around the seedlings and the two girls join them. When a telegram informs them that their mother is not doing well, Mei decides to go visit her. Her sister gives the alarm that Mei is missing and the entire village helps search for Mei. Totoros help Satsuki find her sister and then take them to the hospital. They watch from a tree their mom and dad chatting. Unseen, they leave behind the present for their mother.

A 13-year-old witch is the protagonist of Majo no Takkyuubin/ Kiki's Delivery Service (1989).

Kurenai no Buta/ Porco Rosso (1992) is a very minor work, with none of Miyazaki's mystical/mythical inspiration.

In the 1920s a pig is sleeping by the beach in front of his airplane. The phone wakes him up: they are asking for help against a gang of pirates. Porco Rosso is a legendary fighter, that sends crowds delirious. The pirates have taken a group of little girls as hostages, and it doesn't take long for Porco Rosso to rescue them. That night the pirates assemble at a night club to listen to the sexy singer, Gina. There Porco meets the USA aviator Donald. The following day Porco is relaxing again at the beach. But the radio brings news of more mischief by the pirates. Porco takes off but is met in the air by Donald, who wants to challenge him. Porco's plane crashes. Donald leaves him for dead, but he is merely hiding. Porco buys a new plane but finds out that a teenage girl, Fio, is designing it. The entire workforce is made of women because all the men have been drafted by the fascist government. When the plane is finished, Fio demands to be taken by Porco on his missions. A friend who is an officer warns Porco that he has to leave the country before the government arrests him. Porco takes off despite someone trying to kill him. In the meantime, Donald offers Gina a part in a film and his heart, but she still has fond memories of Porco. Porco takes Fio to his secret lagoon, where he prepares to relax as usual. But the pirates are waiting for him. They capture both Porco and Fio who do not oppose resistance. Fio convinces the pirates to spare the plane and Porco. Donald shows up (clearly an ally of the pirates) and proposes to Fio. Soon a duel is set up between Porco and Donald: if Donald wins, he can marry Fio; if Porco wins, Donald has to pay Porco's debts. At night Fio tells Porco that, basically, she is in love with him. The duel is watched by thousands of ecstatic spectators and, secretly, by Gina. Eventually the two pilots crash each other's plane and have to fight with their fists, deep in the water. They fight until they both drop unconscious. Gina appears and wakes Porco up, just in time to claim that he won. The Italian airforce is coming to arrest everybody. Fio kisses Porco. Porco puts Fio on Gina's plane and asks her to take good care of her. Years later, the two women have become good friends. The pirates have retired. And Porco still flies over the clouds.
Mononoke Hime/ Princess Mononoke (1997) is an animation film based on an epic, mythological fantasy, set in the Middle Age, with an intricate plot, a crowded cast of gods and demons, and strong characterization of the human protagonists. The heroic mission of the titan who has to fight supernatural forces becomes a parable for the human condition, doomed to upset the natural balance of forces and to fight evil in its continuously changing forms. A terrifying monster attacks a village in the forest. The young and valiant prince Ashitaka rides on his horned horse to warn the village of the impending danger. The peasants watch the duel. The prince wins and kills the monster, but the monster casts a spell on him. The witch of the village reads the stones and explains that he has contracted a fatal infection, that can be healed only by the Forest Spirit who lives in a distant land.
As he begins his journey, the prince stumbles on a village that is being attacked by samurais. He defends the peasants and a monk decides to follow him. In the meantime a caravan, led by a fiery woman, is climbing up the foggy mountains. They are attacked by a pack of wolves and the woman kills the leader, but she knows that it was Moro, an evil god. The prince is nearby and sees a girl licking the wound of a giant wolf (Moro). The Prince saves two of the men who fell from the mountain and, helped by the kind dwarves of the forest, carries them to safety to their village. This is an ugly, gigantic fortress by a lake, Irontown, ruled by Lady Eboshi, who is both cold and kind. The women of the village are fascinated by the handsome stranger. Eboshi explains to him the hard reality of life in that realm, with the village constantly under danger because of the many monsters and gods that haunt the surroundings; but the prince is shocked to realize her cruelty towards those natural beings: she is destroying the forest to make room for the town's industrial civilization. One evening Moro's daughter, the princess Mononoke, leads an attack by the wolves. Ashitaka tries to talk to her, but she is determined to find and kill Eboshi, so as to avenge the many beasts killed by Eboshi. She fights like a dragon, but the villagers corner her and are about to kill her when Ashitaka, under the evil influence of his infection, saves her life and leaves the town with her. Noone dares shoot him after witnessing the power of the demon that erupts from his infection.
The prince is bleeding and eventually collapses. The wild princess has finally been tamed by his kindness. She can't kill him, even if she has sworn to kill all humans. The animals of the forest want her to kill him, because humans kill the trees of the forest and hurt their environment; but she protects him. When the Forest Spirit appears to heal his wound, the rage of the wolves is placated.
Other animals, though, hate humans, the destroyers of their environment. As Ashitaka spends more time with the wolves, he realizes that Moro is not the monster that the humans believe: she is simply on the other side of the barricade, defending the forest against the humans. Ashitaka is powerless to break the cycle of hatred. In the meantime, the "monk" has reached Irontown and turns out to be an envoy of the emperor, who pushes Eboshi to speed up her war against the Forest Spirit.
The prince is finally ready to leave the wolves and resume his journey. Eboshi and the monk have left Irontown to go into the forest and hunt the Forest Spirit. The animals, led by the princess, attack Irontown and kill scores of humans. Now the princess too needs to find the Forest Spirit in order to save the wounded chief of the boars, but the chief turns into a demon and kidnaps her. As the prince sees that Irontown is besieged by samurai, and defended only by the women, he too enters the forest, riding a wolf who owes him its life, to find Eboshi and tell her that she must return. He finds Eboshi and also stumbles in the dead body of Moro and in the demon, which he fights to free the princess. he then tries to convince Eboshi that her enemy is not the Forest Spirit, a bearded elk that emerges from a lake, but she is not afraid of gods and shoots it. As the Forest Spirit explodes spreading huge bubbles around the forest, monk takes its head and flees. Eboshi, wounded by a wolf, falls in the lake, but the prince saves her life. Now the princess hates him because the forest is dying and it's all because of the humans. But the spirit is unleashing terrible forces against Irontown. The only way to stop the destruction is to return the head. The prince and the princess eventually catch up with the monk and return the head to the Forest Spirit. Nature returns to its splendor. Prince and princess part: he will help Eboshi rebuild Irontown and she will dwell in the forest.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Daniele Perri

Principessa Mononoke (1997) è una pellicola di animazione fantasy epica e mitologica, ambientata nel medioevo, con una trama complessa, un affollato insieme di dei e di demoni e una forte caratterizzazione dei protagonisti umani. La missione eroica di un titano che deve combattere le forze soprannaturali si trasforma in un parabola della condizione umana, che vede l’uomo destinato a rovesciare l’equilibrio naturale delle forze e a combattere il male nelle sue espressioni in continuo mutamento.

Un mostro terrificante attacca un villaggio nella foresta. Il giovane e valoroso principe Ashitaka cavalca il suo unicorno per avvertire il villaggio del pericolo imminente. I contadini guardano il duello. Il principe vince ed uccide il mostro, ma il mostro getta un incantesimo su di lui. La strega del villaggio fa un auspicio e spiega che ha contratto un’infezione mortale, che può essere guarita soltanto dallo Spirito della foresta che vive in una terra lontana.

Appena cominciato il suo viaggio, il principe incappa in un villaggio attaccato dai samurai. Difende i contadini e un monaco decide di seguirlo. Nel frattempo un carro, condotto da una donna decisa, si sta arrampicando sulle montagne nebbiose. Sono attaccati da un branco di lupi e la donna uccide il capobranco, ma sa che era Moro, un demone. Il principe è nei pressi e vede una ragazza leccare la ferita di un lupo gigante (Moro). Il principe salva due degli uomini che sono caduti dalla montagna e, aiutato dagli elfi buoni della foresta, li porta al sicuro al loro villaggio.

Questo è un fortezza orrenda e gigantesca sul lago, detta "Città del ferro", comandata dalla signora Eboshi, che è sia fredda sia gentile. Le donne del villaggio sono affascinate dal bel straniero. Eboshi gli spiega dettagliatamente le dure condizioni di vita in quel regno, con il villaggio sotto pericolo a causa dei molti mostri e dei che infestano i dintorni; ma il principe è scioccato dalla crudeltà della donna verso quegli esseri naturali: sta distruggendo la foresta per la civilizzazione industriale della città. Una sera la figlia di Moro, la principessa Mononoke, conduce l’attacco dei lupi. Ashitaka prova a comunicare con lei, ma è determinata a trovare ed uccidere Eboshi, in modo da vendicare i molti animali da lei uccisi. Combatte con ferocia, ma i cittadini la circondano e stanno per ucciderla quando Ashitaka, sotto l’influenza diabolica della sua infezione, la salva e lascia la città con lei. Nessuno osa colpirlo dopo i segni del potere del demone che fuoriesce dalla sua infezione.

Il principe perde sangue e alla fine crolla. La principessa selvaggia è stata domata dalla sua bontà. Non può ucciderlo, anche se ha giurato di uccidere tutti gli esseri umani. Gli animali della foresta vogliono che lei lo uccida, perché gli esseri umani uccidono gli alberi della foresta e danneggiano il loro ambiente, ma lei lo protegge. Quando lo Spirito della foresta appare per guarire la sua ferita, la collera dei lupi è placata.

Gli altri animali, tuttavia, odiano gli umani, distruttori del loro ambiente. Quando Ashitaka trascorre più tempo con i lupi, si rende conto che il Moro non è il mostro che gli esseri umani credono: è semplicemente dall’altro lato della barricata, a difesa della foresta contro gli esseri umani. Ashitaka non può rompere il ciclo dell’odio. Nel frattempo il "monaco" ha raggiunto la Città del ferro e risulta essere un inviato dell’imperatore, e spinge Eboshi ad accelerare la sua guerra contro lo Spirito della foresta.

Il principe è infine pronto a lasciare i lupi e a riprendere il suo viaggio. Eboshi ed il monaco hanno lasciato la Città del ferro per entrare nella foresta e per cacciare lo Spirito della foresta. Gli animali, guidati dalla principessa, attaccano la Città del ferro ed uccidono decine di esseri umani. Ora anche la principessa deve trovare lo Spirito della foresta per conservare il capo ferito dei cinghiali, ma il capo si trasforma in un demone e la rapisce. Poiché il principe vede che la Città del ferro è assediata dai samurai ed è difesa soltanto dalle donne, entra anch’egli nella foresta, cavalcando un lupo che gli deve la vita, per trovare Eboshi e dirle che deve ritornare. Trova Eboshi ed inoltre incappa nel corpo morto di Moro e nel demone, che combatte per liberare la principessa. Prova quindi a convincere Eboshi che il suo nemico non è lo Spirito della foresta, un alce barbuto che emerge da un lago, ma ella non è impaurita dagli dei e lo colpisce. Quando lo Spirito della foresta esplode sprigionando enormi bolle intorno alla foresta, il monaco prende la sua testa e fugge. Eboshi, ferito da un lupo, cade nel lago, ma il principe le salva la vita. Ora la principessa lo odia perché la foresta sta morendo ed è tutto a causa degli esseri umani. Ma lo Spirito sta liberando forze terribili contro la Città del ferro. L’unico modo di arrestare la distruzione è quello di restituire la testa. Il principe e la principessa finalmente raggiungono il monaco e restituiscono la testa allo Spirito della foresta. La natura ritorna al suo splendore. La principessa e il principe partono: egli aiuterà Eboshi nella ricostruzione della Città del ferro mentre lei abiterà nella foresta.

Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi/ Spirited Away (2001) is a surreal Alice-like journey into a parallel world of distorted reality. Two parents and a little girl, Chihiro, are moving into a new neighborhood. The girl is sad of having abandoned her familiar environment. Her father takes the wrong turn and enters a haunted forest. The unpaved road dead ends against a building. They walk into the entrance that turns out to be a long dark tunnel. At the ther side of the tunnel they enter a world of green fields and weird buildings. It looks deserted. Chihiro's dad thinks this is an amusement park that has long been abandoned. They venture into a village and follow a smell of cooking. Chihiro is scared, but her parents are confident that their credit cards can take care of any problem. They find the restaurant from which the smell comes from. There is an abundance of warm food, and Chihiro's parents do not hesitate to indulge. While they are eating, Chihiro walks around by herself. Finally, as the sun is beginning to set, she finds another human being, a boy named Haku, who warns her to hide before it gets dark. Chihiro runs back to her parents but discovers that they have turned into pigs. Suddenly the village is alive with a crowd of sinister shadows. The boy comes to her rescue, giving her food that saves her from disappearing. He helps her survive a procession of weird spirits and get a job from the horrible spider-like Kamaji who runs the bath house for the spirits. Kamaji asks an arrogant teenage girl named Lin to take Chihiro to the powerful witch Yubaba. Lin takes her to the entrance of the magic palace, where Chihiro is welcomed by bouncing heads. The witch reluctantly gives her a job. She also gives her a new name, Sen. Then she calls Haku, who turns out to be her assistant. Haku takes her to the bath house. The other workers are not excited to have a human among them. Humans are generally disliked in this world. Haku assigns Chihiro/Sen to the unfriendly Lin. Once alone, Lin transforms into a warm mother-like figure. Haku shows Chihiro her parents, who are still pigs. Haku's mission is to free them, but she has no clue how to. Haku warns Chihiro that Yubaba controls people by taking away their names: it's the beginning of taking away their whole memories and lives. Helped by a mysterious black ghost, Sen manages to clean up the disgusting Stink Spirit, a huge pile of mud and worse. Yubaba is grateful. The black ghost makes himself known to the others by handing out gold to everybody. The spirits of the bath house are excited, but then the black ghost turns against them. He seems to respect only Sen, whom the others treat like an inferior being. But Sen is busy trying to rescue her friend Haku, now transformed into a dragon and wounded by evil birds. Sen helps a river god suffering from human pollution, who in return gives her something to help the dragon become Haku again, although still unconscious. But the others have a much bigger problem: as Lin tells her, the black ghost, No-Face, is a monster who swallows people. In order to save Haku, Sen volunteers to venture onto a dangerous train journey, thanks to some train tickets that Kamaji saved for years. But first she has to face No-Face, who has been asking for her and wants to eat her. Sen runs, chased by the monster that is vomiting black sludge. The monster gets quieter and quieter as they walk away from the bath house and towards the train station. Sen boards the train and No-Face follows her quietly. She is not afraid of No-Face, who now seems almost shy. In the meantime, Haku wakes up, and in a defiant mood. He kidnaps the witch's giant baby and gives it to Yubaba's twin sister Zeniba. The witch goes mad and accepts his terms: if Sen passes a last test, Sen and her parents will be free. Sen is enjoying the company of the good Zeniba. Haku shows up in his dragon form and spirits Sen away (in a slightly erotic scene). Then Sen has to pass the witch's last test. The witch tells her to guess which of the many pigs are her parents. Sen guesses right: none. All the pigs are free and turn into humans. Haku and Sen fly away only to part for good. Sen finds herself in the green fields with her parents. They are turning back towards the tunnel. At the end of the tunnel is the car. But it's full of dust, as if a long time had passed...

Hauru no Ugoku Shiro/ Howl's Moving Castle (2004) is his most visually spectacular film.

Gake no Ue no Ponyo/ Ponyo (2008) is a variation on the "Little Mermaid".

The grown-up film Kaze Tachinu/ The Wind Rises (2013) is a rather tedious biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, who designed fighter planes during World War II.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Eros Torre)

Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi/La città incantata (2001) è un viaggio surreale (sul modello di Alice) in un onirico mondo parallelo.

Una bambina, Chihiro, e i suoi genitori devono trasferirsi in una nuova città. La bambina è triste poiché deve abbandonare il suo ambiente familiare. Il padre sbaglia strada ed entra in una foresta stregata. La strada sterrata conduce ad un edificio. Chihiro e i genitori attraversano la soglia e si ritrovano in un lungo tunnel buio. All’uscita scoprono un mondo pieno di prati e edifici bizzarri, che pare disabitato. Il padre della bambina pensa che si tratti di un parco giochi ormai da tempo abbandonato. Tuttavia la famiglia si avventura all’interno di un villaggio, seguendo un invitante odore di cibo. Chihiro è spaventata, ma i genitori confidano sul fatto che la loro carta di credito possa risolvere qualunque imprevisto. Finalmente trovano il ristorante da cui proviene l’odore. C’è un’incredibile varietà di cibi e i due genitori non esitano ad approfittarne. Mentre i genitori mangiano, Chihiro si allontana e, al tramonto, incontra un altro essere umano, un ragazzo di nome Haku, che la esorta a nascondersi prima che il sole scenda del tutto. Chihiro torna di corsa dai genitori, ma scopre che si sono tramutati in maiali. Improvvisamente il villaggio vive di innumerevoli ombre inquietanti. Il ragazzo va in soccorso di Chihiro, dandole del cibo che le impedisce di sparire. Inoltre la aiuta a sopravvivere ad un corteo di strani spiriti e ad ottenere un lavoro presso lo spaventoso Kamaji (metà uomo e metà ragno), addetto alle caldaie dei bagni termali per spiriti. Kamaji chiede ad un’arrogante ragazza di nome Lin di condurre Chihiro dalla potente strega Yubaba. Lin conduce Chihiro all’ingresso del palazzo magico, dove Chihiro è accolta da alcune teste saltellanti. La strega, riluttante, concede un lavoro a Chihiro e le affibbia un nuovo nome, Sen. Poi chiama Haku, che si rivela essere il suo assistente. Haku accompagna Chihiro alle terme. Gli altri lavoranti non sembrano entusiasti di avere un umano tra di loro, dal momento che gli umani non sono generalmente apprezzati nel loro mondo. Haku affida Chihiro alle cure della scostante Lin, la quale, una volta sola, si rivela invece una figura estremamente materna. Haku mostra a Chihiro i genitori, ancora in forma di maiali. La missione di Haku è di renderli liberi, ma Chihiro non sa come potrebbe farlo. Haku avverte Chihiro del fatto che Yubaba controlla le anime della gente impadronendosi prima del nome e in seguito della memoria e infine della vita intera. Aiutata da un misterioso fantasma nero (Kaonashi), Sen riesce a pulire il disgustoso "spirto del cattivo odore", un’incredibile ammasso di fango e rifiuti. Sen conquista così la gratitudine di Yubaba. Kaonashi distribuisce pepite d’oro a tutti i presenti, ma improvvisamente si rivolta contro gli altri spiriti, e sembra aver rispetto soltanto di Chihiro, che gli altri trattano come un essere inferiore. Ma Chihiro è ora impegnata a soccorrere Haku, trasformatosi in dragone e ferito da uccelli maligni. Dopo aver aiutato un dio del fiume a ripulirsi dall’inquinamento umano, Chihiro ottiene da questo un aiuto che permette ad Haku di assumere la forma originaria, seppur in stato di incoscienza. Ma gli altri spiriti devono fronteggiare un problema più grande: Lin racconta che il fantasma nero senza volto è in realtà un mostro che inghiotte le persone. Per salvare Haku, Sen affronta un lungo e pericoloso viaggio in treno, grazie ad un misterioso biglietto che Kamaji aveva conservato per anni. Ma prima Sen deve affrontare il fantasma senza volto, che ha espresso la volontà di mangiarla. Sen scappa, inseguita dal mostro che vomita una sostanza nera. Il mostro, attirato lontano dalle terme, si tranquillizza sempre di più e, quando Sen sale sul treno, il mostro la segue docilmente. Nel frattempo Haku si sveglia e, con fare audace, rapisce il neonato figlio gigante di Yubaba e lo affida a Zeniba, la sorella della strega. Yubaba, sconvolta, cede al ricatto di Haku: se Sen riuscirà a superare un ultimo test, potrà fuggire via insieme ai suoi genitori. Intanto, Sen si intrattiene con la strega buona Zeniba, quando d’un tratto Haku, apparso sotto forma di dragone la afferra e la porta via (in una sequenza vagamente erotica). Ora Sen deve affrontare l’ultimo esame della strega. Yubaba sfida Sen a riconoscere quali, fra una moltitudine di maiali, siano i suoi genitori e la ragazza indovina: nessuno di quelli. Tutti i maiali diventano liberi e riassumono sembianze umane. Haku e Sen volano via per un dolce addio. Sen si ritrova poi in un prato in compagnia dei genitori, con i quali attraversa il tunnel buio. All’uscita la famiglia ritrova l’automobile, ma questa è tutta coperta di polvere, come se fosse passato molto tempo.

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