The voting is finished, and the winner is....My Neighbor Totoro! Spirited Away had an early lead, but Totoro kept a steady pace, and in the final days, it wasn't even close. Here's the tally:
Poll Question: Your Favorite Hayao Miyazaki Directoral Feature Film?
Total Votes: 128
Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro - 2
Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind - 11
Laputa: Castle in the Sky - 11
My Neighbor Totoro - 35
Kiki's Delivery Service - 12
Porco Rosso - 11
Princess Mononoke - 15
Spirited Away - 22
Howl's Moving Castle - 4
Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea - 5
I was curious to see just how far the Miyazaki fandom stretches. Are the Ghibli Freaks familiar with all of his major films since 1979, or did they just come on board recently? In the end, the votes were pretty even across all movies. That's the thing that really impressed me. I didn't expect the second tier to be so even. It's a pleasant surprise, and it echoes my own sentiments about Miyazaki. I could pick any one of his directoral movies as the best, given my mood and what I had most recently seen.
Now, if I was pressed and had to pick the masterpieces from these ten films, as a writer and scholar, then I would consider historical relevance, the film's enduring popularity in Japan, and its impact upon Miyazaki's career. I don't know if that's a judgement for the "best" movies, or even the ones I liked the most; but it is a judgement for the most important.
Given that, I would have to conclude that Hayao Miyazaki's most important films are Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind and My Neighbor Totoro. Those really are the defining films of his career, and so much of his work fits within their paradigms, between the serious and the playful, the apocalyptic and the nostalgic. Both movies serve as the yin and the yang of Miyazaki's career in midlife and beyond, and his internal struggle between hope and despair.
So, if I have to pick Miyazaki's best directoral films, it would be a tie between Nausicaa and Totoro.
I'm thrilled to see Totoro win and win confidently, just as I am thrilled to see nearly all the movies score so well. Ponyo, of course, is too new to be judged fairly; most of us have yet to see it, and it will take repeated viewings before I am able to place it among the canon.
Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro and Howl's Moving Castle are stuck in the rear, and that's a shame, because they are both magnificent movies. Perhaps there are simply too many movies to choose from, when given a single vote. Next time, we'll try multiple voting and see what happens.
I hope Lupin isn't ignored because it's "too old." There's a nasty habit to judge anime purely by number of cels used, or by the amount of visual effects. I think there's still a prejudice to look upon anime as "jerky" or inferior to Disney-style "full animation." Both nations follow different paradigms, different theories. It's like comparing Renaissance portraits to Cubism. Each follows their own established rules, and should not be judged by the standards of the other.
When it comes to movies, you have to trust your gut. If you have a good time, if a movie makes you laugh, or cry, or think, then it has been successful. The hows and whys are just window dressing for the diehard fans. Sometimes a movie leaves you speechless, without answers, only questions. Those are the best movies of all.
As for Howl... I think it's a difficult movie for Westerners. But that's going to change over time, as Hayao Miyazaki's life and work become better known. I think this movie is going to age well, like Stanley Kubrick's movies. Sometimes a movie needs a certain amount of time to age, like a fine wine. This isn't to say that the criticisms are not valid. It's just that over time, as you grow older, such things ebb and flow.
Miyazaki is that rare director whose entire career is essential. Every film is great, and there aren't many filmmakers who can make that claim.