(Update: This video has since been removed from Youtube. Sorry.)
Here is a trio of video clips from Siskel & Ebert, and then later, Ebert & Roeper, featuring reviews of Hayao Miyazaki's movies. I think this is a great opportunity to witness how these films were first received when they were new, and the director's name was largely unknown.
The first is a classic Siskel & Ebert showdown over My Neighbor Totoro (famously mispronounced as "to-TO-ro" the first couple of times). I'm sure fans will feel somewhat critical of Gene Siskel's opinion on the movie (he was bored), but that was the majority opinion at the time. Totoro was a puzzle to Americans and especially most movie critics. Animated movies were expected to be full of action and adventure and simple melodrama and fast movements. My Neighbor Totoro has none of the qualities, and stubbornly moves in an opposite direction. Roger Ebert, a lover of animation as well as the films of Yasujiro Ozu, was an early convert, and he became Hayao Miyazaki's first champion among US film critics. This show was most likely from 1993 or 1994.
The second clip shows Ain't It Cool News' Harry Knowles with Ebert discussing Princess Mononoke. Two strong thumbs up at this point, and the name Miyazaki is now commonly spoken. Harry Knowles also name-drops Kiki's Delivery Service and Porco Rosso, which would be major cool points for 1998.
The third clip, now on Ebert & Roeper, gives enthusiastic praise for Spirited Away in 2002. Now the word "masterpiece" is easily banded about, and there's no need to persuade anyone that this is a great movie.
Finally, we have Howl's Moving Castle, earning a surprising split decision between Richard Roeper and Roger Ebert. Ebert is dramatically thinner by this point in 2005, thanks to some serious weight loss. We can also notice the effects of surgery on his jaw, which was never fully successful; his scratchy voice was also a harbinger of the cancer that took his voice, much of his jaw, and almost his life.
I feel a sense of sadness watching this final clip. Ebert, thankfully, is alive and well, and his writing has never been better. But just knowing that the voice is silenced forever, to know that Siskel & Ebert is truly gone, that's what saddens me.
I was very surprised, and I think Ebert was, too, that he didn't enjoy Howl's Moving Castle. He had been Miyazaki's strongest supporter for many years and carried the torch, but the film's many complexities left him lost. But that's fine by me; I freely admit that Howl is dependent on a lot of "inside pool." You have to be familiar with Miyazaki's career, and, more importantly, his storytelling style, which is decidedly non-linear and non-Western.