Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)
Flight is one of Miyazki's trademark themes, and Laputa is full of aerial action. Mankind's quest for flight leads them to build flying cities, all of which crashed except one, the legendary sky castle Laputa. A girl with a mysterious past and a young miner are thrown together on a race to reach the lost city ahead of the government and a band of sky pirates.
Fun fact: Miyazaki derived the name ‘Laputa' from Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. However, he was unaware that it meant ‘the whore' in Spanish and said he wouldn't have used it if he'd known. Disney had to release it as simply Castle in the Sky.
My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
Totoro was Miyazaki's first film about childhood, and it helped catapult him to success in the Western markets. The plot revolves around two young girls who move to a new town to be close to their ailing mother. While playing in the garden, they meet a magical creature called Totoro, who takes them on a series of magical adventures, including a ride in the now-legendary Catbus.
Fun fact: The name Totoro comes from one of the girls mispronouncing the Japanese word for ‘troll', which is Tororu.
Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)
Kiki, a young witch, has reached the age where she must set out on her own. Moving to the seaside city of Koriko, she sets up a flying delivery service with her broomstick. Unfortunately, she has to contend with crabby customers, diminishing powers and the attention of a local boy before she learns how to live away from home.
Fun fact: To gain inspiration for the setting of Kiki's, Miyazaki took his artists to Sweden. Koriko was based on Stockholm and Visby, as well as drawing influences from Milan, Lisbon, Paris and San Francisco.
Porco Rosso (1992)
Miyazaki took to the skies once again in the film about a World War I fighter ace turned bounty hunter. Afflicted with a curse that gave him the face of a pig, Porco Rosso lives his life hunting sky pirates off the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Curtis, an American aviator who joins up with the pirates, causes hell for Porco until they face off in an aerial duel. The setting in the movie is accurate, depicting fascism in pre-World War II Italy.
Fun fact: A story told by Porco during the movie was based on a piece of short fiction written by Roald Dahl about his time as an airforce pilot.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Drawing on environmental themes, Mononoke follows Ashitaka, a young man afflicted with a demon's curse. His quest for the cure takes him to Iron Town, a prosperous industrial settlement at war with the local wildlife over the destruction of the forest. Ashitaka sides with San, a young girl raised by a wolf god, and together they attempt to bring an end to the conflict.
Fun fact: Upon its release, Mononoke became the highest grossing movie in Japan. It was later beaten by Titanic.
Spirited Away (2001)
Chihiro, a young girl, is moving to the suburbs with her parents. On the way, a detour to an abandoned amusement park results in them being turned into pigs, leaving Chihiro stranded. She gains employment at a local bathhouse, helping to clean the local spirits, while trying to recover her parents and escape. Miyazaki came out of retirement to work on this film.
Fun fact: Spirited Away is the only anime film to win an Academy Award. It also reclaimed the record for highest grossing movie in Japan from Titanic, which still stands to this day.
Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
Sophie is a young woman cursed by a witch to look like an old lady. She seeks employment with a wizard named Howl who lives in a castle on legs. There she meets a fire demon, who agrees to break the curse if she frees him from Howl. When she falls in love with Howl, the two have to work together to beat his old mentor, the local sorceress Suliman.
Fun fact: After seeing Spirited Away, Christian Bale offered to play any role he was given for the English dub of Howl's.