The announcement of Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement last year was a sad one for the many fans he’s accumulated over the years. It’s not the first occasion he’s declared he’s hanging up his water colours, but it feels more definitively final this time. That he offered one final gift in the shape of The Wind Rises only served to emphasise what will be lost from the world of filmmaking.
Miyazaki is one of those rare artists that transcend their chosen form. He doesn’t just make good animated films (exceptionally good would be a better description); he makes mainstream art exploring a series of recurring ideas without compromising his vision for a quick buck. His output, both pre and post formation of Studio Ghibli returns time and again to progressive themes. Strong female characters feature regularly as does a clear concern for the environment we all inhabit. He’s also drawn repeatedly to childhood and dreams of flight, dreams that don’t always turn out quite are happily as one might hope.
In this context, the decision to release all his films on Blu-ray in the run-up to Christmas is a blessing for anyone in need of gift ideas and a comfort for those mourning the retired master. Packaging up eleven films with an additional bonus disc, the Hayao Miyazaki Box Set is both a wonderful introduction to his work for newcomers and a comprehensive compilation for committed fans.
The Box Set starts with his 1979 directorial debut The Castle of Cagliostro before moving through Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) into his Studio Ghibli output that includes stand outs My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Princess Mononoke (1997) and Spirited Away (2001). There’s even space for The Wind Rises (2013), his biopic of the aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi to slip in at the end.
His soft and fluid animation has always looked good on the big screen and finds an equally comfortable home amidst the sharp definition Blu-ray brings. Humans move with a startling degree of realism, particularly when set against the fantasy worlds they so often wander into. The magical beasts they meet are always thrillingly rendered with stories rarely less than compelling. Nausicaa brings his environmental and anti-war credentials out early while Porco Rosso (1992) is one of Miyazaki’s few films tied to the real world (ignoring the pig aviator). Epic aerial battles also provide the best moments in Howl’s Moving Castle (2004).
Miyazaki is at his very best in My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. The latter is often held up as his crowning achievement, though a convincing case can be made for more than one alternative (personally, I’m with Princess Mononoke). If Nausicaa put him on the map, Totoro cemented his reputation. A paean to imagination, the films warm heart and affecting sense of loneliness comes alive again on Blu-ray. That’s nothing compared to the epic battle that rages between the forest Gods and resource hungry humans in Princess Mononoke, and the visually stunning ethereal world that emerges in Spirited Away.
To round off the experience, there’s even his retirement press conference and a booklet delving into the magic of his films and that inimitable style that puts them high above the crowd. In an era where animated films struggle against increasing financial headwinds (Studio Ghibli itself faces an uncertain future), this is the perfect reminder of just how far the form can go. Yes, it’s sad that Miyazaki will no longer be creating films, but this high quality eleven film set shows just why he won’t be forgotten any time soon. Own it if you love him and own it if you don’t yet know him. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.
The Hayao Miyazaki Box Set is released on Blu-ray on 8th December. It includes the following films:
- The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
- Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
- Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)
- My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
- Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
- Porco Rosso (1992)
- Princess Mononoke (1997)
- Spirited Away (2001)
- Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
- Ponyo (2008)
- The Wind Rises (2013)