Majo no takkyûbin [Kiki’s Delivery Service] (1989)

A young witch, on her mandatory year of independent life, finds fitting into a new community difficult while she supports herself by running an air courier service. (IMDb)
Passes the Bechdel test with flying and colours: Kiki’s forest talk with Ursula about art, magic, and inspiration was brilliant, but that’s not to slight her coffee with Osono or birthday exchange with the old woman. These dynamics combined with Kiki’s business blunders (Jiji’s sacrifice was hilarious) and poignant personal growth (from “something’s wrong with me” to the brave rescue to the letter home: “there are still times when I feel sad”) make for a deceptively powerful coming-of-age tale.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

Tonari no Totoro [My Neighbor Totoro] (1988)

When two girls move to the country to be near their ailing mother, they have adventures with the wondrous forest spirits who live nearby. (IMDb)
HOLY TOTORO (all praise to His Great Comfy-ness) CAN THIS BE ANY SWEETER. Like, a family moves into an old creature-infested dwelling and the dad goes “I’ve always wanted to live in a haunted house!” before they all giggle away bogeymen while in the bath. Adorable slice-of-life fare and mystical exploration (the tree-growing was one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever seen) give way to just the right amount of emotional suspense and payoff at the end (destination: Mei). Wonderfully scored.
9/10 (Amazing)

Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta [Castle in the Sky] (1986)

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A young boy and a girl with a magic crystal must race against pirates and foreign agents in a search for a legendary floating castle. (IMDb)
A fantastic adventure flick with memorable sets and set pieces galore (the escapades on floating Laputa with its fascinating mix of dark labyrinths and earthy beauty being definite highlights), wonderfully paced (just the right amount of slower discovery scenes break up the action), and with plenty of humour throughout thanks to Dola and the pirates (shout-out to the buff battle though). Child protagonists Pazu and Sheeta, meanwhile, add particularly affecting heart and charm to it all.
8/10 (Great)

 

Kaze no tani no Naushika [Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind] (1984)

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Warrior and pacifist Princess Nausicaä desperately struggles to prevent two warring nations from destroying themselves and their dying planet. (IMDb)
Crossing bleak deserts, cozy windswept valleys, and brooding dark forests is this grand fantasy war epic and mystical 80s eco-sci-fi all in one, led by the best hero I’ve ever seen in cinema; gimme Nausicaä flying in the face of danger with her arms outstretched over ____man any damn day. Beautifully designed (in sound and picture) and written with poignancy (the pacifist/environmentalist messages are occasionally heavy-handed but always powerful) and nuance (see the lack of clear villains).
9/10 (Amazing)

 

Hauru no ugoku shiro [Howl’s Moving Castle] (2004)

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When Sophie, a shy young woman, is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch, her only chance of breaking the spell lies with a self-indulgent yet insecure young wizard and his companions in his legged, walking castle. (Letterboxd)
Ramshackle in its construction but endlessly interesting. Just like its titular house, it’s a little hard to follow but there’s so much to explore and enjoy here, from the intriguing anti-nationalist themes (see the contrasting flag bookends) to the characters both nuanced (see Howl’s noble but immature hero; Sophie’s unique coming-of-age arc) and quirky (I heart Calcifer and Turnip-Head). Beautifully animated (every one of the numerous settings is stunning) and rich in both drama and humour.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

 

Neko no ongaeshi [The Cat Returns] (2002)

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After helping a cat, a seventeen-year-old girl finds herself involuntarily engaged to a cat Prince in a magical world where her only hope of freedom lies with a dapper cat statuette come to life. (IMDb)
“It’s tough to survive in this world.” In a film filled with magic and whimsy, this early line from kitten to kid stands out and foreshadows a unique undercurrent of poignant coming-of-age fare (“Where do I belong?”) that comes to an excellent resolve (“It doesn’t matter anymore”) in an overall bizarre and marvelous fantasy adventure plot that enchants (see the mesmerizing midnight cat walk) and charms (Baron’s a babe, obvs) and tickles your funny bone (see the kooky King practicing his swing).
8/10 (Great)