DVD Picks & Passes 08.23.09-09.05.09

New to Miyazaki? Here’s a rundown of some of his most popular films, all near-masterpieces or better. Some are ideal for even the youngest viewers; others are more sophisticated and mature. All are available on Disney DVD.

Reverence for nature, a common motif, is sometimes imaginatively expressed in tree spirits, river gods and the like.

In itself this is potentially compatible with Christian imagination, as in The Chronicles of Narnia, and, of course, generations of Christian children have grown up reading the pagan works of Homer and Sophocles. Parents should discuss these elements with their children.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984): A postapocalyptic sci-fi adventure, Nausicaa is Miyazaki’s most ambitious work of pure world-building. The ecological theme is a little heavy-handed and the politics are impenetrable, but the visions of wonder are well worth it. Sci-fi action violence and frightening imagery. Too much for sensitive youngsters.

Castle in the Sky / Laputa (1986): More accessible than Nausicaa, Castle in the Sky imagines an alternate 19th century blending lighter-than-air ships with dragonfly-like skimmers, blaster guns and ancient super-technology. The epic scale of Miyazaki’s imagination is powerfully displayed here. Sci-fi action violence; brief animist comment.

My Neighbor Totoro (1988): With inflections of Alice in Wonderland, Totoro is one of the gentlest, most idyllic family films ever made. The largely plotless tale has a warm, loving father with two young daughters moving to a country house while their mother is hospitalized for an unspecified ailment. Brief sub-Christian spiritual elements, including a couple of prayers addressed to a tree spirit. Still, fine family viewing.

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989): Another sweet, lightly plotted tale, Kiki is a coming-of-age tale about a 13-year-old witch who, following custom, must spend a year away from home. Kiki flies on a broom and has a talking black cat, but there’s no spell-casting or other magic; instead, she starts up a delivery service by broomstick. Courtesy, responsibility, generosity and respect are driving moral themes. Fantasy magic. Fine family viewing.

Spirited Away (2001): Rightly considered Miyazaki’s masterpiece, Spirited Away is a chilly, dazzling work of surreal imaginative power about a young heroine who turns a wrong corner and winds up in a bewildering spirit world. Spirited Away is like a nightmare, though shot through with rays of light that slowly grow until the darkness dissipates. Primal, powerful stuff. Frightening imagery, pagan and magical elements. Teens and up.