I know pitifully little about anime. My friend Doug, whose versatility ranges from being a Bresson expert to an animation connoisseur, turned me on to Hayao Miyazaki a while back. So far, I've seen Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. Most recently, I watched his 1988 film My Neighbor Totoro and was captivated, puzzled and a bit unsettled by it. (This, I have come to realize, is a typical and appropriate response to Miyazaki).
Two sisters, eight and fifteen, move to the countryside with their father, an anthropology professor, and make friends with a Totoro, a large forest spirit, that lives in a camphor tree. (Their father never questions or disbelieves them). Meanwhile, their mother is dying, probably of TB — this being the 1950's — and the girls adapt and adjust to their new rural home. The plot is not earth-shaking, and the movie is the better for it. In the most exciting scene, the sisters simply wait at a bus-stop in the night rain for their father, their colossal furry friend by their side. Overall, it's a far cry from the adrenalinized ride through the average American toon.
The way I see it, Nature is the central Miyazaki preoccupation. Not a cuddly-happy, big-bosomed-mother-nature utopia but instead Nature as a vast, mysterious, threatening, sometimes indifferent, sometimes cruel, but beautiful and vital living thing. Moody sky, wet fields, gleaming tadpoles, mountainous trees, creepy underbrush, growling lightning, kindly ghosts — these are the vivid images that Miyazaki wants to leave you with in lieu of elaborate plot and complex psyschology (though these latter elements are not absent).
In addition to Miyazaki, I've seen two films by Mamoru Oshii. One of them, Ghost In The Shell II: Innocence, is my favorite anime. I simply love its Godardian perpetual digressiveness, and it made me cry whoopee both times I saw it.
So, your favorite anime films and directors? And why?