Where does Hayao Miyazaki rank among the most beloved directors?

in The realm of dreams and madness, the 2013 documentary about Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki, the legendary director questions the value of his calling. “How do we know the movies are even worth it?” Miyazaki muses. “If you really think about it, isn’t this just some grandiose hobby? Maybe there was a time when you could make movies that mattered, but now? Most of our world is garbage.

I’m not as anti-21st century as the almost 83-year-old director, but I will admit that there is (and always has been) a lot of junk around. But not enough to tarnish Miyazaki’s films or prevent people from appreciating them. In fact, if there’s one thing audiences and critics alike can consistently agree on, it’s that Miyazaki matters. If we quantify how often and how genuinely professional and public reviewers have found his films worthy of attention compared to those of other prolific directors, then by some measures at least the verdict is clear: Miyazaki’s films are the farthest thing from trash.

Friday, Miyazaki’s 12th feature film, The boy and the heron, was released in the US after debuting in Japan in July. The semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale is poignant and tragic, funny and disturbing, real and fantastical. And yes, it’s beautiful too. The possible swan song received great reviews, boasting the fifth highest Metascore of any film released this year. But then it’s no surprise. This is a Miyazaki film.

With any other director, the 10-year gap between films after repeated “retirements” would be cause for concern as to whether the old man still has it. But it’s hard to harbor doubts about someone who “expects perfection” — as Ghibli producer and president Toshio Suzuki put it in the 2013 document — when he so rarely falls short of his goal. On The house of R hype draft of expected 2023 titles in January, I selected Miyazaki’s upcoming film despite the scant information about what it’s about. I knew all I had to: Miyazaki did it, and the man never missed.

To see where Miyazaki ranks among the most acclaimed directors of all time, we searched IMDb for all directors whose filmographies include a minimum of 10 films with at least 1,000 user ratings. For the resulting pool of hundreds of filmmakers, we collected data from three sources: user ratings from IMDb and Letterboxd and critic scores from Metacritic. Miyazaki might prefer to focus on the former: In a conversation with French artist Jean Giraud (aka Möbius) in 2004, Miyazaki said, “I never read reviews. I do not care. But I really appreciate the reactions of the viewers.” Of course reviewers are viewers tooand everyone is a critic, but we’ll start by looking at Letterboxd’s user ratings, which conveniently list Miyazaki as the most revered director ever.

The table below shows the highest average Letterboxd ratings (which use a five-point scale) for features among the directors in our sample:

Top 20 Directors, Letterboxd Average Rating

Name Rating
Name Rating
Hayao Miyazaki 4.16
Theodoros Angelopoulos 4.03
Fritz Lang 3.98
Martin Scorsese 3.98
Michael Haneke 3.96
Christopher Nolan 3.94
Paul Thomas Anderson 3.93
Kore-eda Hirokazu 3.91
David Fincher 3.90
Agnes Varda 3.90
Akira Kurosawa 3.89
David Lynch 3.88
Abbas Kiarostami 3.87
Krzysztof Keślowski 3.87
Hsiao-Hsien Hou 3.86
Mike Lee 3.84
Ettore Scola 3.82
Wes Anderson 3.81
Giuseppe Tornatore 3.80
Rainer Werner Fassbinder 3.80

Not only does Miyazaki top the rankings, but he also has a significant lead. And if we sort by percentage of reviews that are five stars, it really runs the gamut:

Ringing head of content Sean Fennessy, who hosts The big picture and dishwashers The Rewatchables, has been dubbed “The Master of Letterboxd” for his heavy use of the site. Based on this ranking, however, Miyazaki may have a slightly bigger claim to the title.

“All my films are my children,” Miyazaki said. And he had no reason to deny any of them, because lowest rated by the band, his 1979 debut film, Lupine III: The Castle of Cagliostro, carries a solid 4.0 rating. Some of Miyazaki’s films have high ceilings…Spirit Away, which won an unprecedented Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2003, is one of Letterboxd’s 30 highest-rated films, but its high level as a director is even more remarkable. Virtually every other director, even the most beloved and accomplished, has had a film or two (or four or five). But Miyazaki just didn’t produce any crap.

True, Miyazaki is not a volume shooter – he picks his spots and takes his time. And because he worked as an animator for many years early in his career, often in support of Ghibli co-founder and director Isao Takahata, Miyazaki’s adolescence did not include any feature films from before he fully honed his skills, which could dragged his average rating down. (He was 38 when Cagliostro Castle came out while Martin Scorsese, for example, had just turned 25 when his first film hit theaters.) Nevertheless, Miyazaki’s consistently highly acclaimed releases are exceptional. The standard deviation of its Letterboxd ratings is among the 10 lowest in our sample, reflecting the lack of fluctuation from movie to movie. Releasing movies that are rated anywhere between 4.0 and 4.5 is just another manifestation of his notoriously rigid routine. And aside from his pace, he hasn’t slipped significantly with age.

In IMDb’s average user rating, Miyazaki is behind only Christopher Nolan and Turkish director Ertem Egilmez. And on Metacritic, he leads all directors with more than 10 films in the Critic’s Average (a cutoff that tends to exclude non-English-speaking directors and inflate the ratings of Western directors from earlier eras, who are only represented by the better it’s work).

Highest average Metacritic rating (min. 10+ movies rated)

Name Rating
Name Rating
Hayao Miyazaki 84.0
Paul Thomas Anderson 83.8
George Sugar 82.1
Alfred Hitchcock 81.2
Mike Lee 81.1
John Ford 80.8
Martin Scorsese 80.3
Wes Anderson 77.4
Christopher Nolan 76.5
Noah Baumbach 76.3
Claire Dennis 75.4
Richard Linklater 75.3
Michael Curtis 74.8
Michael Haneke 74.5
Robert Altman 74.1

Miyazaki sets himself apart from the company he keeps in these rankings in more ways than one, but the most notable quality that sets him apart (besides the animated medium he works in) is perhaps that he makes movies for kids — or at least movies that kids can enjoy. Yet he overcame any biases against animation, kid-friendly content and foreign-language films—in the case of the language barrier, in part by prioritizing good English dubs—to achieve the highest approval rating of any director by more than one indicator. These ratings and rankings underscore what we already know: Miyazaki’s films are a cinematic lingua franca capable of transcending differences of age, taste, and nationality. As my colleague Justin Charity wrote, he’s “an incredible hero for so many different corners of the culture—cinephiles, high schoolers, nerds.”

Miyazaki has long made films in a way that was stressful for him and his colleagues, relying on pressure and desperation to create inspiration. But for fans of his work, nothing could cause less anxiety than a trip to the theater to enjoy his latest film, because few artists across the culture can be counted on to deliver like Miyazaki for a decade after a decade, every time. in The boy and the heron, an older character offers a younger one a chance to escape our junk-filled reality into an artificially ordered one. But the younger hero refuses, choosing to return to an imperfect place. Can you blame him? Our world is often ugly, but it can also be beautiful. For about half a century, Miyazaki has made sure of this.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *