Hayao Mizayaki is the reigning giant of Japanese animation — and the Japanese box office. Since "Majo no Takkyubin (Kiki's Delivery Service)" in 1989, every Miyazaki film has been a smash hit, drawing the widest possible audience. In 2001, his coming-of-age fantasy "Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away)" set an all-time Japanese box-office record — ¥30.4 billion.

But this, and other Miyazaki megahits, including "Mononoke Hime (Princess Mononoke)" (1997) and "Howl no Ugoku Shiro (Howl's Moving Castle)" (2004) are anything but lowest-common-denominator entertainment. Even though his heroines (rarely heroes) are usually in their early teens or younger, their adventures unfold in rich visual and narrative matrices, with everything from personal memories and contemporary environmental concerns to ancient Japanese mythologies and fantastic European cityscapes tossed into the mix, in combinations that would only occur to Miyazaki's well-stocked, endlessly inventive mind. One reason his films keep the turnstiles spinning is that they repay — even require — repeated viewings.

But Miyazaki's most beloved film in Japan — "Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro)" (1988) — is also among his easiest to understand. Even tots can thrill to the film's epic ride on the Cat Bus — one of the coolest forms of transportation ever invented, as long as you're not allergic to felines.