Hayao Miyazaki

Long acknowledged as Japan's preeminent animator and director, Hayao Miyazaki remained a cult figure to American devotees of "manga" (Japanese comic books) and "anime" (Japanese animated features) until the 1999 US release one of his undisputed masterworks, "Princess Mononoke" (1997). Acquired by Miramax and redubbed into English using a script by Neil Gaiman and the vocal talents of actors such as Claire Danes and Billy Crudup, "Princess Mononoke" introduced the richly crafted animation and superb storytelling to mainstream audiences. The film was deemed too violent for young children used to Disney cartoons filled with cheery anthropomorphic sidekicks and sing-along musical scores but their older siblings and parents could marvel at the detailed set pieces and enjoy the three-dimensional characters, who were neither true-blue heroes nor all-black villains. Miyazaki's anime classic explored big themes like man versus nature and good versus evil, but they were couched in mythology and highly memorable visuals. His subsequent film, 2001's boldly imaginative "Spirited Away," received even more acclaim and went on to win a 2003 Academy Award, solidifying Miyazaki's already-revered status in international cinema.