Update, Jan. 9, 2014: We've put together a video annotating all the references:
Master animator and filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki has said goodbye to the film world with what he’s announced is his last animated feature, The Wind Rises. Now, The Simpsons has decided to say goodbye as well.
In a sequence from this week’s episode, the show pays tribute to the anime master with a scene bringing together some of his most famous films. There’s Catbus (embodied here by Otto, of course) from My Neighbor Totoro, the scarecrow Turnip-Head (Moe) and the castle (the Kwik-E-Mart) from Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki the witch from Kiki’s Delivery Service (doubled, by Patty and Selma), and, if you look closely, the tree spirits from Princess Mononoke (Martin Prince and his fellow nerds, hiding in a bonsai).
Above all, though, there’s Spirited Away: the frog workers (Smithers), the dragon Haku (Jimbo Jones and his cronies), the giant baby (played by Maggie’s unibrowed nemesis, Gerald Samson), and a few characters who aren’t changed at all—most notably, the lonesome spirit No-Face.
It’s irreverent, of course—The Simpsons wouldn’t have it any other way—but also uncharacteristically wistful: Maybe Miyazaki’s movies are something even The Simpsons can get a little reverent about.
*Or all except the Seymour-Skinner-as-box-kite one. If you can ID that one, let us know.
Update 2, Jan. 10, 2014: No less than David Silverman, director of The Simpsons Movie and dozens of classic Simpsons episodes, has chimed in to explain the box kite: "No specific reference," he told us on Twitter, "just added whimsy." D'oh.
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