Friday, November 16, 2012

Studio Ghibli at the Lagoon Theater Nov 16-29

There are few films nearer and dearer to my heart than the works of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli—animated masterpieces bursting with creativity, beauty, action, drama and unadulterated joy. Starting today and running for two weeks, the magic of Studio Ghibli takes over one screen at the Lagoon Theater in Minneapolis with new 35mm prints of 14 titles.

Studio Ghibli was founded in 1985 after the success of Miyazaki’s debut feature Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (a film later adopted into the Ghibili family.) Miyazaki joined forces with fellow animator Isao Takahata and film producer and influential editor of Animage magazine Toshio Suzuki. Although Miyazaki and his beloved Totoro have long been the face of Studio Ghibli with such features as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, Takahata has directed his fair share of gentle dramas under the Ghibli name—most notably Grave of the Fireflies (sadly absent from the Lagoon retrospective), Only Yesterday, Pom Poko, and the stylized family satire My Neighbors the Yamadas. The series offers a sampling of Miyazaki and Takahata's work, as well as a few other animators who took on directing at Ghibli.

Although I have seen all of these films, some multiple times, I’ve only seen a few on the big screen and I relish the thought of seeing them all over the next two weeks. Below is a detailed schedule of the screenings with information on whether the screenings will be dubbed or subtitled in English. You'll have at least three chances to see each film, and no excuses!

Not to be missed: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Spirited Away, My Neighbors the Yamadas, My Neighbor Totoro, and Princess Mononoke.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) directed by Hayao Miyazaki

All screenings in Japanese with English subtitles
Fri, Nov 16, 2:00, 4:30, 7:00 and 9:30pm
Sun, Nov 18, 5:00pm

If I had to choose one film in this series to see, it would be Nausicaa: one of my favorite Miyazaki films that begs to be seen on larger-than-life format. The story itself is a vivid and harrowing portrayal of the ecological concerns that would be echoed 13 years later in Princess Mononoke. In a post-apocalyptic setting, the young princess Nausicaa puts everything on the line to keep the natural balance between the Toxic Jungle and her own Valley of the Wind. Tragically edited and dubbed when it was originally released in the US in the 80s, Nausicaa has since made a comeback in its original form and is largely seen as one of Miyazaki's greatest films. Do not miss this opportunity to see this gorgeous and heartfelt film in all its splendor—the perfect film to kick off the series!   

Spirited Away (2001) directed by Hayao Miyazaki

All screenings in Japanese with English subtitles
Sat, Nov 17, Noon, 2:30 and 7:30pm
Sun, Nov 18, 2:30 and 7:30pm

Spirited Away was the film to bring Miyazaki's artistry to a much wider audience worldwide. As with many of his other films, Miyazaki bucks the subconscious assumptions in regards to the notion of 'hero' and casts Chihiro, a young waifish girl, in the position to save her parents and restore harmony in the spirit world. When she and her parents take a wrong turn, they are suddenly trapped in a realm of ghosts (which is all of the sudden reminding me of Murakami's Cat Town.) The potpourri of fantastical characters are some of Miyazaki's best, including a giant and temperamental baby named Boh, who helps Chihiro in her uphill battle to make it home.

Howl's Moving Castle (2004) directed by Hayao Miyazak

All screenings in English
Sat, Nov 17, 5:00 and 10:00pm
Sun, Nov 18, Noon and 10:00pm

Based on the novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl's Moving Castle was rescued by Miyazaki when director Mamoru Hosoda pulled out as director. The fact that it is not Miyazaki's own source material nor his own project may point to some of the reasons that Howl's is not one of his best. The images are nonetheless beautifully and imaginatively drawn, and this is especially the case for the lumbering, breathing castle of the title. As Miyazaki's unintended follow-up to Spirited Away, it received a full-fledged US release including the well rounded English language dub used for this screening.

Pom Poko (1994) directed by Isao Takahata

All screenings in Japanese with English subtitles
Mon, Nov 19, 2:00 and 7:00pm
Tue, Nov 20, 2:00 and 7:00pm

Takahata's adorable yet sobering story is a cautionary anthropomorphic tale that taps into the folklore of the tanuki, or raccoon dog, a mischievous and absentminded critter with the ability to shapeshift. (One of the legendary traits of the tanuki include large testicles that symbolize financial luck—no, I'm not joking—and Takahata has worked this into his character designs of the cuddly little devils.) These modern era takunis in Pom Poko are facing a cultural crisis as they slowly start to lose their will to transform and as humans encroach upon their native land. The tanukis decide its time to fight back, but it might be too late.

My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999) directed by Isao Takahata

All screenings in Japanese with English subtitles
Mon, Nov 19, 4:30 and 9:30pm
Tues, Nov 20, 4:30 and 9:30pm

More than anything, I love the simplistic and expressive character designs found in My Neighbors the Yamadas. The Yamadas is less of a feature length film with a full narrative arch than a string of vignettes focusing on the daily lives of this six member family: mother, father, grandmother, 13 year-old son, 5 year-old daughter and family dog Pochi. Despite being a satire on family life, Takahata's portrait is both acutely aware and poignantly honest. Like most films in this series, this  incredibly charming and infectious film has something to offer everyone regardless of age.

Ponyo (2008) directed by Hayao Miyazaki

All screenings in English
Wed, Nov 21, 2:00 and 7:00pm
Thurs, Nov 22, 2:00 and 7:00pm

Miyazaki's most recent film is also purportedly his last (although we've heard that before.) Made for and based on his grandson, Ponyo strays away from the epic gravitas of a film like Princess Mononoke but it is nonetheless a visual, if not slightly saccharine-coated, treat. Taking a cue from the everlasting mermaid myth, the story follows Ponyo, an earnest and joyful goldfish who, after drinking the blood of a human boy, falls in love and wants to become a two legged creature herself. The plot spirals into multiple side and sub plots, but culminated in the most amazing rip-roaring sea storm you are likely to see, animated or otherwise. The English dub is fine, but unfortunately a little overacted by the young star voice actors. But don't let that stop you: Ponyo is a feast for the eyeballs.
Castle in the Sky (1986) directed by Hayao Miyazaki

All screenings in Japanese with English subtitles 
Wed, Nov 21, 4:15 and 9:15pm
Thurs, Nov 22, 4:15 and 9:15pm

Miyazaki's first official film under the Ghibli umbrella is a worthy follow-up to Nausicaa. A full-on fantasy adventure, Castle in the Sky tells the story of Sheeta and Pazu who join forces in search for a long lost city in the sky called Laputa. Drawing inspiration from the story of Gulliver's Travels and the landscape of a Welsh mining town Miyazaki had visited, the film explores the power of myth with lush visuals and rich storytelling. Castle in the Sky was Miyazaki's first collaboration with composer Joe Hisaishi, who has scored every Ghibili film since.

Porco Rosso (1992) directed by Hayao Miyazaki

All screenings in Japanese with English subtitles
Fri, Nov 23:  at 4:30 and 9:15pm
Sun, Nov 25, 4:30pm

Miyazaki’s sixth feature has a little bit of everything—history, action, adventure, humor, charm, nostalgia, romance, imagination—but lacks the unbridled fantasy that he is best known for in films like Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Spirited Away. Firmly grounded in a specific time and place, the story unapologetically indulges simultaneously in adult sentimentality right alongside youthful thrills. Porco may be uncharacteristically conservative, but it has visual vitality that has become Miyazaki’s trademark. Set between the two World Wars, Porco Rosso is a flying ace who makes his home with his seaplane on a picturesque island off the coast of Croatia. Once a fighter named Marco with the Italian army, he has since quit the army and lives as a pig under the famed moniker Porco Rosso—the Red Pig, an obvious reference to the Red Baron.

My Neighbor Totoro (1988) directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Fri, Nov 23, Noon and 2:30pm In English
Fri, Nov 23, 7:00pm In Japanese with English subtitles
Sat, Nov 24, 2:30pm In English
Sat, Nov 24, 7:00pm In Japanese with English subtitles
Sun, Nov 25, 2:30pm In English
Sun, Nov 25, 9:15pm In Japanese with English subtitles

There is a lot of love for Totoro in the world, but I'm still convinced that no one loves Totoro more than me. This incredibly endearing film is a pleasure that I don't feel the least bit guilty about. And regardless of multiple viewings, it never fails to move me with its effortless honesty and exuberance for life. A father and his two daughters move to a house closer to where their mother is recovering in a hospital. In the forest near their new home, the two young girls discover a tree where a small, medium and large totoro live. The elusive and playful creatures emerge to help the girls with their anxieties about their ill mother, busy father and an uncertain future. Totoro is a film for all ages, and the Lagoon offers both the English dub version as well as the subtitled version. 

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989) directed by Hayao Miyazaki

All screenings in Japanese with English subtitles
Sat, Nov 24, Noon and 7:00pm
Sun, Nov 25, Noon and 7:00pm

Years before Harry Potter re-imagined the wizardry of flying on a broomstick, there was Kiki. A witch in training, Kiki sets off alone for a required one year apprenticeship with the aid of her flying broom and her quick-witted black cat. Using her flying skills, Kiki develops a delivery service to earn a living and a little respect from her new neighbors. A heartwarming coming of age story, Kiki's Delivery Service was a huge success in Japan, further adding to Ghibili and Miyazaki dynasty.

The Cat Returns (2002) directed by Hiroyuki Morita

All screenings in English
Mon, Nov 26, 2:30 and 7:00pm
Tues, Nov 27, 2:30 and 7:00pm

The Cat Returns, directed by animating veteran Hiroyuki Morita, is adapted from Aoi Hiiragi's manga about a schoolgirl's adventures in the drama of a hidden cat world. Haru is a girl who one day saves the life of a cat while on her way to school. The cat is Lune, Prince of the Cat Kingdom, who takes Haru to the Kingdom of Cats to thank her. And so I find myself back in something like Murakami's Cat Town, where Haru is trapped, unable to return to the human world. This is another film in the series that retains its English dub from theatrical release that includes Anne Hathaway, Andy Richter, Tim Curry, Peter Boyle, and Elliott Gould.

Whisper of the Heart (1995) directed by Yoshifumi Kondō

All screenings in Japanese with English subtitles
Mon, Nov 26, 4:30 and 9:00pm
Tues, Nov 27, 4:30 and 9:00pm

Written by animation master Hayao Miyazaki and directed by his protégé Yoshifumi Kondo, this film is a simple story about falling in love and learning to believe in yourself. If that sounds a little too cliched, think again—this is exactly the kind of narrative that Ghibli turns into gold with the kind of sincerity that makes you blush. Suzuku is a shy and self-conscious girl who harbors big dreams. Invisible her family when she probably needs them the most, Suzuku finds a kindred spirit in the boisterous dreamer Seiji.

Princess Mononoke (1997) directed by Hayao Miyazaki

All screenings in Japanese with English subtitles
Wed, Nov 28, 1:45 and 7:00pm
Thurs, Nov 29, 1:45 and 7:00pm

Certainly one of Miyazaki's best films and also one of his darkest. Princess Mononoke is a heartbreaking parable about the damage that humans have done to the natural world, spun into an incredible period adventure of mythic grandeur. Rife with violence and conflict, Princess Mononoke was to be Miyazaki's final statement as an animator. That, of course, didn't happen, as Miyazaki would break out of retirement for three subsequent films, but Mononoke is nevertheless a bold punctuation point. Ashitaka, cursed by a demon, sets off to find a cure and to "see with eyes unclouded." What he finds is a land in turmoil that has pitted humans against nature, and, as a result, nature against humans.

Only Yesterday (1991) directed by Isao Takahata

All screenings in Japanese with English subtitles
Wed, Nov 28, 4:30 and 9:45pm
Thurs, Nov 29, 4:30 and 9:45pm

Takahata's follow-up feature to his devastating Graveyard of Fireflies is dramatic wonder that falls well outside of what most considered "anime" in 1991. Moving back and forth from the present in 1982 to Taeko's girlhood in 1966, this poetic animated film (loosely translated as Memories of Falling Teardrops in Japanese) captures the grave and magical essence of childhood defined by schoolgirl crushes, a changing body, the stern judgments of others and the occasional simple pleasures of life. Takahata's film is also a glimpse at the difficult road for girls and women who do not conform to the well-behaved, studious model of proper femininity.


Unknown said...

It appears that not all of the 35mm prints are new, at least Nausicaa. Unless some other theater wore it down a bit during their screenings earlier in the year. Not that this detracts from the experience though, it's still absolutely gorgeous.

On a side-note, the world map on your blog looks like Ohms are taking over.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

These 35mm film prints were newly-struck for the GKids film festival, which has already played in numerous cities earlier this year. We're actually one of the last towns to have this party. That said, I'm hoping the movies will look fantastic. They'll certainly beat the DVDs and Blu-Rays.

If you're planning on writing anything more on the Twin Cities Ghibli Film Fest, feel free to take what you need from The Ghibli Blog. I've chronicled a lot of history on my site, and I'm happy to share it with everyone.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I remember taking the kids to Spirited Away when it first was out in the theaters, and they were very young. I was actually nervous that they would freak out over the startling images, but they loved it and we've never looked back. These movies have a very special place in our hearts, and we still watch them obsessively. In fact, I think we may have to get a new copy of Spirited has been well-loved.

YTSL said...

Oh woah, what a treat for you folks in Minneapolis!

My picks would be "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind", "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Porco Rosso". I wish I could include "Ponyo" -- but yes, I'm a subtitle purist and wish the programme included "Ponyo, on the Cliff by the Sea" instead.

Kathie Smith said...

It is definitely worth noting, as Daniel and Joe elude to above, that Minneapolis is late in the tour of these prints, so it wouldn't surprise me if they weren't new new. But slightly old new is better than old old! Especially with 35mm!

And indeed, YTSL, I am a subtitle purist too. For this reason, I will probably pass on Ponyo and Howl's, both of which I saw on release in theaters. I've only ever seen Cats Return on DVD, so I plan on catching that one despite the dub.

I'm missing the first two days of this due to Claire Denis being in town (not a complaint!) but hope to catch both Spirited Away and Nausicaa on Sunday.

And btw, here's a link to Daniel's blog which includes a look at local artist Sam Hiti's new book Waga's Big Scare!

And yes, the Ohms are taking over - I'm just trying to track that for everybody!

MChing said...

Do you know which dubbed version of My Neighbor Totoro will be shown?

Kathie Smith said...

Good question. I'm assuming the newer dub, as these are newer prints no doubt borrowing artifacts from the restorations. I would be really really surprised if it was the old Fox dub. I'll see if I can't find out for sure.

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