When it comes to animated films, viewers in the United States have come to expect work geared towards children from Hollywood. Animation has become a realm reserved for children. In Japan, the divide is not so strong.
Animated films and TV series, or “anime,” are treated differently as a medium in Japan than in the United States. And in the hands of mature, visionary artisans, anime can become just as much works of art for adults as they can be entertainment for children.
One of the greatest animation studios in Japan for feature films is Studio Ghibli. Thanks to a Disney deal made in 1996, Ghibli films have been seen by many Americans. The chances are good you saw at least “Spirited Away” at some point in your childhood, or perhaps “My Neighbor Totoro.” But if you didn’t, the films of Ghibli offer a lot to new viewers, even or especially adults.
The newly-opened Alamo Draft-house theater in La Vista is holding a celebration of the work of one of Ghibli’s most eminent animators: Hayao Miyazaki, who retired in late 2013, upon which the Studio halted active production. Miyaza-ki: Magic and Mystery consists of showings of the director’s work throughout the month of February.
“Kingdom of Dreams and Mad-ness”
Tuesday, February 9th
The month starts with a documentary. “Kingdom of Dreams and Madness,” which was produced in 2013, chronicles Miyazaki and other Studio Ghibli members as they work on Miyazaki’s final film, “The Wind Rises.” This film is perhaps better suited for those who have watched some Ghibli films.
“Kiki’s Delivery Service”
Tuesday, February 16th at 6:40 p.m.
A charming tale about becoming independent at a young age, “Kiki’s Delivery Service” portrays a young witch who must fend for herself in a new town. The eponymous Kiki uses her flying broomstick to start a delivery service. The film was the first beneficiary of Ghibli’s Disney deal, which meant the first overseas treatment and full-fledged English dub.
“Howl’s Moving Castle”
Wednesday, February 17th at 6:40 p.m.
Loosely based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones, Miyazaki came out of a period of retirement to direct this film, which looks at the forces that drive war. A mesmerizing, beautiful work — albeit a bit formless — the film is about a young girl’s interactions with a wizard who tries to resist the plunging of his country into war. “Castle” features a lead voice performance from Christian Bale in the English dub, although the showing at the Alamo will be subtitled in Japanese.
Friday, February 19th at 6:40 p.m.
“Spirited Away” is appropriately Miyazaki’s best-known work. It’s a perfect showcase of the director’s imagination and wit, as well as the strengths of Ghibli’s artists. In it, a young girl determines to find a way to retrieve her parents from a magical land and return to the real world. The film’s characterization
of its many fantastic creatures is unforgettable, as is the setting of the magical bathhouse.
“My Neighbor Totoro”
Sunday, February 21st at 6:40 p.m.
Probably the most child-oriented title on the slate, “My Neighbor Totoro” is still a delightful work that deserves an adult rewatch. The playful imagination on display is just as delightful, and the emotions channeled through the young characters as they deal with the prolonged illness of a parent are just as genuine.
“Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”
Sunday, February 28th at 7 p.m.
While not technically a Studio Ghibli film, “Nausicaa” was where Ghibli’s beginnings can be traced to, as some of the studio’s most important members collaborated for the first time on it. Miyazaki’s second directed film is prophetic of the themes he’d remain obsessed with over the rest of his career. A young girl must mediate between warring species in a post-apocalyptic world, in a story rife with implications about humanity’s tendency to fight and destroy the environment.