I’ve loved Ghibli films ever since I was a youngster, and to this day Princess Mononoke remains my favorite animated film of all time (followed closely by Akira). When I was little, I wasn’t easily entertained and my exposure to movies was mostly limited, by my parental figures, to the classic Disney pictures and VeggieTales. Ghibli films’ hand-drawn animation style is undeniably unique and vibrant; each film contains surprising ingenuity within its story and imagery. I would highly encourage anyone who might be interested to check out the information I’ve provided below.
What is it? Studio Ghibli Fest is an annual event (since 2017) in which major theater chains screen some of Studio Ghibli’s most decorated and critically acclaimed films, hosted by Fathom Events. Roughly every month, one of the studio’s films will be shown for a short window, normally three screenings within the span of a week. Not every theater participates in these events, so you’ll have to look if you’re interested — all the Regal theaters in the Rochester area participate, and have dubbed and subtitled screenings.
Studio Ghibli? Studio Ghibli and, by extension, the studio’s visionary director Hayao Miyazaki, is responsible for popularizing the Japanese animation style in the eyes of western audiences. Several different Ghibli/Miyazaki films have won accolades in western award ceremonies, and Spirited Away won Best Animated Feature in the U.S. back in 2001 (When Marnie Was There won in 2016, as well).
Should I attend a screening? Of course! Animated movies are not the easiest to recommend because you really don’t always know where people stand on them, but I think extra consideration should be given to Ghibli films, particularly if you’re worried about the experience being too “childish.” Ghibli films are not comparable to the likes of modern Disney animations, which is the biggest compliment I can pay. Most of these films (except for maybe Grave of the Fireflies) are still kid-friendly, but they tend to have themes and imagery that weigh a bit more than some of what is mainstream in modern animation.
There are five films left that will be screened periodically up into mid-November: Princess Mononoke, Grave of the Fireflies, My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Castle in the Sky. I would personally recommend Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke since they are my favorites. Here are the showtimes by date for each film — actual showtimes vary by theater:
Princess Mononoke: July 22, 23, and 25
Follow the titular Prince Ashitaka as he begins a quest to heal himself from an unfortunate curse and unravel the mystery behind its appearance. Ashitaka leaves the comfort of his small hidden village and is quickly exposed to the modernizing world of Japan in the 1400s. The prince’s adventure eventually leads him to a mining village called Iron Town, where he is thrust into a war between humanity and the spirits of the natural world. This is a great film and the English voice-over work is spectacular.
Grave of the Fireflies: August 12, 13, and 15
Seita is a young teen living in the historical landscape of 1945 Japan at the end of World War II, who has to deal with the brutal struggle and loss associated with war. The story is filled with death and despair, and its morose conclusion is spelled out within the opening scene. It’s definitely a grim film, but a beautiful experience nonetheless.
My Neighbor Totoro: September 30, October 1, and 3
Mei and her sister Satsuki didn’t know what to expect when their family moved to be closer to their hospitalized mother, but finding a world of unusual animals and spirits was beyond their wildest dreams. The girls quickly befriend a giant rabbit-looking spirit named Totoro, who takes them on unbelievable adventures. This film doesn’t have a dense plot but is an enjoyable tale of friendship.
Spirited Away: October 28, 29, 30
Chihiro is an overprivileged brat whose parents accidentally drag her into the secret world of spirits and magic in an attempt to find their way to their new house (whoa!). Chihiro’s parents become the captives of the witch Yubaba, and she must work off their debt to the evil witch in order to free her parents before they are eaten. Chihiro befriends a spirit named Haku while she works in Yubaba’s bathhouse, where she learns perseverance and personal growth, in addition to that fact that things are not what they appear to be in Yubaba’s’ bathhouse. This movie is so freakin’ good.
Castle In The Sky: November 18, 19, 20
This is one of Studi Ghibli’s first films and is a real nostalgia trip for fans of the writer/director Hayao Miyazaki. The story itself is rather flat in concept, but has many fun and unexpected twists and turns as it progresses. Go on a spectacular journey with princess Sheeta and Puza as they evade space pirates in search of the mystical castle in the sky.