Japanese animated films have already been rolling in independent theaters such as Long Beach's Art Theatre, which recently presented 20th-anniversary screenings of Hayao Miyazaki's classic Princess Mononoke, and the Frida Cinema in downtown Santa Ana, where Satoshi Kon's 2006 surreal masterpiece Paprika and Makoto Shinkai's Your Name were shown.
The latter movie, which is known as Kimi no Na wa in its native tongue, only came out last year in Japan but is already ranked the No. 1 anime of all time, surpassing 2001's Spirited Away. Based on ticket sales, it's also the most popular movie of 2017 at the Frida (so far). So it makes sense anime is moving beyond the indies to mainstream cineplexes this summer.
Giving a push are Fathom Events, which simulcasts movies as well as live and taped special events in U.S. movie theaters, and GKIDS, which distributes Miyazaki's films from Tokyo's famed Studio Ghibli anime library across North America. The 76-year-old master, who came out of retirement this spring to direct a new anime, co-founded Studio Ghibli with fellow legendary filmmaker Isao Takahata in 1985.
Besides Miyazaki's six films that comprise the Studio Ghibli Fest, GKIDS and Fathom Events team up to present Mune: Guardian of the Moon, which comes from the producers of The Little Prince, for the first time in U.S. cinemas. Two additional new releases are anticipated as part of the 2017 lineup. Whether an old or a new anime is the main feature, each event includes an exclusive GKIDS Minifest of award-winning short animated films from around the world.
Kicking off the series Sunday and Monday is Miyazaki's 1988 fantasy My Neighbor Totoro, which has two young girls moving with their father to the countryside, where they discover their new house and the nearby woods are full of strange beings, including gigantic but gentle bear-like forest spirits.
Before the monthly festival resumes, Regency Directors Cut Cinema in Laguna Niguel presents as part of its Flashback Tuesdays series a 1988 anime from Studio Ghibli's Takahata. Grave of the Fireflies is about two Japanese children separated from their parents by U.S. firebombing during the declining days of World War II. The siblings must totally rely on each other to survive.
Studio Ghibli Fest picks up July 23-24 with the 1989 adaptation of the fantasy novel Kiki's Delivery Service, which is a coming-of-age story about a resourceful young witch who uses her broom to create a delivery service, only to lose her gift of flight in a moment of self-doubt.
The first Studio Ghibli anime to be released, 1986's Castle In the Sky, is shown Aug. 27-28. The adventure flick concerns a young girl with a mysterious crystal pendant. She falls out of the sky and into the arms of a young mechanic obsessed with aircraft; together, they search for a floating island in the sky and site of a long-dead civilization promising enormous wealth and power to those who can unlock its secrets.
The 1984 sci-fi fantasy Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind follows on Sept. 24-25. Nausicaä, a young princess who is passionate for all living things and understanding the processes of nature, has much to overcome in a devastated future world decimated by atmospheric poisons and swarming with gigantic insects.
Just in time for Halloween is the Oct. 29-30 15th-anniversary screening of the smash-hit Spirited Away. Winner of the Best Animated Feature Academy Award in 2003—two years after its initial release in Japan—the anime focuses on a girl who mistakenly thinks she is on another boring trip with her parents . . . until they stop at a village that is not all that it seems.
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The final Miyazaki anime of the series—presuming his new one will not be ready in time—is Howl's Moving Castle, an acclaimed fantasy based on the novel of the same name and the second Studio Ghibli film to be nominated for an Oscar. Shown Nov. 26-27, the 2004 anime is about an average teenage girl working in a hat shop and having her life thrown into turmoil when she is literally swept off her feet by a handsome but mysterious wizard named Howl. But the vain and conniving Witch of the Waste turns the girl into a 90-year-old woman, and to lift the curse, she must find refuge in Howl's magical moving castle.
Fathom Events and GKIDS have not yet set the dates for Mune: Guardian of the Moon, Benoît Philippon and Alexandre Heboyan's computer-animated fantasy about a small forest faun and a headstrong young girl with wax for skin trying to save the sun and restore order to the world. The other two anticipated films in the series also have not been scheduled yet.
My Neighbor Totoro screens at various theaters; see www.FathomEvents.com for locations. Dubbed version, Sun., 12:55 p.m.; subtitled, Mon., 7 p.m. $12.50.
Grave of Fireflies screens at Regency Directors Cut Cinema at Rancho Niguel, 25471 Rancho Niguel Rd., Laguna Niguel, (949) 831-0446. Tues., 7:30 p.m. $8. For more info on Studio Ghibli Fest, visit www.ghiblifest.com.