by Joe Nolan
I've spent a lot of quality time at The Belcourt's film retrospectives over the years. Their Kubrick series was epic, Hitchcock was thrilling, a back-in-the-day Cassavetes line-up blew my mind, and the recent Sergio Corbucci film screenings were a timely revelation to anyone who was counting the days until Tarantino's Django Unchained premiere.
Another series that deserves a mention was last summer's Castles in the Sky: Miyazaki, Takahata and the Masters of Studio Ghibli. That series offered 15 movies in just under two weeks, programming numerous daily screenings including both dubbed and subtitled versions of some of the greatest films made by the celebrated Japanese animation house. Even the trailer for the series was gorgeous and thrilling, but, despite my best efforts, I was only able to catch a couple of the flicks before the end of the run.
If, like me, you wish you had a second chance to see these films on the big screen, you're in luck. The Belcourt has brought 7 of director Hayao Miyazaki's best titles back for A Return to Studio Ghibli — a Saturday morning program of matinees for kids of all ages. Miyazaki is a genuine cartoon auteur who writes, directs, draws, animates and even penned some of the song lyrics for the film Spirited Away which will screen this Saturday.
Spirited Away tells the story of a 10-year-old girl named Chihiro. Driving with her parents, moving to a new home, Chihiro's father makes a wrong turn. Without giving away too much, Chihiro's parents meet an odd fate and she ends up trapped in a magical world populated by an outrageous menagerie of fantastical creatures, spirits and ghosts.
Miyazaki's films are all magical, but Spirited is packed with seemingly unlimited works of imagination — from a fleet of anthropomorphized soot balls, to a shambling stink spirit, to a ghost-spider boiler man, to the unforgettable No Face. The movie is a relentless display of creation, yet sticks close to core Miyazaki themes like environmentalism, feminism, the symbolism of water and the magic of flight.
Spirited Away is one of Miyazaki's greatest achievements, and it's the most successful Japanese film ever made. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and tied with Bloody Sunday for the Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival.