Studio Ghibli Fest 2017

“Castle in the Sky”

This month’s entry for GKIDS’ Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 was Hayao Miyazaki’s 1986 action-adventure pic Castle in the Sky (which is also sometimes referred to as Laputa: Castle in the Sky). I was able to see the English sub version this week at my local Cinemark.


(© Studio Ghibli)

In the film, a young orphan girl named Sheeta is in possession of a magic crystal that other people aggressively want, namely the mysterious Colonel Muska and a family of pirates led by their mother, the relentless Captain Dola. Sheeta falls (literally) into the life of orphan boy Pazu, who happens to know about a floating city in the sky–a mysterious place that his now-deceased father was able to photograph before he died. Turns out that Muska and the pirates are looking for the floating city, too, and that Sheeta’s magic crystal is the key to finding it.

The adventure that follows is so fun, so inventive, and so delightful, I was pretty much in movie heaven for the entire screening. And after it was over, I couldn’t believe that it’s taken me all these years to see this wonderful film.

The film’s soundtrack by Studio Ghibli regular Joe Hisaishi is also a major highlight. Here’s a sample.

My friend Rachel Wagner invited me to be a part of her Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 podcast series and our initial reactions to Castle in the Sky are here.

Major thanks to GKIDS and Fathom Events for screening this delightful film. Can’t wait for next month’s entry in the Studio Ghibli Fest 2017, Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.

Studio Ghibli Fest 2017

“Kiki’s Delivery Service”

This month’s entry in GKIDS’ Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 was Hayao Miyazaki’s delightful 1989 film Kiki’s Delivery Service. Sadly, I missed seeing it on the big screen on July 24 due to a pesky summer cold so I had to do a Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 “Home Edition” and watch the film on DVD.

The story follows a teenage witch named Kiki and her cat Jiji. In the film’s mythos, when witches turn 13 years old, they leave home for a year, pick a new place to live, and learn to get by on their own. On Kiki’s 13th birthday, she leaves her loving family as planned and ends up picking the beautiful but unfriendly port city of Koriko. Kiki is plagued with adolescent insecurities and must find her way–both in figuring out what to do for a living (shockingly, she starts a delivery service) and in determining how she really feels about herself and her place in the world.

This is another breezy, beautiful fantasy film from Studio Ghibli, not unlike My Neighbor Totoro. However, Kiki’s dilemma about what to think about herself drives home an interesting and important truth. When Kiki doubts herself and feels confused and, dare I say, depressed, she loses her witch powers (which are primarily the ability to fly on a broom and to be able to speak with Jiji the cat). Kiki also has to cope with the challenges of living in a new city and dealing with a whole set of mean teenage girls and a gentleman caller, too. It’s not until, with the help of a kind mentor, she decides to believe in herself and what she is capable of when her powers start to return to her. This can be applied to all of us–the criticality of believing in our uniqueness and in our abilities, regardless of what others think, in order for us to do what we are meant to do.

Again, the trademark Studio Ghibli animation is stunningly beautiful. The music is also provided by Miyazaki favorite Joe Hisaishi and it’s terrific. Because I watched it at home, the DVD I have is the 1998 English dub which was overseen by John Lasseter and released by Walt Disney Home Entertainment. Kirsten Dunst voices Kiki and the late Phil Hartman voices Jiji (there was an “In Memory” title card dedicated to him during the end credits, so this clearly was one of Phil Harman’s final projects before his untimely death). This dub is terrific, although I would have much rather watched the sub version on the big screen.

GKIDS recently announced that they will be releasing new versions of most of the Studio Ghibli catalog in North America beginning this fall, so I am excited to start building up my Studio Ghibli collection, particularly with the original Japanese vocal tracks.

Revisiting Kiki’s Delivery Service was just what the doctor ordered. Here’s the tweet I sent out the night I watched the film.

Make sure to check out my friend Rachel Wagner’s podcast on her YouTube channel about Kiki’s Delivery Service. I hope to be able to join in for her upcoming Studio Ghibli Fest podcast in August which will be all about Castle in the Sky, next month’s Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 screening happening August 27 and 28. See the Fathom Events website for a list of participating theaters and to buy tickets.

Studio Ghibli Fest 2017

“My Neighbor Totoro” and Studio Ghibli Fest 2017

Japan’s Studio Ghibli is one of the world’s great animation studios. American film audiences are in for a treat this year because film distributor GKIDS along with Fathom Events are presenting Studio Ghibli Fest 2017, a six-film retrospective where they will screen one Studio Ghibli film a month in participating theatres across the U.S.A. through November 2017. Last month’s film was the 1988 classic My Neighbor Totoro.

(© Studio Ghibli)

All films selected for Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 were directed by the great Hayao Miyazaki. The six films are My Neighbor Totoro (which was screened on June 25 and 26 and is the impetus for this post), Kiki’s Delivery Service (July 23 and 24), Castle in the Sky (August 27 and 28), Nausicaä and the Valley of the Wind (September 24 and 25), Spirited Away (October 29 and 30), and Howl’s Moving Castle (November 26 and 27). As you’ll see on a calendar, the screenings take place on consecutive Sundays and Mondays with the Sunday screenings being an English dub version of the film and Monday screenings being the English subtitle version. I purchased tickets for all six films at a discounted price at (my local participating theater). More info about the festival is at the
Fathom Events website.

If you’ve never seen My Neighbor Totoro, you really should. It’s an incredibly charming and beautiful treatise on the wonder of childhood and is probably my favorite Studio Ghibli film. Getting to see a pristine digital print of this film on the big screen was a dream come true. The trademark animation from director Hayao Miyazaki and the supremely talented artists at Studio Ghibli continues to inspire. I was particularly moved this time by seeing the gorgeous watercolor backgrounds used in the film’s production super-sized on the big screen. Check out this video of the film’s art director Kazuo Oga painting in watercolor and you’ll get a taste for the tremendous artistry at work here.

Another treat was to hear the film’s marvelous soundtrack on the great stereo system at my local Cinemark theater. Composer Joe Hisaishi, who is often referred to as the “John Williams of Japan,” has over 100 film scores under his belt, and his score for My Neighbor Totoro is just plain magic in the best sense of the word. (I loved hearing this music again so much, I’ve been listening daily to the film’s soundtrack on Apple Music since the screening.) Here’s a video with Joe Hisaishi at the piano playing “The Path of the Wind,” one of memorable musical themes from the film.

I also learned at the screening that when My Neighbor Totoro made its cinematic debut in Japan, it was a double feature. The film was paired with another Studio Ghibli film–Isao Takahata’s beautiful and devastating Grave of the Fireflies. (My Neighbor Totoro has a running time of 86 minutes and Grave of the Firefiles is 90 minutes; I hope that Firefiles was screened first, but I don’t believe that was the case.)

(© Studio Ghibli)

After the film’s screening, I recorded a podcast with my friend and prolific film reviewer Rachel Wagner. You can check out our Totoro podcast here.

My Neighbor Totoro kicked off GKIDS’ Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 in a perfect way. I can’t wait to experience the rest of these wonderful Studio Ghibli films on the big screen in the months ahead. I hope you’ll join me, too. Follow me on Twitter and let’s discuss all things Studio Ghibli (#StudioGhibliFest).