SIFF celebrates Studio Ghibli in “Castles in the Sky” series

By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly

In 1985, Japanese anime directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata joined forces to create a new studio for anime films. The studio’s name, Studio Ghibli, was named after an Arabic word meaning “Mediterranean wind,” with the hope that their works would blow a new wind through the world of animation.

Now, after 27 years, SIFF Cinema Uptown is presenting the fruits of their labor in a film series called “Castles in the Sky:  Miyazaki, Takahata, and the Masters of Studio Ghibli.”  “[Studio Ghibli films are] some of the most gorgeous and accomplished animated films in the history of cinema, and a true delight to see on the big screen. … We hope that new audiences — and new generations — who may know some of the better known films will have a chance to explore deeper into the Ghibli library and discover some new films that they will love just as much,” said Clinton McClung, head programmer for the series.

Miyazaki’s titles became the most well known Studio Ghibli films in America, thanks in large part to sponsorship by Disney. Some tend towards lightheartedness, such as “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” with its comically-bumbling young witch, or “Ponyo,” with its audacious heroine who spends part of her time as a fish. The main characters wrestle with powerful forces and sometimes suffer setbacks, but in the end everything settles and comes around.

Other Miyazaki works, such as “Princess Mononoke” and “Spirited Away,” while still suitable for children, explore darker themes. “Spirited Away” features a family transformed and enslaved due mostly to happenstance and bad luck. A young girl — Miyazaki is fond of bright, determined young girls for main characters — must volunteer for slave duty in order to find the magic that will bring her parents back.

The series will premiere a film that is new to the United States. It’s one of McClung’s favorites.

“ ‘Only Yesterday’ is a magnificent film that hasn’t come to the U.S. before — perhaps because it skews somewhat older for an animated film, specifically for the adolescent youth — and is a more meditative and satisfying portrait of a young woman remembering her childhood. Less fantastic than the other Ghibli films, but deeply moving.”

In addition to “Only Yesterday,” the series features several other films from Miyazaki’s partner Isao Takahata, who is not nearly as well known in the West. Takahata highlights include “Pom Poko,” about a race of shape-shifting beasts coping with humans encroaching on their territory, and “My Neighbors the Yamadas,” an idiosyncratically-stylistic portrait of the messiest family in the world.

Intriguing films from other directors round out the series. “Ocean Waves,” directed by Tomomi Mochizuki, features a coming-of-age story about two school friends and the transfer student girl who disrupts their lives. “Whisper of the Heart,” the only feature film directed by the late Yoshifumi Kondo, follows another young girl growing simultaneously into adulthood and a complex fantasy world. The film helped set the stage for another Ghibli feature, “The Cat Returns,” directed by Hiroyuki Morita.

“It was our mission,” concludes McClung, “to bring [Takahata’s] films — and some of the lesser known Ghibli animators — to new audiences.”

The series, in full, presents an impressively well-rounded portrait of the studio. Go for the Miyazaki masterpieces, but stay for the titles you don’t recognize as well. (end)

“Castles in the Sky: Miyazaki, Takahata, and the Masters of Studio Ghibli,” runs from June 22 to July 5 at the SIFF Cinema Uptown, 511 Queen Anne Avenue North. For prices and showtimes, call 206-324-9996 or visit

Andrew Hamlin can be reached at

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