A scene from My Neighbor Totoro.EXPAND
A scene from My Neighbor Totoro.
Courtesy of Coral Gables Art Cinema

What to Watch at Coral Gables Art Cinema's Studio Ghibli Retrospective

In the world of animation, no one soars higher than Studio Ghibli. For decades, the Japanese studio headed by directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata and producer Toshio Suzuki has created some of the greatest, most widely loved animated films in the medium's history. While Miyazaki's films, such as Howl's Moving Castle and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, are famed for their fantastic magical worlds, strong female characters, and eco-conscious themes, Takahata's work has also been celebrated for pushing the boundaries of animation in both style and genre.

Even after Takahata's death earlier this year at the age of 82, there's never a bad time to get deeper into Ghibli, which is why, for the next two weeks, Coral Gables Art Cinema will show every one of the legendary studio's films as part of the series Complete Studio Ghibli. "Isao Takahata’s recent passing was a huge blow, and we dedicate the series to his memory," associate director Javier Chavez says. The series will present not only the major works of both directors, but also lesser-known Ghibli productions such as Whisper of the Heart, When Marnie Was There, and even the live-action, behind-the-scenes documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, which will play as a prelude Thursday, May 31. It's a massive undertaking, one that "represents years of discussion and intensive work the past few months," Chavez says.

Presented with such a huge amount of material, you might be wondering which Ghibli works are worthiest of your time. Fear not — we've put together a brief guide to illustrate which films are right for you. Tickets for individual films cost $5 to $11.75, but if you're a Ghibli die-hard, Gables Cinema also offers a $55 series pass for every film. You can also find the full schedule and list of films at Gables Cinema's website.

For the kids: My Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo. Nothing bad happens in these two Miyazaki films. Nobody dies, there are no villains or epic quests, and the girls are not damsels in distress. That’s what makes them perfect for your little ones, whether you want to distract them for an afternoon or introduce them to the wonders of animation. In the classic Totoro, sisters Satsuki and Mei explore the forests around their new rural home and meet the friendly beasts within. Ponyo, meanwhile, retells the story of the Little Mermaid when a boy named Sosuke finds a goldfish that can transform into a human girl. When his seaside village is struck by a tsunami, he and his new friend embark on an adventure through his flooded seaside town, rendered into a gorgeous aquatic wonderland by Miyazaki’s artful animation. My Neighbor Totoro: 11 a.m. Sunday, June 3. Ponyo: noon Saturday, June 2.

For the visuals: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. Because of Takahata's passing earlier this year, this 2013 film has become his swan song. Based on a Japanese folktale, it tells of a woodcutter who finds a little girl growing in a bamboo chute and raises her as his daughter. Eventually, he moves her to the city and teaches her how to be a princess, but as suitors fight over her, she yearns for the idyllic days of her youth in the country. Takahata could have chosen to tell this story in the standard Ghibli style. Instead, he developed a brilliant new form of animation based on ancient Japanese painting that made it the most expensive Japanese film of all time. It was worth it: The visuals in Kaguya are so sumptuous and breathtaking, they will leave you in awe. 6:15 p.m. Friday, June 8; 6:15 p.m. Saturday, June 9; and 8:45 p.m. Sunday, June 10.

For the thrills: Princess Mononoke and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. These two films, one set in the distant past and the other in the far future, are Miyazaki at his darkest. Filled with action-packed battles and ecological havoc, they depict worlds of complex morality in which humanity’s conflict with nature reaches new heights. In Mononoke, set in medieval Japan, a young prince is cursed when a demon attacks his village, and he must travel far to find the source of the affliction. He’s soon drawn into a war between a mining village of outcasts run by a female samurai lord and the displaced forest dwellers, led by a wolf goddess and her fierce human daughter, Princess Mononoke. In the second film, based on Miyazaki’s manga, Nausicaä is another princess drawn into battle. Her village is one of the few places left untouched by a toxic jungle filled with poisonous fungi and giant insects, and she must protect her home from a foreign military bent on reviving the weapons that destroyed the world centuries ago. Princess Mononoke: 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 1; 8:45 p.m. Saturday, June 2; and 5:45 p.m. Sunday, June 3. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: 8:45 p.m. Monday, June 4, and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 5.

For young adults: Kiki’s Delivery Service. If you’re a hardworking, conflicted young person trying to figure out how to get through life, this beautiful, relaxing film about a girl trying her best in the big city is the Ghibli for you. Kiki is a young witch who sets out on her own to finish her training. Because her only power is flight, she starts a delivery business in a seaside city. Things are going fine until she begins to lose her magic, and the familiar mix of loneliness and impostor syndrome she feels will be relevant to many. 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 13, and 8:30 p.m. Thursday, June 12.

When you want a deep cut: Only Yesterday. For years, this Takahata film was the only Ghibli feature without a theatrical release in the United States. That’s probably because it doesn’t fit into standard cartoon categories. Or it could be that squeamish American distributors didn’t know what to do about scenes dealing with (gasp!) sex education and menstruation. Regardless, this film about a young woman whose vacation in the countryside unlocks childhood memories — from dealing with young love and puberty to the first taste of fresh pineapple — is a classic. 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 6, and 8:45 p.m. Thursday, June 7.

When you want to cry: The Wind Rises. Miyazaki had planned to make this passion project, a biopic of airplane designer Jiro Horikoshi, his final film before stepping back out of retirement in 2017. Despite the focus on aviation, it’s perhaps Miyazaki’s most grounded film: Jiro’s dedication to the beauty of flight takes him into morally murky territory as he designs fighter planes for the Japanese military. It’s also his most unexpectedly tragic — charting Jiro’s relationship with his wife, from a fateful meeting on a train through her fight with tuberculosis. The romance turns the film into something unprecedented in animation: a beautiful, moving period drama that will leave you in tears. 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 1; 6 p.m. Saturday, June 2; and 8:30 p.m. Sunday, June 3.

When you really want to cry: Grave of the Fireflies. This film tells the story of Seita, a teenage boy who struggles to take care of his young sister Setsuko in the waning days of World War II. First, they lose their home and mother in a firebombing raid. Then they move in with an aunt who refuses to feed them unless Seita works — never mind that his factory and school were destroyed. They soon move into a bomb shelter, and Seita begins stealing food to survive. It gets worse from there. Their only comfort is the verdant green of the Japanese countryside, its beauty unmarred by the American bombs. No, the description above doesn't make this film sound very entertaining or kid-friendly, but of all the films on this list, it’s the one you should seek out above the rest. It shows what happens when we send our planes to destroy a village in some far-away land. That’s one of the most important things anyone can learn. 4 p.m. Saturday, June 2, and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, June 3.

The Complete Studio Ghibli. Friday, June 1, through Thursday, June 14, at Coral Gables Art Cinema, 260 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables; 786-385-9689; gablescinema.org. Tickets cost $5 to $11.75 for individual films and $55 for a series pass. All films are in Japanese with English subtitles except Whisper of the Heart and The Cat Returns, which are dubbed in English.

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