Last summer, the focus was on director Hayao Miyazaki, the founder of the legendary Studio Ghibli, Japan’s version of Walt Disney. This year, the Coral Gables Art Cinema is broadening the scope of its week-long animation retrospective series to include nine movies by different filmmakers.
Running Friday through Thursday, the “Anime: Japanese Gems” festival features selections from the 1980s to the 2010, showcasing the wide variety of styles and subject matter of Japanese animation (anime). Tokyo Godfathers, Grave of the Fireflies, Akira, Whisper of the Heart, Ninja Scroll, Summer Wars, Metropolis, Paprika and Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door will be screened several times during the retrospective.
“After the success of the Miyazaki festival, it felt natural to follow it up with something,” says Javier Alejandro Chavez, associate director at Gables Cinema. “We wanted to expand and include other great filmmakers, such as Katsuhiro Otomo, Mamoru Hosoda and Satoshi Kon.”
Kon, the only filmmaker to have two features in the festival — Tokyo Godfathers and Paprika — is a staple of anime filmmaking.
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“I’m not a huge anime person, but when I started exploring it, I gravitated toward the auteurs of the medium, and that’s what drew me to Kon,” says Ben Delgado, associate director at Gables Cinema, who curated this year’s lineup with Chavez.
While the rest of the films in the series each feature a different filmmaker, there are still some Studio Ghibli productions lurking in the program, such as Whisper of the Heart and Grave of the Fireflies, two radically different works of art that embody the rich diversity of anime.
“Anime as a genre is so distinct,” Chavez says. “On one hand you have Grave of the Fireflies, which is a tragic story based in reality, and on the other there’s Whisper of the Heart, which is light and fantastical. They’re all the same thing and yet so wildly different.”
“Animation is not a genre,” Delgado says. “It’s just a way to tell a story. Animation is how you choose to make it. These movies are no different from other movies: Tell a story, tell it well.”
With the exception of Ninja Scroll, Summer Wars and Grave of the Fireflies, all the movies will be projected on 35mm film. All titles will be shown in their original Japanese language with English subtitles except for Akira, which was only available in a dubbed English-language version.
The cinema’s concession stand will be serving Japanese treats like pocky and ramune. Moviegoers are encouraged to dress up as characters from their favorite films. A display in the theater lobby will showcase anime memorabilia from the personal collections of the theater’s staff.
Here’s a rundown of the nine films screening at the festival:
▪ Tokyo Godfathers (5 p.m. June 24-26): Inspired by John Ford’s 1948 western 3 Godfathers, Satoshi Kon’s fun, sweet parable follows three homeless people — Gin, a middle-aged alcoholic; Hana, a trans woman who wants a child; and Miyuki, a rebellious runaway girl — who find a newborn baby in the garbage and set out to find its parents. The movie is a heartwarming journey about a dysfunctional family that illustrates how life brings people together in strange and unexpected ways.
▪ Grave of the Fireflies (7 p.m. June 24-26): Isao Takahata, Studio Ghibli’s second best-known filmmaker and co-founder, adapts Akiyuki Nosaka’s short story of the same name to great effect, using animation to create a film that emphasizes the horrors of war better than most live-action films The movie follows two children, Seita and Setsuko, trying to survive during the final months of World War II. The film’s anti-war theme is a staple of Ghibli’s output.
▪ Akira (9 p.m. June 24-26): This 1980s cyberpunk classic is the most essential film in the series. Released in 1988, Akira defined what anime would look and feel like and helped make the form accessible outside of Japan. It’s an inherently Japanese film, adapted for the big screen by manga creator Katsuhiro Otomo, following biker gangs in the dystopian metropolis Neo-Tokyo, built after an explosion destroys Tokyo and starts World War III. The R-rated film is stuffed with psychic powers, violence, and straight-up body horror.
▪ Whisper of the Heart (2:30 p.m. June 25-26): Yoshifumi Kondō, a longtime animator at Studio Ghibli, ascended to director in the 1990s, but only made one film before his death at age 47 in 1998. Based on a screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki, Whisper of the Heart is nominally a love story between two young people, the creative Shizuku and the infuriating Seiji. But the movie is also a celebration of the human imagination that argues being creative and idealistic is a tough but worthwhile endeavor.
▪ Ninja Scroll (11:45 p.m. June 25): The midnight movie of the series, Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s hyperviolent extravaganza doles out a barrage of well-executed action and gore in feudal Japan. Ignore the boring and problematic plot and savor the relentless adrenaline rush.
▪ Summer Wars (6:30 p.m. June 27-28): Director Mamoru Hosoda’s most popular film takes place in both the digital and the real worlds, following two youths who have to help stop a malignant AI wreaking havoc. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Hosoda used the same narrative in the Digimon movie he directed in 2000. But Summer Wars is no mere retread. This is a fully-realized, ambitious work about coming together for the greater good, complete with gorgeous visuals.
▪ Metropolis (9 p.m. June 27-28): Although it shares the title of Fritz Lang’s seminal 1927 silent film, this is actually a loose adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s manga of the same name. Still, there are similarties with Lang’s classic, most notably the robot girl at the center of the story. Directed by the mononymous Rintaro, the movie is a perfect representation of classic manga and anime style.
▪ Paprika (7 p.m. June 29-30): Director Satoshi Kon’s last feature film is the most ambitious in this series. Think of it as a precursor for Christopher Nolan’s Inception, following a female therapist with a machine that allows her to enter people’s dreams. Paprika is dreamy, surreal, colorful, and dedicated to creating fantastical imagery that couldn’t exist in a live-action film.
▪ Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (9 p.m. June 29-30): Derived from the popular television series, director Shinichirō Watanabe’s adventure follows four bounty hunters chasing a terrorist plotting to destroy Mars. The film stands alone well while incorporating the features that made the TV show so fun, specifically its sprawling space adventures and jazzy energy.
If you go
What: “Anime: Japanese Gems”
Where: Coral Gables Art Cinema, 260 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables
Cost: $11.75 for adults, $10 for student/seniors/military and $7 for children 12 and under. A festival pass offering admission into every film costs $80 and comes with a commemorative lanyard and limited edition buttons.