The films of Hayao Miyazaki and the other animators associated with Tokyo's Studio Ghibli are renowned for their illustrative elegance and wondrous imagination. Funny, then, that the company originated in 1985 as a thumb to the eye of the rest of the Japanese anime industry. Its name translates to "Mediterranean wind," the idea being that the studio was constructed to blow away all others. As the NW Film Center's month-long retrospective shows, it just about has.
Although it actually predates his co-founding of Ghibli by a year, Miyazaki's second feature, the 1984 post-apocalyptic folk tale Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (7 pm Friday, 1 pm Saturday, 4:15 pm Sunday, May 4-6), introduces the visual style and thematic principles that would become the studio's hallmarks. In a dystopian future, mankind is not only wholly separated from nature but deathly afraid of it—which is understandable, considering nature consists of giant insects whose eyes glow red with rage whenever a human disturbs their habitat. Only Nausicaä, a hang-gliding eco-warrior Christ-figure in a short blue dress and thigh-high boots, possesses the interspecies empathy to bring harmony back to a war-ravaged planet. It's a stunning environmentalist parable.
In the subsequent years, Miyazaki broke through to international audiences with modern-day fables like My Neighbor Totoro (4 pm Saturday, 7 pm Sunday, May 5-6), Princess Mononoke (7 pm Saturday and Monday, 4 pm Sunday, May 12-14), and his grandest achievement, 2001's Spirited Away (7 pm Thursday, 1:30 pm Saturday, May 24 and 26), the only foreign film to ever win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Meanwhile, Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata established a reputation of his own, if primarily just in Japan, directing the coming-of-age period piece Only Yesterday (4 pm Saturday, 7 pm Sunday, May 12-13) and his own environmentalist fantasy Pom Poko (7 pm Friday, 2 pm Sunday, May 25 and 27). Strangely, his personal masterpiece, the powerful war drama Grave of the Fireflies, is conspicuously missing from the festival lineup, while his only intermittently amusing comic-strip adaptation, My Neighbors the Yamadas (4:30 pm Saturday, 7 pm Sunday, May 19-20), makes the cut. It's the closest thing to Cars 2 in the studio's otherwise spotless résumé.
SEE IT: Castles in the Sky: Miyazaki, Takahata, and the Masters of Studio Ghibli starts Friday. Check nwfilm.org for a complete schedule.