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‘A Weekend with Studio Ghibli’ at Aero Theatre

SANTA MONICA — American Cinematheque will present “A Weekend with Studio Ghibli” from Sept. 15 to 18 at the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave. in Santa Monica.

Founded in Tokyo in 1985 by animation directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, Studio Ghibli is one of the most successful and respected animation studios in the world. Cultivating a creative force of talented directors, animators and storytellers under the leadership of Miyazaki and Takahata, Studio Ghibli makes films that are praised for their originality, dazzling visuals and epic storytelling. The films have become a beloved part of Japanese popular culture and garnered worldwide acclaim from audiences and critics alike.

There will be two evening double features and one matinee for kids. Films are in Japanese with English subtitles except “My Neighbor Totoro,” which is dubbed. The schedule is as follows:

Thursday, Sept. 15, at 7:30 p.m.

• “Howl’s Moving Castle” (Hauru no Ugoku Shiro, 2004, 119 minutes). Sophie, an average teenage girl working in a hat shop, finds her life thrown into turmoil when she is literally swept off her feet by a handsome but mysterious wizard named Howl. After this chance meeting, the young girl is turned into a 90-year-old woman by the vain and conniving Witch of the Waste. Embarking on an incredible adventure to lift the curse, Sophie finds refuge in Howl’s magical moving castle. As the true power of Howl’s wizardry is revealed, and his relationship with Sophie deepens, our young gray heroine finds herself fighting to protect them both from a dangerous war of sorcery that threatens their world. This was the second Studio Ghibli film to be nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar.

• “Porco Rosso” (Kurenai no Buta,1992, 94 minutes). This unsung treasure from Miyazaki nestles a tale of morality and identity inside a soaring tribute to early aviation and the reckless flyboys whose home was the open sky. Set in a mid-World War II Italy swept by fascism, the film follows Marco, a world-weary flying ace turned bounty hunter, who plies his trade above the waters of the Adriatic. Somewhere along the way a curse has transformed Marco’s head into that of a pig, reflecting his loss of faith in humanity. Marco meets his polar opposite in the innocent and energetic 17-year-old Fio, an aspiring airplane designer, and the two are catapulted into an airborne adventure pursued by air pirates, the Italian army and an egotistical American flying ace.

Friday, Sept. 16, at 7:30 p.m.

• “Spirited Away” (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikaushi, 2001, 125 minutes). Miyazaki’s Academy Award-winning masterpiece was the biggest box office hit of all time in Japan and helped redefine the possibilities of animation for American audiences and a generation of new filmmakers. Wandering through an abandoned carnival site, 10-year-old Chichiro is separated from her parents and stumbles into a dreamlike spirit world, where she is put to work in a bathhouse for the gods, a place where all kinds of nonhuman beings come to refresh, relax and recharge. Here she encounters a vast menagerie of impossibly inventive characters — shape-shifting phantoms and spirits, some friendly, some less so — and must find the inner strength to outsmart her captors and return to her family. Combining Japanese mythology with “Through the Looking Glass”-type whimsy, “Spirited Away” cemented Miyazaki’s reputation as an icon of inspired animation and wondrous, lyrical storytelling.

• “Grave of the Fireflies” (Hotaru no Haka, 1988, 89 minutes). This stark drama, adapted from Nosaka Akiyuki’s semi-autobiographical novel, is one of Studio Ghibli’s greatest achievements. Left to fend for themselves after their home is firebombed during the closing days of World War II, teen Seita and his 5-year-old sister Setsuko struggle to survive.

Saturday, Sept. 17, at 7:30 p.m.

• “Princess Mononoke” (Mononoke-Hime, 1997, 134 minutes). Miyazaki’s epic story of conflict and balance between humans, gods and nature has been universally acclaimed by critics and broke the box office record on its original release in Japan. While defending his village from a demonic boar-god, the young warrior Ashitaka becomes afflicted with a deadly curse that grants him superhuman power in battle but will eventually take his life. Traveling west to find a cure and meet his destiny, he journeys deep into the sacred depths of the Great Forest where he meets San (Princess Mononoke), a girl raised by wolf-gods. Mononoke is a force of nature, riding bareback on a great white wolf and terrorizing the human outpost of Iron Town on the edge of the forest.

• “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” (Kaze no Tani no Naushika, 1984, 116 minutes). This first of many triumphs for Miyazaki is set a thousand years after a nuclear holocaust has gutted the globe. After the death of her father and an attack by the hostile Tormekia, Princess Nausicaa must use her uncanny ability to communicate with the giant crustacean Ohmu to unite her people against the threat of annihilation. Based on the manga of the same name, and using Miyazaki’s distinct stylistic flare for the dreamlike and fantastical, the film also inaugurates Miyazaki’s enduring collaboration and friendship with composer Joe Hisaishi.

Sunday, Sept. 18, at 3 p.m.

• “My Neighbor Totoro” (Tonari no Totoro, 1988, 86 minutes). The third Studio Ghibli feature from Miyazaki tells the story of young sisters Satsuki and Mei Kusakabe, who move with their father into a new house near a vast forest, in order to be closer to their ailing, hospitalized mother. Discovering wondrous forest spirits, they also encounter Totoro, a giant, lumbering bunny-esque creature.

Sunday, Sept. 18, at 7:30 p.m.

• “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” (Kaguyahime no Monogatari, 2013, 137 minutes). What may be the final film from Studio Ghibli co-founder Takahata is one of the Japanese animation studio’s very best. A bamboo cutter discovers a tiny girl in a bamboo shoot and adopts her as his daughter, but the old man’s attempts to raise her as a princess are at odds with the girl’s homespun nature. This beautiful fantasy, based on a Japanese folktale, earned an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film.

• “Pom Poko” (Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko, 1994, 119 minutes). In this brilliant and often overlooked Studio Ghibli masterpiece, the forests are filled with groups of magical tanuki, mischievous raccoon-like animals from Japanese folklore, which are capable of shape-shifting from their standard raccoon form to practically any object. The tanuki spend their days playing idly in the hillsides and squabbling over food — until the construction of a huge new Tokyo suburb clears the nearby forest and threatens their way of life. In an effort to defend their home, the tanuki learn to transform into humans and start playing tricks to make the workers think the construction site is haunted, ending in a spectacular night-time spirit parade, with thousands of ghosts, dragons and other magical creatures descending on the city, in an abundance of fantastical characters that would not be matched onscreen by Studio Ghibli until “Spirited Away.”

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