In January, the Loft Cinema showed a series of films by Japanese animation master Hayao Miyzaki, tapping into the Tucson's anime fans, but also reaching children and adults who enjoy whimsy and joy. Following the series, the Loft had many requests from customers to continue to show Miyazaki's films, as well as other films from the animation studio he co-founded, Studio Ghibli.
"I was pretty surprised at the wide demographic; it was little kids and their parents, it was anime folks, older people. We had a lot of our regular Loft customers who like art films and came to see them because they are great films even if you don't like animated films," said Jeff Yanc, program director at the Loft.
What makes these movies appealing, according to Yanc, is their high quality, and that they are intelligent and sophisticated enough to work equally well for adults as for kids. In fact, the brain trust behind Pixar, the American king of critically acclaimed and commercially successful animation, often refers to the Studio Ghibli work as a direct inspiration.
Yanc said that Studio Ghibli films often have a recurring themes that make them relatable across cultural lines, including environmental activism, coming-of-age stories and other traditional themes of the fantasy and sci-fi genres.
"What I really like about these films is that so many of the Ghibli films are very conscientious about having positive attitudes, like being kind to the planet, being kind to each other and being responsible," Yanc said. "For little kids, these are good messages and parents respond to that."
Yanc said the Loft knew the time was right to launch a deeper look into the Studio Ghibli collection, which will be shown in new 35 mm prints and offered in both the original Japanese with English subtitles and dubbed English versions. Because of copyright and licensing issues, prints of these films were often challenging for American theaters to screen, if they were available at all.
"This new Studio Ghibli series is great because a lot of these films did not have U.S. distribution ever," Yanc said, "so for some of these films it is the first time they have played in American movie theaters. ... I think that has also built excitement because you get to see it on the big screen."
The next Studio Ghibli screenings are Thursday, June 13, with Ocean Waves; Sunday, June 16, it's My Neighbors the Yamadas; Thursday, June 20, it's The Cat Returns; and Sunday, June 23, it's Grave of the Fireflies. The series ends with Ponyo, shown Thursday through Saturday, June 27 to 29.
Tickets for individual films are $8 general and $6 for Loft members and children 12 and younger. Screening times are available at loftcinema.com.
On Saturday, June 29, the Loft will wrap up the series with The Ghibli Mixer and Cosplay party at Mooney Backlot Bar & Lounge. It will be an outdoor event with free admission. It includes a trivia contest and prizes for the best Ghibli-inspired costumes.