After Miramax had acquired Hayao Miyazaki's 1997 masterpiece Princess Mononoke for U.S. distribution, and as it was contemplating how to soften the bloody, distinctly PG-13 anime epic, Harvey Weinstein received a katana blade from Japan's Studio Ghibli inscribed with a simple legend: “No cuts.” More than a bit of playful brinksmanship, this points to the serious, conscientious artistry with which Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli craft their delightful stories: To take anything away would upset the entire construct — which happens to be one of Miyazaki's favorite themes.
American Cinematheque, following up last year's sold-out Ghibli series, returns with this 11-film sampler. The sole addition to the lineup is 2008's Ponyo, Miyazaki's eighth and latest for the studio. All of the others are present, as well as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, 1984's pre-Ghibli, postapocalyptic fable.
The pastel Ponyo, with its bright, clean characters and benign tone, recalls Miyazaki's 1988 My Neighbor Totoro; as Totoro contains elements of Alice in Wonderland, Ponyo is a free-associative riff on The Little Mermaid, for the magpie Miyazaki's influences are surpassed only by his influence.
Ponyo's moral most closely recalls Miyazaki's own Nausicaä and Mononoke in its heroicizing of sustaining a ecological balance, a theme to which parents raising their kids “green” have readily responded. Opening images of a teeming undersea universe in Ponyo remind us that Miyazaki doesn't just create worlds but delicate, detailed ecosystems. —Nick Pinkerton
THE CASTLE RETURNS: MIYAZAKI, TAKAHATA AND THE MASTERS OF STUDIO GHIBLI | Egyptian and Aero theaters | Jan. 25-Feb. 10 | americancinemathequecalendar.com