Miyazaki film showings bring awareness of anime to Chico

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Chihiro and the spirit No-Face make a journey in "Spirited Away." Image from IMDB.

Got any plans for Halloween yet? If you’re fresh out of ideas, since Halloween falls on a Wednesday this year, “Spirited Away” is playing at your local movie theater that night.

If you haven’t been to one of the special events by Fandango at the local multiplex, you may not be aware of their ongoing monthly showings of classic anime films. Last year, the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki, a Japanese filmmaker, were shown every month and met with enough success to warrant the event continuing this year. This week, the classic “My Neighbor Totoro” was playing, making “Spirited Away” the next film available to see.

The event may seem like an unusual choice for a multiplex at first. Why show anime films, some of which were released decades ago, every month in a small American movie theater? The anime community may be a strong influence in smaller realms such as at Butte College, as an example, but in Chico, it remains as underground as in many other cities. That’s why an event like this brings the films to a wider audience.

What makes these showings worth it for Cinemark may be that these films have a cult following beyond the anime and animated film community- they are beloved by many filmgoers in general.

Miyazaki’s films, from “Princess Mononoke” and “Spirited Away” to “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “Castle in the Sky,” have served as a gateway into a larger world of anime for decades. It helps that these films have often been dubbed by English-speaking, popular celebrities like Mark Hamill, Anna Paquin and Billy Bob Thornton, and released by Walt Disney Studios to reach the wider American audience. But his visual style is also a major part of their appeal, inspiring generations of people to want to delve deeper into something that seems limitless.

That’s the strongest point of all his movies. They take the human imagination and entice it to think about something bigger than what we’re used to. It activates an innate curiosity in us that’s existed since we were kids. The stories can range from childish fun to the grim realities of war, but the consistent quality and effort are always present.

It’s hard to find a fan of anime (or a fan of animation in general) that hasn’t seen at least a couple of these movies. Even if people don’t see them as a bridge into other shows or movies, they’re films that can stand on their own as something unique and worthwhile. Any stigmas about the medium that exist are completely irrelevant in these movies.

Watching these films is always a treat, but being able to see them on the big screen is a rarity that’s irresistible to anyone who is familiar with them. Events like this are also an opportunity for people to watch something new in the best way possible. They can bring a small community together and give it the chance to grow.

If you’re a fan, you probably already know whether or not you’re going to see “Spirited Away” on Halloween. If you’re not a fan and you’re even mildly interested in it then I urge you to put down the bottle (or bring it with you, whatever) and take a trip into a world that is unrivaled in fiction.

Ulises Duenas and Natalie Hanson can be reached at @[email protected] or @NatalieH_Orion or @OrionUlisesD on Twitter.