If the bootleg-swapping, DIY-subtitle-making Gen Xer anime fans of the ‘80s and ‘90s weren’t around to see it themselves, they probably wouldn’t believe it, but in 2022, people are taking anime seriously. And not just people, but august institutions, which have been putting out retrospectives left and right all year. The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures dedicated one of its four floors to the work of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli for the better part of a year starting last September, and the Embassy of Japan’s Japan Information & Culture Center and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art dedicated more than a week of programming to the filmography of Satoshi Kon earlier this year. And art house cinemas, including the IFC Center and Metrograph in New York and FACETS Cinema in Chicago, are more regularly screening classic works of anime.
At the Japan Society in New York, film programmer Alexander Fee is doing the same, and for him, it’s a no-brainer. The Society is a broader arts organization, not a dedicated anime outfit by any stretch, but its goal, Fee said, is "to promote Japanese culture" and spread awareness of Japan's cultural heritage and output. In the film realm, it had been doing that for a while with its Monthly Classics series, which tends to attract older audiences—audiences that have been more hesitant, by and large, to visit theaters since the dawn of the pandemic. Fee saw anime as a way to bring a younger audience, much of which has returned to attending in-person events in full force, out to the movies.
"When you think Japanese film or pop culture in general, anime is really the biggest export," Fee said. "It's really widely loved, and it made sense to me to do a year-long, regular series of programming dedicated to anime."
Hence the debut, this past April, of Monthly Anime, a Japan Society series supported by manga publisher Yen Press that will wrap its first slate of programming on July 22 with a 35mm presentation of Hayao Miyazaki's 1997 masterpiece Princess Mononoke in honor of the film’s 25th anniversary. Its first three screenings, Fee said—of another classic 1990s anime, Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell, and of two newer film's, 2003's rarely-screened Matrix series companion anthology The Animatrix and Masaaki Yuasa's 2017 experimental favorite The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl—were either mostly full or sold out completely, attended largely, Fee said, by college-aged people through viewers in their late 30s.
This didn't surprise Fee in the slightest. "I came from a background of programming for college students, and Studio Ghibli films immediately brought everyone out on my college campus—I always saw such a great love for anime," he said. He was so confident that the series would fill seats that he actively tried to branch out from the Ghibli catalog, hoping to combine "mainstream anime picks" with some deeper cuts and modern classics.
"The main aim of this series is to show the vast expanse of what anime can encapsulate," Fee said. When possible, he added, he wanted to screen films that don't necessarily have U.S. distribution—something the Japan Society, which works directly with a number of Japanese distributors, can pull off. “You don't always get the opportunity to watch these films on the big screen,” he said, “That's probably the direction we'll be leaning into as we continue developing the lineup.”
In the meantime, there are still plenty of opportunities to watch some of the best anime around on the big screen. Here are a few forthcoming screenings and ongoing series where you can catch some of the greatest films in anime history in theaters.
It’s not very often you get to see Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke on the big screen as it was intended, on 35mm film. But if you live in New York City—or in commuting distance, it’s worth it—you can on July 22.
You don’t need to live in New York to see anime on the big screen this summer and fall thanks to GKids, the growing distribution powerhouse bringing Ghibli films and other marquee anime to cinemas across the U.S. Theaters everywhere from Morgantown, WV, to Iowa City will screen Hayao Miyazaki's Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Spirited Away, and Isao Takahata's Only Yesterday, on select dates through October.
On August 28, Madhouse's adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s manga classic Metropolis—which itself drew inspiration from Fritz Lang's 1927 German silent film of the same name, although Tezuka famously hadn't actually seen it—will screen at the Hollywood in Portland, following up a strong list of previous films including Masaaki Yuasa’s brain-melting Mind Game and Toyoo Ashida's 1980s cult classic Vampire Hunter D earlier this year.
This September, the Loft, celebrating its 50th anniversary, will screen classic anime films including Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira and Shinichirō Watanabe’s Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, along with cult classics like Yoshiaki Kawajiri's 1993 bloodbath Ninja Scroll.