It’s a huge month for animation this July – the schedulers clearly have their sights fixed firmly on the summer holiday crowd – but these are no mere distractions for bored children, they are hugely exciting releases from the two biggest names in the animation field, Studio Ghibli and Pixar.

by Christopher O’Keeffe

The Wind is Rising (Out July 20)

What is there to say about Hayao Miyazaki and his Ghibli animation studio that hasn’t already been said? He has been delighting Japanese audiences for over 30 years with his beautiful animated works and ever since the Academy Awards success of 2007’s Spirited Away his films have become well regarded internationally and are quite possibly the reason why many people choose to visit and live in this country.

The man has rarely put a foot wrong with the likes of My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Surface and Ponyo, his last directing effort – from five years ago – standing out for many from an impressive back catalogue. This latest from the illustrious director, The Wind is Rising (Kaze Tachinu) tells a fictionalised account of the life of the man who designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero aircraft, a plane that was devastatingly effective in the early days of the Second World War. The film is based on a comic which itself was based upon a short story from Showa era writer Tatsuo Hori. For fans old and young, this one is not to be missed.

The Emperor (Out July 27)

Anyone with even a passing interest in Japan’s recent history (especially if you don’t mind watching a story ‘inspired’ by actual events) will want to catch Emperor, which stars acting legend – and of course the face of Boss coffee – Tommy Lee Jones, who as General Douglas MacArthur must first learn how to carry off that iconic pipe you can see in the picture below. Upon arriving in a devastated Japan soon after the Second World War surrender, MacArthur tasks General Bonner Fellers, played by Lost star Matthew Fox, with establishing whether Emperor Hirohito should be tried and executed as a war criminal.

The Emperor

This joint US and Japanese production features a wealth of homegrown talent amongst the Hollywood stars including Toshiyuki Nishida, the veteran actor who you may have seen alongside Tommy Lee Jones advertising Sapporo beer on the train, and Eriko Hatsune, most famous for her role in Norwegian Wood. As General Fellers, an expert in psychological warfare and Japanese culture, searches for answers he attempts to track down a teacher who first brought him to Japan some years ago. The general must make a decision that will seal the fate of a nation in this tale of political intrigue, love and honour that brings life to the rather close to home events in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Monsters University (Out July 6)

In 2001 Pixar studios introduced us to furry blue monster Sulley and his best friend, little, green, one-eyed Mike, in the smash-hit comedy Monster’s Inc.. In this prequel John Goodman and Billy Crystal reprise their voice roles as Sully and Mike and we’re shown how the two friends first met – you guessed it, at college… In taking us back to those days, we are shown a rivalry that quickly develops between the studious, hard working Mike and the athletic and naturally gifted Sully after they first come together.

Pixar’s genius has always lied with its clever combination of smart jokes and pop-culture references that keep the adults entertained and its colourful characters and big-hearted stories that the kids fall in love with. Monsters University promises to be no exception to the trend; you can expect a few nods to classic 80s campus comedies as our favourite monsters – the voices of Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren and the Frank Oz (Bert/Grover/the Cookie Monster) also among them – compete to be the most frightening beast in school.

The Paperboy (Out July 27)

Coming this way after causing a stir at Cannes is the hot and steamy film noir (not the 1980s Atari videogame) The Paperboy. The film has a stellar cast that includes Matthew McConaughey, who has really been proving himself more than just a pretty face recently with a string of challenging roles that have made a welcome change from the bland rom-com fare he was becoming known for. Zac Efron also seems on a mission to show his acting chops, with the former High School Musical and tween favourite taking on a dark and raunchy role, not unlike his former co-star Vanessa Hudgens did in last month’s Spring Breakers.

The Paperboy

The pair star as brothers, McConaughey being a Miami-based investigative reporter out to prove a violent death row inmate, played by John Cusack, was framed for murder, with the help of his little brother (Efron) and the sultry fiancee of the accused, played by Nicole Kidman. Directed by Lee Daniels (he also co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Dexter, on whose novel the story is based), this is the follow up to his Academy Award nominated 2009 hit, Precious.

Bernie (Out July 13)

The slightly left field pick for this month would have to be the Jack Black starring oddity, Bernie. Black, who is known for his over-the-top physical comedy performances tones it down slightly to play Bernie Tiede, a well loved member of a small Texas town who begins a relationship with a cold and abusive recently-widowed millionaire, Shirley MacLaine’s Marjorie Nugent.

The film is helmed by the leader of the 90s new wave of independent cinema, Richard Linklater, who has successfully worked with Black before, on the comedy School of Rock. The director has also added a third part to his Before trilogy, Before Midnight (with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy), which will hopefully get a Japan release later this year. Interestingly the darkly comic Bernie is based on a true story and features some real life members of the town of Carthage playing themselves.