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2018-01-23

Ursula Le Guin Has Passed Away

Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin, the legendary science-fiction and fantasy writer, passed away today at age 88. Her family made the public announcement this morning but did not disclose a cause of death.

Generations of writers have been inspired and provoked by Le Guin's writings. I certainly count myself among them, although I would only be, at best, a casual fan. The diehards will be more than happy to share their tales, and you should seek them out in the coming days and months.

Ghibli Freaks will remember the 2006 feature animated movie Gedo Senki, titled Tales From Earthsea in the West, and directed by Goro Miyazaki in the midst of a very public feud with his legendary father. Le Guin was personally approached by Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki to create an animated adaptation of her acclaimed Earthsea novels, promising that the father would pass the torch down to his eldest son, but carefully oversee the production and treat it like one of his own works. Things unfolded quite differently in the ensuing months, and Le Guin was left feeling slightly betrayed and alienated. Thankfully, a written letter from father Miyazaki repaired the breach, and the two were able to make their peace.

Fans of the Studio Ghibli movies will have a unique view of Earthsea because of the 2006 movie, famously uneven, uncertain, and overwhelmed by the ongoing family melodrama. The same fans will also observe that Goro-san showed himself in that movie, through its troubled central character, and through his interpretations of the novels. Like the father, the son did not create a "faithful" movie adaptation, which is what is expected today, but used the original work to explore larger themes and wider discussions. That some of these discussions became very personal and painful is a tribute to the artist's courage and determination.

When I think of Ursula Le Guin, I always think of an inner strength, a tough-minded resilience. She was strong and wise, after all, because she had to be. She practiced her art at a time when female sci-fi and fantasy authors were all but unknown. She forged her own path, sang in her own voice. She persisted. And so she fought, scrapped, struggled, succeeded, and became a living legend.

It is not an easy thing to become an author. It takes an almost obsessive stubbornness to create, to write and edit, to publish, to promote, to suffer acclaim and rejection and silence, and then go back to the writer's desk to go through the whole thing again. You must believe in your own worth, your own voice, just as you must believe that an audience is out there, waiting to hear your tales.

A giant has passed from our world. Her spirit is now on the next journey. We will miss her greatly, but we will wish her Godspeed. Thank you.

2018-01-05

Happy 77th Birthday Hayao Miyazaki

Happy 77th Birthday Hayao Miyazaki

Today is Hayao Miyazaki's 77th birthday. Here's wishing a happy day with many more fruitful years to come. The director is busy working on his next "post-retirement" feature animated movie, which should be completed within the next three years. His newest animated short film, Boro the Caterpillar, is expected to be screened at the Ghibli Museum in Japan later this year (and, sorry, there are no plans for foreign distribution).

This photograph of a young Miyazaki is from the production of Horus, Prince of the Sun between late 1965 and early 1968. According to the documentary movie Yasuo Otsuka's Joy in Motion, the aspiring animator was 25 years old at the time of this picture, which would date it at 1966. Other than the hair color and lack of beard (which he didn't grow until the 1990s), he looks essentially the same. Imagine spending an afternoon in his company, when he was in the prime of his youth, full of energy and vitality and overwhelming ambition. At age 77, he still possesses more energy than most filmmakers half his age.

Personally, I'm glad that Miyazaki is back, even if only for a little while longer. Some artists should never stop creating, the relentless march of time be damned. As long as he can still hold a pencil, he should draw. The world needs his art. There are far too many loud, obnoxious and stupid cartoons crowding our movie screens, but there is never enough of Miyazaki. There is always room for more.

2017-12-29

Future Boy Conan Memorial Box (LaserDisc)

Future Boy Conan Memorial Box (LaserDisc)

Future Boy Conan Memorial Box (LaserDisc)

Future Boy Conan Memorial Box (LaserDisc)

Future Boy Conan Memorial Box (LaserDisc)

Future Boy Conan is the 1978 television anime series created and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Spanning 26 half-hour episodes, it tells the tale of a group of young heroes and their adventures in a post-apocalyptic world. It perfectly balanced the cliffhanger serial style of Miyazaki's younger years with the social commentary of his later works such as Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind. If you're a fan of Castle in the Sky, then you'll love Conan, which is definitely cut from the same cloth.

This LaserDisc box set was released in Japan some years ago, and like most classic anime series for the format, it is now a prized collector's item. You can find copies on Ebay easily, but expect to spend a lot of money. Even if you don't have access to a LaserDisc player, you can enjoy the packaging, as well as the complimentary art book, which goes into detail on the series, including a number of production art stills and screenshots.

Everything is in Japanese, and there are no English subtitles on any of the discs (the only English subtitled version of Conan at present is an online fansub copy). This will be a barrier to many Western fans, and we are reminded once again that so many of Miyazaki's pre-Ghibli works remain beyond our reach.

Why is Future Boy Conan not available on our shores? I suspected licensing (read: money) is the cause, as Nippon Animation owns the rights and do not appear willing to deal with anyone. Then again, we don't know if anyone has made any formal offers. The challenge in importing an anime series from four decades ago is quite high, as a new dub soundtrack would have to be produced, and the fanbase is far too small to cover the costs. Anime fans are typically teenagers and college students, and they have more than enough on their plate from the present; they don't have much time or patience for the "old" stuff. That's okay. You and I were the same when we were their age.

At some point, somebody will have to bite the bullet and bring this great series to our shores. Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have a solid cult following today, and that fan community is only growing over time. Sooner or later, they're going to discover that there's life beyond Totoro and Spirited Away, and movies that were made before Castle of Cagliostro and Nausicaa. I'll bet that if you sit down any Miyazaki fan and have them watch an episode, they'll become diehard fans of Conan just like you and me.

This reminds me, I really need to finish that Future Boy Conan blogathon that I began way back in 2011. By the time I reached the eighth episode, I was hit by writer's block, and couldn't find anything further to say. I need to finish that one up, certainly for the Ghibli book project and for posterity.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays From Ghibli Blog


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all our friends and followers from Ghibli Blog. Here's hoping that you're having a great time, that you got all the presents you wanted, and that the weather outside isn't unbearably cold.

Here's Totoro hanging out at the bus stop again. He doesn't have to go anywhere, he just likes hanging out for fun. Even he is a bit surprised at the arctic air that's blasting through North America right now. He's getting a full plate of a traditional "Minnesota Winter". That's okay, things will warm up soon. At least he has some snow to play around in.

Don't forget to also visit our indie publishing site, DT MEDIA, and consider purchasing or downloading one of my books. I'm already working on the next two manuscripts, including the mammoth "Conversations on Ghibli" book project that is seemingly never finished. Oh, well, whatever.

2017-12-14

Spirited Away Academy Awards Screener

Spirited Away Academy Awards Screener

Ghibli fan Molly DeWolff asks about this impressive little piece of Studio Ghibli memorabilia:

Hi! 
I found an academy screener copy of Spirited Away at my local library book sale and wondered if you could tell me a little bit about it? After relatively thorough google searching, your tweet about the same copy back in June of this year (though the one I found is NOT sealed) is the closest I came to finding anything like it. Is a copy like this collectible or worth keeping? Can you tell me where I can find more information on it? 
Thanks! I appreciate your help.

I shared some photos of this VHS Spirited Away screener on my Twitter page earlier this year. I found it on Ebay, which means one lucky Miyazaki fan now has this prized item in their collection. I'm a little envious, and I'm wondering right now why I never tried to buy it when I had the chance.

Movie "screeners" are commonly used in Hollywood during the awards season. Free copies are distributed to voters and judges, usually along with a nice gift basket, press kit or other promotional items. It is the same as any home video release, only without the endless commercials and with minimal packaging. Also, as this was distributed at the end of 2002, the Disney producers released on videotape. It's crazy to imagine that people were still watching movies on VHS barely only 16 years ago.

Right now, as I'm writing this post, a local Chicago TV station is broadcasting Mel Brooks' 1968 comedy classic The Producers. They're playing an old videotape. You can really hear the tape hiss in the background, the details are smudgy, the colors are bleeding everywhere, and the picture is cropped...but it still looks pretty good. I'm having a fun time. Heck, at this point, I'd feel very tempted to pop in this Spirited Away VHS and make a big bowl of popcorn.

Anyway, if you ever find any screener VHS tapes, hold onto them. They'll be worth something someday. Maybe. Whatever. Sentimental value is priceless.

2017-12-11

Future Boy Conan LaserDisc Box Set


Future Boy Conan is Hayao Miyazaki's 26-episode series that aired on Japan's NHK network in 1978. It was not a ratings hit, but the series has become a cult classic as Miyazaki's name rose to fame with the movies of Studio Ghibli. It may even be his finest achievement in animation, a perfect distillation of his many talents and personas. Action, adventure and romance crash head on into sober observations of war, decay and destruction. The buoyant, younger Miyazaki meets his cynical, older self that would soon emerge with Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind.

In the West, Conan remains virtually unknown, even among Ghibli fans. In Japan, however, the series has been widely celebrated on all the major home video formats, from VHS to Blu-Ray. Here is one excellent example of this: a glorious LaserDisc box set, featuring all 26 episodes on six discs and a large art book, all packaged in an impressive case design. This looks absolutely spectacular.

These Conan box sets are found on Ebay from time to time, and the price is quite expensive, as you would expect. At this point, it's really a conversation piece for the diehard fans. It certainly will look awesome on your bookshelf next to the other LaserDiscs and vinyl records. But would it actually be played often? Probably not, especially when a vastly superior Blu-Ray release is more easily available (and just as frightfully expensive).

Unfortunately, for English-speaking fans, no commercial release of Future Boy Conan includes English subtitles. It appears there was at least a cursory attempt at exporting the series, hence the "Engrish" title, "Conan, The Boy in Future." I don't have the heart to tell Nippon Animation that nobody actually talks like that. We've always used the direct translation of Mirai Shonen Conan, "Future Boy Conan." I just know that if we ever secured a Western release, this would become a major argument, just as we had a major fight over title "Horus, Prince of the Sun" a few years back.

I have no idea why Nippon Animation (the Japanese animation studio who holds the rights) has never successfully exported this series. Like most matters in the movie business, the answer likely comes down to money. Now that the show's creator is an internationally-famous movie director with two Academy Awards, the price tag has shot through the roof. Hey, this is their chance to cash in on that meal ticket.

Also, it must be said: there is virtually no interest or demand for Future Boy Conan in the States. Anime fans, who are largely teenagers and college students, won't touch anything they consider "old", meaning anything older than they are. They also won't touch Miyazaki or Ghibli, as they consider those too "mainstream". Ghibli fans, likewise, have little to no interest in anything Miyazaki or Takahata created before 1984. Believe me, I've tried. They like to share Totoro fan pictures. Beyond that, it's a struggle to gain any attention. Oh, well.

2017-12-09

Riffs: When Marnie Was There, My Neighbor Totoro, Omohide Poro Poro





Hiromasa Yonebayashi pays tribute to the Studio Ghibli movies in all of his work, and When Marnie Was There is chock full of them. Here is one easy riff for fans: Anna is wearing the same hat as Mei in My Neighbor Totoro. However, I was also reminded of Taeko's hat in Omohide Poro Poro. Maybe that's just me, or maybe it's intentional. You be the judge.

2017-12-07

Download My Ebooks For FREE on Amazon

Greatest Hits: An Anthology in Four Volumes

Pop Life

Zen Arcade: Classic Video Game Reviews

Update: The free ebook promotion has ended, but the prices are now only 99 cents. Please pick up a copy. You can also purchase a paperback for $19.99, which is the ideal format for these great books.

Good news, everybody! My ebooks are FREE on Amazon from now until Sunday, December 10. Please download a copy of each and leave a reader review.

Zen Arcade: Classic Video Game Reviews features 140 classic video game reviews for NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, Genesis, NEC Turbografx and Neo-Geo. Do you love retro games? Did you score that awesome Super NES Mini? Here's your guide. You've played the games, now read the book.

Pop Life features essays and stories on movies & television, music & audio, classic & modern video games, and politics & life. Oh, and there are a number of chapters on Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, Ghibli and anime. This book is awesome. It's funny and grouchy and feels like a classic rock double album.

Greatest Hits: An Anthology in Four Volumes is an anthology of stories, reviews and essays on pop culture and life. Read 26 chapters about Studio Ghibli. Read 20 chapters about the greatest video games ever made. Read about vinyl records and cool albums and great movies you shouldn't miss.

Remember, kids: the sooner you download my books, the sooner I'll get off your case and go back to posting Totoro pictures. I think that's a pretty fair bargain, don't you?


2017-12-06

Mary and the Witch's Flower English Dub Trailer



Studio Ponoc and Madman Entertainment have unveiled the first trailer for the English-language release of Mary and the Witch's Flower. As you would expect from an animation studio staffed by Studio Ghibli alumni, the art direction and animation looks wonderful. Colors just pop out of the screen with verve and gusto. Shots are skillfully composed, complex yet still easily understood. There is a great amount of creativity in these scenes. I'm really looking forward to seeing this movie in theaters.

I really enjoy this new dub. The actors are all sporting English accents, which fits the story much better than the typically bland Southern California accents you get most of the time. I am reminded of the brilliant UK-exclusive soundtrack for Arrietty the Borrower, which I greatly preferred to the US Disney version.

To longtime Ghibli fans, this movie looks like a mashup of Miyazaki movies. If you're used to playing the "Ghibli Riffs" game, then you will have a field day with this picture. I spotted a good number in this trailer, which I will detail in a future post. For me, I always enjoy spotting these unique easter eggs, and I'm glad to see the tradition continue into the next generation.

Mary and the Witch's Flower pulled in respectable numbers at Japan's box office, certainly nowhere near the level of Hayao Miyazaki blockbusters, but even the master himself wasn't able to sustain that stratospheric level of success forever. Studio Ponoc and director Hiromasa Yonebayashi should be proud of their accomplishments. He has really progressed as a director. I was one who felt that The Secret World of Arrietty spoke more to his future potential than his actual skills (the movie is entertaining but slight). When Marnie Was There showed great improvement in his filmmaking skills; still not quite to the level of Miyazaki, Takahata, Yoshifumi Kondo or Yoshiyuki Momose, but better than the other lesser known directors. Now he is ready to conquer the world.

If this trailer appears a touch too derivative of Ghibli, it's clearly a gesture of affection as much as a desire to carry the flame forward. Given the enormous costs of producing hand-drawn animation of this quality, all concessions to the mass market must be taken. Ponoc needs Ghibli fans to show up in force, especially in the home country. These folks need a big success so they can continue making movies. We don't want the spirit of Ghibli to truly die out.

Next time, however, I expect to see something truly original, something that breaks in a new direction. Perhaps we will even see another feature director emerge to lighten the burden on Yonebayashi's shoulders? I always thought Katsuya Kondo had great potential in the director's chair. I still cannot understand why Momose was never given a feature film at Ghibli; his Capsule music video trilogy is the best thing Ghibli created in ages. Just imagine if Toshio Suzuki tapped his shoulder to sit on the captain's chair...instead of Goro Miyazaki, the reluctant prince.

Mary and the Witch's Flower opens on January 18, 2018 in the United States. Get your tickets early.

2017-12-01

Riffs: Heidi, Girl of the Alps, Omohide Poro Poro


Riffs: Heidi, Girl of the Alps, Omohide Poro Poro

Riffs: Heidi, Girl of the Alps, Omohide Poro Poro

Of all the great works in the Hayao Miyazaki-Isao Takahata canon, it is Heidi that stands tallest. At least where the riffs stand. Nearly every one of the 52 episodes from the groundbreaking anime series has been quoted in the directors' later works. For those of you playing the "Ghibli Riff Game", you will never truly become a champion until you've spotted all those Heidi moments.

Here is but one terrific example. This shot from Omohide Poro Poro (Only Yesterday) of children running down the aisle of a train passenger car is directly quoting a shot from a later episode of Heidi, one in which the title character, her "Alm-Uncle" and her friends spend a vacation at the ruins of a great castle. Notice how characters wink back at the camera as they skirt on by. That's a very sly shot.

One extra riff tidbit: the Heidi episodes set at the castle (a completely original plot line that was never in the original Johanna Spyri novel) were later riffed in Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro, when Lupin and Jigen encounter the ruins of the Cagliostro family castle. And the elderly groundskeeper who speaks to them? He is voiced by the same Japanese actor who voiced the Grandfather in Heidi.

Better learn your Ghibli Riffs, kids.

P.S. I've been holding onto that Heidi screenshot on my computers since 2005, when I bought a Taiwan DVD Heidi box set and watched the whole series. No, there were no English subtitles, which was unfortunate, but I was able to follow pretty easily in my crummy toddler-level Japanese grammar skills. I'm still not any better.

2017-11-30

Toshio Suzuki Discusses New Hayao Miyazaki, Goro Miyazaki Projects

Goro Miyazaki

Japanese movie website Eiga Natalie reported on Wednesday that Studio Ghibli co-founder Toshio Suzuki has discussed details on Hayao Miyazaki's new film project. In the letter, Suzuki describes the movie as a "hand-drawn action-adventure fantasy". He also states that he understood Miyazaki's motivations for returning from his retirement after reading the story outline. He concludes by promising that Studio Ghibli will continue to make movies "until the day it fails."

Suzuki also revealed that Goro Miyazaki, the director of Ronja the Robber's Daughter, is working on a new CG animation project. The details of this project, including possible involvement by Studio Ghibli, were not revealed.

Thanks to Anime News Network for their reporting and translation.

2017-11-29

I Released Three Lousy Books

I Released Three Lousy Books

I'm trying not to go overboard like some desperate teenager in search of a prom date, so I'll keep this to a minimum. I wrote three books called Zen Arcade: Classic Video Game Reviews, Pop Life and Greatest Hits: An Anthology in Four Volumes. All three ebooks are now available on Amazon. The paperback editions are coming, as I'm only waiting for my proof copies to ensure quality.

Zen Arcade is a collection of 140 reviews for video games released on NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, Turbografx-16 and Neo-Geo. It's a great read and an enlightening look at the history of classic games. There are a lot of personal stories in there, and more than a few grouchy wisecracks. It's also wickedly funny. At least I think so. But what do I know? There are no pictures, which ensures that no gamers will ever look at it.

Pop Life is a collection of essays and personal memoirs on popular culture and life. You'll read about movies, music, games and politics. You'll read my praises and rants on Studio Ghibli, Pixar, Metallica, DEVO, Miles Davis, Michael Jackson, the War on Terror, and the passings of many people who were dear to me. It's basically a mashup of The Beatles' White Album and The Shining. Again, no pictures. I have no idea what I'm doing.

Greatest Hits is a collection (surprise) of essays on movies, music, games and life. It's an anthology that includes chapters from the previous two books, plus two books that are still unfinished: "Videogame Classics" and "Conversations on Ghibli." Yes, this is the book with 26 Studio Ghibli chapters. Again, no pictures, just text. Who the heck signed off on this? What a rip. No wonder this book only sold five copies. This sucks. I'm going back to Pokemon Go.

Anyway, you can find the links to my books on the right-hand column on the screen. Simply click on the covers and you'll be sent to Amazon. You'll also see other projects that I've worked on over the years, including the Lupin the 3rd box set, Horus, Prince of the Sun, and the Mi Vecino Miyazaki books from Spain. I loved working on all of these. I never made a dime from any of 'em. Whatever. Nobody cares.

(Snark.)

Seriously, though, check out my books. I worked hard on these projects. If I'm lucky, I'll make enough money to afford a Happy Meal. It's good to have goals in life.

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