Riffs: Spirited Away, Mary and the Witch's Flower

Riffs: Spirited Away, Mary and the Witch's Flower

Riffs: Spirited Away, Mary and the Witch's Flower

It's no secret that Yonebayashi and Studio Ponoc see themselves as the next generation of Studio Ghibli. Many of their artists are alumni from the famed studio, and wish to continue the tradition of high quality, hand-drawn animation into the future. This will be a daunting challenge, as CG has completely overwhelmed everything in its path, but hopefully there will be enough people in the world who prefer the old ways. We will see.

Mary and the Witch's Flower at times feels like a mashup of all your favorite Hayao Miyazaki movies, including Kiki's Delivery Service and Spirited Away. Here, in this shot, we see a riff that points back to Miyazaki's 2001 Oscar-winning classic, albeit with a slight change in camera angle. It is here that Yonebayashi makes a fascinating choice: he quotes the Ghibli movies, but not in the slavish blink-and-you'll-miss-it style you see from other films. When Marnie Was There did the very same thing, quoting and riffing on Omohide Poro Poro and Spirited Away but used as a reference point, not simply a challenging bit of obscure trivia for the fans (or, most likely, the creators).

For me, the "Ghibli Riffs" are one of the most fascinating thing about these movies, if for no other reason than the fact that hardly anybody knows these things exist. If I have failed in any aspect with this website project, it's not properly cataloging all these obscure Easter eggs. Oh, well, whatever, nevermind.

Photos: Pom Poko

Photos: Pom Poko

Pom Poko is visually dazzling, wildly surreal, intensely multi-layered, and masterfully weaves together mock documentary, comedy and drama all at once. It's the most colorful and inventive of Isao Takahata's movies. And, yet, it is arguably the least appreciated of all the Studio Ghibli movies in the West, and I've never fully understood why.

Pom Poko is a very Japanese movie, drenched to the bone in that nation's history and mythology. It probably helps to know some of the folk tales and children's songs to appreciate its depths. For Westerners, it may be too "inside baseball" for casual viewers to grok. You can't just pop in the videotape and veg out on the couch. This isn't another formulaic cartoon that you can enjoy while getting your digital methadone fix on your smartphones. Participation is required. Patience is required.

When this movie was finally released on DVD in the US, I imagined that it could become a cult classic, especially among animation fans. Heck, stoner fans should be gaga for Pom Poko. The only thing that Americans ever took away from it: balls. Huh-huh-heh-huh, heh-heh-huh-huh. They got balls.

Sometimes you want to listen to David Bowie or Lou Reed or Tom Waits while everybody else just wants to hear happy pop songs. Oh, well, it's alright. It's life and life only.

P.S. This screenshot shows one of my favorite gags from the movie. Back in the days of picture tube televisions, you sometimes had to give them a hard whack to make the picture come in. This joke is probably lost on a whole generation of kids by now. But it was a real thing that you had to do.

Ghibli Fest: Howl's Moving Castle in Theaters November 26, 27, 29

Ghibli Fest: Howl's Moving Castle in Theaters November 26, 27, 29

Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 concludes with Hayao Miyazaki's 2004 sprawling epic Howl's Moving Castle in theaters on November 26, 27, and 29. This will include both "dub" and "sub" screenings, so everyone will be able to enjoy this great movie.

Of all the Studio Ghibli films, I feel that Howl benefits the most from the big screen. Miyazaki paints with a wide canvas, he fills the edges and corners with little details and grand, sweeping gestures. Its episodic structure reminds me greatly of the Nausicaa books, which made radical shifts in tone and style as its story progressed. This is Miyazaki at his most lavish and self-indulgent. Many people at the time were thrown off as a result, especially fans of Diana Wynne Jones. I don't think they were expecting an adaption of Howl's Moving Castle that chucks half the plot, kidnaps the characters, and then just runs on a wild tangent. But that's what Miyazaki does, and it's something you will either love or hate.

My frame of reference is Horus, Prince of the Sun and Heidi, Girl of the Alps. I'm from Miyazaki's corner of the world, so I can recognize his archetypes and themes. These may not match perfectly with the movie's source material, but the same could be said of Alexander Key's The Incredible Tide, a sci-fi novel that served as the foundation for Future Boy Conan (a Miyazaki and anime classic that neither Miyazaki nor anime fans want anything to do with).

I love the romanticism of this movie, the earnestness of its characters, the lush colors and details of its settings, the bold and varied color palettes. Sophie is the ideal heroine for this picture, a person who is transformed from a young girl to an old woman and back again. By the end of the movie, she is her younger self, but retains her 90-year-old shock of white hair. She is the embodiment of her experiences, paradoxes and contradictions. She's just like that enormous, lumbering castle in that sense.

This is a great movie. You should watch it. I know it will take you away from your phones and your digital sugar pellets, but trust me, you will survive and be better for the experience.

Please visit the Ghibli Fest website to find the nearest screening in your city and to reserve tickets.


Happy Birthday to Howl's Moving Castle

Happy Birthday to Howl's Moving Castle

A big happy birthday to Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, which was released in Japan on November 20, 2004. This movie is now officially a teenager, which explains Howl's crazy mood swings.

If nothing else, that crazy, disjointed castle is one of the zaniest creations Miyazaki has ever envisioned. It's the most entertaining bucket of bolts you'll find this side of the Millennium Falcon, with an added dose of Terry Gilliam weirdness.

I really need to watch this movie again. It's been too long.

Thanks For Nothing, Lasseter-San

Thanks For Nothing, Lasseter-San

Well, there goes any chance of ever getting this DVD released in the US. Thanks for nothing, jerkwad.

This rolling wave of harassment scandals sweeping Hollywood and Washington reminds me my freshman year in high school in 1989, when the Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain both crumbled. Every day, you were asking, "Who's next?" There was music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air.

I have great admiration for the Pixar movies, and will always respect John Lasseter the film artist. He helped to transform animation in a manner not seen since Walt Disney, for better and for worse. But his behavior is shameful, degrading and deeply destructive to countless lives. He needs to go. Now.

Let Pete Docter run the place instead. He's from Minnesota, he's nice. He's not a disgusting, hypocritical pig.

P.S. You just know that Hayao Miyazaki is going to dish out the trash talk, sooner or later.


Studio Ghibli Blu-Rays: Porco Rosso, Arrietty on November 21

Porco Rosso and The Secret World of Arrietty are the newest titles to be reissued this Tuesday, November 21 on Blu-Ray, courtesy of GKIDS. They join the catalog migration to their new home at the US animation distributor.

Compared to previous Studio Ghibli reissues, there does not appear to be any notable changes from the previous Disney-released titles. Both movies feature new cover designs which are a genuine improvement, although I did like Disney's Arrietty poster. There were hopes that GKIDS would succeed in securing the UK soundtrack dub for Arrietty, but they were unsuccessful.

In any case, every Ghibli collector will want to have these movies in their movie library. Both are excellent films that your family will love. I know that I will be picking up a couple copies of Porco Rosso for early Christmas presents. And Arrietty was the most successful of all the Studio Ghibli movies in US theaters; this movie has a very devoted fan following.

Artist Spotlight: Totoro and Friends

Artist Spotlight: Totoro and Friends

You can never have enough Totoro fan art, it seems. I'm always amazed at the level of creativity and inspiration this humble little movie has spawned. Sometimes I have to pinch myself and remember that My Neighbor Totoro was an extremely obscure movie in the West as recently as a decade ago. Yes, it had a measure of success on home video (read: VHS), but the wider public never really discovered Miyazaki. Today, there is a thriving and growing fan community.

I really like this painting, which incorporates several Hayao Miyazaki characters into a Classical Japanese watercolor art style. We even see a cameo by the director himself in the background. Totoro shares the spotlight with No-Face, the Soot Sprites, a Kodama and Catbus, who appears as a kite. The composition is nicely balanced, which is a challenge when there's so many characters in view.

The artist who created this piece did an excellent job. Unfortunately, I was not able to discover the artist's name, so if you know who is responsible for this painting, please pass it along so that we can give proper credit.


My New Books Are Now Available For Pre-Order

Greatest Hits: An Anthology in Four Volumes

Pop Life

Zen Arcade: Classic Video Game Reviews

Good news, everybody! I am happy to report that my new books are now available for pre-order on Amazon. Launch Day is this coming Tuesday, November 21. All three titles will be available in ebook and paperback. Simply click on the cover images to go directly to the Amazon pages, where you can pre-order the titles for your Kindle apps and ebook readers.

For "launch week," all three ebooks will be available for only 99 cents. This is a sale that will last from now until November 26, after which they will return to their normal prices.

The paperback editions will be available on November 21 for $19.99. Each book is 6" x 9" and ranges from 350-450 pages. These are big books.

Enjoy the new books, and happy pre-ordering!

Ghibli Fan Posters: Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Porco Rosso

Ghibli Fan Posters: Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Porco Rosso

Here are a pair of excellent fan-designed movie posters for two of my favorite Hayao Miyazaki movies, Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind and Porco Rosso. I really enjoy these designs, which incorporate an indie comic book style. Nausicaa evokes the surreal images of the Ohmu shell, with the title character seated near the eye and the toxic fungus. Porco Rosso evokes the myth and mystery of its central character, a legendary pilot who has renounced his humanity.

Poster designs like these always remind me of the way movie posters were made long, long ago. It was an established art form all its own, as movie collectors and fans will tell you. Once the conglomerates took over the major Hollywood studios, however, everything became subsumed by marketing hacks. Everything just became another crummy commercial. The age of Photoshop has been especially cruel. Movies can still be magical. Most of the time, however, they're nothing more than plastic, a disposable product designed for immediate consumption, discarded three days after opening. Meh.

I want classic movie posters again. Don't you? Of course, you do.


Mi Vecino Miyazaki Book Reaches 5th Edition

Mi Vecino Miyazaki Book Reaches 5th Edition

Mi Vecino Miyazaki Book Reaches 5th Edition

Mi Vecino Miyazaki Book Reaches 5th Edition

Mi Vecino Miyazaki, the excellent Spanish book dedicated to the films of Studio Ghibli, has now reached its fifth edition. This latest edition has been updated to include all the Ghibli movies released to this date, including The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There, The Red Turtle and Studio Ponoc.

In addition, the cover has been redesigned, keeping much closer to the follow-up book, Antes De Mi Vecino Miyazaki, as well as other animation books published by Diablo. I really like this design, it's very colorful and showcases all these wonderful movies in bold color and detail. The layouts have likewise been given a makeover, remaining as bold and inviting as ever, with generous use of screenshots and production artwork.

One unfortunate change, unfortunately, has been made to this book. In order to squeeze in the new chapters and updated content, authors Alvaro Lopez Martin and Marta Garcia Villar have removed the collaborators' contributions. These included short snippets from selected writers, including me. I sent them micro-reviews on several Studio Ghibli movies, and they published the piece on My Neighbors the Yamadas. That piece, and all the others, will no longer be available in the newest edition.

Combine these changes and additions to the new cover design, and it looks like the previous editions of Mi Vecino Miyazaki will become collectors' items. I hope you've already bought your copy so that you can show off to your friends in a few years.

If you haven't yet purchased this book, the latest edition of Mi Vecino Miyazaki is a must-have for all Studio Ghibli and animation fans. Highly, highly recommended.


Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus on VHS

Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus on VHS

Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus on VHS

Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus on VHS

This is a nice find from one of my recent Ebay searches: a Japanese VHS release of Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus, the second of two Panda short films created by Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe. I'm surprised to see that both cartoons are not included on this tape, but such things were common back in the day. All the better to get more money from the parents.

Of the two Panda cartoons, I like this one more. They're both great fun, of course, but Rainy-Day Circus has a wide and colorful cast of characters, a bouncy tiger, a runaway train, and a massive flood. You can't beat that.

Panda Kopanda always seems to fall through the cracks: too short to be considered a "movie," not enough episodes to be considered "television." Not many Miyazaki and Takahata fans are even aware that it exists. But that's a challenge that time will solve, as it has solved that same problem for the Studio Ghibli catalog.

Remember that Panda Kopanda is available on DVD from Discotek. It's a solid release and belongs in your movie library.


DT Media: Check Out Our New Website

DT Media: Always worth a browse - indie publisher of print and digital media.

DT Media: Always worth a browse - indie publisher of print and digital media.

At long last, the DT Media website is now live! Please bookmark and visit.

DT Media is the name of my indie publishing label that specializes in the creative arts, including art, photography, books and zines. Our website features a pop culture blog, an Instagram gallery, and an ever-growing library of published books and zines.

This month, we will release three new books: Zen Arcade: Classic Video Game Reviews, Pop Life and Greatest Hits: An Anthology in Four Volumes. Please click these links to visit each title's page, which features cover art, book description, and selected chapters for browsing. These pages will continue to evolve in the coming days and weeks, as we will include review clips from readers and critics.

I've spent the last 18 months writing, editing and assembling these books. The covers are fantastic, the content is fantastic. Once the Amazon pages are up, I will write a formal post announcing all the details. Expect that to happen this week (cough, Thanksgiving).

As I've stated, DT Media also features a blog which will be filled with regular content. For now, I am publishing reviews and articles that also appear in the books, such as the Ponyo review as seen in the screenshot above. There will also be new content, so please check for regular updates.

Ghibli Blog will continue as always. As you can see, I've been working overtime since September to provide essential content for this site that you cannot find anywhere else: news, reviews, essays, fan art, and more.

As always, if you want to follow the latest news and developments at DT Media and Ghibli Blog, please subscribe to our newsletter. When you join, you will also receive a free zine that is totally awesome and will make you the most popular kid on your block.

Much thanks, as always, and thanks for your support.

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