FLASH SALE: Studio Ghibli T-Shirts

Pop culture shirt designers Unamee is having a flash sale for their series of Studio Ghibli themed shirts. The original designs are based on a number of Hayao Miyazaki films, including My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle.

There's only 12 hours left on this sale, so be sure to hurry if you're interested.

Photo of the Day

The newly-completed CHS Field, the home for the St. Paul Saints, a minor-league baseball team. The stadium lies in the heart of lowertown, at the end of the "green line" light rail to Minneapolis (which ends, nicely enough, at the Minnesota Twins Target Field Station).

The previous Saints stadium was a shambling mess, hidden in the middle of nowhere, like so many attractions in the Twin Cities. Building a new stadium in downtown was a whip-smart move. This field looks spectacular, offers superb views from all seats, and is easily the best thing to happen to St. Paul in ages. Best of all: cheap-seat tickets are five bucks. Tickets to the new Minnesota Vikings stadium will run five thousand. Ouch.

ProTip: Actor Bill Murray is a part owner of the St. Paul Saints. He can be seen at games on rare occasions.

(Photo: The Minnesota Skinny)

Goro Miyazaki's "What is Animation Layout?" - French and English Translation

In 2008, Goro Miyazaki drew a one-page comic for Studio Ghibli's layout exhibition in Japan. The comic, "What is Animation Layout?" shows us how layout and storyboards fit into the production of animated movies. I wrote a post about this in 2012, showing the comic in its original Japanese. Now, thanks to the fine folks at Buta Connection, Goro-san's piece is now fully translated into French and English.

I continue to be amazed at how Goro-san draws himself: an almost-entirely empty face. He looks like Charlie Brown after one too many plastic surgeries. He's a blank slate, receding into the background against the dominant personalities of his father, Hayao Miyazaki, and the great Isao Takahata. The reluctant director as a living enigma...just who is Goro Miyazaki? This is the question he must answer, for himself and the outside world, if he is to become a successful filmmaker.

You will need to click on the comic panel to view in full-screen. It's a bit scrunched up as part of the post, as you can see above. Much thanks to Buta Connection, as always, and enjoy!

Angry Birds Movie Coming in Summer 2016

Smartphone video game developer Rovio is producing a $180 million Angry Birds Movie, set for release in theaters on Summer 2016.

Ghibli Blog has received an early draft of the script, including the explosive ending. Here, below, is a worldwide exclusive from The Angry Birds Movie:

(Ext. Scene)

Mouse: Hey, Angry Birds, you look like you have something to say? Do you?

Red Angry Bird: We certainly do!

Black Angry Bird: We have to go now. Our planet needs us.

(Fade to black.)

(Text on screen: "Angry Birds died on way to their home planet.)


Overnight Thread ("The McBain Movie")

"McBain" was The Simpsons' spoof of 1980s action movies, openly parodying the likes of Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Dirty Harry, James Bond, and anything starring Gov. Arnold. Some years ago, as I'm sure you've heard, some enterprising people realized that all of the bite-sized McBain clips could be assembled into a "full-length movie," and stitched everything together. It's actually quite entertaining; not exactly an intended hidden film, but more of a happy accident. You could probably do the same with all those '80s action movies.

Kids today are probably scratching their heads at that '80s Rambo culture. It was everywhere, in our movies, our video games, even our foreign policy. The old geezers in the Ronald Reagan administration certainly watched too many McBain movies, that's for sure. Ah, well. Time to punch up the Konami code for 30 lives, sit back, and have a few laughs with The Simpsons (insert tired "when they were cool" joke here).

Photo of the Day

Another Cat Bus photo. You'd think there would be a whole cottage industry around this.

(Photo: Imgur)

Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro Blu-Ray Arrives in April...and June?

Discotek Media, hot on their heels after releasing their excellent DVD of Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro, is ready to unleash the Blu-Ray edition. This new version includes all of the features from the DVD, including the Streamline Pictures and Manga Entertainment US dubs, newly-translated English subtitles, audio commentary by Lupin scholar (and project leader) Reed Nelson, restored trailers, a reversable cover design, and a slipcase cover.  All new BD-exclusive features include a mini poster, and interviews with voice actors Bob Bergen and David B. Hayter, who played the role of Lupin in the aforementioned dubs.

When will the Cagliostro BD be released? Well...that's a bit tricky. Discotek originally announced an April 28 release date on their website earlier this year. This month, however, the release date for "wide release" was set for June 23. According to sources, the official word is that Discotek will have the movie available for sale exclusively on their website in April, with the wider release (Amazon, major retailers, etc.) in June.

This is an interesting wrinkle. Perhaps this is simply a matter of resource management, as Castle of Cagliostro is hotly anticipated on Blu-Ray. Or perhaps Discotek is experimenting with a tiered release schedule in order to promote their own site's store. Because of wholesale prices, their take from direct sales will be much higher than sales via third-party retailers like Amazon. It is for this reason that I often advocate buying DVDs and BDs directly from the publisher store, if one is available.

I don't know if this is, in fact, Discotek's strategy. As they remain a two-man operation, handling direct sales will strain their limited resources (they really need to hire a staff, ahem...sliding resume under the door...). But those sales will result of greater revenues for the company, which is crucially important for a niche market as anime. This could be a very fascinating experiment, and I'm looking forward to the results.

As for the so-called anime "fans" who have held back from buying the DVD, now you'll have no excuse. If you're waiting for the Blu-Ray, here it is. Pony up the cash. This is a great movie, and a terrific company that deserves your support.

Disney Announces New Studio Ghibli Blu-Ray Titles

Disney has announced their final wave of Studio Ghibli titles on Blu-Ray Disc: Spirited Away and The Cat Returns. No release date has yet been announced, but we can rest assured that both titles will be available in the coming weeks.

With this announcemnet, Disney will complete their collection of Studio Ghibli feature films Blu-Ray. However, there is one glaring exception: My Neighbors the Yamadas, Isao Takahata's 1999 animated feature. Yamada-kun was one of the first Ghibli BDs released in Japan, and its endless delays on American shores puzzled fans. Today, with Disney's announcement, and given their history of grouping together several titles in a "release wave," it appears that Yamada-kun will not be released on BD at all.

As always, the relationship between Ghibli Freaks and Disney has been a challenging one, to say the least. Critics will point to endless foot-dragging, painfully slow release schedules, and an uneven track record in the quality of English language dub scripts. But there is much to celebrate: a decade ago, none of these movies were available in the US, apart from My Neighbor Totoro, which was held by Fox and available in a dub-only, pan-and-scan DVD. Today, nearly all of the Ghibli features are available at any major retailer.

Is it puzzling and a little frustrating that My Neighbors the Yamadas won't be released? Of course. But I don't believe Disney is doing so out of spite. Okay, maybe just a little. Their relationship with Hayao Miyazaki was also, shall we say, challenging. I don't think they ever got over the "Godfather"-esque incident with the samurai sword in Harvey Weinstein's mailbox. But I'm thankful for what we do have. And Miyazaki-san has two Academy Awards.

And, of course, it goes without saying that I would love to see Ghiblies Episode 2 included with The Cat Returns. The Yoshiyuki Momose-directed anthology short film played in Japan on a double bill with Neko no Ongaeshi ("The Cat Returns the Favor"), and the two make a fine pair. Left on its own, the main feature is a bit lacking. Oh, well, another reason to add the Japanese import to your library.

Apart from Disney, the following Studio Ghibli movies are available on Blu-Ray: Grave of the Fireflies, from Sentai Filmworks; From Up on Poppy Hill, The Story of the Princess Kaguya, and When Marnie Was There, from GKids Films. Omohide Poro Poro and Umi ga Kikoeru remain unlicensed, and unlikely to ever see a US release. Ghibli's many short films, and particularly the 2005 DVD Ghibli ga Ippai Special: Short Short, have never been released outside Japan.

Art Gallery For the Day

Midnight Magic (1999)
Watercolors and Liquid Paper on paper, 20" x 30"

The title "Midnight Magic," comes from a Broderbund video pinball game for the Atari 800 back in the early 1980s. It was amazing in its day, I loved it dearly. An Atari 2600 version was created sometime around 1987, and was one of my favorite "go-to" video games that year. Atari and the Minnesota Twins, what a year!

This painting was the first full-scale watercolor painting I created, in several sessions during the summer months of 1999. I believe I moved to watercolors and paper after working with acrylics and canvas, just to experiment and stretch my wings and play around. I was working to learn my craft and having a lot of fun.

I always felt that this piece had a certain 1960s "Jetson" quality to it, in the funky shapes and colored polygons and dashing lines. The use of Liquid Paper, the Kinko's (now Fed Ex) brand of correction fluid, was a common tool in my arsenal for many years. I created my fanzine covers with this stuff back in '94 and '95. As I studied and practice fine arts and abstract paintings, I worked to incorporate those skills into these more conventional tools, such as acrylics and watercolors.

Above all, I was trying to create something new, something unique. I wasn't interested in copying what all the other University of Minnesota students were doing, and it seemed that so much of their art had a same-ish quality. The students were learning from their teachers, after all, and had yet to develop their own voices.

I think this is probably why I enjoy the great musicians like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Bob Dylan and The Beatles. I enjoy that relentless searching for the new frontier, for the new discovery. I'm probably still that way, although time and experience has a way of forcing you into a groove. When you're 21, everything is wide open and new; when you're 41, you're already building your castle on the hill.

Ah, well. I still like this piece. Hopefully it doesn't look too messy. It's a testament to the idea that anyone can create. Even you and I.

Overnight Thread ("The Sky-Colored Seed")

"The Sky-Colored Seed" (Sora Iro no Tane) was a 1992 short film created by Yoshifumi Kondo for Studio Ghibli, broadcast on Japanese network NHK to commemorate their 40th anniversary. This film, the second directed by Kondo (the first being Telecom's 1984 Nemo pilot).

This short film is composed of two segments, and run roughly 90 seconds in all. It's based on a children's book by Reiko Nakagawa and Yuriko Omura. In the story, a boy with a toy airplane meets a fox carrying a seed. The two agree to exchange, and the boy plants the seed into the ground, which grows into a large house that draws together all the animals of the neighborhood. The fox returns, and in his jealousy, demands the return of his seed for the boy's toy plane, and expels all the animals from the house. The house continues to balloon in size, until it pops against the sun, evaporating instantly. The fox is left alone, bewildered.

It's a great little film, cheerfully animated and rendered in that "children's storybook" style. Here is a good example of Studio Ghibli demonstrating their skills, moving beyond the typical "anime" look. Their strong Western influence and willingness to experiment visually has always been the studio's greatest strengths. You never quite knew what to expect from Studio Ghibli. They were always coming up with surprises.

It's hard to realize that we've been without Yoshifumi Kondo for almost 20 years. His loss, in my opinion, proved crippling to Studio Ghibli. I can't say whether he could have crafted an endless supply of blockbuster hits, ala Hayao Miyazaki's blockbuster period, but any new Kondo film would be wonderful, unique, peaceful, humane. The world needs more artists like that, and more charming little movies like The Sky-Colored Seed.

Photo of the Day

Exterior and interior shots of the legendary Metropolitan Building, the first true "skyscraper" built in Minneapolis, and once the largest US building west of Chicago. Built in 1890 as the Northwest Guarantee Loan Building, it was sold to Met Life in 1905, giving the building its famous name.

The Metropolitan is best known for its luxurious interior, with a massive skylight and transluscent green glass for the balcony floors. Metal lattice on the railings and open-view elevators complement the design. The building stood 12 stories tall, and was the largest in Minneapolis until the construction of the Foshay Tower.

Tragically, the Met was destroyed in 1961 as part of a massive urban renewal program, which demolished all or part of 25 downtown blocks. The city of Minneapolis has never fully recovered from the devastation, which succeeded in removing its despised "skid row," but destroyed countless buildings in the process. Many of these classic structures are now empty parking lots facing empty streets. Today, thanks to the Millennial Generation, people are moving back, and a building boom is underway. Hopefully, we can finally recover the spirit of that old city that was lost.

In a just world, the city of Minneapolis would rebuild the Metropolitan as a luxury hotel and rooftop cafe. Heck, rebuild the old Post Office building that once stood next door, another magnificent landmark, and turn that into a museum. Can you believe that downtown Minneapolis has no museums? The Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Walker Art Center lie a couple miles south, buried in residential districts. No museums, no tourist traps, we don't even have a McDonald's or Dunkin' Donuts. You can't throw a rock in downtown Chicago without hitting a Dunkin' Donuts. This is what you get in a city that's afraid of its own shadow. Just hide inside the office towers, hide inside the skyways, and escape to the suburbs at five.

Oh, well.

"Mi Vecino Miyazaki" Book Publishes Second Edition

"Mi Vecino Miyazaki," the Studio Ghibli movie book written by Alvaro Lopez Martin and Marta Garcia Villar from Generacion Ghibli, has now published its second edition. Some minor edits and updates are included in this latest printing, keeping the book up-to-date for Ghibli and animation fans everywhere.

It's good to see that this book has sold so well. Here's hoping the second edition is equally successful. Be sure to grab your copy if you haven't yet done so, but remember that this book is en espanol. English speakers will still enjoy having this excellent volume in their libraries.

(Full disclosure: I contributed a short capsule review of My Neighbors the Yamadas for this book.)

When Marnie Was There Blu-Ray/DVD Release

When Marnie Was There, the 2014 Studio Ghibli feature film directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Arrietty), was released to Blu-Ray and DVD in Japan on March 18. The packaging features the silhouette designs and cardboard cover of Ghibli's BD series, and looks terrific as always. Picture and audio quality should be fantastic, and well worth the price of importing. A DVD is also available at a lower price, and should also look excellent. Dedicated fans, of course, will want to own everything.

Here in the USA, GKids is preparing Marnie for a theatrical run, perhaps the final Studio Ghibli movie to appear on our movie screens. Expect GKids to also release the Blu-Ray, although no specifics have yet been announced.

(Photos: Blu-Ray.com Studio Ghibli Import thread)

Art Gallery of the Day

Take the Power Back (1999)
16" x 20", Acrylic paints on canvas

I've always enjoyed this painting, part of a series of acrylic paintings in 1999. It was a lot of fun to create, as you could guess. Abstract Expressionism is often just a good excuse to make a big, enormous mess.

If I recall, I most likely used paints that were available in the basement of the college boarding house I was living in that year. It was a large house, many rooms, with a spacious living room with TV, a scary kitchen you wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole, and a very large and spacious basement that would have made an excellent rec room.  I used that space as my "studio" for painting, with the canvas on the concrete floor, paper or plastic underneath to contain the mess.

These kinds of paintings require a variety of techniques, not just wildly throwing paint everywhere. One has to follow rules of composition and form, an understanding of what the picture frame sees, and what you want to capture. In that sense, it's very much like a camera. The entire world is not contained within the frame; you are merely observing a portion of a greater whole. This observation, I believe, is often overlooked by painters, as they try to keep everything within that confined space.

Three dimensional space is crucial, not just into the picture frame, but beyond its borders.  That's a very important lesson for this style of art.

Heidi, Girl of the Alps #01 (English Subtitles)

It took four decades, but we finally have the Heidi series with English subtitles. Much thanks to the dedication and hard work of the fansub community, who worked across many years and several different parties to provide us with the final, and most significant, masterwork of Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki, and Yoichi Kotabe. This landmark series spearheaded Japan's anime boom in the 1970s, and became an international success around the world. Heidi may be the first truly "global" anime series.

I've raved about this classic series enough times, so I don't feel the need to add to the hype. I've long argued that the three World Masterpiece Theater series of the 1970s - 1974's Heidi, Girl of the Alps; 1976's 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (Marco); 1979's Anne of Green Gables - are the true masterpieces of the Takahata/Miyazaki canon. The Studio Ghibli movies owe everything to these three, like short novellas derived from the great epics. And everything comes back to Heidi.

To all of the Ghibli Freaks out there who are weeping over the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki and the fading away of Studio Ghibli, have we got a surprise for you. You thought you've seen everything? You've only scratched the surface.  Here's the first episode of Heidi, with 51 more episodes to follow. After that, 52 episodes of Marco, 50 episodes of Anne...oh, and 26 episodes of Future Boy Conan. Why the heck don't Western Miyazaki fans know about Future Boy Conan? Isn't that the weirdest thing?

Ah, well. Here is episode one of Heidi, presented with English subtitles. Isao Takahata was the director, Hayao Miyazaki the scene designer and "idea man," and Yoichi Kotabe the animation director and "character designer" (the first time this term was used in an anime production, coined by Takahata).

Overnight Thread ("Shinders to Shinders")

"Shinders to Shinders," a 1982 short film directed by (then) 27-year-old photographer Daniel Polsfuss, is a surreal fantasy tribute to the notoriously daring, dark and sleazy "Block E" in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. Much like a parallel to Prince's Purple Rain, this film serves as a time capsule to the early '80s, with its dance choreography, hip-hop, pinball, funky hair, and dirty streets.

It's probably hard to imagine that Minnesota - the "wonder bread" capitol of dull, safe blandness - could have a sleazy city block straight outta Manhattan. But Block E was such a place. Its businesses included a Shinders bookstore (one of two on Hennepin Avenue, hence the title), a McDonald's, a record store, a famously dangerous dive bar ("Moby Dick's), and various sex shops that once plagued downtown streets. The wrecking ball, and the internet, drove everything to extinction in time.

In 1988, Block E was demolished, viewed by the city as an embarrassment and an eyesore. The lot remained empty for over a dozen years. What finally replaced Block E? A lousy, dull, soulless, witless suburban shopping mall, containing a number of equally dull and soulless franchise restaurants. They all failed, and the "Disney" version of the block languished for years as well. Today, in 2015, the site is being rebuilt again, this time as a Mayo Sports Clinic and practice space for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx basketball teams. The beloved Kieran's Pub remains in the back, across from the Target Center, and it's one of the best pubs in Minnepolis.

Ah, well. The history of downtown Minneapolis is replete with such stories, of crazy, dangerous, but fully alive blocks demolished to make way for the wonder bread suburbans, who hide inside the skyway hamster rubes, looking for another Applebee's. It's a lot of back and forth. We look to the young Millennial Generation to turn the page once again, as they flow back into downtown, revitalizing districts that have been all but abandoned for decades. I certainly wouldn't want to see the sleazy sex shops return, nor the drug dealers. But I certainly want for something more than just another indoor mall.

Sleep tight, kids. Enjoy the time capsule, and realize that this is how your parents once dressed when they were your age. Try not to laugh to loudly.

Overnight Thread ("The Story of Heidi")

One of the great cruelties for animation lovers is how Heidi, Girl of the Alps - the landmark anime series created by Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe - became an international success everywhere in in the world, except for the United States. For reasons that remain unknown, this classic cartoon series was never broadcast on our shores.

However, there was this one exception: a "greatest hits" movie compilation of Heidi which appeared on VHS. I don't yet know who was responsible for publishing the title, or who produced the English language dub. The videocassette is long out-of-print and a rare find on Ebay. If you find a copy, expect to pay a hundred dollars or more.

Here is "The Story of Heidi" in its entirety. It skims over the 1974 TV series fairly well, thanks to the concise structure of the original children's novel, and Takahata's expert pacing. I do believe he was also responsible for the "movie" versions of Heidi, Marco and Anne, although he was never very happy with the idea of truncating his masterworks. But business is business.

Let's see how busy I am tomorrow, and if we can't get a few posts published Monday. Enjoy the Heidi video!

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