Horus, Prince of the Sun Blu-Ray Arrives in March

On January 12, Discotek Media finally made it official: the landmark anime masterpiece Horus, Prince of the Sun is coming to Blu-Ray in March. I am really excited to finally share this with you, and all Ghibli Freaks should start saving their pennies.

Back in September, I was contacted by Discotek about their plans for the Horus Blu-Ray. It was something that I had anticipated as soon as I finished production on the DVD, and already had begun preliminary work on the future project. Once the official word was given, I immediately got to work.

The biggest addition to the Horus BD is an all-new audio commentary track, written and recorded by me. This replaces the audio track I recorded for the DVD, and it is vastly superior in every way. On this new audio commentary, I discuss the production of the film, the film's technical innovations, the early career of director Isao Takahata, and the influence of this film on the career of Hayao Miyazaki. We discuss who created the cast of characters (something I discovered when digging around asian fansites), the debate over "Horus" versus "Hols," the story behind the title "Little Norse Prince," and themes involving the Vietnam War and the role of the individual in society.

When recording the DVD commentary, I wanted to just riff in a conversational tone, using note cards as a reference point. That strategy proved to be an embarrassing failure as I suffered a terrible bout of stage fright. I felt like the frog from "One Froggy Evening," and I had to drag every thought and sentence out of my mouth over the course of a week. Finally, I started writing better notes, and took refuge in reading essays from other writers and scholars in the Ghibli fan community. I was found myself reading a Google translation of Buta Connection's Horus essays from French into a slightly mangled Engrish. And all of this happened very late at night. I recorded a series of short audio tracks and finally reached the end as dawn broke on deadline day. I sent over my work right at the moment of the final deadline, and I am eternally grateful to the Discotek crew for their support and patience.

I fought, struggled, quit, felt dejected, returned to the mike, fought another three rounds, and finally completed my first DVD audio commentary. It was hell, but I made it to the finish, completely exhausted. And let us not forget that I also wrote/edited the English subtitles (four revisions, no less), wrote/edited nearly all the bonus material (the only features not mine were Mike Toole's excellent audio commentary and the video interviews), wrote an "official" press release, and wrote the sales page for Amazon and other online retailers. And, of course, I fought like hell for the proper movie title, "Horus, Prince of the Sun" (Toei wanted Discotek to only use "Little Norse Prince").

For the Blu-Ray, I was much more prepared. The written essays were given a much-needed revision and copy edit, I updated the "riffs" feature to include more films, and I wrote a new description for the back cover, which is a great improvement (the DVD lifted the cover text from the Optimum UK DVD). The new audio commentary was the main focus. I wrote an extensive script for the entire length of the film, roughly 10,000 words, covering every Horus-related topic I could find.

Using a $40 USB microphone and a MacBook Pro in my apartment living room, I recorded nine audio tracks (breaking things up into smaller thematic segments) over the course of a long Saturday evening. I did several takes of each audio track, and felt far more loose and comfortable. I even recorded a final "thank you" track at the very end, just to be sure the commentary would run the full length of the movie. When finished, I felt very tired but very satisfied. I left nothing on the table, and said everything that needed to be said.

I have been a huge fan of Horus, Prince of the Sun ever since the earliest days of Ghibli Blog. Working on these projects have been an absolute thrill for me, and a true labor of love. I wanted to give this great movie the "Criterion" treatment that it deserves, and raise the bar for anime on home video. I just wanted to inspire everyone. I hope you will be inspired by this amazing movie.

As always, much thanks for your support. I consider this new BD to be the definitive take on Horus, and I can't wait for you to hold your own copy in your hands. I'll eagerly await your reviews and comments, and look forward to the next movie project. Be sure to pre-order your copy at Amazon today!

Masaski Yuasa Returns to Feature Film: Night is Short, Walk On Girl

Masaaki Yuasa is, in my humble opinion, the most exciting talent in Japanese animation today. He first grabbed my attention with his wildly inventive (and decidedly Fellini-esque) 2004 anime film Mind Game. In the years since, he has worked relentlessly on television, including Kemonozume in 2006, Kaiba in 2008, The Tatami Galaxy in 2010, Kick-Heart in 2013, and Ping Pong in 2014. Now he has returned at last to feature animated movies, and I couldn't be happier.

Night is Short, Walk on Girl is a fantasy romance adapted from a 2006 novel by Tomihiko Morimi, who also wrote The Tatami Galaxy (a number of key staff from that series has also returned for this film). The teaser trailer demonstrates Yuasa's obsessions with pushing the limits of animation, with cartoon surrealism, and with romantic obsessions. I was definitely reminded of the setup behind Mind Game, where a frustrated young comics artist tried to woo a beautiful woman he's known for years.

As always, I expect the unexpected. I love the elasticity and freewheeling spirit Yuasa brings to his work. He continues to push anime into uncharted territory, exploding and exploiting pop culture cliches, unleashing the limitless possibilities of the cartoon form. He doesn't seem like the type who would be offended by the word "cartoon," as though it were a lesser expression to remind us of Tex Avery and Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones and the Fleischers. I love the cinematic seriousness of anime as much as anyone, but I wouldn't become Puritanical about it. Just look at The Castle of Cagliostro for a perfect illustration of pulp realism mashed perfectly into Road Runner routines.

Night is Short, Walk On Girl will be released in Japan on April 7, 2017. Let's hope a US distributor picks up this movie (I'm still waiting for Mind Game, which popped up on Netflix some months ago). GKIDS, I'm looking in your direction! Don't let us down!

And tell somebody to wake up Ben Ettinger. He's a huge Masaaki Yuasa fan, and he's been in hiding since last summer.

Fun Fact: According to Wikipedia, Yuasa worked as a key animator on Isao Takahata's 1999 Studio Ghibli classic My Neighbors the Yamadas. That's very impressive if true, but it also adds to the great talent to slip through Ghibli's fingers. If only Miyazaki could have held onto Yuasa and Mamoru Hosoda. Heck, open the door to the occasional collaboration with Hideaki Anno and Mamoru Oshii. Then add in the studio's home-grown talent like Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Goro Miyazaki, Yoshiyuki Momose and Osamu Tanabe. Imagine that possible future!

Much thanks to Cartoon Brew for breaking the story. Great job as always, everyone!

Poster: Mary and the Witch's Flower

Here are the first movie posters to Hiromasa Yonebayashi's upcoming feature film, Mary and the Witch's Flower. Its design is pure Ghibli, which is no doubt the filmmakers' intention. They seek to continue the legacy of the world's greatest animation studio, to continue the rich legacy of Miyazaki and Takahata into the new century. And I'm sure there will be many surprises along the way. I can't wait!

Much thanks to Buta Connection for the poster photos.

The Son of Ghibli: Hiromasa Yonebayashi's "Mary and the Witch's Flower"

Today marks a major announcement from Japan. Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the Studio Ghibli director behind Arrietty the Borrower and When Marnie Was There, has announced his third feature film. It is titled "Mary and the Witch's Flower," and is an adaptation of Mary Stewart's book The Little Broomstick. Two trailers have been posted online, one for Japan, which promises a Summer 2017 release date; the second for the West, which promises an unspecified 2017 release.

And now for the bombshell news: Mary and the Witch's Flower will not be created by Studio Ghibli. Instead, Studio Ponoc will have the honor. This is a new animation studio founded in 2015 by former Ghibli producer (and Toshio Suzuki successor) Yoshiaki Nishimura. Several Ghibli alumni, including Yoshiyuki Momose, who directed several Ghibli short films, including Ghiblies Episode 2 and the Capsule music video trilogy (seen on the 2005 DVD Ghibli Ga Ippai Special: Short Short). Yonebashi has now joined their ranks.

Nishimura previously served as the producer on Isao Takahata's The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, which earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature (and clearly deserved to win, ahem). That trial by fire will no doubt serve him well with his new studio. Having a number of key Ghibli animators at the helm will also prove extremely helpful, not only for the shared filmmaking experience, but also in appealing to the movie-going public. Studio Ponoc will position themselves as the "Son of Ghibli," in hopes of winning over all those Hayao Miyazaki fans.

This teaser trailer looks absolutely spectacular, as vivid and lush and imaginative as any of the Studio Ghibli classics. This movie appears to be like a mash-up of Kiki's Delivery Service and Spirited Away, which could be an excellent combination. The animation and art design look sumptuous, wildly colorful. Yonebayashi has grown by leaps and bounds as a filmmaker. He promises that this feature will be very different from Marnie, which is the smart move. It's best not to become pigeonholed into one style.

I must admit, I was quietly hoping that Yonebayashi would return to Studio Ghibli for his next feature film, and the studio would hire its production staff on a contract basis, just as they had done in their early years. This will not be happening, unfortunately, but the artists and their craft will continue. Thank God this movie is being created in hand-drawn animation, and not CG! Given the enormous costs now involved in traditional animation, as well as its limited global appeal compared to 3D computers, this is a very bold move, and a welcome one. Let us hope for its success.

A few questions now emerge. One, what involvement does Studio Ghibli have in this production? Are they providing any financial assistance, or taking on a producer's role ala The Red Turtle? Will Suzuki or Miyazaki provide personal support to Nishimura and Yonebayashi?

And the final, most haunting question to ask: what will become of Studio Ghibli? It now appears unlikely that unless Miyazaki or Takahata return with a new feature film, the studio's days of feature animated movies have ended. There may be new short films created for the Ghibli Museum, and there may be more productions like The Red Turtle, but we should not expect anything else. The studio is now evolving into that of a holding company, a protector of legacies past. The final wild card, as always, is Goro Miyazaki. Nobody knows what he is planning, or if he even wants to continue making anime films. He could continue his father's legacy, move to another studio, or even return to landscape architecture. Anything could happen.

It's hard to face hard truths, but The Wind Rises and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya were farewell albums, just like Abbey Road. It now appears that The Beatles have truly disbanded. A reunion is not likely to happen. But we can look forward to the coming solo albums, which will plant the seeds for future greatness, a new Miyazaki, a new Takahata.

Thanks to Genercion Ghibli and Anime News Network for breaking the news.

Poster - Ocean Waves (Umi ga Kikoeru)

Here is the newly-released movie poster for GKIDS' theatrical release of Studio Ghibli's 1993 film, Ocean Waves (Umi ga Kikoeru). Looks great, very restrained and tasteful and clean. I do hope we will be able to purchase one of these. When is Ghibli going to start selling their movie posters? I always ask this question. One of these days, it's going to happen, trust me.

A big thanks to GKIDS for their support of Studio Ghibli, as always. Next item on the menu: the Studio Ghibli short films, including Hayao Miyazaki's On Your Mark and Yoshiyuki Momose's Ghiblies Episode 2. Stay tuned.

Umi ga Kikoeru (Ocean Waves) Coming to US Theaters

It has taken many years of begging and pleading, and now it has finally paid off: Studio Ghibli's 1993 TV movie Umi Ga Kikoeru (I Can Hear the Sea) is coming to North American theaters! With this release, all of the Studio Ghibli feature films will have been released on our shores.

GKIDS, who hold the theatrical distribution rights to the Ghibli film catalog (in addition to several home video releases), will release the film under its "Western" title, Ocean Waves, on December 28 at the IFC Center in New York City. An expanded theatrical release will then commence in January and continue through March. Cities and dates will continue to be added in the coming weeks, so stay tuned to find out if Ocean Waves is coming to a city near you.

Umi ga Kikoeru/Ocean Waves was a project for Ghibli's younger animators, and the first time Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata was not directly involved in a studio production. It is a romance melodrama involving several young adults who join together for their high school reunion, which sparks memories of old friendships, rivalries and romances. It fits squarely within Ghibli's "neo-realist" style, akin to Grave of the Fireflies and Omohide Poro Poro. This is a style of animation that Japan excels at, and is virtually nonexistent in the West. I would hope this movie helps to inspire artists and filmmakers to create new films in this style.

I'm a great fan of Umi/Ocean. It's a quiet story, understated and subtle and emotionally honest. The art design is restrained and natural, yet full of small details of modern Japanese life. And the final scene makes a dramatic homage to Yasujiro Ozu that never fails to amaze and inspire. I bought the Japanese DVD a decade ago, which also features a 40-minute documentary with the filmmakers, which I do hope will appear on the inevitable GKIDS release, which should arrive sometime next year.

Looking at the official website, I do not see any mention of an English-language dub, nor have I heard anything about any American voice actors cast for the film. We must assume that this movie will be presented only in its original Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles. This is probably for the best; this is a Japanese movie that doesn't try to sell itself to Americans. Hearing a cast of California actors would just be too jarring (this was an issue I had with GKIDS' dub soundtrack for Omohide Poro Poro). The Ghibli Freaks will buy movie tickets and will probably prefer the original film untouched. The mainstream public will not be interested in an animated youth drama. They'll be much happier watching Finding Dory again.

That's fine. Not everything has to become wildly popular or hugely successful. The most interesting things in life always lie off the beaten path. You have to search out and discover the true hidden gems. Umi ga Kikoeru is a true hidden gem. You should seek it out and treasure it always.

Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind: The Graphic Novel

Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind will always stand as Hayao Miyazaki's magnum opus, a true masterpiece of epic storytelling, thrilling action and brilliant art design. As the holiday season is upon us, this is the perfect time to purchase a copy of this graphic novel.  Fortunately, Viz Media offers two excellent versions: a deluxe box set containing all seven volumes in two large books, bound together in a hardcover case; and the individual seven volumes available separately.

Many years ago, Nausicaa was first released in the United States in a four-book series. That was the version I first purchased, and it's now long out-of-print, making it a prized collector's item. The newer versions, however, are superior in every respect, from page side to quality of translation. Die-hard Miyazaki fans, of course, will want to collect literally everything. They should begin here with these two different presentations.

The only improvement I would offer for any future release of Nausicaa would be to include Miyazaki's original publishing schedule for the monthly serial. It helps a lot to know just where he took his many breaks, usually to work on his feature animated films. These long breaks, ranging anywhere from one to three years, allowed Miyazaki to return with fresh insights and new ideas, resulting in a constant evolution of the story and its characters.

Many Miyazaki fans and Ghibli Freaks have yet to discover the man's many works in manga comics. If you've never read them, you're missing out on a third of his career, just as if you've never discovered the many pre-Ghibli films and television series. If you are among them, you owe it to yourself to have the Nausicaa books in your library. Ask Santa or Hannukah Harry to leave a set under your tree this year.

Visit Ghibli Blog on Twitter and Facebook

As Ghibli Blog passed its tenth anniversary this year, we* have been doubling our efforts to grow our brand on Twitter and Facebook. Both "franchises" feature unique content, as I scour the internets for Studio Ghibli swag, merchandise, news clips, and the occasional piece of fan art.

My goal for Ghibli Blog has always been to foster discussions and examinations of these great animated movies, and the longer articles will continue to appear on the main website. For shorter snippets and quick bites of Ghibli goodness, we post on Twitter and Facebook.

As we are planning our expansion into DT Media, our social media sites also cover movies, music and videogames. But I am always very mindful to keep Studio Ghibli in the center spotlight, so I don't want anyone worrying about a lack of focus. And this main Ghibli Blog website will always remain focused solely on "Ghibli, Animation and The Movies."

As always, our Twitter feed is available here on the main website in the middle column. Please join our social media community at Twitter and Facebook. We're very glad to have your support.

(*"We," of course, refers to myself and wife Marcee, who manages our Facebook page.)

Ghibli Blog on Feedspot's Top 100 Animation Blogs

Recently, RSS feed website Feedspot was kind enough to award Ghibli Blog as one of the "Top 100 Animation Blogs" on the internet. We're very honored and thankful for the recognition.

I promised Feedspot founder Anuj Agarwal to acknowledge with a shout-out not only on Ghibli Blog Twitter and Ghibli Blog Facebook, but also on the main website. And, hey, they even gave us a shiny medal. How cool is that?

Thank you very much for the appreciation, and, as always, much thanks to everyone who supports Ghibli Blog in all our franchise locations. We work hard every day to inform and entertain Ghibli Freaks everywhere.

Spirited Away and Ghiblies Episode 2 in US Theaters December 4/5

To celebrate its 15th anniversary, Studio Ghibli, Gkids Films, Hot Topics and Fathom Events are teaming up to release Spirited Away in a limited theatrical run in the US. Tickets are available online, as well as local theaters that are participating.

The English-language dubbed soundtrack (produced by John Lassetter and Disney) will be shown on December 4; the Japanese-language version (with subtitles) will screen on December 5.

The best surprise of all: Ghibli's 2002 short film Ghiblies Episode 2 will also appear at both screenings. This film played the opening slot of a double bill with The Cat Returns the Favor in Japan, and both movies area available together on DVD and Blu-Ray. This will be the first time Ghiblies has been shown outside of Japan. Hopefully, there will be a home video release on our shores in the near future.

Studio Ghibli theater events are pretty popular, so I would strongly advise buying your tickets quickly, before they run out.

Spirited Away 15th Anniversary: Theater Locations

Photos - Boro the Caterpiller

Details of Hayao Miyazaki's upcoming CG short film, Boro the Caterpiller, are few and far between. We still have yet to see any storyboards or production artwork or screenshots. The only detail yet shown is this illustration of the main character, who Miyazaki describes as "a tiny, hairy caterpillar, so tiny that it may be easily squished between your fingers."

Planned for a 2017 release, hopefully some new details will emerge soon. And perhaps we will also learn new details of the proposed Miyazaki feature film which may or may not happen. And you thought Studio Ghibli was finished!

Hayao Miyazaki Planning His Next Feature Film

You knew Hayao Miyazaki would never stay "retired" for long.

On Sunday, Japan's NHK network aired their latest program on Studio Ghibli, Owaranai Hito Miyazaki Hayao (Hayao Miyazaki: The Man Who is Not Done). The program followed Miyazaki at Studio Ghibli as he worked tirelessly on his latest animation progress, a  CG short film titled Kemushi no Boro (Boro the Caterpiller). This project is scheduled to be completed in another year, and will screen exclusively at the Ghibli Museum in Japan.

The surprise announcement by NHK, however, is that Miyazaki is now in the pre-production stages of a new feature animated film. Miyazaki reportedly grew unsatisfied with only working on a short film, and began creating storyboards for a full-length movie. Snippets of these storyboards are teased in the program (a longtime Ghibli and NHK tradition), and boards for 100 cuts are promised by the director.

This is in keeping with Miyazaki's filmmaking style, in which he creates the first act (of five) before production officially begins. The rest of the script and storyboards are created during the production itself, in a crazed, seat-of-the-pants style that somehow, miraculously, works.

The project has yet to be officially announced or even green-lighted. In his proposal, Hayao Miyazaki names Summer 2019 as a possible release date, or perhaps the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

As always, time is the most pressing issue for Studio Ghibli. The strain on staffing during the twin productions of The Wind Rises and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya proved too much for Miyazaki, who was forced to work clean-up animation on many cuts himself. It was this strain that finally convinced him to retire from feature film directing, although it had been planned as part of the studio's long-term strategy (where the baton was being passed to the new generation of directors, including Goro Miyazaki and Hiromasa Yonebayashi).

That physical toll, combined with the exploding production costs (even The Wind Rises failed to turn a profit), resulted in Studio Ghibli dismissing their full-time animation staff and continuing with a skeleton crew. The studio insists they are only taking a break, but their future remains questionable. Could a new Hayao Miyazaki movie turn Ghibli's fortunes around? Or is the Miyazaki brand name no longer bankable? Would audiences turn out for another "final" film?

Will the new Miyazaki movie become a reality? I certainly hope so, but I am also realistic. Time and budgets may be running out. The studio needs a reliable revenue stream to survive. Perhaps they outsource much of the animation work? Perhaps they hire staff on a contract basis, as they did in their early years? Perhaps Goro-san and Yonebayashi-san become reliable successes at the box office? Perhaps other media ventures (television, music videos, videogames) will become viable again? Questions abound from all directions, with few answers and no direction home.

Despite what you may have heard, kids, the long, strange trip is not yet finished. Stay tuned.

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