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2008-07-31

Gedo Senki (Tales From Earthsea) R2 DVD

In the comments on the previous post, a reader asked about the Gedo Senki DVD and whether or not it was legit. I can't say for certain since I wasn't given any links, but I thought I should clear things up for everyone who's interested in importing the movie.

The Region 2 DVD for Gedo Senki should be easily recognizable for any Ghibli fan, as the packaging follows in the same vein as their other DVD's. You have the familiar logos, and layouts are the same, and the usual plethora of extras and bonuses are included (the e-konte storyboards, for example). Tales From Earthsea also follows on the heels of Howl's Moving Castle (Ghibli's previous feature film, duh) by including a standard and deluxe DVD package. The deluxe versions include more discs containing extras, more behind-the-scenes features and such.

Strangely enough, the only Ghibli DVD from Japan to feature any audio commentary is Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind. Surely, that was such an important landmark film, for anime and Miyazaki's career (Nausicaa's success at the box office led to the founding of Studio Ghibli a year later). I'm a bit surprised that commentaries have not been included on any of the later DVD's. Perhaps this is more of a Western concept.

Back to Gedo Senki. The most notable inclusion for the R2 DVD is the English dubbed soundtrack. This is, in fact, the official Disney-produced dub, and fully intended for the eventual North American release. We are reminded, in case anyone forgot, that the Sci-Fi Channel owns the rights to Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea saga due to their made-for-tv movie a few years back. Those rights will expire in 2009, and this has prevented Goro Miyazaki's movie from being released here, either in theatres or on DVD.

It's pretty good timing, in any event, since 2009 should see the American theatrical release of Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea. I would expect Disney to release at least a couple new DVD's to coincide with the latest Hayao Miyazaki classic. So I would fully expect to see, sigh, Goro's film, complete with the Disney soundtrack ready to go.

As for any other DVD's that could be released, I dunno. No clue. I'm only guessing here.

2008-07-24

Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea - The Full Trailer



This just looks magnificent. It's going to be a fantastic movie, and no doubt it's all gangbusters in Japan, where Ponyo has finally arrived.

I know this will be a common refrain from animation fans the world over, but Ponyo is entirely hand-drawn. There isn't a single frame of CGI in the entire movie, and nothing has been xeroxed or photoshopped. 180,000 drawing. And when you consider the shockingly short production times for the Studio Ghibli movies, the mind boggles. Do these artists ever sleep?


Ponyo is going to be fantastic.

2008-07-06

Wall-E Already Surpasses $100 Million

This is very good news for Pixar fans. Wall-E has already rushed past the $100M mark after a little more than a week. This is a movie nearly everyone seems to love, so I'd expect a lot of repeated viewings during the summer. I know I want to see it again. Hmm....maybe I should be doing that right now...

Wall-E's success at the box office will prove excellent news if it reverses the downward trend of Pixar's last several features. After reaching a peak with Finding Nemo, each film has earned less and less money. Mind you, this is using the mindset of the Hollywood suits, where your movie can makes gobs and gobs of money, only to be declared a "failure" because it didn't reach the imaginary numbers the suits pulled out of the ground.

But in this game, expectations rule, and success means clout. It means more power to Steve Jobs and John Lasseter and the fine artists at Pixar. Which means greater freedom, greater leeway, to take more daring risks, stretch animation into newer directions, and - yippie - more leeway in promoting movies like Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea. I'd like to see that movie shown on more than 200 screens. Wouldn't you?

Ghibli's Ponyo Website Updated

If you pay a visit to Studio Ghibli's official site for Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea, you'll find a number of fine surprises. True, it's harder if you don't know Japanese, which means reading is out. But if you click on the left-hand links to the main sections, you'll find the press section. It's actually the third link, with a series of sub-links below.

This is a great addition to the Ponyo site, because it includes many new screenshots from the movie. These are some really spectacular shots; that Miyazaki genius shines through yet again. Perhaps it's better if we can't read the text; it's best to avoid spoiling any surprises, and this way we can just admire the great skill of the Ghibli artists. I can't believe we have to wait until next summer to see this movie. I feel like a kid sitting on Santa's lap.

I just happened to visit the Ponyo site after reading Michael Sporn's weekend rants against the state of contemporary animation. He fears that classical animation - the kind that inspired him to create and inspires him today - has been lost to the CGI boom that has swallowed up most major Hollywood pictures. It's true that so many of these blockbuster movies rely so heavily on computer animation that they only barely qualify as "live-action." It's true that a creeping sameness has pervaded most CGI. There's a cold mechanic feel to so much of it, like everything's been designed for consumption as videogames.

Art, true artistic talent, remains in low supply. If it weren't for Pixar, I don't know where America would be with animation. Michael Sporn disagrees with me on Wall-E (I loved it, he didn't), but I think he's spot on with his fears and creeping "old man rants." Heck, I do that enough myself. But hasn't it always been that way? The old saying, "90% of everything is crud?" We remember The Beatles, and forget the countless copycats and wannabees. Heck, I remember one of my favorite '90s catchphrases, "Nirvana-wannabees."

So my prescription to everyone who's worried about the great cartoons and animated features of their youth, the kind of magical illusion that captured their hearts, go over and pay a visit to Ponyo. I think you'll find your mood and imagination improving quickly. This movie is going to be great. Really, really great.

Today's Photos - My Pro-Ject Debut III Turntable






Today, for no reason whatsoever, I'm posting photos of my current turntable. This is a Pro-Ject Debut III, a popular entry-level table. I bought it for $300, which is a steal when you're talking about hi-fi audio. Most turntables don't start to become interesting until you pass $1,000. That's just the table itself; a good phono cartridge is essential, as is a good phono pre-amp, and various tweaks and upgrades. Yep, analog music is a pricey hobby. It's truly a labor of love.

I've made a few upgrades to the Debut III. The standard-issue steel platter has been replaced with a clear acrylic platter, which deadens much of the outside sound and significantly improves sound quality. It also happens to look terrific - I really need to attach some blue lights to the back, so it can glow in the dark. You'll also notice all the gold - that's one of my personal tweaks, just to make the table look cooler. I used a can of gold spray paint, which has been the secret weapon in my artist's arsenal for a decade. Much of my artwork from 1998-2001 revolved around cans of gold spray paint.

The phono cartridge is another major upgrade. Pro-Ject Debut III comes with an Ortofon OM-5E cart attached, but it's barely adequate. In fact, it's a pretty terrible cartridge, enough to make you question why you didn't save up for a pricier table like the Pro-Ject Xpression III or RM-5. If you buy this turntable, upgrade the cart as quickly as possible. Have your dealer attach the new one in the store if you have no experience switching carts.

My cart is a Denon DL-160, a moving-coil cartridge that sells for $180. Sounds expensive? For a quality phono cart, this is still squarely in the "budget" range. It may seem like a lot of money, especially if your idea of playing music is switching on your iPod. In the world of analog music, you get what you pay for. And the Denon DL-160 is a fantastic cart. It will bring out details and depth of sound you never knew existed, and the sound is warm and silky smooth.

As music formats go, the vinyl LP is superior the CD and digital music. If you join the vinyl revival, you'll want to be able to prove that point to your doubting friends. So if you purchase a Debut III table, the acrylic platter and DL-160 cart will win your friends over. Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy and Miles Davis' Kind of Blue have never sounded better to my ears.

And, yes, it is true that you will find an even better sound - more depth, larger soundstage, greater range - with more expensive turntables. But thanks to the fiscal management of Bush/Cheney and the Republican Party, the once Almighty Dollar is hobbled and broken. And all these wonderful turntables are becoming more and more expensive, thanks to currency exchanges. Which means your price point for the next level of tables is hovering around $1,000.

You will get what you pay for, but you also have to be a real dedicated audio junkie before you shell out that kind of money. At some point, you have to be practical about playing that Led Zeppelin IV that you paid three bucks for. So if you're curious about vinyl records ("vi-curious?"), then the Debut III is a good place to start the journey. You'll discover in time whether you get the "tinkering bug," whether the high-definition audio of analog speaks to you, whether you truly enjoy searching through used record shops like a pirate.

If you really get hooked, there's a whole crazy universe for you to discover. Tinkering, tweaking, and did I mention vaccuum tubes? Ah, yes, the glorious vaccuum tubes. My two next upgrades for my table include a Speed Box, which regulates the speed of the motor, tightens the sound, and allows me to play 33's and 45's at the press of a switch; and the Tube Box II, a phono pre-amplifier which includes two vaccuum tubes to enrich the sound. After that, time to purchase a pair of speaker stands (the kind you can fill with sand), and a new cabinet, one that's lower and can fit all the components of my ever-growing entertainment system.

It never ends, does it? But it's worth it, kids. Analog music really is worth it.

P.S. If you're curious about those brown squares supporting the table and the Marantz stereo (a 1977 classic I picked up for $65!), that's another one of my crucial tweaks. Because the phono cartridge's needle picks up everything - and I mean EVERYTHING - in your local environment, you need to isolate your components from vibrations and unneeded sounds. Everything that shakes and rumbles through your area, be it walking feet, the slamming doors, even cars driving down the road a quarter-mile away, muddies your sound. You need to decouple and isolate your system to get the most out of your sound.

There are many ideas you can try for little or no money, and this is a great way to discover if you have the tweaking bug (turntables are just like hot rods this way). What I used are vinyl floor panels (for kitchen tiles), cork board, and foam drawer liner. These can all be had very cheaply, and were also a good source for making your own platter mats (you won't need a mat with an acrylic platter).

The turntable and stereo receiver are set on a sandwich of vinyl floor panel, with alternating layers of cork and foam inside. This dramatically reduces outside noise, and greatly sharpens the sound of the music. There is greater seperation between instruments, each sound is more disctinct, there is greater depth in the background, and drumming is especially punchier, sharper, and more detailed. I wouldn't be boasting of this if it hadn't worked so well. It really improved the sound of my records enough to qualify as a major upgrade. By also moving the speakers two feet away from the wall and raising them off the ground, I've managed to add a couple thousand dollars to the sound.

So that's my final bit of advice for you. Before you decide to run off to the store and spend enormous sums of money to "upgrade" your sound system, give these tweaks a try. You'll achieve fantastic results and save your wallet in the process. You'll need that money when the Bush Depression hits.

2008-07-02

Jarinko Chie - Fansub Link Now Available


As promised, I've finally added the direct link to the fansub for Jarinko Chie. This is a great announcement, and long overdue. Now you can enjoy this great Isao Takahata comedy without having to learn Japanese.

I'm thrilled to be able to see this movie with subtitles; however, I'm still a bit disappointed that none are included on the Japanese DVD. Which I happen to own, of course. When you're a dedicated enough fan, you don't let something as silly as language get in the way.

The Pixar Blog

I'm always looking for good animation blogs to link to, so I've added The Pixar Blog to the rolodex. Pay 'em a visit and say hello when you get the chance.

Sherlock Hound - Blu-Ray DVD


Since I'm mentioning Jarinko Chie, I should also mention this Blu-Ray DVD which should be released on the same day, July 25. Sherlock Hound is a personal favorite of mine, one of the best examples of Hayao Miyazaki's classic adventure serial style. That only six episodes were created is such a shame, a lost opportunity, but what a great run.

I should point out, however, that this BR release contains only two episodes. Baffling, to say the least. But these two episodes were shown as the opening shorts to Nausicaa in 1984; in fact, this was the first time that Sherlock Hound (or "Meitantei Holmes" - "Famous Detective Holmes" - in Japanese) was ever shown. Of course, the wise decision would be to include all six original Miyazaki-directed episodes. Heaven knows this isn't breaking the bank on the BR format. Who in their right mind would shell out money for one measely hour? What cheapskate genius made that decision? Is it just me, or does it seem like corporate executives everywhere are melting down? This isn't as bad as selling SUV's while peak oil strikes, but it's pretty lame.

Given this, I really couldn't recommend this for a purchase. If we had all six episodes, then I'd definitely give the green light. Perhaps someone will import this series for the North American market and fix this problem. Considering that Pioneer's Sherlock Hound DVD's are now out-of-print, there's a large Miyazaki-sized hole that needs to be filled.

For everyone else, my best advice is to scour the internet merchants or ebay for the old Pioneer discs. You'll only need volumes 1-3; those contain the original six shows, and the rest are from the revived series later. Those later episodes are.....ehhh, no thanks. Don't bother. Just stick with the Miyazaki's.

Jarinko Chie - Blu-Ray DVD


I think I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Isao Takahata's 1981 movie Jarinko Chie will be released on Blu-Ray DVD in Japan on July 25. I don't know whether or not this version will include English-language subtitles, but I'm assuming it won't, since the standard DVD release didn't. The film was likely perceived as too Japanese, and too heavily dependent on Japanese culture, to make much sense to Westerners. It's as much a story about Osaka as anything else, depicted lovingly in that Takahata documentary style. It also happens to be wildly funny, even delving into the "blue" humor here and there.

I think this is a wonderful movie, and it deserves to be seen in North America, like everything else. But it's not very likely. If you thought Disney would be squeamish about Tanuki body parts from Pom Poko, Jarinko Chie's gross-out humor would leave them reeling. What would we tell the children? Ohhh, my! I feel faint! My lace hankerchief!

Ahem. Fortunately, Chie is now fansubbed, and as soon as I can remember to do so, I'll add the direct link for you to share. Not that you couldn't figure this out with a simple Google search, mind you. Wink, wink.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how clear and sharp the picture will be. Blu-Ray is a great boon for animation, and there are already a number of top releases that attest to this. Best yet, Japan and North America share the same "region" for Blu-Ray (the format uses three regions, instead of standard DVD's six), which means no fiddling around with easter egg codes or hacks to watch on your system.

Hey, I'm Becoming Popular!

Well, sort of.

It's really sad when I have to brag about the rising numbers to this blog, because the numbers are, frankly, nonexistant. In the grand scheme of the internet, the Ghibli blog fits somewhere near the very back. Ah, well. That's the price for talking about obscure foreign movies no one's ever heard of.

Maybe I should start selling t-shirts, or somethin'.

Anyway, traffic has doubled since this weekend, thanks mostly to my writings on Pixar and Wall-E. "Doubled," of course, means going from 100 visitors a day to 200. But it is rising, and these are all-time highs. Hah! If you're an artist, you learn to take your victories any way you can. So thanks to everyone who's visiting Conversations on Ghibli for the first time. Search around and see what you'll find. I'm pretty sure all the movies haven't been pulled yet...

2008-07-01

This is Not a Gossip Site

There were some issues raised concerning the previous post, which contained translated text from a Japanese online review (spoiler-free) for Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea. There were also some issues raised about the website GhibliWorld, which I was not aware of. I've written some notes in the comments section there, so I won't reiterate everything again here.

I just want to state, flatly and for the record, that this website is not in the business of spreading insider information. This is not a gossip site. I've occasionally posted news items from Japan that were interesting to me personally, and I thought would be interesting to you. But that's not my focus and never was. This is a scholarly site, a place where we discuss films and animations freely and do so with an appreciation for the artists.

So if you're looking for insider information, please go elsewhere. That's not our game.

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