Disney owns everything! Wheee!
I don't know what the comic book fans will think about this, but I'm curious to find out. I hope this doesn't mean Marvel's properties will be sucked into the Disney vortex. Please don't make Spider-Man move in with the Jonas Brothers.
Disney owns everything! Wheee!
Today, I made the trek up to the Edina Lagoon Theatre for my third viewing of Ponyo. When I finally hiked my way back, I thought I'd write my latest impressions down. I also decided to finally sit down and watch the Japanese DVD with subtitles. Not a bad way to wind up the weekend when you're tired out.
1) There was a solid turnout for Ponyo today. About 25-30 people arrived for the 4:15 pm show, mostly parents with their children. There were also some older kids and even couples. I was very impressed and happy to see so many in the theatre. If I remember, by the time I made my third and fourth showing for Howl's Moving Castle, I was pretty much the only one showing up.
2) Ponyo is expected to break $11 million after this weekend, which means it has broken Spirited Away's record. Yaayy! Great news, everyone! It appears that this movie has some legs, and word-of-mouth has played a role. It's just about impossible to get Americans to see a foreign movie in theatres, especially anime films. The only foreign animation films to gross higher than Ponyo and Spirited Away are the toy commercials - Pokemon and Digimon.
3) Ponyo looks absolutely spectacular on the big screen. No doubt the simpler, more iconic drawings are partly responsible for this. All of the Ghibli movies look better on 35mm film, and never more true than here. I'm also finding my patience for standard DVD wearing thin. Ponyo on DVD looks good, but it's nowhere near as good as a film print, and when I'm watching, all I can see are the flaws. It's a miracle that a feature-length movie can fit onto a tiny DVD in the first place. There are so many corners that have to be cut.
4) It goes without saying that Ponyo on Blu-Ray will be fantastic. If Ghibli manages to successfully port it to the high-definition format, we will have a certifiable killer-app for BD. I'm really interested in seeing how closely it will match the 35mm print.
5) The children in the audience were enraptured from start to finish, as with the previous shows I've attended. I have also noticed that the quiet, natural moments are the ones that capture their attention. Watching Ponyo as a little girl bounce around and run around the house really draws smiles from the kids. And those scenes of the dinosaur fish underwater draws ooh's and ahh's every time.
6) I continue to argue in defense of John Lasseter's US dub, but on my third viewing, parts of it are beginning to wear thin with me. Liam Neeson steals the show every time, and his performance is perfect. The two kids, Donny & Marie or whatever their names are, are very solid. They don't get on my nerves. Tiny Fey does sometimes get on my nerves. She has good moments and not-so-good moments.
7) Of all the movie roles for Kate Blanchett to become stereotyped in, why Lord of the Rings? Is she always going to be playing the parts of all-wise spirit mothers from here on out? Strange. What inspired her to use an Eastern European accent, I wonder? I was very impressed with that; but I've been a diehard supporter ever since Elizabeth. Now that is a movie!
8) The Disney dub has a rather irritating habit - and this is a flaw with a lot of Hollywood movies in general, so I'm not singling them out - of repeating certain lines or phrases over and over. Life Begins Again. It's a Big Responsibility. Earth Is Out Of Balance. These are the oh-so important "moral lessons" which clog up far too many cartoon movies in America.
Miyazaki is gracious enough to allow his themes to enter and exit naturally. He doesn't beat you over the head with them. Notice that we don't hear anything about the pollution of our world's oceans after those crucial early scenes. We don't even hear much about the balance of nature in the Japanese soundtrack. I think he allows the images to dominate this movie, not the words. Ponyo achieves Ghibli's goal of bringing style of children's storybooks to the big screen.
9) I was surprised to discover that the line about keeping the old women amused by sitting them in front of the window, spoken by an attendant at the Senior Center, does not appear in the Japanese version. Make of that what you will.
10) Of the "new" dialog from the American version, the best one is easily that wisecrack by the old lady: "I'd let a fish lick me if it'd help my back." That gets a laugh every time.
11) When the movie ended and the credits rolled, everybody in the theater piled out quickly. There's no bloody way in hell I'm sitting through that atrocious Autotune Disney wreck of the theme song. How could they ruin such a perfect little song? Even the first stanza, which is just Donny & Marie singing, is run through the computer synthesizer. What a mess.
One great advantage to the DVD and Blu-Ray will be the "audio" button on the remote control. When the closing credits come on, just switch to the Japanese audio and spare your ears the torment. Take that, fake pop tunes! Ugh, what a hideous train wreck of a "song." I suppose I should be happy that Eddie Murphy wasn't brought in to sing.
12) Many people are puzzled about the ending to the movie, where Sosuke must pass his "test" to prove his love for Ponyo is real. What is it? Simple. Ponyo runs out of gas, turns back into a fish. Then Sosuke is asked if he still accepts Ponyo as she really is. That's it.
I think we're expecting a big whiz-bang finish because that's what most movies give us. But such a climax would never work in this movie. We're subjected to loud action sequences far too often, anyway. I have come to appreciate the anti-climactic nature of Ponyo; in fact, the more I see this movie, the more natural and honest its conclusion feels. Miyazaki wanted My Neighbor Totoro, not Star Wars.
13) I really loved this shot. The camera is at ground level, and the children are walking forward. It has a great sense of depth, and I've noticed that Miyazaki has used a lot of "three dimensional" shots in this movie. I'm amazed to see a 68-year-old filmmaker continue to use new techniques and ideas in his work. How many other movie directors can make the same claim?
I also noticed a crucial visual clue on my viewing today - Ponyo's hair has shrunk. This is a great bit of foreshadowing as the two children walk into the dark tunnel. That scene in the tunnel has that wonderful sound of the bucket scraping against the ground. Nobody has to say a word. You already know what's happening.
Has anybody figured out that Ponyo is the closest Miyazaki has come to making a silent film? Scenes like this work so perfectly without dialog, and the speech in the Japanese version is sparse, almost functional. The images and sounds dominate the conversation.
14) Here's how the climactic scene between Sosuke and Gran Manmare plays out in the original Japanese:
Gran Manmare: So you are Sosuke-san, desu ne?
Sosuke: Hello. Are you Ponyo's mother?
Gran Manmare: Yes. I want to thank you for bringing my daughter back to me. Arigatou. Souske-san, Ponyo wanted to be like you, but she unleashed a terrible power. To become human, she must be loved for who she really is. Do you know that Ponyo was a fish?
Sosuke: Yes (Hm.)
Gran Manmare: Your blood made Ponyo almost human.
Sosuke: That's right! Ponyo licked my cut and made it better. So that's why she changed!
Gran Manmare: Can you accept Ponyo as she is?
Sosuke: Hmm (Nod)! I'll always love Ponyo, whether she's a fish, a human, or in-between.
I think that last line works much better than in the Disney version. "I love all the Ponyos. It's a big responsibility" doesn't sound the same. It sounds like a boy taking home a pet.
One of Miyazaki's greatest strengths is his romanticism. It's old-fashioned, quaint, a bit too innocent for the modern world, but it's honest and sincere. His romances remind me of the classic movies of long ago, the kind that are no longer made.
So Ponyo and Sosuke love one another. So what? Remember what Scott McCloud said. These are all symbols and icons, not literal people, places and things.
15) I still don't know why, but this sequence is one of the most moving moments in the entire film for me. Perhaps it's the sense that Ponyo's sisters are saying goodbye, because this is the last time they'll be together. Or perhaps it's this following shot, where the sisters grow into young women. In that single shot, we understand perfectly the nature of Ponyo and her family. It's a beautiful, triumphant shot, the music swells, everyone sits back in awe, and I'm reaching for whatever napkins I have left after finishing the popcorn.
Perhaps you have to be of a certain age to understand this image's meaning. This is what it means to look at your child and see the adult they shall one day become, and realize that day will arrive and pass in the blink of an eye. Life is a miracle, and precious, and oh, so short.
Thanks to the miracle of the intertubes, we're able to take a look at Yoshifumi Kondo's production artwork for Grave of the Fireflies. And since my internet connection is cooperating, I'll have to move fast.
Kondo was the animation director and character designer for Grave of the Fireflies. He was Takahata's right-hand man, just as he had been in Anne of Green Gables in 1979. Kondo's quiet realism was critical in achieving the emotional impact that Grave of the Fireflies required. I can't imagine this film succeeding with anyone else at the helm.
Takahata has always possessed a remarkable sense for talent, for finding the perfect people to collaborate on his films. These artists are crucial for the "director who does not draw," for obvious reasons. And there's no doubt that Kondo was a crucial fit, as perfect a fit as Hayao Miyazaki was back in the 1970s. There is no doubt that had he lived, Kondo would have achieved great things. And there most certainly would have been another Takahata movie sometime in the last decade.
Edit: I'm told that Yoshiyuki, another key Ghibli player and Takahata right-hand-man, drew many of the image boards for Grave of the Fireflies. I'm always a great fan of his work, and I'm sure he's involved in Takahata's new film that's currently in production at Ghibli.
I realized that I never showed the trailer for Grave of the Fireflies. So here we are. The haunting, beautiful musical theme by Michio Mamiya will ring in your ears for....well, just how long do you plan on living? This is one of the greatest musical scores in the cinema.
A short note: Michio Mamiya has also worked with Takahata on Horus, Prince of the Sun, Gauche the Cellist, and The Story of Yanagawa Waterways. His main Yanagawa theme is a flute composition that is strikingly familiar to his theme for Grave of the Fireflies.
Here are the two Japanese movie posters for Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies. The first poster is the most common image associated with the movie, as it's always used for DVD covers throughout the world.
Grave of the Fireflies is a critically important movie, not as much for Japan, but the rest of the world. To most of us, this was our introduction to animation as serious drama, as historical melodrama, as heartbreaking tragedy. It's true that most of the world grew up watching Heidi in the 1970s and 1980s, but this is the film that Takahata is most famous for. This film has done more to shatter and reconstruct what I believed was possible in animation than any other single movie.
Now here's a question for the Takahata faithful: is this is greatest film? Is it really? I have to admit I don't watch it much, but this is for two reasons. One, the experience of watching Grave of the Fireflies my first time was so overwhelming, so emotionally overpowering, that I have come to experience that sense of grief with the picture. It's become a reflex. Two, I don't want those feelings to become diluted with too many viewings. I think there are some movies that are special enough to me that I don't want to see them endlessly. I want to live with the memories of the experience.
To my mind, there is a difference between "greatest" and "most watched." The great movies, the ones that move you and shape direction of your life, are kept in reserve and pulled out on special occasions. Grave of the Fireflies is such a movie for me.
After my first viewing, that is, after I finally managed to make it to the end on the second try, I was consumed by two questions. How was such a thing even possible in animation....and what else does this Takahata fella got? I've been on that wild journey ever since.
I wanted to share with everyone the movie poster for the 2001 anime Metropolis, directed by Rintaro and scripted by Katsuhiro Otomo. We're all very familiar with this one, because it's used as the cover of the DVD. There are some good lines and bold color, and it focuses on the movie's central character, Tima, with her obsessive pursuer, Rock, in the background.
Is this movie really a love story between these two? That's a good question. We obviously think of the boy, Kenichi, as the romantic hero. But be honest. Isn't he a drip? He's really too bashful to do anything. His relationship with Tima is surprisingly passive. If he wasn't chasing around everywhere with the girl in tow, I really don't know what he'd be doing with her.
Rock, on the other hands...now, Rock has passion. His drive stems from his feelings of rejection by his adoptive father, so he sees Tima as a rival instead of a lover. But at least he feels something, and acts upon those feelings, ruthlessly, without fear of consequence. Rock posseses the animal heart that Tima only imagines she had. They're the true couple of this picture.
Frankly, I would have been preferred seeing that wimpy wet blanket Kenichi hop on the plane with his detective uncle. He's the Paul Henreid of this movie, and, as always, I'm rooting for the girl to pick the other man.
Fritz Lang's Metropolis is one of my favorite movies, so it's no surprise that I was become hooked on the 2001 anime version. Here's a look at the Japanese trailer. The images are a bit low-res, but you should still be able to enjoy it.
Should I include the US movie trailer? Hmm....okay, sure, why not? I don't think either movie trailer is excellent; the Japanese version gives too much of the movie away, and the American version is all rapid cuts and cheesy narration. Who decided that movie previews should be fixed with low baritone Hallmark catch-phrases, anyway? Am I the only one who's annoyed by that? Perhaps. It's all small potatoes, anyway. But much of the time, I do think these movies would be better served without any narration or voice-over at all. Best to let the images speak alone.
Enjoy these Metrpolis trailers!
Yaay! I actually got one of these posted! My internet connection has been extremely weak or nonexistent, which has been a royal pain. I have a large smattering of high-resolution screenshots from Rintaro and Katsuhiro Otomo's 2001 Metropolis on Blu-Ray. Let's see if I can actually succeed in posting any of these on the blog before my connection crashes.
We are now entering weekend #3 for Ponyo, and it does appear that we will break that crucial $10 million record! Yaayy! I think I'll head out today and see it again at the Edina Lagoon. For now, however, let's get caught up with the Box Office Mojo numbers from Wednesday and Thursday. The movie is holding very steady, just rumbling in the background at its own pace.
So the question now becomes, when Ponyo breaks $10 million, did its box office performance live up to your expectations? Was there anything that could have been done differently? Would it have helped to place the previews alongside some different movies, like UP or Harry Potter? Would it have helped if Disney released some subtitled prints in the major cities? Was there really a "backlash" at all, and how did the great anime community respond to Ponyo? I'm curious to hear everyone's ideas.
As for me, I'm going to play the aspiring optimist and call Ponyo a success in the States.
Per Screen: $274
Per Screen: $254
(Update: This video has since been removed from Youtube. Sorry.)
Friday was a bit of a slow day for me...oops. I was busy with work and planning my next trip, heh heh. Thankfully, all the Ghibli Freaks came through with some killer comments and info about various topics. I think we deserve some Road Runner cartoons, don't you?
This is the fourth Road Runner cartoon, 1953's Zipping Along. It's wonderful, madcap, hilarious. Whenever I need a pick-me-up, I head straight to the Looney Tunes cartoons. Enjoy!
I realize I haven't written anything about Ponyo in a couple days, so in order to keep our attentions on the movie, I wanted to share a couple thoughts about one of my favorite scenes. I've written before that Hayao Miyazaki's brilliance, among many other things, lies in showing the magic and wonder of the everyday world. Ponyo demonstrates this beautifully. While Westerners often think of fantasy as an escape from reality, Miyazaki's stories join the two together; he looks at the world through the eyes of a curious and imaginative five-year-old.
John Lasseter speaks about the need for pacing, and Miyazaki is a master of this. Far too many Hollywood movies are content to punch you in the stomach and beat you senseless with wall to wall action. But the result is like splattering too many watercolors on your canvas - everything turns to mud. You can't run at full volume all the time. There needs to be some silence.
I think that's why these scenes, where Ponyo visits the home of Sosuke and Lisa, are so enjoyable. They allow us to calm down and relax after that spectacular sequence of Ponyo's escape and the tsunami she unwillingly unleashes. It's like George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun," which begins side two of Abbey Road. After John Lennon's heavy metal assault, you need a breather.
I've said that Miyazaki shows us the magic of the everyday world, and here we are, watching Ponyo experience the joy of cooking. Watch Ponyo's discovery of honey in her hot chocolate. She's never seen anything like this, and her face just lights up. I was so impressed that as soon as I got home from the theater, I walked down to the supermarket and bought some hot choclate and honey. Lemmie tell ya, hot chocolate and honey is a killer combination. If your heart won't allow you to drink coffee anymore, this will give you a pretty good rush. Too bad the honey melts so fast - I wanted to have some honey on my spoon. Ah, well, live and learn.
Now watch as Lisa prepares the ramen noodles. This is pure magic. Pour in the hot water, cover the bowl, wait three minutes. Now cross your fingers, kids...ala peanut butter sandwiches! With the magic words, we have turned the crunchy noodles into ramen, ham and vegetables.
A small child has no clue how this was created. It just happened by magic. The ramen is no different from Fujimoto's elixir jars, or Gran Manmare's swimming through the ocean, or Ponyo growing chicken feet and turning into a girl. It's all the same. This is the real meaning of Miyazaki's magic. It's not literal or rational, but instictive, emotional. This is the perfect mode of expression for the symbolic icons of animation. Could these scenes have the same appeal with live actors? I doubt it. I don't even think you could pull this trick off with computers. You need the pencils and paints to achieve this illusion.
I just discovered this excellent website devoted to Japan's beloved poet, Kenji Miyazawa. This site is translated into English from its original Japanes, and is a treasure trove for all things related to the author and his work. Give it a visit and see what you like.
It's a bit of good timing that I showed the trailer for Night on the Galactic Railroad recently. Ben Ettinger's newest essay at AniPages discusses the many anime adaptations of Japanese poet Kenji Miyazawa. I have a special fondness for Isao Takahata's 1982 film Gauche the Cellist, for its, ahem, "pastoral" depiction of small town rural life. Its world shares a quiet mysticism, where the crickets play music to the trees and the stars, and the sounds of Beethoven echo in all living things. In this world, I would almost expect the animals to stand on their hind legs, speak fluently, and share their love of music.
To me, Gauche the Cellist shares that same sense of peaceful mysticism, that playful imagination, of My Neighbor Totoro. It probably helps to be a music lover, and I can't think of any film that honors the transcendent power of great music quite like this. This is a world I wish to inhabit, a peaceful dream that also inhabits the waking life, where the imagination is the world.
Takahata made his mark as the psychological filmmaker. He pulled animation into the realm of the inner mind, and created a new expression in art. The expressionism of Horus, of Heidi and Marco and Anne is the expressionism of Van Gogh, of Rauoult, then fused with the humanity of Jean Renoir and Yasujiro Ozu.
My favorite moments in Gauche the Cellist are those scenes where Beethoven's music overtakes the imagination, and world is carried away. There's the early performance by the orchestra in a torrential storm that evokes Walt Disney's The Band Concert; there's the sight of a small room becoming the forest; there's the image of the young mouse, curled inside the cello, as nature becomes an audience for the music.
There is that image of the two mice holding the dandelions, floating in the breeze. That shot was later quoted at the end of My Neighbors the Yamadas, and it also points back to the opening sequence from The Story of Perrine (World Masterpiece Theater, 1978). But I am also reminded of that Miyazaki's wonderful scene where Totoro and the girls ride with the winds on a giant spinning top. This is why Totoro and Gauche feel like cousins to me; they both communicate the same message, but told very differently, just as Miyazaki and Takahata are very different.
Night on the Galactic Railroad, Gisaburo Suugi's 1986 movie, is different in many ways, but I believe it does share Takahata's reverence for the mystery. It's a meditative film, very symbolic, very surreal, but not the psychedelic surrealism of Dali or Yellow Submarine. "Dream logic" is a phrase that gets banded about too easily; I think we use those words when what we really feel is confusion. The Fellini surrealism of Hayao Miyazaki's past decade is a good example. If we feel confused or stuck, we can just chalk it up to "dream logic" and move along, and sometimes this works while other times it doesn't.
I think Night on the Galactic Railroad is driven by dream logic; it plays out like one long lucid dream, and the images hold quietly just long enough for us to ponder their meaning. Perhaps the images in this movie mirror my own dreams: the long, dark corridors, the empty streets and lonely rooms, the distant, disembodies voices. Where is the mother's voice coming from? Perhaps she is in the next room, as the child eats his meal alone in the kitchen. Perhaps this voice is a distant memory. Perhaps this voice is omnipresent, like a voice on the radio. This is how I often hear voices in my dreams.
Movies have an inherent dreamlike quality to them, with their abstract images, changing points of view, with its edits and cuts. Is this a chicken-and-egg thing? Do our brains mirror the patterns of movies when we dream, or is it the other way around? Difficult to say, but it is striking that movies arose at the same time as the explosive abstraction in art. There was a sudden push to explore the realm of the unconscious, to dive into the symbolic realm of the soul, and spill out into the ordered, waking world, where everything is neat and ordered and given proper names. There is an exhileration to these new art forms, but there is also a terror which lies under the surface, and you can feel unsettled without quite understanding why.
Great examples range from Stravinsky's The Right of Spring, to Picasso's Cubism, to the errie quality of silent movies like The Cabinet of Dr. Calibari, or Nosferatu, or Metropolis, or The Passion of Joan of Arc. The silent movies were more primal, more intuitive, more iconic. They had to be, by virtue of the technology. Only when sound was introduced and mastered have these surreal images receeded. We have literally talked the shadows away.
These are the images from Night on the Galactic Railroad that stay with me the longest - the long, winding, empty city streets; the mass of people (well, cats) marching in the festival of lights; the dark stable where the child comes to get some milk; the cat who catches birds and stuffs them into his bag; an abandoned city, that felt like it was buried miles underground, unseen by anyone; the lights and the street signs, floating in night sky; the hypnotic hum and clack of the printing press.
This feels like a lonely movie to me. Perhaps this is because of all the empty spaces, the dark, static images. Perhaps I'm projecting a bit of myself into the story, from the memories of my own dreams. Perhaps "lonely" isn't the right word at all; meditative, reflective? "Spiritual" is another word that gets banded about, but here I think it works. This story is a journey into the mind, into the collective unconscious, perhaps even into the realm beyond the grave.
Kenji Miyazawa wrote Night on the Galactic Railroad in order to mourn the death of his sister. It was never completed in his short lifetime. In his own way, Gisaburo Suugi captured that spirit in his film, that yearning, that curiosity, that haunting echo of a lost loved one. There's really no way to describe what that is like until it happens to you, and you bury your friends and loved ones. Their spirits haunt your mind like a phantom limb that never heals.
Sean L. offered up this advice on buying the Joe Hisaishi soundtrack CDs for the Studio Ghibli movies, and I wanted to share it here above ground:
"I'm also a big fan of Joe Hisaishi, and his Ponyo score is one of my favorite works of music ever. It is truly stunning. I hope it gets submitted to the Academy Awards. I've been wondering like you why there isn't a domestic release of the soundtrack. Who knows? Maybe we should try to contact the folks at Disney and urge them to release it.
"Well anyway, I bought the soundtrack CD at a Japanese bookstore here in New York for about $40. That's quite expensive for a CD obviously, but it was worth it anyways. However, I still felt stupid afterwards because I found that you can buy it on Ebay for WAY cheaper. So that's my strong recommendation to you when looking for any Hisaishi soundtrack if you don't have a local Japanese store. Go to ebay.com, search for "Ponyo" under the "music" category, and I promise you'll find a price to your liking. Right now I'm seeing some there for as low as about $9 or $15."
It's time to look at Ponyo's US box office numbers for Monday and Tuesday. Since we're winding down, I thought it better to take a look every couple of days. I'm sure we've followed along closely enough, so there are no surprises at this point.
Here are Ponyo's numbers for Monday and Tuesday:
Per Screen: $283
Per Screen: $277
I remain hopeful that we can break that $10 million mark. There are still a few people here and there who haven't seen Ponyo yet (including one of my co-workers), so I'm hopeful everyone will go to the theaters. I'm not aware how long the movie will be playing, but I would expect the number of screens to begin rolling back fairly soon. Fortunately, the Lagoon in Minneapolis will hang onto their copy for a while. They're very tenacious about movies like that. If they could move Ponyo to the Uptown Theatre, I'd really be happy.
Hoo yeeeh. Hah hah hah hah hah. There's no way I'm not sharing this. I showed the movie poster not too long ago, also. It seems Warriors of the Wind was actually put into US theaters, or at least was that was the plan. When you consider that we could have seen the real, uncut Nausicaa in theaters 25 years ago, and instead we got this, it's enough to make you weep.
Fortunately, this is no longer an issue, thanks to DVD. And Warriors of the Wind has achieved something of Mystery Science Theater 3000 status. It's cheesy and awful and it's criminal, but you can't help but laugh and heckle along.
Here is something I've wanted to show for a long time. It's the movie trailer to one of the all-time great anime films, Gisaburo Suugi's hauntingly beautiful Night on the Galactic Railroad. This movie is often remembered in the same grandiose terms as Grave of the Fireflies, and for many years, this was our best example of "anime as cinematic art."
Do sit down and watch this trailer. The American DVD has been out of print for years, but the fansub is freely available. Just scroll down to the Download These Fansubs section and help yourselves.
I found this interesting item on Ebay. This is a book of Hayao Miyazaki's image boards. It spans 80 pages and was published back in 1983. I think you'll all be intrigued by the cover. Veeery interesting!
I'll let you dig into the meaning of these drawings. Many of these images, such as the front cover and the sketches of airplanes, were not intended for any ongoing projects. These were merely ideas scribbled down, played with, contemplated. One thing that I always enjoy about Miyazaki the artist is the way he preserves and uses everything. Characters, story ideas, and model designs are sketched and constructed in his art books, only to reappear in his films many years later.
At this point in 1983, he would have been preparing his second directorial film, an adaptation of his monthly manga Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind. This was the most difficult period in Miyazaki's career. When 1983 began, it was doubtful if he would have the chance to direct more feature films, or television. Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro, his first directoral feature, was a failure at the box office. Future Boy Conan, his 1978 television series, was also a disappointment in the ratings. The second Lupin III tv series, of which he was involved and directed two classic (but light) episodes, had finished his run. And his 1981 television series project, Sherlock Holmes the Detective, aka Sherlock Hound, was scuttled after only six episodes were produced.
Now let's take a look at this art book through that lens. It's a very different experience than looking back 25 years later, when Hayao Miyazaki is the most successful movie director in the world. Such a notion must have seemed unimaginable in the early '80s. Add in the fact that many of Miyazaki's peers - Yasuo Otsuka, Yoichi Kotabe, Reiko Okuyama, and his wife, Akemi Ota Miyazaki - were getting out of the game. Those must have been difficult days for him.
Looking through Hayao Miyazaki's Image Board book in 1983 is a remarkable glimpse into a visionary artist, one with a fine director's skill and sense of timing, tension, grace. This is also a testament to his legendary work ethic, his obsessive refusal to ever back down or give up. When I think of this, my mind always goes back to that scene in Spirited Away, when Chihiro stubbornly stands in Yubaba's office and shouts out demands for work. I want a job! I want a job! That's the thing I enjoy about his films. He's not just spinning grand tales; he's giving you honest advice for living. He's been there. And if you want to make it in this world, you need the tenacity of a cockroach.
I'm going to look around for a copy of this book somewhere online. If you're interested in buying this, contact the Ebay seller and see if they still have copies lying around.
On the question of Miyazaki's career in 1983, it does appear that Nausicaa was approached as his last great stand, the one last crack of the bat. I think this tremendously influenced the style of film Nausicaa would become, more subtle, nuanced, and more personal than ever before. I think it became the landmark for all his future work. We'll go into depth on that later.
Ponyo's numbers for the weekend came in late afternoon yesterday, courtesy of Box Office Mojo, and its performance continues to be solid across the board. At its current pace, it now appears likely that Spirited Away's $10 record will be broken. That's my hope, at least.
Here are the weekend numbers:
The drop in attendance has been very good, not nearly as steep as I had feared. The weekend numbers compared to Week 1 show a drop of 39.8%, 24.6%, and 33.6% respectively. I was expecting a 50% drop, however grounded those expectations are.
So now that we've made it through a couple weekends, we can take the good with the bad. I still feel Ponyo's performance has been a disappointment. Given the attention and the hype paid by Disney, given the praises from critics, despite the news buzz from having Hayao Miyazaki personally appear in the US, barely squeaking out $10 million cannot be seen as a success.
Many questions are raised that will have to be addressed. Is Studio Ghibli still ahead of its time in America? Is widespread success even possible? Are audiences too prejudiced and afraid of foreign movies? How deep does this nation's xenophobic streak run? Does the economy play a factor? Does the home market play a factor? Should Disney have pushed harder? Was there a fan backlash over Disney's remixing of the Ponyo theme? How strongly did the anime fan community support Ponyo, or do they consider Miyazaki "too mainstream" to touch? Can animation ever truly be respected in this country? Is it possible for hand-drawn animation to succeed without strictly following the Disney fairy tale formula? Miyazaki's name is well-known, but is that support shallow? Are the stupids too fearful of anything that's different, anything they haven't been programmed to accept? Is America doomed to a future of nothing but movies packed with explosions and lightning fast cuts? Is Michael Bay the one who's really right all along?
I have nothing but questions. But that's me.
Feel free to take away the positives from Ponyo's performance. It is on track to surpass Spirited Away's record at the box office. The foreign animated movies that top the box office records are all cynical toy commercials - Pokemon, Digimon. Miyazaki's movies are the most successful outside that commercial cash scheme. And it should be noted that foreign films barely perform at all in the United States. $10 million for a foreign movie, even one that has been given a Hollywood-dubbed soundtrack, is a great victory. The most successful foreign films have all been martial arts action movies - Crouching Tiger, Jet Li, Jackie Chan.
There's going to be a lot to debate over this issue. And these questions are not going to be resolved anytime soon. Might as well just head down to the theater and catch Ponyo one more time, while you still can. You never know when (or if) the next Studio Ghibli movie will play in your town.
This is a little shout-out to the fansubbers out there. We have a website that hosts the raw files for many classic anime series, including two masterpieces from the Isao Takahata-Hayao Miyazaki canon - Heidi, Girl of the Alps and 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (Marco).
Heidi needs help most of all. Currently, no effort has been made to translate and fansub Heidi. Supposedly, there was one attempt made many years ago, but only the first episode was tackled. That translated episode has since been lost.
This site contains the downloadable raw files for Heidi and Marco. I would ask anyone who is willing to pitch in and help. Do get in contact with the Live-Evil crew if you can. If they were provided with translations, that would help immensely. Or perhaps more fansub groups would like to join in?
No English subtitles for Heidi exist anywhere in the world. The Taiwanese DVD box set for 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother is the only version to include English subtitles, so I would strongly suggest buying that DVD set and revise those subs.
I think this is a very doable project, if we work steadily to chip down these behemoths. There should be enough global demand, and these two series are landmarks in television anime. We should make it a priority to get it done this year. So what do we say?
(Edit 8/25/09: Was, not "is." I'm not tolerating such asinine cliquish behavior. Count me out.)
Hey, everybody, happy Monday! I wanted to give everybody a chance to be caught up with the posts I wrote this weekend, so blogging has been a bit light so far today. Instead, I've been focusing my energy on sending Ghibli Blog posts at Reddit. Much of our recent traffic comes from Reddit, and they're the most popular of the social networking sites connected to this blog.
I'll have the report on the weekend box office once the numbers become available. Don't forget to share any posts that you've enjoyed. Every little bit helps tremendously. I'd like to see Ghibli Blog become the #1 Studio Ghibli site in America. Who's with me?
Here is one of my favorite Bugs Bunny vs. Daffy Duck cartoons, "A Star is Bored." This is the one where Daffy gets jealous of Bugs' fame as a movie star, and winds up playing his stunt double. MAKE-UP!!
Hah hah hah hah hah...this is one of my favorites. It's such a joy to have cartoons like these, pure entertainment, pure slapstick comedy, and nothing else. And Looney Tunes did it better than anyone. Enjoy this one on your lunch break when you need to relax.
Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves must be the next anime film that is tackled by the fansub community. If someone would just put the raw video online, that would be a terrific improvement over the US dubbed version we have, an old VHS of Ali Baba's Revenge. At least the dub is pretty good.
Hayao Miyazaki's memoirs, Starting Point, includes an interview from 1984 where he discusses his career to that point. He said the following about his involvement with Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves and the state of Toei Doga in 1971:
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves was hopeless; I changed the entire storyboard thinking that I'd make my part interesting. I made it too interesting, and it seemed like the whole movie was over when my scene ended.
In those days, Toei Animation's feature-length movies were divided into A-films and B-films. The length and budget were different. Robin and Cyborg 009, if I remember correctly, were B-films. Ali Baba and Flying Ghost Ship were also B-films. A-films consisted of 50,000 pages or so, at two frames. Puss in Boots, Animal Treasure Island, and Horus, Prince of the Sun were A-films. We had high expectations for Animal Treasure Island, but in box office terms it lost out to Ultraman or some such film [laughs]. So A-films died off. That was the end of the era of two-frame animation.
...When Animal Treasure Island didn't do so well and we realized A-films were doomed, our hopes were shattered. So I thought, "Eh, what the hell," when doing Ali Baba. The story was terrible. I was able to work on it without a single hour of overtime.
There, it's done. Stupid Technorati activation code. This was something I had to post in order to active my blog on their site.
Now that I have your attention, here's a look at Ghibli Freak Chris' classic movie poster for Animal Treasure Island. This is a great poster. It was common for Toei to pack several of their movies together like this, and I've seen many similar posters from Japanese websites. The bold colors and large characters really make this poster stand out. It captures the adventure appeal of Animal Treasure Island.
If you're a Miyazaki fan who is feeling nostalgic for his younger, more easily accessable movies, Animal Treasure Island is right up your alley. No doubt it's already a beloved favorite with you and your friends. At least, it should be. If you still don't have the DVD in your collection, march down to the nearest store and pick up a copy.
Couresy of Ebay merchant Edo-Eki, this is a poster for Studio Ghibli's Layout Exhibition which was held last year. This exhibit at the Suntory Museum featured storyboards from the Studio Ghibli films. The Ghibli Blog reported the event in this post, discussing the role of storyboards and some personal anecdotes from Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.
Visit Edo-Eki's Ebay store and check out his items. This is the best online merchant for Studio Ghibli memorabilia. See what you can find.
On my second viewing of Ponyo last weekend, I was with a small group of parents and children of various ages. They loved every moment, of course. Their favorite moment was a bit of a surprise to me. It's this moment, when Ponyo and Sosuke wake up to the flood at their front door, stick their heads under the water, and see the large prehistoric fish. That scrolling shot of the dinosaur fish earned Ooh's and Aah's from everyone.
I was very pleasantly surprised by that. I would have expected the spectacular tsunami sequence to get the biggest applause. Yet here is a quiet, meditative moment, a moment where nothing of any consequence happens. We dip our heads underwater, and we take in the sights of a strange, alien world. This moment - and its reaction - give me hope for the future. This proves that these children have not been completely corrupted by endless waves of Hollywood explosions and Disney Channel Barbie Doll pop stars. Awe and Wonder still hold power. Humanity may not be finished quite yet.
I snapped another large batch of photos from the Japanese Ponyo DVD, and noticed this one scene with a very telling pair of gestures. The more you study this film, the more you appreciate it as animation. Miyazaki envisioned this movie as a showcase for pencils and paints.
This scene, where Sosuke and Ponyo carry their toy boat outside into the flooded yard, is a great example of defining a character through animation. In this short sequence, we learn a lot about Ponyo without any dialog. And this expressiveness is portrayed through the naturalist Japanese style, not the exaggerated caricature of American animation. Nothing will be handed to you or shouted out at you.
Ponyo isn't a little girl as much as a fish who is pretending to be a little girl. Watch how she just runs out of the house and over the water. She has this happy look on her face, living each moment with glee. But she crashes into the water, legs running and kicking. It's a funny moment, like all the Road Runner cartoons where Wile E. Coyote drives off the cliffs.
Now observe her movements in the water. Now she is in her element, and her swimming more closely resembles a fish in her deft and graceful movements. In these few seconds, she reveals her true identity. She also demonstrates a gleeful obliviousness, and that's something I really love about Ponyo. She hasn't been taught the rules. And so her behavior, puzzling and amusing to the humans around her, reveals a freedom of the spirit.
I'm also considering that this scene is a foreshadowing of Ponyo's weakening and loss of her powers later in the movie. The night before, she could dance and leap among the tsunami waves with no effort. Now, she runs over the water and sinks like a stone. Maybe I'm over-thinking this point, so it's not something I'll spend much time on. I just enjoy this scene because it shows Ponyo in such a spirit of fully living, and that's what stays with me.
Reader Doug chimes in with his report on his family trip to see Ponyo:
The Ghibli Blog looks really cool in Japanese. Now we only need some loud graphics, flash animated banners, and teenage models, and we're set.
The Ghibli Blog now features a translator. With a click of a button, you can instantly translate this website into Japanese, Spanish, French, German, Korean, Chinese, and Russian. This is an excellent addition that should prove helpful to our friends around the world.
The Translator is located in the center column, just below the reviews, and just above the screenshot of Ponyo. If you would like to add this feature to your blog, simply click the "about" button and visit the developers' website.
(Edit: I discovered a second translator, which uses flag icons. Both are powered by Google, so I think we'll go with this one.)
Here is one of the truly great Walt Disney cartoons, The Band Concert from 1935. This film short was ranked #3 in Jerry Beck's list of "The 50 Greatest Cartoons," just behind What's Opera, Doc? and Duck Amuck. This was Disney's first Technicolor cartoon released to the public, and it just looks wonderful.
Mickey Mouse has been a soulless corporate logo for so long, it's almost impossible to remember that he was one a real cartoon character, and a good one at that. I always preferred Donald Duck, but the two made a great pair, and this is really the golden age of Disney cartoons, just before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ushered in a new era of feature animation.
The storm sequence in The Band Concert does remind me of the opening sequence from Isao Takahata's Gauche the Cellist. That was a surprise to me, since Takahata does take any influence from Disney (Hayao Miyazaki is a great fan of Dave Fleischer, which is as close as they get). But this speaks to the influence and stature that this cartoon commands, the world's first Technicolor animation released to the public. And Walt Disney was a pioneer in the use of sound, as this video demonstrates.
Anyway, enjoy The Band Concert. And go play outside today, it's Saturday!
Reader and Ghibli Freak Douglas West sent me an email today:
"I just watched Gauche the Cellist last night (thanks for the fansub torrents!) and the scene near the beginning where the orchestra is playing intense music and the conductor imagines they all get blown away in the storm while continuing to play reminded me A LOT of the Mickey Mouse short 'The Band Concert.' "
I have to admit, I've never considered this idea, but any opportunity to watch one of the classic Walt Disney cartoons works for me. Notice that I never get to watch cartoons like this on tv. Why does the Disney corporation lock away all of their works? This means of forced scarcity is cynical manipulation at its worst.
Free cartoons are a basic human right. End of story. Everyone, young and old, should have the chance to enjoy a classic like The Band Concert. Is this on DVD somewhere? Where is it? How do I find it? I haven't a clue. It's just like web design, really. You need to make it as easy as possible for visitors to find your content. And providing free access is key. Where would cartoons and animation be today if it weren't for tv? Every day after school, we kids would watch hours of free cartoons - Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, Popeye, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, Rocky & Bullwinkle, yadda yadda. Good times.
The craft of hand-drawn animation is like a good plant. It needs to be exposed in the sunlight to thrive. I say The Band Concert whups most CGI cartoons with one hand tied behind its back. Who's with me? I'll bet if kids could see this on tv every afternoon, they'd agree with me. And then they'd grow up to become animators. You see, this is really an investment.
(Update: This video has since been removed from Youtube. Sorry.)
Tonight's a perfect night for another classic Daffy Duck cartoon, "Hollywood Duck." Yaay!! This is one of my favorites, when Daffy was still, well, daffy. I always preferred him this way, always a little goofier than Bugs Bunny.
I always loved the wisecracking pop culture riffing of these cartoons, even though most of the celebrity cameos went over my head. I still don't know the actor who's working the crane machine. But I got the idea of the joke, and this led to The Simpson's, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and Animaniacs. Good times.
Here is the third in a series of movie posters for Studio Ghibli's first film, 1986's Laputa: Castle in the Sky. This is a terrific poster, not as iconic as the poster #1, but more colorful and dynamic than poster #2. I just love the sense of vertigo from this illustration. You really get a sense of the fantastic depth of these caverns, like a Welsh version of the Road Runner cartoons.
The characters in the background remind me of a lot of the slapstick comedy from Miyazaki's youth, particularly the pirate ship battle from Animal Treasure Island. Have I posted those screenshots yet? If not, I'll have to do that this weekend.
I'm a sucker for sharp details and lush colors, so it's no surprise that this is my favorite Castle in the Sky poster. Put this one on the DVD and Blu-Ray cover and I'll be a happy panda.