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2014-12-23

Horus, Prince of the Sun DVD Available Today


Horus, Prince of the Sun, the landmark 1968 Japanese animated feature film, arrives on DVD today. Published by Discotek Media, this new release features an all-new English subtitle translation, two audio commentaries, two video interviews, movie trailer, production gallery, and four excellent gallery and essay features.

As regular visitors of Ghibli Blog know, I was heavily involved in this project. I wrote and edited the new subtitles, which are a great improvement over what existed before (compare these to the Optimum UK DVD), wrote and edited the bonus essays, the production gallery, and recorded an audio commentary track.

Horus, Prince of the Sun is currently available directly from the Discotek Media website. I highly recommend visiting there, as they will receive more money from each sale. The DVD is also available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, and RightStuf. Retail price is $17.99.

I'm very proud of my child. I'm quite impressed by the packaging and menu designs. Like any artist, I can only see the mistakes, and am already compiling the work of editing and revising for a possible Blu-Ray release in the future. I should stress that, as of this date, there are NO plans to release Horus on BD at this time. Check back again in another six months.

Horus, Prince of the Sun is the quintessential anime movie. It brought together many innovations and ideas from a young generation of animators and artists, fused with radical new theories by its young director, Isao Takahata. I've often called this movie, "The Citizen Kane of Anime," and I think that's a very true description. Here lies the moment when the ground shifted, and Japanese animation successfully mutated into a fully unique species. Here lies the birth of the modern anime revolution.

Okay, enough preaching from me. Go buy this DVD! Share with your family and friends this holiday season, spread the word, and give us your impressions. Mazel tov!

2014-12-05

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya Opens in Minneapolis


Terrific news for our local Studio Ghibli fans: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya opens today in Minneapolis, courtesy of the MN Film Society and the St. Anthony Main Theater. Isao Takahata's latest masterpiece has received rave reviews from critics and moviegoers during its limited theatrical run in the US. It currently holds a perfect 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and appears to be a lock for an Academy Awards nomination for Best Animated Feature. It won't win, of course (The Lego Movie is the runaway favorite), but this may Hollywood's last opportunity to heap praise on Studio Ghibli's legendary founders.

I will be attending this weekend, probably tomorrow. If there are any Ghibli Blog fans in attendance, please stop by and say hello. Families who are sick and tired of their children singing "Frozen" songs are strongly encouraged to attend. For any lover of animation, Princess Kaguya is the movie event of the year, full stop.

2014 has been an outstanding year for Isao Takahata fans. The Tale of Princess Kaguya played on the big screen; Horus, Prince of the Sun finally arrived on DVD; Heidi, Girl of the Alps finally saw a completed fan translation. If your only exposure to Paku-san is through Grave of the Fireflies, you are in for a special treat. And this is on top of Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises, the 1980 Princess Mononoke book, and a stack of Ghibli Blu-Ray movies waiting to be enjoyed.

Enjoy this moment while you can, Ghibli Freaks. You will not see the likes of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata again. Do whatever you can to see this movie on the big screen.

PS: A fun bit trivia: The St. Anthony Main was my main movie hangout when living at the University of Minnesota. This was where I rushed to see Star Wars: The Phantom Menace back in 1999.  Saw it four times, in fact...and, yes, that's despite having to endure Jar Jar Binks throughout it all. For my generation, the idea of "a new Star Wars movie" achieved a mythic grandeur, almost like the Second Coming. We never expected it to happen, but always hoped and prayed. Perhaps that's why I'm more generous towards those Star Wars prequels, so often derided by the hardcore fans. Oh, well, I've always thought "hardcore fan" was a paradox.

2014-11-21

New Miyazaki Book: Princess Mononoke: The First Story



Newly published from Viz Media is Hayao Miyazaki's famous storyboard book, "Princess Mononoke: The First Story." This story consists of watercolor image boards created by Miyazaki in 1980 for an unrealized film project. The artwork was first published in his 1983 artbook, "Hayao Miyazaki Image Boards," and ten years later as a standalone volume.

I've written about the history behind the 1980 Mononoke Hime, going into greater detail, so I won't recount that tale yet again here. I also published the entire story, with fan translations, on Ghibli Blog back in 2008, eventually finding its way across the internet and generating great interest in Hayao Miyazaki's "lost" anime.

I have edited my 2008 Mononoke post to remove all but a small sample of pages. And now I strongly urge all Miyazaki fans to purchase this new book. The quality of the paintings is superb, and the presentation is the same high calibur we expect from Viz. This is an excellent storybook, one that will make wonderful gifts for friends and family this holiday season.

Hayao Miyazaki's manga comics remain largely unknown to Western audiences.  I do hope this latest release will begin to turn that around. There should be a whole series of "Hayao Miyazaki Comics" in our libraries and bookstores.

P.S. The 1980 Princess Mononoke share nothing in common with Miyazaki's 1997 blockbuster anime film, apart from the heroine, who reappears in the movie as Ashitaka's love interest. Mononoke, the giant cat, obviously resembes a close cousin to Papa Panda and Totoro. And some of the scene designs would resurface as the bath house in Spirited Away.

2014-11-20

Sherlock Hound: Complete and Unabridged (DVD)

Sherlock Hound: Complete and Unabridged is a 6-DVD box set that contains the complete 1984-85 TV anime series in Japanese and English soundtracks. Discotek Media secured the rights from previous owner, Manga Entertainment, earlier this year. This series began production at the Telecom studio for TMS, directed by Hayao Miyazaki and helmed by such animation luminaries as Yoshifumi Kondo, Kazuhide Tomaga,  Nobuo Tomizawa, Kyoto Tanaka, and Nizo Yamamoto.  You may recognize this team (sans Miyazaki) as the ones who created the famous 1984 Nemo pilot film, one of the all-time great anime masterpieces.

Sherlock Hound was conceived as a fun, lighthearted romp, aiming back to the goofy cartoon chaos of Animal Treasure Island. It's style feels very similar to Lupin III and Future Boy Conan, which makes sense since most of the top animators were involved on those projects. This series never tried to change the world, just have a lot of fun with cartoon Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, and a lot of thrilling car chases that exist purely for its own sake.

As we all know, the Sherlock Hound (Meitantai Holmes, or "Famous Detective Holmes," in Japan, the same title given to Arthur Conan Doyle's stories) series was produced in 1981, but mothballed after only six episodes were completed, due to disputes with the Doyle estate.  For Miyazaki, this was another setback during a time of many setbacks.  Future Boy Conan and Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro failed to become hits, and the Lupin III "red jacket" TV series had ended its successful run. A number of animation projects, including an early draft of My Neighbor Totoro, and a radically different Princess Mononoke, were stuck in the image board stage.  Hayao Miyazaki was unable to find work as an animation director.

The final blow came in 1983, when Miyazaki joined a Japanese delegation headed by Isao Takahata, and including Yasuo Otsuka and Yoshifumi Kondo, to the United States as part of the infamous "Little Nemo" film project.  Both Takahata and Miyazaki walked away without any success,* and Miyazaki returned home feeling deeply dejected and defeated. His nearly 20-year career in animation was all but finished. And so he returned to his first love, Japanese manga comics, and began crafting a monthly adventure serial titled, "Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind."

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure if Sherlock Hound is available or not.  There is little to no press coverage, no publicity, no reviews, no hype whatsoever. The box set is currently listed on the Discotek website for "pre-order" status, yet gives a release date of October 23, 2014. I shall have to investigate a little further.

I do enjoy the cover design for this newest Sherlock Hound, although it's nearly identical to the old Manga design. Discotek is probably using the same source, which means the show merely exchanged hands. Both Japanese and English language soundtracks are included, which is very helpful. As for extra features, I'm not aware if this box set has anything.  This may be a bare-bones release, which would be very unfortunate, if true.

What I'd really like to see is a single-disc release of just the original 1981 Miyazaki-directed episodes. The latter 1984-85 episodes aren't nearly as good, in my opinion, nor were the animators anywhere near as skilled as that legendary Telecom crew.  But I'm sure most kids won't mind. This is a fun after-school cartoon, with slapstick gags and car chases.  Just the perfect thing to take your mind off your homework for a little while.

Every Miyazaki fan owes it to themselves to have Sherlock Hound in their library.  I highly recommend purchasing a copy from Discotek, and put it on the shelf next to Lupin and Horus.

(*There is a bright moment in Miyazaki's 1983 visit to California. It was on this trip that he met a young Disney animator named John Lasseter, who was experimenting with the new frontier of computer animation. This new friendship would pay off handsomely for Miyazaki, and Studio Ghibli, decades later.)

The Next Wave of Studio Ghibli BD's - Porco Rosso, Pom Poko, and Tales From Earthsea Starring Julian Lennon


Hot on the heels of this week's release of The Wind Rises, Princess Mononoke and Kiki's Delivery Service on Blu-Ray, Disney has announced its next wave of Studio Ghibli movies in the States for February 3, 2015.  The next movies to arrive on BD...Porco Rosso, Pom Poko, and Tales From Earthsea.  Terrific!

This is very welcome news.  I had all but given up on Disney, who are notorious for dragging their heels on releasing Studio Ghibli movies on home video.  They appear to have all but given up at this point, leaving GKids as the new de-facto face of Ghibli in America. Now this sudden rush to get everything out the door...this is a very welcome surprise.

Porco Rosso is a favorite of mine.  It's quintessential Studio Ghibli: inspired by romantic adventure movies of yore, quietly nostalgic, more interested in telling a story about people instead of mindless action or dumb violence, and filled with humanity.  This is a wonderfully rich and layered movie, one that only could be told by the middle-aged Hayao Miyazaki; the younger Miyazaki of Horus and Animal Treasure Island, Lupin and Conan, couldn't possibly have pulled it off. This story requires that bittersweet nostalgia that only comes with age and experience.  And it's also very, very funny.  For years, Porco Rosso was my go-to "Miyazaki show-off" movie.  I hope it will be the same for you.



Heisei Tanuki Gassan Pom Poko, shortened to just "Pom Poko" in the West, is a harder nut to crack. It's less accessible for those not steeped in Japanese folklore or culture, and director Isao Takahata really isn't interested in meeting us halfway.  You must do your homework and meet on his terms. I think this film is a near-masterpiece, a sprawling, densely packed epic fable that fuses a mock documentary style with cultural history lesson and social satire, all wrapped in Paku-san's trademark character melodrama. The visual style is wildly inventive, darting from neo-realism to surrealism without warning. Pom Poko is a classic rock double album of a movie, a Physical Graffiti for animation.  It may be too sprawling, too dense, too much.  But the same could be said of Graffiti, or Exile on Main Street, or The White Album, or any double album.

I think Pom Poko suffered visually from the DVD format; colors were too washed out, too bleached out. Expect the Blu-Ray to restore all that rich color and visual detail previously missing from home video. I also think this movie suffers from its US Disney dub, which is clearly a weaker effort in the Ghibli catalog.  It's a hard movie to translate and pass off as American; this movie doesn't want to be assimilated. And it needs to be said: Johnathan Taylor Thomas was a clunky choice. Maurice Lemarche was much better, but isn't he always?

Pom Poko is one of only two Takahata films - the other being his 1987 live-action documentary, The Story of Yanagawa Canals - based on an original script, and not an adaptation. Perhaps that explains the epic, rambling nature. Paku-san just keeps piling on details, episodes, topics of discussion, hurling out ideas that lead to yet more discussions about yet more topics. He seems hellbent on solving the riddle of Modern Japan, a Westernized nation in danger of dissolving its sacred past.



Finally, Tales From Earthsea, Goro Miyazaki's 2006 directorial debut.  This movie took a drubbing from fans and critics, while Goro himself was ridiculed for coming across as the Ungrateful Son. I was not very fond of Earthsea when it was released, but I am willing to give it another chance, to try and appreciate the movie on its terms, and not as a running commentary on the Miyazaki clan and Studio Ghibli's quest to find a successor to the throne.Is it possible to appreciate this movie without all that bagging hanging overhead?

Picking the middle book in Ursula K. Le Guin's fantasy saga feels odd, particularly when only a single feature film would be made and not a trilogy. A television series would probably have been wiser. The greater story needed to be fleshed out, the mythology needed room to grow.  And Goro-san needed every opportunity to develop his skills. He's a third-string quarterback thrown into the big game without even learning the entire playbook. It shows. Goro Miyazaki is the Christian Ponder of anime.

That said, I did enjoy Tales From Earthsea's rich color palette, its impressive locales and scene designs. It will look sumptuous on Blu-Ray. Fans will be thrilled and Ghibli Freaks will have another title in their movie libraries. It might not get played, but it will look great sitting there on the shelf.

2014-11-19

New Studio Ghibli Blu-Ray Movies Released This Week


As all good Ghibli Freaks know, this week sees the release of three new Studio Ghibli Blu-Ray movies in the USA: The Wind Rises, Princess Mononoke, and Kiki's Delivery Service.  It's always so rare that we get anything released by Disney at all, having three movies at once is especially grand.

I haven't had a chance to examine these BDs for myself, but reviews have been mostly positive. Picture quality should be excellent, if a step below the Japanese BDs, color tones will be rich, warm and extremely detailed. Studio Ghibli looks so much better on high definition over DVD, it's worth upgrading your home theater system just for these movies.  But that's just my opinion.

The only negative is that Mononoke uses dubtitles - what, "dubtitles?" - instead of the literal English translation from earlier releases.  That's completely baffling and frustrating, but it wouldn't be the first time this has happened; Disney's US Blu-Ray of Castle in the Sky is also plagued with incorrect subtitles.  It's a puzzling oversight, and one that's completely unnecessary.  Because of this, I cannot recommend the US release over the Japanese.  That's just me.  If you prefer Neil Gaiman's US script, then you'll be perfectly happy with this release.  It was a fairly good anime dub for its time, more respectful than most.  But it still would be nice to enjoy the Japanese soundtrack as well, and using incorrect subtitles detracts from that experience.

Kiki's Delivery Service, similarly, also uses dubtitles instead of a literal translation, but this has always been the case. We have never had proper subtitles of this movie, in any format. Fortunately, the subtitles are taken from the old Streamline Pictures dub, which was very enjoyable.  There's one throwaway joke about the Hindenberg that I could do away with, but it's never really bothered me. Kiki is underrated in the Miyazaki canon; for me, it continues the gentle, pastoral pace of My Neighbor Totoro, and its insights on emerging adolescence, and any period of transition in one's life, ring true.

Years ago, I was grappling with long-term unemployment, the kind where you fear that you'll never find work again. When watching Kiki's Delivery Service, the scene where Kiki sat in a park, lost and uncertain, stuck me to my core. I felt that moment, that disorientation, that worry.  Where will I go?  What will happen to me?  That scene has always resonated in my memory, because of my experience.  If there's anything I respect about Miyazaki, it's his emotional honesty.  This is a great movie.

And The Wind Rises? Still a masterpiece, still controversial, but always destined to spark debates and deep discussions about Miyazaki, World War II, and the movies.  It was criminally ignored by the so-called fans when it was released in US theaters early this year.  Here is your chance for redemption, kids.

2014-11-18

Photos - Peanuts Movie (2015)


Blue Sky Studios (Ice Age) has released five new screenshots from their upcoming Peanuts Movie, which is scheduled for a November 6, 2015 release.

I'm a huge fan of Peanuts - who doesn't love Charlie Brown and Snoopy? - and I'm greatly looking forward to this newest attempt to revive the classic comic strip and cartoon characters.  Also, like many of you who are traditional animation fans, I feel a slight unease at the thought of Sparky Shultz' characters rendered in CGI.  Just look at the train wreckage from similar attempts with Rocky & Bullwinkle, Mr. Peabody, The Chipmunks, Astro Boy...don't get me started on those damned Smurfs.  Ugh, my eyes! The goggles do nothing!

That said, I am greatly impressed the work Blue Sky has shown so far.  They have managed to capture the classic hand-drawn look, with the additional detail and color that only CGI provides.  This feels like a very reverent interpretation of Peanuts, a respectful one.  This doesn't appear at all like a cheap, cynical cash-in.  For that, I am very thankful.

I do hope this movie will be a good one.  Western animation, despite its tremendous commercial success, is stuck creatively in the mud.  Ice Age was a good movie, owing a lot to classic cartoons without becoming crass, commercialized or cynical. Is Blue Sky the right choice to helm a new Charlie Brown cartoon?  Let's cross our fingers and hope for the best.



2014-11-17

Photos - Horus, Prince of the Sun (2014 DVD)


If you've been wondering where I've been lately, here's your answer. I have been working on Horus, Prince of the Sun, Isao Takahata's groundbreaking 1968 anime masterpiece.  This DVD will be released by Discotek Media on December 23 in the United States.

What did I create for the Horus DVD? Damn near everything. Apart from the audio commentary by anime scholar Mike Toole, and two video interviews with Isao Takahata and Yoichi Kotabe (taken from the 2008 French Horus, Prince du Soleil DVD), I created all the disc's features.  I wrote and edited the new subtitle translations, all of the special features, recorded an audio commentary track (while battling the worst case of stage fright in my life!), contributed to the menu layout design, and assisted on the cover design. Finally, I wrote the official press release and content for Discotek's Horus DVD page, and the product pages for Amazon and Best Buy.

These following screenshots accompany the press release, which I posted in full in the previous post.  I'm now sharing those screenshots with you here on Ghibli Blog.  My apologies from being away from the site so long. I'll get back to work now!  Enjoy the screenshots, which lie after the jump!


Horus, Prince of the Sun (DVD) December 23, 2014 - Official Press Release

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Discotek Media announces the release of DVD, “Horus, Prince of the Sun.” Available for purchase December 23, 2014 (MSRP $17.95).

Minneapolis, MN, November 17, 2014 -- Horus, Prince of the Sun (Taiyou no Ouji Horusu no Daibouken), Isao Takahata’s directorial feature film debut, stands as the most influential Japanese animated feature film ever made. Vivid, visceral and violent, yet charged with kinetic energy, Horus shatters the Walt Disney mold, establishing a new paradigm of adult storytelling, psychological realism, visual complexity, social themes and stylistic violence. This film marks the birth of the anime revolution.

Unofficially based on the mythic tales of Japan’s indigenous Ainu people, Takahata tells the story of Horus, the young warrior seeking revenge against the ice devil Grunwald, who destroyed his home; Hilda, the survivor of a massacre tormented between good and evil; and the fishing villagers caught in the middle, unsure which side to trust.

Available in the US for the first time in its original Japanese, Discotek is proud to present this groundbreaking anime feature by the creators of Lupin the 3rd; Heidi, Girl of the Alps; Anne of Green Gables; Gauche the Cellist; Grave of the Fireflies; My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke.

Directed by Isao Takahata (co-founder of Studio Ghibli). Animation Direction by Yasuo Otsuka. Scene Design by Hayao Miyazaki (2003 Academy Award Winner, co-founder of Studio Ghibli). Character Design and Key Animation by Yasuji Mori (Hakujaden: Tale of the White Serpent), Reiko Okuyama (Belladonna, The Little Mermaid), and Yoichi Kotabe (Heidi, Girl of the Alps). Musical Direction by Michiyo Mamiya (Grave of the Fireflies). Screenplay by Kazuo Fukuzawa, based on his play, “The Sun Above Chikisani.”


DVD SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES:

New and improved English subtitle translation

Two audio commentaries: one by Ghibli Blog author Daniel Thomas MacInnes, featuring readings from Anipages Daily, Critic After Dark, and Buta Connection; and one by anime scholar Mike Toole

Every Poet a Thief: Inspirations From Horus, a gallery of influences and themes seen in the films of Studio Ghibli

Hilda and Horus: Just Like Twins, an essay on the film’s main protagonists and its themes of trauma and revenge

Reiko Okuyama: A Tribute to a Legend, an essay by animation scholar Benjamin Ettinger on pioneering artist and feminist icon Reiko Okuyama

Message of Hope: A Conversation With Isao Takahata, an interview with Isao Takahata conducted in 2010 by film critic Peter van der Lugt

2008 video conversation with Isao Takahata and Yoichi Kotabe

Production gallery, featuring publicity stills, movie posters and home video releases around the world

Theatrical trailer

PLUS: Rare photographs of the film's creators: Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, founders of Studio Ghibli, with Yasuo Otsuka, Yasuji Mori, Reiko Okuyama, and Yoichi Kotabe


TITLE: HORUS, PRINCE OF THE SUN
RELEASE DATE: DECEMBER 23, 2014
DVD EDITION
1968
88 MINUTES
COLOR
MONAURAL
2.35:1 ASPECT RATIO
JAPANESE AUDIO WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES
ENGLISH AUDIO

For press inquiries, please contact Discotek Media at sales@discotekmedia.com. For interviews and appearances, please contact Daniel Thomas MacInnes at danielthomas5@hotmail.com.
 

2014-04-11

The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun is Coming to America!

At last!  The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun, the 1968 anime masterpiece, is coming to America!  Discotek Media made the announcement yesterday on their Facebook page.  No further details have yet been announced, including title, cover design, source material (Blu-Ray or DVD?), bonus supplements, retail price, or even a release date.  I promise that as soon as I learn anything important, I will share the news with you.

Discotek Media has previously released three Toei Doga animated features: Puss in Boots (1969), Animal Treasure Island (1971), and Taro the Dragon Boy (1976).  I remain hopeful that more of Toei's classic animated features could arrive on our shores.  And Horus is the most important title of the lot.

Horus, Prince of the Sun has been a special passion of mine ever since I first watched it in 2005, when the UK DVD (a poor, third-rate release) and fansub (a far better choice) were released.  It's a film I champion as a masterpiece - "The Citizen Kane of Anime" - and believe that it deserves a proper release here in the States.  I am already neck-deep in design notes for the supplemental materials, and am banging on Discotek's doors so we can work on the project.  I must stress that I am currently NOT working with them; I am only sending inquiries, with specific outlines and notes.

If you'd like to help Ghibli Blog, please contact Discotek Media and ask for us to be included on the BD/DVD production.  Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.  Stay tuned, kids.

Sherlock Hound Returns to DVD This September

Discotek Media announced today that they have acquired the rights to Sherlock Hound, and will be releasing the complete TV series on DVD box set this September 30.  They will include both Japanese and English-language versions, perhaps using a dual-sided format similar to the older (now out-of-print) Pioneer DVD releases.  It will be great to see this classic anime series return to American shores, and especially nice to have all 26 episodes in one box.

Sherlock Hound originated as a 1981 TV anime series, directed by Hayao Miyazaki and animated at Japan's Telecom studio (associated with TMS), alongside such luminaries of the period as Yoshifumi Kondo and Kazuhide Tomonaga.  Unfortunately, only six episodes were completed when the project was scuttled.  Fortunately, interest in the series was revived after two episodes were shown in theaters alongside Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind in 1984.  This led to a new production at TMS in 1984 and 1985.

Personally, I find the original 1981 Miyazaki-directed episodes to be far superior to the later episodes; you can spot the dramatic drop-off in talent, as most of the best animators and artists followed Miya-san to Studio Ghibli.  That said, this is a really fun cartoon show that doesn't aspire to be anything more than a really fun cartoon show, with MacGuffin-fueled plots and ridiculous car chases.  And having English dubs helps tremendously with selling to a wider audience.

I'm really looking forward to seeing Sherlock Hound again.  I do have the three Pioneer DVDs with the Miyazaki episodes (they're scattered about, the fiendish bastards!), but I'll definitely pick up the new Discotek release when it arrives this September.

No word yet on extras or bonus material, such as essays or audio commentaries.  As always, I'm happy to contribute and am regularly harrassing the Discotek people with emails.  Maybe I should send a fruit basket or something.  Who do I have to call around here?

2014-04-04

Check Out These Totoro T-Shirt Designs



Take a look at these terrific My Neighbor Totoro t-shirt designs, courtesy of art website TeeFury.  The first design is titled, "Spirit of the Seasons,"  and was created by artist "queenmob," and the second, "Totorofoot," was designed by artist "louisros."  The TeeFury site sold both shirts in a 24-hour flash sale for only $11, and allowed fans to vote for their favorite design.  I understand that the winner, "Totorofoot," will be available for a limited time at $18 each.

In addition, TeeFury offers a 12" x 16" matte cover for sale, and a chance to win a coffee mug, with these Totoro designs.  Very nice.  I do hope these items remain on sale for a longer time; it always seems that as soon as anyone learns about these short-term sales promotions, they've ended and left town.  Trust me on this one, folks: the internet requires a little time for news to spread.  Make these Totoro prints available for a few months and you'll be far more successful.

Thanks to Stephanie Wood at TeeFury for sending word to Ghibli Blog.  My apologies for not publishing this news item earlier; we've really had a crazy busy couple of days here at Ghibli Blog HQ, including Nakamichi cassette deck repairs, a job department relocation, and a sprained ankle (thank you very much, April Blizzard).  Oy, vey!  I really need to get paid for this website.

Anyway, visit TeeFury, have a look around, and pick up one of these excellent Totoro items while they're available.

2014-03-30

"The Collected Works of Director Hayao Miyazaki" DVD/BD Box Set in Japan June 18


The big surprise on Japan's home video front this weekend is the announcement of a massive Hayao Miyazaki box set, containing all of his directorial feature films, including Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro, Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, and the Studio Ghibli features.

Prices for this set are, well, horrifying - 64,800 Yen ($627.78 USD) for Blu-Ray.  Similar box sets for TV series like Heidi, Girl of the Alps sell for over $300. So this is definitely one for the diehard fans with the fat wallets.  Studio Ghibli released a similar box set on laserdisc years ago, and it has become a highly sought collectors' item (it remains the only place to find the TV interview featuring Miyazaki with Akira Kurosawa).

The inclusion of Castle of Cagliostro is a huge surprise.  Previously, this film was released on BD in 2008 by VAP.  It was a decent release, with sharper picture than earlier DVDs, but fans were left unimpressed and slightly disgruntled.  With Ghibli at the helm, we can expect the same masterful treatment given to all the studio's films, including superb sound quality and preservation of film grain.

This begs the question: Which version of Cagliostro will Discotek receive, the 2008 VAP release, or the 2014 Ghibli ga Ippai?  I am hoping and praying for the newer version, but no official word has been announced as of yet.  When Discotek has something to announce, I'm sure they'll let us know.

Two bonus discs are included in the package.  The first contains another big surprise: Yuki's Sun, Miyazaki's 1972 pilot film, complete and uncut.  This was Miyazaki's second directorial film (after Lupin the 3rd: Series One, with Isao Takahata), and his first solo outing as a director.  This pilot film has shown publicly only once: in 2001, on a Japanese TV program promoting Spirited Away; even then, only part of the film was broadcast.

Also included on the first bonus disc is Miyazaki's 1995 short film, On Your Mark, which originally played alongside Mimi wo Sumaseba in Japanese theaters, and last seen on the 2006 Ghibli Short Short DVD.  This music video for pop duo Chage & Aska follows a futuristic science-fiction scenario, quite different from Miyazaki's usual Jules Verne style, but includes a number of nods to Nausicaa and Castle in the Sky.  The film can be seen as a "saying goodbye" to Miyazaki's greatest heroine, as he had finally completed his epic, 1100-page Nausicaa manga comic.

A third extra for the box set are three episodes of the 1972-73 Japanese TV anime, "Akado Suzunosuke," which were storyboarded by Hayao Miyazaki (Isao Takahata is credited as the series' "chief director").  Both Miyazaki and Takahata had assisted with directing, storyboards and animation on numerous TV productions in the late 1960s and 1970s, so this is a good opportunity for many of us to fill in the gaps in their long careers.  This will be fun to watch.

The second box set bonus disc will contain the complete, 90-minute press conference where Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement.from directing feature films.  It's an interesting capstone to this chapter of the artist's career, and adds weight for those arguing that, yes, Miya-san really is retiring this time.  Bonus note: Were you aware that the 1972 Yuki's Sun pilot film was shown in Japanese theaters alongside The Wind Rises?  The "first" and "last" Miyazaki films shown together - I'd say Studio Ghibli has been banking pretty heavily on his stepping aside.

"The Collected Works of Director Hayao Miyazaki" will be released in Japan on June 18.  Again, I don't believe this box set will be seen outside Japan, but it's quite possible that we'll get the new Cagliostro Blu-Ray, and hopefully the extras.  Now if Ghibli could only get their hands on the classic Toei Doga feature films, we'd really be rolling.

(Update: I edited this post to more fully include the details of the box set.  Thanks to Anime News Network for their dedication and hard work.)

New Studio Ghibli Blu-Rays - The Wind Rises, Spirited Away...and Castle of Cagliostro




The next round of Studio Ghibli Blu-Rays in Japan have just been revealed: The Wind Rises, Spirited Away...(update) and Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro!

The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki's final directorial feature (that is currently playing in limited release in the USA) will arrive on DVD and BD this June 18.  This gives us hope that the West could see a home video release on our shores in time for Christmas.  Ghibli Freaks in Australia, the UK and Europe should start saving their pennies now.

Spirited Away ("The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro," as it's known in Japan) is the biggie, the Blu-Ray that everyone has been waiting for.  The Japanese release date is July 16, perfectly timed alongside Studio Ghibli's next feature film, Hiromasa Yonebayashi's "When Marnie Was There."  Careful readers will also notice that this leaves time for a Christmas release in the West.  Hey, maybe even Disney will bother to release this BD.  We can always dream, can't we?

Update: Following up on our post announcing the Hayao Miyazaki BD box set, Amazon.jp has revealed that Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro, the director's 1979 feature film, will be released on August 6 as a standalone release.  The BD is part of the "Ghibli ga Ippai" series and will feature a similar package design.

No word yet from Discotek on whether this Cagliostro Blu-Ray will be the source for their upcoming US release, but I would have to assume (and hope) it's true.

2014-03-26

Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro - Discotek DVD & Blu-Ray This Year


Discotek Media announced this evening that they have acquired the US rights to Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro.  The new DVD will be released (tentatively) this August, and the Blu-Ray will arrive in time for Christmas, or early 2015.  The announcement comes courtesy of Reed Nelson and LupinTheThird.com, and Discotek's Facebook page.

Previously, Cagliostro was released by Streamline Pictures and Manga Entertainment.  Discotek is working hard to secure the American-dubbed soundtracks to both home versions, which will make all Lupin fans very happy.  Bonus materiald will include a feature-length commentary by Reed Nelson, who was heavily involved in a number of Lupin DVD releases, including the Complete First TV Series DVD.

I have sent inquiries asking to be involved in the project; I wrote three essays for the Lupin First TV Series, and am quite eager to work on another similar project.  But at this point, there is no news from yours truly to report.  Perhaps I should compile an outline for a commentary track and record a demo?  See, this is why we really ought to have a Ghibli Blog podcast...

Finally, Discotek has promised that Cagliostro's title sequence will be presented uncut in both Japanese and English language soundtracks.  This is welcome news for Lupin fans still feeling burned about the 2006 Manga DVD.  Have I mentioned lately that Discotek does a fantastic job for dedicated anime fans?  Drop whatever you're doing, visit their store, and pick up a couple DVDs.

P.S. This is the perfect opportunity to remind everyone of a 2004 audio commentary track by Lupin III fan Chris Meadows.  This hails back from the early days of podcasts, when it was hoped that amateur DVD audio commentaries would emerge from all sides.  The .MP3 file is still available, so be sure to grab a copy while you can.

2014 Ghibli Blog Animation Poll Ends March 30 - Hurry Up!

Just a quick reminder to everyone to send in their ballots for the 2014 Ghibli Blog Animation Poll.  The deadline is March 30, so be sure to send me an email, or post on the official thread (as seen on the middle highlight column).

As for me, I am still working on my list.  There are just too many great animated films and too little space!  I'll continue to edit and tinker around right until the deadline.  I'm very impressed by the choices readers have submitted, how varied and inspired these choices are.

Remember: Top 20 animated feature films, shorts and TV shows.  Whatever you love the most, just go with that.  If Spongebob is your favorite cartoon, write it down!  If you love some obscure indie film that remains undiscovered, write it down!  There's plenty of room for all - the goal is to create a "snapshot" of where our heads are in 2014, and it's purely for fun.

Thanks to everyone for their support.  I'll be busy compiling the database and tracking the votes.

2014-03-20

Photos - The Tale of Princess Kaguya







Photos of Isao Takahata's The Tale of Princess Kaguya, showcasing its wonderful impressionist and expressionist watercolor art style. As someone who has worked in watercolors, I'm greatly impressed at seeing this painterly design on the big screen. What happened to animation diversity in the West? Why aren't we creating something like this? Wouldn't you love to see Pixar make a hand-drawn feature film that looked like this? Of course, you would.

This may sound paradoxical to most Western animators, but I think Takahata's unique perspective - he was never trained as an animator - allows him the freedom to experiment with form. He doesn't have to stick to a singular drawing technique, but can move freely between realism and surrealism, impressionist landscapes and expressionist character movements. He can contrast the outer world of forest, trees and cities with the inner world of minds and repressed emotions. This variety is essential for his depiction of psychological realism in animation. How do you show a person's inner soul when using drawings, and not actors? This is the challenge that awaits all painters and illustrators.

Kazuo Oga, Studio Ghibli's master landscape painter, served as Art Director for Princess Kaguya. His brilliance with pencil and paintbrush are on full display. I'm a great fan of the watercolor look pioneered by My Neighbors the Yamadas, and Ghibli short films like Dore Dore no Uta and Ghiblies Episode 2. This is an art style that reaches back to ancient Japan, drawing on the vast cultural tradition of scroll paintings (Takahata wrote a book on "12th Century Manga" a decade ago). Quite impressive.

2014-03-19

Castle in the Sky - RC Flapper Aircraft



Somebody built a real-life model of the insect flapper aircraft from Castle in the Sky.  Nice!  I wonder if one could buy one of these RC model kits in Japanese stores?  It would be great to find one at your local hobby shop.

Poster - The Tale of Princess Kaguya


And now we come to the other Studio Ghibli masterpiece of 2013, Isao Takahata's The Tale of Princess Kaguya.  This film was in production since 2008, and was a painstaking and long process to completion.  The result is a true labor of love by a film master who continues to push the medium of animated film.  This movie was modestly successful in Japan ($22 million, in the range of pre-Mononoke Ghibli releases), which is a welcome return for Takahata, whose 1999 feature My Neighbors the Yamadas crashed and burned in its native country.

Kaguya's art style is purely expressionist, continuing the watercolor style begun by Yamadas, and continued by a number of Studio Ghibli short films.  It remains a very unique style, and with this picture, Takahata pushes the art style to its absolute limits.  The $50 million budget - the same as Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises - is monstrously expensive for a Japanese animated feature, so we're promised a spectacle to remember.  If you're hungry for something different and unique, then stay tuned for Kaguya's fall US release.

This is a great movie poster.  Keen observers will notice that this illustration riffs a famous scene from Horus, Prince of the Sun, where the conflicted anti-heroine Hilda battles winter wolves and collapses in the snow.  This suggests common themes in the story, which is based on a famous Japanese myth about a supernatural woman who is born inside a tree, grows to adulthood, and escapes from her troubled life to the moon.  No doubt Takahata will examine the psychology of this character.

Will Princess Kaguya be Isao Takahata's final feature film?  At age 78, one can never take the future for granted.  And given the enormous expense of the film's production (Studio Ghibli actually lost money for 2013), it would be challenging to secure financing for any future film projects.  Heaven knows how long it took Paku-san to find the money to pay for this one.  It's quite audacious of him to be so bold, so risky, at this stage in his career.  I am reminded that Ingmar Bergman reemerged from retirement to direct one final movie.  We should treat this as a miracle, and be thankful for the moment.  The moment may never pass our way again.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya will be released in American theaters this fall, courtesy of GKids.  Dubbed and Subtitled versions will be available.

2014-03-13

Toshio Suzuki is Not "Retiring" After All

False alarm, folks. Toshio Suzuki, Studio Ghibli's co-founder and former president is not retiring as the studio's producer, after all. The original news report came from Japan's TBS Radio, where Suzuki spoke of an "honorable retirement." The news quickly spread worldwide that he was stepping down after the completion of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata's latest feature films. Cinema Today Japan is now reporting that it's all a misunderstanding; the radio hosts took a humorous statement too literally. His positional shift to "General Manager" is more of a side move, not a step down, and Suzuki-san won't be leaving the studio anytime soon.

That makes a bit more sense. He'll need more time to train the next generation of Ghibli producers and corporate staff, just as Miyazaki has nurtured the next generation of movie directors.

And in slightly related news...Hayao Miyazaki is still "retired" from directing feature films. But he is still involved in oversight and pre-production work on the studio's current projects, drawing his new samurai manga comic, and working 12-hour days.

Photos - The Red Shoes (Criterion Collection, LaserDisc)



These screenshots come from the Criterion Collection LaserDisc release of Powell & Pressburger's masterpiece, The Red Shoes.  This is just about the best-looking LaserDisc ever released; if you have a picture-tube TV, you'll be amazed at the clarity and richness of color.  This is one of my favorite films, and any movie lover would be thrilled to include it in their movie library, on any format.

I took these photos on my 2003 Sony Wega 24" set.  This was the final series of CRT televisions made by Sony, and offered the sharpest picture of any SD on the market.  Even compared to today's LCD screens, this Wega looks impressive, and the best part is that these sets can be found for pocket change.

And don't even think of telling me to "upgrade" my TV because it's "outdated."  I already upgraded...to a 1995 Sony Trinitron, a pure analog set (the 2000-era Wega's are digital) with spectacular color.  They'll pry my CRTs from my cold dead hands!  Take that, LCD, Plasma, LED, 3D, Smart, and 4K televisions!

(PS - Yes, this is another shameless attempt to broaden my website's horizons by expanding into live-action movies.  Yes, it's self-indulgence.  But don't worry, Ghibli Blog is not abandoning animation anytime soon.)

Turn Your Pet Into a Cat Bus!


Now this is delightful.  I can't help but imagine that whoever markets and sells one of these cat costumes would make a fortune.  Quick, move quickly!  Before someone else beat ya to it!  Every cat owner will want one of these!

Seriously, somebody needs to sell a line of Cat Bus coats. Hurry up and make it happen before I convince Marcee to do it, and we hog the market all to ourselves.

2014-03-12

GKids Gains US Distribution Rights to Princess Kaguya

Hooray for Zoidberg! GKids announced today that they have acquired full US distribution rights to Isao Takahata's newest film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya. This includes theatrical, non-theatrical, television, and home video rights.

In addition, Studio Ghibli is producing an English-language dubbed soundtrack for the film. The production team of Geoffrey Wexler and Frank Marshall will once again be in charge. This is their third localization production, following Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises, and Goro Miyazaki's From Up on Poppy Hill.

Princess Kaguya will be released in theaters this fall, and submitted for Oscar nominations.

Grave of the Fireflies on Apple iTunes

An interesting development: Isao Takahata's 1988 heart-wrenching masterwork, Grave of the Fireflies, is now available for digigal download on Apple iTunes. No doubt anime fans and publishers will be watching closely to see if this movie succeeds on this format. Disney does not hold the US distribution rights to Fireflies, so I wouldn't expect or anticipate more Studio Ghibli releases on iTunes in the immediate future. But it would be a pleasant surprise. Stay tuned, kids.

Dead On Arrival - The End of Miyazaki in America?

What happens if you throw a Miyazaki party and nobody comes? That's the question we find ourselves asking now. The director's latest (and final) feature film, The Wind Rises, was given a limited theatrical release in the United States on February 21 and 28. The film, as one would expect, was hailed by critics nationwide. Ghibli and anime fans. And then, silence. Barely anybody actually bothered to go see it. The box office returns are not merely disappointing, but tragic, apocalyptic.

According to Box Office Mojo, The Wind Rises has earned $3,430,607 as of March 10. At its current rate, the movie will barely crawl to $4 million - that is, if Disney allows one more weekend before pulling the picture from theaters. The per-screen average was decent on its opening "wide release" weekend (and here we dryly note that "wide" means fewer than 500 screens, a tenth of a major studio release), but after those first days, the numbers just collapse.

The sorry truth is that nobody - fans of Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, anime, or animation in general - shows any great interest in this movie; nobody wants anything do with this picture. Online buzz, either on Ghibli Blog or movie sites or social media, has been minimal at best. There has only been an obligitory mention, a casual aside, out of respect for Miyazaki. And the pervading question is: Why? Why weren't you interested? Why didn't you see this movie in theaters? Where are the Miyazaki fans? Where are the anime fans? Where the heck is everybody?

I think there are a number of causes at play here. First, there are many Ghibli fans who simply never had a chance; no theater in their area would show the movie. That is Disney's responsibility. For a company that tried - or at least, offered the bare pretense of trying - to establish Hayao Miyazaki as a household name in America, Disney's performance has been terrible, an embarassment. Only 496 screens for the man hailed as the "Walt Disney of Japan," no promotion, and no advertising? The only commercial I ever saw was on YouTube, and it seemed more focused on selling another lousy auto-tuned pop song. Who makes these decisions?

John Lasseter once championed Studio Ghibli's movies as though they were his own. Where is he now? What happened? Why such a tiny release given to the man every Pixar animator hails as the Second Coming? Where are Pixar's star directors to lend support? Second Coming, my eye. I've seen better support from Pontius Pilate.

To Disney's credit, they have done an admirable job with the localization and dubbing of The Wind Rises' US soundtrack. It's a miracle that such a movie, an animation melodrama in the vein of late-era Fellini and Kurosawa, was ever put on American movie screens at all. Here is a unique species, a style of moviemaking that simply does not exist in the West. For that, Disney should have our respect.

No, I believe multiple parties are to blame here. Where are the anime fans, the original Miyazaki champions who were passing along videotapes a generation ago? Is it just me, or does it seem like they walked out on Miyazaki just as Studio Ghibli was breaking into the mainstream consciousness? It's the curse of any sub-cultural group; you champion the weird and obscure because it's weird and obscure. Anything the "popular" crowd likes is immediately deemed suspect, and any member of your tribe that becomes "popular" is denounced as a heretic - a "sellout."

This isn't a hard-and-fast rule; anime fans may not have "denounced" Miyazaki as a "sellout." But they certainly drifted away once Disney started publishing his movies in theaters and DVD. Perhaps they felt their work was finished? Just say "Mission Accomplished" and then move along to the next underground anime gig. Either way, the end result is the same: no bodies in the theater seats.

Finally, what happened to the Ghibli Freaks, the non-anime Miyazaki fans? What happened to the kids who were turned on to Spirited Away, Ponyo, Arrietty? Where are all the visitors who clicked onto Ghibli Blog to read the 1980 Mononoke comic, or look at Totoro furniture, or enjoy fan-created artwork? You're willing to share your love of all things Ghibli on social media. And Heaven knows how badly you freaked out when you read our April Fools' joke, announcing that Disney had bought out Studio Ghibli? You were so concerned and engaged then...what happened now? What's the deal?

I cannot claim to have any answers; I only have questions and pet theories. I suspect that Ghibli fandom, like anime fandom in general, has declined and shrunk for several years. There is simply less interest in these films than in previous years. The fandom appears to remain largely casual. There are no Ghibli or Miyazaki "fans," only Totoro fans and Spirited Away fans. Folks are only interested in a few specific movies, a few specific characters, but no more; there is no interest in knowing Miyazaki, the artist and his work, in any greater degree.

Has the American Ghibli bubble burst? Has it become a dead fad? Hayao Miyazaki has been a fixture on the scene since Mononoke and Spirited Away arrived on our shores in 1999 and 2002. Perhaps interest in this unique art form has worn itself out, like hula hoops and disco and grunge rock? Japan still embraces Ghibli, but they share a long history of Japanese animation going back to the Toei Doga films of 60 years ago. In the United States, these movies are wholly unique. American animation is tied to the Disney paradigm more tightly than ever. And there is no sign of a paradigm shift anytime soon, if ever. People simply aren't interested in animation unless it fits into safe, predictable molds - the princess fairy tale, the superhero comic, the toy commercial. Whatever lies outside that boundary, no matter how acclaimed the filmmaker or artist, remains buried in the graveyard. Dead On Arrival.

So whaddya think, sirs?

Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro Soundtrack LP




Now here's a cool collector's item for anime and Hayao Miyazaki fans: the 1983 soundtrack LP for Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro.  This LP was released on the Colombia label in Japan, and includes excellent cover and insert artwork.  I especially like the front and back cover, which emphasizes the themes of romance and Lupin's conflicted emotions...who is the rescuing hero, and who is the imprisoned?

This is a really nice collector's item.  It also helps that Castle of Cagliostro has some really good music, very fitting for a late-1970s picture.  It could be used on an episode of Charlie's Angels.  The title song is especially nice, fitting in that James Bond style of espionage, intrigue and romance.  I could see myself spinning this record from time to time; I'd certainly be making mix tapes, that's for sure.

This soundtrack LP, and many others, are commonly available on Ebay for $30, give or take.  If you're looking to add to your Miyazaki collection, here's an excellent choice.

2014-03-11

Castle of Cagliostro - Streamline Vs Manga Dubs

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Continuing our topic of discussion from the previous post, here is a video comparison of two US soundtrack dubs for Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro.  The first part is the Carl Macek Streamline dub, which appeared on home video in 1991.  The second part is from the 2000 Manga dub, which appeared on DVD.

Diehard anime fans will cringe at the thought of any dub; the original Japanese-language soundtrack with English subtitles are the only "accurate" way to view these films and TV programs.  I can appreciate their passion, and have often agreed with them.  But I also enjoy a lot of dubbed anime, and respect Macek's insistence on spreading the gospel of anime to a wider, mainstream audience.  And as all movie buffs know, most folks are not interested in subtitles - especially cartoons.

Fortunately, modern DVD and Blu-Ray formats enable multiple soundtracks, which means everyone is happy.  And isn't that what matters the most?  When I'm watching a Studio Ghibli film, it's almost always in Japanese-with-subtitles, but most of my family prefers the English-language dubs.  And a lot of those dubs are quite excellent.

Comparing these two videos, I am impressed by the skill and grace of the 1991 Streamline recordings.  The voice actors are casually authentic, colored but not too "cartoonish," and quite enjoyable.  It could work as a radio drama.  The 2000 Manga recordings are far more "accurate" to the Japanese script; it tries to capture the notes as perfectly as possible, whereas Masek played more loosely but aimed for feeling.  But the Manga dub sounds stiff, the dialog doesn't read as easily, the voice actors are less convincing and more amateurish.

For the record, I think nothing beats the original Japanese voice cast when it comes to Lupin III.  Yasuo Yamada will always be THE voice of Lupin in my book.  But it's fun to hear other actors take their stab at the role.

My Neighbor Totoro - 1993 Streamline Commercial

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I wanted to find clips from the old Streamline releases of Hayao Miyazaki's films, and came across this little gem.  This is a 1993 television commercial for My Neighbor Totoro's first appearance in US theaters, courtesy of Streamline Pictures.  Carl Macek, the legendary producer and director who is, arguably, the individual most responsible for spreading the gospel of anime to America.

To this day, there are American Totoro fans who prefer the older Streamline dub over the 2006 Disney release.  I can appreciate their enthusiasm.  Macek had a keen understanding of how to translate foreign anime films to our domestic audience, and his actors had a natural, casual tone that felt genuine.  And he was an early champion of Miyazaki, localizing and releasing Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro, Tales of the Wolf (the two Miyazaki-directed episodes of Lupin Series Two), Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki's Delivery Service.

Anyway, here's a fascinating little time capsule for everyone to enjoy.  I have to say, I really do enjoy the old VHS color bleeding.  There's a special nostalgic appeal to my generation: like 1980s hip-hop and thrash, '80s anime just feels better when it's on tape.  You kids today with your newfangled, dadgum Blu-Ray discs won't understand.

2014-03-09

Anne of Green Gables Blu-Ray Box Set - March 26 (Japan)




Anne of Green Gables (Akage no An), the 1979 World Masterpiece Theater series directed by Isao Takahata, is arriving in a spectacular Blu-Ray box set on March 26 in Japan.  The entire 50-episode series will run across eight discs, and a wealth of extras include storyboards and background artwork.  The box comes with two thick booklets and some spectacular artwork.  Like the Heidi, Girl of the Alps Blu-Ray, this is a must-have for all animation lovers.

Two unfortunate downsides for Western fans: One, there are no English subtitles, an odd decision, given that fan translations have existed for years.  Two, the retail price is 31,080 Yen, or just over $300 USD.  Ouch!!  Somebody will have to explain to me why these DVD and BD box sets are so outrageously expensive in that country.

I have argued for many years that the three 1970s television dramas - Heidi, Girl of the Alps; 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (aka Marco); Anne of Green Gables - are the true masterpieces by Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki.  Yoichi Kotabe (Heidi, Marco) and Yoshifumi Kondo (Anne) were also equal contributors, and they should be remembered as such.  If you've watched all the Studio Ghibli feature films and are feeling bummed because there's nothing left to watch - you haven't seen anything yet.  You're just getting started.

In a perfect world, Heidi-Marco-Anne would all see Blu-Ray releases in the West; unfortunately, the high costs of localization and production of new soundtracks are too high for all but the largest media companies.  And what are the odds that Disney would want one of these series?  Even these cherished childrens programs are too intense, too emotionally pure and honest, for the Disney Ken-and-Barbie Doll factory.  Oh, well, maybe that could change someday.

Studio Ghibli's Toshio Suzuki to Step Down as Producer? (Update: Maybe Not)


Still don't believe that Hayao Miyazaki is retiring from directing feature films?  Now it's Toshio Suzuki's turn to retire as Studio Ghibli's producer. 36-year-old Yoshiaki Nishimura, who served as the producer on Isao Takahata's Tale of Princess Kaguya, will succeed as studio producer for all future film projects.  Suzuki will continue at Studio Ghibli under the new title, "General Manager."

Presumably, Suzuki-san's role will be to manage the transition to Studio Ghibli's new generation, as they continue forward with new directors like Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Goro Miyazaki, and behind-the-scenes figures like company producer Nishimura and president Koji Hoshino (the former president of Walt Disney Japan*).  His role will become one of guidance rather than direct influence.

Suzuki-san has always been the quiet force behind Studio Ghibli, and is responsible for so many of the directions and decisions taken by the studio over the years.  He has an uncanny ability to influence and persuade Miyazaki, going back to his days as editor of Animage Magazine.  It was Suzuki who championed the artist's directorial works like Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro, who persuaded him to publish his serial comic, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, to open a new animation studio with longtime collaborator Takahata.  Toshio Suzuki was the driving force behind the studio for years; Ghibli as we know it today would never have existed without him.

It's the end of an era, kids.  Now would be a good time for all the fence-sitters and so-called Ghibli fans to head to their nearest theater and see The Wind Rising.  No more procrastinating.  This is your last crack of the bat, your last present from Santa Claus, so you better appreciate it while you can.

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Update 3/13/2014: Not so fast. Japanese news sites report that Toshio Suzuki's "retirement" was an error, the result of a mis-communication. Suzuki says that he isn't going anywhere just yet; the internal shuffling may still be in effect. We'll report more when we have more concrete details.

Viz Media to Release "The Art of Princess Mononoke" - Is a Disney Blu-Ray Coming Soon?


Viz Media announced this week that, in addition to publishing Hayao Miyazaki's 1980 Mononoke Hime (based on a series of image boards for an unrealized animation project), they will be publishing "The Art of Princess Mononoke," as part of the continuing Studio Ghibli art book series.  The book will arrive in bookstores this October.

This release will officially replace the long out-of-print edition published by Miramax, "Princess Mononoke: The Art and Making of Japan's Most Popular Film of All Time."  That book was also based on Ghibli's official art book.  I haven't seen that edition in many years, so I cannot remember if there were any exclusive pages or essays that won't appear in Viz Media's edition.  We'll just have to wait and see.

And now for the larger question: Does the publication of two Mononoke Hime-themed books mean Disney is planning to release the Blu-Ray edition of the film?  It was released in Japan just in time for Christmas last year (along with The Cat Returns the Favor/Ghiblies Episode 2), and should be arriving around the world in due course.  Unfortunately, as we all know, the relationship between Studio Ghibli and Disney over this film was rocky and contentious.  It's never a good sign when the studio boss wakes up to find a loaded weapon in his mailbox.

When Miramax split from Disney, they took Princess Mononoke with them, as they were the official distributor in the US.  It appeared the rights would be lost in legal limbo; fortunately, Disney quietly reacquired those rights a couple years ago, and reissued the DVD, with the blue-and-gold label.  This was done with almost no fanfare, and, probably don't even know this release even exists.  Heck, I didn't know about it until I saw a copy at Barnes & Noble's last year.

When Disney signed a distribution deal with Studio Ghibli, they were interested in Hayao Miyazaki's children's movies like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service.  The last thing they ever expected from the Japanese filmmaker was a bloody and brutally violent Ford-Kurosawa epic.  In a society where animation exists almost solely as "the electric babysitter," Princess Mononoke came as a shock, and relations between the two parties were notably damaged, until Pixar's John Lasseter came to the rescue in 2002.

On the Blu-Ray front, Disney in the US has fallen so far behind Japan and the rest of the world, I've all but given up hope.  They have little interest in selling movies that don't sell in this country, especially when Disney holds no merchandising or character rights ("where the real money from the movie is made.")  And the box office returns for The Wind Rises are absolutely dreadful.  And so there is very little demand, or interest, by either Disney or the general public.

The two new Mononoke books give hope that we'll see the Blu-Ray on our shores.  On that topic, I'll move the dial from "Never in a Million Years" to "Maybe."  For our side, I'll count that as a win.

2014-03-07

Ghibli Blog Surpasses 2.6 Million Pageviews

More Good News, Everyone!  This week, Ghibli Blog has surpassed 2.6 million pageviews since record-keeping began in May, 2007 (the site began in March 2006, in case you're curious).  This is an excellent milestone, and I want to thank our faithful followers around the world, and hope for your continued support in the future.

Ghibli Blog remains a one-man operation; I handle all the writing, layout and art design myself, and it's a lot of hard work.  If you enjoy all my hard work, and all the content this website provides, please support us with a donation.  The PayPal "Donate" button is always on the upper-right corner of the page. Thank you very much, Domo arigatou, Muchas gracias.

Hayao Miyazaki's 1980 Mononoke Hime Book Coming to USA


Good News, Everyone! Viz Media will publish Hayao Miyazaki's Mononoke Hime picture book this October in the USA. Retail price will be $34.95.

The original Mononoke Hime began as a film project in 1980. Miyazaki created a complete set of image boards, rendered in pencil and watercolor, and sought out producers to finance the project. He was unsuccessful in this quest. He eventually published the image boards and story in his 1983 art book, Hayao Miyazaki Image Boards. In 1993, Mononoke Hime was published as a stand-alone picture book, and this is the version that Viz will be publishing in the States.

This period of Miyazaki's career - late 1970s to early 1980s - is very interesting. It's a time of setback and struggle; the glory days of Toei Doga, of Heidi and Marco, his collaborations with Isao Takahata, are fading in the distant past. His own attempts to establish himself as a sole director in his own right - 1978's Future Boy Conan, 1979's Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro, 1981's Sherlock Hound (Famous Detective Holmes) - were met with failure on the small screen, the big screen, and behind the scenes. Despite the excellence of his work, the peak of his cliffhanger serial period, the director could not find an audience willing to accept him. And so a number of film projects, including Mononoke Hime and My Neighbor Totoro, languished for lack of interest and lack of funds. By 1982, it appeared that his anime career was all but finished.

One could see his return to manga comics, with the monthly serial Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind in 1982, the graphic novel The Journey of Shuna in 1983, the publication of his Image Boards book the same year, as Hayao Miyazaki's farewell to animation, a return to his earlier passion, comics. Others could see this period as a regrouping, of healing wounds and plotting the comeback, a period of evolution. When Miyazaki was given the chance to direct the Nausicaa anime film in 1983/84, the heroic optimism of his youth had burned away, and what emerged was darker, and more emotionally complex, and with a new sadness underneath the surface. Hayao Miyazaki, the Personal Filmmaker, was .

For our interests, the 1980 Mononoke is a fascinating look into the younger Miyazaki of the 1970s, whose stories were clean and direct. This is a children's fairy tale far removed from the emotionally wrenching 1997 John Ford-Kurosawa epic. It's fun and amusing and entertaining, and it doesn't aim to be anything else. It's fascinating to imagine how Miyazaki and his animators could have realized these image boards. The giant cat, of course, reminds us of Totoro, and I think that's why this storybook is popular with fans. I expect this book to become a hit when it reaches bookstores in October; it's closer to what Miyazaki fans actually want, instead of a confessional melodrama like The Wind Rises.

And now a personal note. I posted the complete set of the 1980 Mononoke image boards, which were translated into English. After a few years, it was finally discovered by the internet and spread like wildfire. To this day, this is the most popular post in the history of Ghibli Blog. I am very humbled and thankful to have played a role in spreading awareness of this, and many other, works from the careers of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.

It has always been my dream that these films, comics and books would be released in the US. And now that Mononoke Hime is being published, I will soon delete the comic from that post, so as not to hurt Viz Media's book sales. The role of this website is to preserve history and build a community, not steal or exploit. I urge everyone to purchase this book when it is released, and support those who invest time and money on these projects. Show your support with your dollars and help to build this community.

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