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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.

2014-03-06

And the Wind Cries - Reflections on Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises


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What are my thoughts on Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises? A jumble of conflicting thoughts and feelings. Powerful.  Inspiring.  Masterpiece.  Verklempt.  I have viewed this movie twice, in Japanese and US soundtracks, and on both occasions was overwhelmed.  This is a beautiful, deeply haunting film; its heaviness grips my heart and mind, the images soar and sing.  There is so much to absorb that you need time to process it all.

The Wind Rises is not a fast or frenetic film; it has a patience and speed that contrasts greatly with the action-adventure serials that defined Miyazaki's youth.  But this movie is emotionally overpowering; its images have a sweeping grandeur, like the great surrealist and expressionist painters.  Its mood is one of reflection, observation, sadness.  It's final message - "The wind is rising, We must live! - is not a message of optimism, but perseverance.  It is a celebration of the imagination and the redemptive power of art.

Officially, The Wind Rises is an historical biography, adapted from a fictional memoir about the life of Japanese airplane engineer and designer Jiro Horikoshi, which was then adapted by Hayao Miyazaki into a 2009 graphic novel.  The movie tells the tale of Horikoshi's life in the early 20th Century, witnessing the Great Kanto Earthquake and two World Wars, and his haunted dreams of creating wonderful flying machines.  That's the "official" explanation; but I also see a parallel story that is deeply auto-biographical: Hayao Miyazaki's own life, his childhood, his passions and dreams.  Everything is presented with a surreal Fellini flair; characters, moments and histories play out like Jungian archetypes.  The Wind Rises plays like a series of extended lucid dreams in the director's own mind.

There are times when I am watching the young Jiro Horikoshi, and I am convinced that I am seeing Miyazaki as a child, frustrated by his eyesight and dreaming of airplanes.  At other moments, Miyazaki's voice inhabits that of Marconi, the Italian airplane engineer who serves as spirit guide and Greek Chorus.  At yet other moments, it is the Mitsubishi boss Kurokawa who emerges as Miyazaki, the stern and demanding Ghibli studio boss.  Miyazaki the Elder dispenses wisdom to Miyazaki the Younger, guiding and warning in equal measure.

In one scene, Kurokawa informs Jiro that he has won the job of designing an experimental aircraft.  Yuri replies that he wants his childhood friend, and fellow engineer, on the project.  Kurokawa flatly refuses with a telling lesson: Never work on projects with your friends; you'll only become rivals.  It is impossible for me not to think of Hayao Miyazaki's long partnership with director Isao Takahata, which began at the Toei Doga studio and ended at Studio Ghibli.  Theirs is very much like a McCartney-Lennon relationship, before and after the Beatles breakup.

The twin biographies of Horikoshi and Miyazaki flow and intertwine.  Miyazaki obsessed about airplanes practically since his birth.  Giovanni Caproni was a childhood hero; indeed, "Ghibli" was named after one of his airplanes.  As a professional animator, he and his peers struggled with a sense of inadequacy, of being "20 years behind," of needing to learn the craft the rest of the world mastered.  They yearned for the respect of the world, which looked down upon them as primitive.  Could this have been a driving force that led to the creation of The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun in 1968?  Perhaps.  And let us not forget that the young Miyazaki, on his first European trip, met author Astrid Lindgren in hopes of collaborating on the Pipi Longstockings anime.  The project was cooly rejected, dismissed.  This parallels the cold reception received by Horikoshi and his fellow Japanese designers on their encounter with Germany's modern, technologically advanced airplanes.

And, of course, the film's heroine Naoko serves as a parallel for Miyazaki's eternal romantic muse, his wife Akemi Ota.  She was also the inspiration for the heroines in Sherlock Hound, Howl's Moving Castle and Ponyo; once again, there is tension between her art and his career, but this time tempered by a personal tragedy that parallels Jiro's professional tragedy.  He is doomed to lose everything and everyone he holds dear.  He is destined to walk among the gravestones of his dreams.

(continued after the jump)

Hayao Miyazaki's New Samurai Manga Comic





I know what you're thinking: didn't Hayao Miyazaki say he was retiring?  Well, yes and no.  He announced his retirement from directing feature films, and The Wind Rises is his final epic masterpiece.  But on his other great passion - manga comics - he remains as active as ever.  Hid idea of "retirement" is basically your idea of a "coffee break."

Last November, Japanese network NHK, which has a very long history with Studio Ghibli, showcased Miyazaki on their "Professional" series.  The televised episode showed the studio in the final stages of production for The Wind Rises, which was released in Japan last summer to great acclaim and enormous box office returns.

The program also teased out these first glimpses of Miyazaki's newest venture, a Sengoku-era Samurai-manga comic.  This newest serial will appear in the pages of Model Graphix Magazine, home to many of his comics over the years.  The first chapter will run eight pages; the total length is still undetermined.  Of course, it's just as likely that Miyazaki himself doesn't know.  It might last a couple episodes, or it might run all year.

It's common for Miyazaki to work on comics after completing a movie.  It's a good stress release, and allows him greater freedom to pursue smaller subjects or indulge in personal obsessions like airplanes.  Naturally.  And it's always great to see the 73-year-old artist continue to work exclusively with paper, pen and paints.  This is also how he creates image boards and storyboards for animation film projects.  Take that, computers!

It's always conceivable that Miyazaki's samurai manga could be adapted to animation - Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Porco Rosso and The Wind Rises were all derived from Hayao Miyazaki comics.  So I would never completely rule that out.  But I believe the director when he says that he has retired from directing feature films; The Wind Rises is a farewell movie, an Abbey Road movie.  If an anime film production evolves from this comic, it's far more likely to be helmed by one of Studio Ghibli's younger directors...perhaps son Goro Miyazaki?

We're already getting ahead of ourselves.  For now, let Father Miyazaki work on his new project while we send our subscription money to Model Graphix ASAP.

2014-03-05

The Wind Rises - Interviews w/Hayao Miyazaki and Hideaki Anno (Eng Subs)





I wanted to share these two videos from Japanese TV, featuring lengthy interviews with Hayao Miyazaki and Hideaki Anno on The Wind Rises, which is now playing in US theaters.  Thanks to some dutiful fan translations, English subtitles are included on these videos.  Simply click the "CC" button to turn them on.

Hideaki Anno, best known as the mastermind behind Neon Genesis Evangelion, was given the lead vocal role in The Wind Rises.  His relationship with Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli stretch back to the 1984 Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, and continues to this day.  Anno has collaborated with the Ghibli on a couple short films, and the studio supported him on one or two of his live-action films.

I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll let these videos speak for themselves.

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