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2015-04-20

When Marnie Was There - Japan and US Trailers





It's about time that we started discussing Studio Ghibli's latest feature film, Hiromasa Yonebayashi's When Marnie Was There. Here are the Japanese and US trailers for viewing.

As always, there are a lot of things to discuss about this movie in the coming weeks, as GKids Film rolls out the US theatrical run. The not-quite-hidden gay subtext being among them, of course. I'm not yet decided whether this was overtly intended, or if we "straight people" have cracked the secret code to gay and lesbian characters in literature and movies, the "wink-wink" code of Fried Green Tomatoes and Thelma & Louise and Anne of Green Gables. Oh, and all those Expendables movies. Can't forget those.

A fair warning: Marnie contains a large spoiler, which I'll kindly advise everyone to keep a secret.

Panda Kopanda, Chie, Gauche, Sherlock Blu-Ray and DVD in Japan July 17


Studio Ghibli is scheduled to release Panda Kopanda, Jarinko Chie, Gauche the Cellist, and Sherlock Hound on Blu-Ray and DVD in Japan this July 17. What a surprise! It appears that Ghibli is turning some attention to the "pre-Ghibli" eras of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata's long and storied careers.

None of these titles will feature the "silhouette" design reserved for the Ghibli catalog titles, since all pre-date the studio's founding by a number of years. But the cover designs do feature the original movie posters, in keeping with the remastered Ghibli DVDs.

Jarinko Chie is Isao Takahata's 1981 viciously funny comedy, rooted in the Kansei-region city of Kobe, and featuring the voice talents of one of Japan's popular comedy troupes (somebody out there, please help me with the names!). It's episodic structure is similar to My Neighbors the Yamadas, but more tightly wound around a central plot of a young girl (Chie) her struggles to fit within her dysfunctional family. The comedy leans heavily towards the slapstick and the gross-out, which is highly unusual for Takahata, and helps this movie stand out. Longtime friends and Toei Doga alums Yasuo Otsuka and Yoichi Kotabe served as the film's animation directors. It's a personal favorite of mine, and it remains criminally overlooked.

Gauche the Cellist is Takahata's 1982 feature, one of his true masterpieces. Lovingly crafted over the span of six years, this movie is pure poetry, masterfully blending historic melodrama, beautiful music, and a nostalgic longing for Japan's long-lost agrarian past. I want to live in Gauche's world (which is really Ludwig Van Beethoven's world), the fields and the forests, the gardens, the rainstorms and fiery sunsets, and the small yet tightly knit community, where modernity has yet to destroy nature.

Sherlock Hound was Hayao Miyazaki's 1981 TV series, which was created in collaboration with Italy. The production was scuttled after only six episodes were created, owing to copyrights issues with the Conan Doyle estate. Several episodes were shown alongside Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind and Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and finally arrived on TV several years later...unfortunately, with a completely different animation team that was nowhere near as talented as Miyazaki's crew. This Blu-Ray features the "theatrical" version of the Sherlock episodes (meaning, we don't have the wonderful music from the TV show).

Finally, Panda Kopanda was created by Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe at the A Productions studio in 1972, hot on the heels of the infamous scuttling of their much-anticipated Pipi Longstockings animated project. Many of Pipi's ideas quickly found their way into this short movie, which played the opening slot for one of Toho's Godzilla pictures. The movie became a hit, and a sequel, Panda Kopanda and the Rainy Day Circus, was quickly commissioned and produced. They're both terrific little movies, and I often enjoy the second one a little more. I do wish more Panda cartoons had been made, and future animators seeking to continue Miyazaki's legacy may find inspiration here. And, as everyone knows, Panda could easily pass for Totoro's uncle, complete with a pipe and hat and that big, silly grin.

These Blu-Rays will retail for 5,800Yen, and the DVD will sell for 4,700. I don't yet know which, if any, will include English subtitles. Both Panda Kopanda and Gauche the Cellist previously had quality subtitles, so that's good. Jarinko Chie's prior BD/DVD releases did not include subtitles, which is too bad; a fansub translation has been available for a few years, and I really wish somebody had the sense to send copies of the script to Ghibli HQ. I don't think the previous Sherlock Hound BD included English subtitles.

Finally, will there be a US release for any of these titles? Discotek Media has released Panda Go Panda (the Westernized title) and Sherlock Hound on DVD. A Blu-Ray release isn't beyond the realm of possible. I know I would be thrilled to work on any of these projects. If you'd like that to happen, please send an email or letter directly to Discotek.

Outside of the United States, I would think that these movies would arrive in the usual territories sooner or later. As the Studio Ghibli catalog winds down, publishers will look to the earlier Takahata/Miyazaki films and find a host of hidden gems. It has to happen. It's only a matter of time.

Umi ga Kikoreru (I Can Hear the Sea/Ocean Waves) Blu-Ray July 17


And the Studio Ghibli Blu-Ray feature film collection is now complete.  Umi ga Kikoeru ("I Can Hear the Sea," aka "Ocean Waves") will be released on Blu-Ray in Japan this July 17. Word was made public on Disney's Japanese website this week. The high-definition disc will retail for 6,800Yen.

Umi ga Kikoeru's DVD release from 2003 is still available, but I would expect to see a "remastered" edition, in keeping with the recent DVD remasters from the rest of the Ghibli catalog. I purchased this disc a decade ago, and it remains a prized addition to my movie library.  In addition to the main feature, a 40-minute documentary reuniting the production team was also include (but, sadly, no English subtitles for this extra). We should expect to see everything translated to the BD.

Umi was Studio Ghibli's 1993 "made-for-TV" feature, broadcast on Japan's NHK network, who are longtime collaborators with Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, dating back to Future Boy Conan in 1978. This production was created by Ghibli's young staff, many of whom had graduated from the studio's in-house animation school, which was founded to nurture new animation talent.

Outside of Japan, we should expect to see Umi released in Australia and the UK, under the "Ocean Waves" title, as they have previously released the DVD edition years ago. Please don't ask about Disney releasing a Blu-Ray in the US. It's never going to happen. Perhaps GKids Films could step in and secure the rights? Please Please Please...I recommend that you start harassing them with emails as soon as possible.

I highly recommend this movie. It's one of Studio Ghibli's neo-realist films, a "slice-of-life" drama in the style of Omohide Poro Poro, Mimi wo Sumaseba, From Up on Poppy Hill, and The Wind Rises. A teenage romance with wit, humor, longing, and a keen sense of wisdom, with an climactic final scene that sweeps you off your feet (and openly quotes Yasujiro Ozu). "I Can Hear the Sea"...Ghibli always loved to give their animated movies such flowing, poetic names. They demonstrate a mastery of an animation form that isn't even being conceived here in the West. This style of art does not exist on our shores, and it's a damned shame, and I'm getting tired of repeating this same phrase, year after year. We await a new generation of animation storytellers, inspired by these works, to create naturalist animations of their own. It can be done. It should be done.

Special props should go to the Ghibli fan crew at the Blu-Ray.com forums, who first broke the news that Umi was being prepared for BD. Thanks to everyone for their due diligence.

2015-04-01

Overnight Thread ("Simpsons April Fools")



A couple years ago, I came up with the ultimate Ghibli Blog April Fools Day prank: I announced that Disney had just bought out the studio and would begin cranking out My Neighbor Totoro sequels. It spread across the internet and caused mass hysteria and panic for months. It was great fun. The only downside is knowing I can never top that.

And so I had the idea of completely scrambling the daily programming for this year's April Fools, publishing a stack of older essays from Daniel Thomas Vol 4. If I had the time, I would have messed around with the site's art assets or color scheme. Ah, well. Most of you were probably not too impressed, but I enjoyed the absurdity of the stunt.

I also had the ulterior motive of wanting to share some of my non-Ghibli writings, as all of my blog work is being translated into book manuscripts. I spent this evening on a bunch of music essays, as well as slowly working my way through the Ghibl Blog archives. I have no idea how many books we'll have by the time we're finished. Walking around downtown during my lunch break today, I got the idea of publishing everything in short, five-dollar paperbacks, instead of massive volumes. Eh, maybe, maybe not. We'll consider all options once the manuscripts are finished, rewritten and edited.

Tomorrow, it's back to the regular programming schedule, such as it is.

2015-03-31

Overnight Thread ("Omohide Poro Poro Trailers")



For the overnight video, we have the Japanese trailers to Takahata's 1991 masterpiece, Omohide Poro Poro. It is easily my favorite of all the Studio Ghibli movies, and one of my all-time favorite movies. I've often described this film as "Ozu painted with watercolors," but Poro Poro has a modern pop-centric sensibility that gleefully steals from Western mass media in the service of cultural satire, it flows between a "modern" 1991 and "nostalgic" 1966 to question Japan's postwar values, its Western influences, its very identity in the face of economic collapse. The "bubble" economy is the unspoken elephant in the room, as the personal and the cultural melt together.

What does it mean to be Japanese in the post-war world? Horus begs his dying father, "Who? Who are my people?" These questions of personal and national identity are one of the dominant themes of Takahata's films. And he does so by telling deeply humane, emotional stories. I always find myself completely verklempt after watching one of his movies, and I need a good five minutes after to bring myself back down. I can think of a number of moments where Poro Poro does this: the baseball game that doubles as a childhood courtship; a sunrise over the mountains where the flowers sing in a beautiful chorus; a father's frustration at his daughter erupting in sudden (and shocking) violence; a daughter trapped by society's strict rules; consoling herself by singing the theme song to her favorite television show; and, of course, the final ending during the credits. Yes, it's a schmaltzy ending. Willy hears ya, Willy don't care.

Of course, you don't need to understand Japanese culture circa 1991 to connect to Poro Poro. Anyone who has ever felt lost, drifting in a life that seems to carry you away, can connect to Taiko-chan's crisis of identity, and her journey of the self. Who am I? Who have I become? What became of the child I once was? Where do I go from here? These are universal themes.

Why can's such movies be made in the West? Is it really so impossible to comprehend the idea of animation that doesn't sell to five-year-olds? Can we really imagine any future for the medium beyond "the electric babysitter?" I don't see any reason why animation cannot tell stories for all audiences, covering all topics, incorporating all of the history of cinema. In the West, Walt Disney is the Black Hole of Animation. Nothing escapes his gravitational pull. That's unfortunate. It's like Dorothy is trapped for eternity in boring ol' black-and-white Kansas, completely unaware that Technicolor even exists. Dorothy is being deprived and it's a damned shame.

Where Are the So-Called Fans?

It's interesting. Everyone is kvetching about Studio Ghibli closing its doors, and when I announce that there may be another movie in the works...crickets. Hayao Miyazaki's last feature film plays in US theaters...crickets. Isao Takahata's last feature also plays in theaters...crickets.

And then there's the curious fact of Goro Miyazaki's Ronia, the Robber's Daughter, and Hiromasa Yonebayashi's When Marnie Was There.  Absolutely no buzz for either of those. It's a safe bet that Marnie won't even make a million dollars in its upcoming US theatrical run. From Up on Poppy Hill and Tales of Earthsea didn't.

And don't even get me started on the pre-Ghibli films now available on DVD: Horus, Lupin III, Panda Go Panda, Sherlock Hound. Have any of those home video releases sold over a thousand copies? Over a hundred?

Exactly where are these Ghibli fans I keep hearing about? Were they really only Spirited Away fans, or Totoro fans? The whole scene appears to have peaked in 2011, when Arrietty was released in the States, and support has melted away ever since.

I've had this theory that Japanese animation came into vogue in the 1980s because American animation, and particularly Disney, was sorely lacking, leaving a void to be filled. With the success of Pixar, the Disney renaissance, and the dominance of Hollywood studios, that void no longer exists. People aren't looking for alternatives anymore. They might consider something different, animated movies from Japan or Asia or Europe or the UK, only as long as they fit into the existing Disney/Pixar paradigm. If not, no thanks, not interested.

I have to say that I'm a bit surprised by this. I had expected a sizeable Studio Ghibli fan community by now.  Most of the studio's major films are available on home video, as well as much of the pre-Ghibli Miyazaki-Takahata catalog. And yet, nobody is biting. Very strange, and I don't have an easy answer to explain it.

Maybe it's just the warm weather outside. But it does feel like the end of the party. Perhaps my "Conversations on Ghibli" book(s)* will serve as the final capstone of the era, a chronicle for future generations. Oh, well. If so, it was a great party. We had fun.

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*I've been working to translate the Ghibli Blog essays and reviews into book form, which keeps growing and growing. We might end up with two books by the time we're done. And there's a stack of manuscripts to work on after that's done. Whee! Can I have a grant?

2015-03-30

Studio Ghibli's Next Movie - Isao Takahata Short Film?

While Hayao Miyazaki remains, for the moment, happily retired, Isao Takahata remains active, hot on the heels of an Academy Awards nomination for The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. And so speculation is rife with questions over his future plans.

Speaking in France in promotion of Kaguya's theatrical release in that country, Paku-san has revealed some details over his possible future plans at Studio Ghibli:

"I have not started working on a new project" explained the director. "But I had a project on which I had started to prepare before The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and the producer, Yoshiaki Nishimura, asked me to make a short film. Osamu Tanabe, the central animator [animation director] on Princess Kaguya, is also interested in the project. Thus, most of the conditions for a production have been satisfied. However, for my part, I have not really even started to work on it.

"You will be kind enough to treat this information as conditional," the director concluded with a laugh.

I have often said that several conditions must be met before Takahata can direct another film. There must be a willing and supportive producer. There must be the necessary funding, perhaps even with a willingness to forgo turning a profit. There must be an animation director willing to undertake the task (Paku-san is not himself an animator). And Takahata himself must be committed with a compelling story and script.  As of now, most of those conditions have been met.

It's quite telling that Studio Ghibli producer Yoshiaki Nishimura, who inherited the reins from Toshio Suzuki, wants another Takahata film. And he is more interested in long-term strategy, in crafting a movie that will be revered 20 years into the future, than turning a profit for the studio. It's safe to say that he isn't willing to make such a move for anyone else but Paku-san, the legend, the revolutionary.

Crafting a Takahata movie is much like dragging a stone up a mountain (an image visualized perfectly by Hayao Miyazaki during the Horus production of the 1960s). The final piece of the puzzle remains Takahata himself. Can he commit to the necessary preparation and planning? Can he create a story up to his standards? And can Nishimura keep him focused and on-track?

Given his recent comments, and given Kaguya's Oscar nomination, I do suspect that Paku-san wants to create another film. But what kind of film, which topic, and what format (short or feature length) remains up in the air. He seemed ready to accept retirement after his latest masterwork, and indeed, Kaguya has that same Abbey Road feel as Miyazaki's The Wind Rises. The Oscars have given him a new lease on life, a new currency. And he intends to spend it.

Watch this space. Studio Ghibli isn't finished yet.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness Now on Netflix Instant


The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, the 2014 Japanese documentary about Studio Ghibli and its founders Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki and (occasionally) Isao Takahata, is now available on Netflix Instant. The film is already available on iTunes, Amazon Instant and DVD.

Hopefully, this could mean more Studio Ghibli movies could make the migration to digital streaming. I would expect that to happen, sooner or later, as that's the direction the movie industry is headed. The Blu-Ray format has already peaked a couple years ago, and it's doubtful that consumers are willing to dip their toes in the pool for yet another media format ("Ultra HD" 4K). There's only so many times one is willing to purchase the exact same movies, and we've already moved from VHS to DVD to BD, with a couple extra stops (Beta, LaserDisc, HD-DVD) along the way. We're tired of this scam. Just put everything up on Netflix and Hulu, please. Online is devouring cable, and there's no reason to think it won't devour physical formats, as well.

As for me, I'm holding out for the "Super Ultra HD Turbo Alpha 3: Third Strike" format to arrive. Then I'll have the perfect home movie library!

Spirited Away, The Cat Returns Blu-Ray in USA June 16


Following up on our recent post announcing the arrival of Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away and The Cat Returns on Blu-Ray, Disney has announced the release date is June 16, 2015. Pre-orders are now available at Amazon and most major retailers.

Be sure to get your orders in early, fans. While most so-called "fans" won't touch any of the recent Ghibli films (an unfortunate fact that irritates me to no end), they will turn out for this. Heck, for most Miyazaki fans, Spirited Away is Studio Ghibli, the only one that matters. It also helps that the film's only DVD was released a dozen years ago (no remastered reissues diluting the money pool).

I'm curious to see if The Cat Returns sells by virtue of hanging on Spirited Away's coat tails. It might be wise for retailers to stock up on their Ghibli DVDs and BDs, just so see what else can sell. You won't get such an opportunity again.

As for Isao Takahata's wonderfully funny, charming and inventive My Neighbors the Yamadas...I guess we'll have to import the Blu-Ray. It doesn't appear that Disney ever intends to release it. This is their final "contractural obligation" release for Studio Ghibli. After June 16, the Ghibli-Disney relationship in the US is finished. It will be left to GKids Films (and smaller publishers like Discotek Media and Sentai Filmworks) to carry the flame.

2015-03-28

Overnight Thread ("3000 Leagues in Search of Mother")



Okay, somebody out there has to upload some Marco clips to YouTube. I could barely find anything at all. I was lucky enough to find this clip video.

3000 Leagues in Search of Mother was the 1976 follow-up to the enormously successful Heidi, Girl of the Alps. As before, the trio of Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe were the creators, although Takahata was clearly the dominant player, whereas Heidi was very much a team effort. This dominance, however, strained relations with Kotabe and Miyazaki, who both left after the series conclusion. The old band, together since the Toei Doga days, had broken up.

Miyazaki broke out fully on his own, creating one of his iconic masterworks, Future Boy Conan. It's quintessential Miyazaki, perfectly fusing his love of cliffhanger adventure serials with the sense of social conscience learned from Paku-san. And his obsessive work ethic on Heidi and Marco resulted in absolute creative dominance on Conan. Everything was his vision, his direction, and one often gets the sense that if Miyazaki could have animated and painted every single drawing himself, he would have.

Fortunately, relations with Takahata remained on good terms, even asking him to guest-direct two episodes of Conan. Miyazaki would return one final time for Anne of Green Gables in 1979, before departing the series after episode 13 for the Telecom studio and Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro.

For Kotabe, his career proved more difficult in the late 1970s, working freelance animation jobs. His greatest achievement during this period was as the animation director of Toei's 1979 animated feature, Taro the Dragon Boy (it's a very good movie, btw). In 1981, he joined with Takahata once again, serving as co-animation director with friend and fellow Toei alum Yasuo Otsuka. He contributed key animation to Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind in 1984, before retiring from animation completely to work at, of all places, Nintendo. All those Mario drawings over the years? Pikachu? Yeah, that's Kotabe-san.

Of those three World Masterpiece Theater series of the 1970s - Heidi, Marco, Anne - Marco/3000 Leagues has always been my favorite. I can understand why it doesn't hold the same universal appeal of Heidi, which exploded with such energy and vitality. Marco is pure emotional melodrama pushed to its absolute limits. Heidi might remind you of Studio Ghibli movies such as My Neighbor Totoro or Kiki's Delivery Service. Marco is Grave of the Fireflies. It's 52 episodes of that. It's also the best-written of the three series, with the best cast of characters, most interesting locations (spanning two continents and an ocean), and the most emotionally involving.

Imagine The Book of Job, starring James Dean, directed by John Ford, Frederico Fellini or Sergio Leone. That's 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother. I'm sorry I couldn't find any complete episodes on YouTube, but this short clip video is a nice glimpse. We really ought to upload some episodes. Fortunately, a fansub translation has been available for some time, so it's easy to track down and download.

Discotek once asked me what new anime titles they should pursue. My answers? Heidi, Marco, Anne. These are the best animated films Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki or Yoichi Kotabe ever created. Ever.

2015-03-27

Isao Takahata Discusses Winter Days and Princess Kaguya


Wired.uk spoke to Isao Takahata recently, touching upon his insights gained from a revolutionary 50-year career. The interviewer, Matt Kamen,, to my pleasant surprise, knew his subject's work, and brought up the 2003 anthology movie, Winter Days, in which Paku-San contributed a scene. That was very nice; Winter Days is one of those animated movies championed by animators and artists, playing in museums and festivals on a regular basis. Instead, it remains almost completely unknown outside of Japan. I guess it doesn't fit within the established genres of "Anime," "Disney," or "Pixar." That needs to change.

Takahata also comments on the freewheeling, impressionist art style of Princess Kaguya, which first emerged in his 1999 feature My Neighbors the Yamadas (and a number of Studio Ghibli short films), and was very strongly influenced by the films of the late, great Frederic Back.

Kamen speaks of Kaguya as Takahata's "final" movie, and this is a common mistake, probably owing to Hayao Miyazaki's retirement from feature films. Paku-san has never announced any retirement; indeed, he has recently spoke about future film projects he might pursue. Will those plans come to fruition? It's hard to say. The clock's ticking, in any event, a fact that Paku-san will happily point out.

Here are the key segments from the Wired.uk interview:


Between My Neighbors the Yamadas in 1999 and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, you were involved with Kihachirō Kawamoto's Winter Days anthology. It's probably your least known work in the west, so could you discuss how you became involved on the project?

 Winter Days is a collection of collaborative linked poems hosted by BashōMatsuo, the renowned seventeenth century haiku poet. Creating renku, collaborative linked poems, is a highly cultured amusement in which several people take turns composing extemporaneous short, linked poems to jointly create a long poem. Humour was an essential aspect of this form of haiku, or the playful form known as haikai.

Kihachirō Kawamoto, to whom I owe much, came up with the idea of creating a film of Winter Days by assigning each poem to a different animation director to realise this project. He asked me to participate in this effort. I thought this was a rash attempt, but I wanted to applaud Mr Kawamoto's foolhardiness as he knowingly took this on. I first cooperated with Mr Kawamoto in turning the old and difficult language of the linked verse collection into modern Japanese. This was distributed to the participating animation directors. While we were working on this, from the expectations I had and respect I felt for mutual friends of ours, the Russian Yuri Norstein and the Canadian Frédéric Back, I decided to take on one of Bashō's haiku. Unfortunately, Mr. Back was unable to participate as his schedule was too busy.

The result was a unique and interesting film. But, unless one understands the meaning of each poem, it might be hard to comprehend. I was especially impressed by Mr. Norstein's segment in which he showed such a Japanese poetic sentiment and humour, far beyond what Japanese people can express.

Visually, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is closer to Yamadas than your earlier movies. What appeals to you about this more impressionistic style?

 It is interesting that you describe the style as impressionistic! I have been strongly influenced by Back's Crac!and The Man Who Planted Trees. His animation style can truly be called impressionistic.

In order to have people believe in a fantasy world and characters that no one has seen in reality, it may be best to present the space, objects, and characters in a three-dimensional manner. It is as if that world existed right there, in a trompe l'oeil fashion. The current American animation films utilise 3D CG to aim in that direction.

But I wonder about the representation of the world we know well, how to depict very ordinary daily landscapes, nature, and people. I have long thought that it is better to appeal to the viewers' memory and imagination but this was impossible to express through animation. The initial act of sketching has been the best method for carving onto people's minds and memories the true impression of objects and figures.

Convinced that it was unnecessary to draw in scrupulous detail the everyday world that everyone knows, I used this style forMy Neighbours the Yamadas. I thought that the gifted Hisaichi Ishii [creator of the manga Nono-chan, thatYamadas was based on] had captured a distinct reality of Japanese people in his graphic renditions, and I believe I made the characters move with greater reality than in the usual animation films.

How did you apply those techniques and styles to The Tale of the Princess Kaguya?

 With [this film] I went further along this direction to have the audience vicariously experience the instant the artist rapidly sketched what was occurring in front of his eyes. I aimed to have the audience vividly imagine or recall the reality deep within the drawings, rather than thinking the drawings themselves were the real thing. This would allow the viewers to feel moved by the actions and emotions of joy and sorrow of the characters, and sense nature teeming with life, in a more evocative way than through a seemingly real painting.

For this effort to succeed, it was essential to have the collaboration of a brilliant animator and an artist with special talents. Without Osamu Tanabe, who created the character design, animation design, and layout, and Kazuo Oga, who created the artwork, "The Tale of The Princess Kaguya" could not have been made. This work is the crystallization of the efforts of these two and the entire staff who supported our vision.

2015-03-26

FLASH SALE: Studio Ghibli T-Shirts

Pop culture shirt designers Unamee is having a flash sale for their series of Studio Ghibli themed shirts. The original designs are based on a number of Hayao Miyazaki films, including My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle.

There's only 12 hours left on this sale, so be sure to hurry if you're interested.

Goro Miyazaki's "What is Animation Layout?" - French and English Translation


In 2008, Goro Miyazaki drew a one-page comic for Studio Ghibli's layout exhibition in Japan. The comic, "What is Animation Layout?" shows us how layout and storyboards fit into the production of animated movies. I wrote a post about this in 2012, showing the comic in its original Japanese. Now, thanks to the fine folks at Buta Connection, Goro-san's piece is now fully translated into French and English.

I continue to be amazed at how Goro-san draws himself: an almost-entirely empty face. He looks like Charlie Brown after one too many plastic surgeries. He's a blank slate, receding into the background against the dominant personalities of his father, Hayao Miyazaki, and the great Isao Takahata. The reluctant director as a living enigma...just who is Goro Miyazaki? This is the question he must answer, for himself and the outside world, if he is to become a successful filmmaker.

You will need to click on the comic panel to view in full-screen. It's a bit scrunched up as part of the post, as you can see above. Much thanks to Buta Connection, as always, and enjoy!

Angry Birds Movie Coming in Summer 2016


Smartphone video game developer Rovio is producing a $180 million Angry Birds Movie, set for release in theaters on Summer 2016.

Ghibli Blog has received an early draft of the script, including the explosive ending. Here, below, is a worldwide exclusive from The Angry Birds Movie:

(Ext. Scene)

Mouse: Hey, Angry Birds, you look like you have something to say? Do you?

Red Angry Bird: We certainly do!

Black Angry Bird: We have to go now. Our planet needs us.

(Fade to black.)

(Text on screen: "Angry Birds died on way to their home planet.)

THE END

2015-03-25

Overnight Thread ("The McBain Movie")



"McBain" was The Simpsons' spoof of 1980s action movies, openly parodying the likes of Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Dirty Harry, James Bond, and anything starring Gov. Arnold. Some years ago, as I'm sure you've heard, some enterprising people realized that all of the bite-sized McBain clips could be assembled into a "full-length movie," and stitched everything together. It's actually quite entertaining; not exactly an intended hidden film, but more of a happy accident. You could probably do the same with all those '80s action movies.

Kids today are probably scratching their heads at that '80s Rambo culture. It was everywhere, in our movies, our video games, even our foreign policy. The old geezers in the Ronald Reagan administration certainly watched too many McBain movies, that's for sure. Ah, well. Time to punch up the Konami code for 30 lives, sit back, and have a few laughs with The Simpsons (insert tired "when they were cool" joke here).

Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro Blu-Ray Arrives in April...and June?


Discotek Media, hot on their heels after releasing their excellent DVD of Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro, is ready to unleash the Blu-Ray edition. This new version includes all of the features from the DVD, including the Streamline Pictures and Manga Entertainment US dubs, newly-translated English subtitles, audio commentary by Lupin scholar (and project leader) Reed Nelson, restored trailers, a reversable cover design, and a slipcase cover.  All new BD-exclusive features include a mini poster, and interviews with voice actors Bob Bergen and David B. Hayter, who played the role of Lupin in the aforementioned dubs.

When will the Cagliostro BD be released? Well...that's a bit tricky. Discotek originally announced an April 28 release date on their website earlier this year. This month, however, the release date for "wide release" was set for June 23. According to sources, the official word is that Discotek will have the movie available for sale exclusively on their website in April, with the wider release (Amazon, major retailers, etc.) in June.

This is an interesting wrinkle. Perhaps this is simply a matter of resource management, as Castle of Cagliostro is hotly anticipated on Blu-Ray. Or perhaps Discotek is experimenting with a tiered release schedule in order to promote their own site's store. Because of wholesale prices, their take from direct sales will be much higher than sales via third-party retailers like Amazon. It is for this reason that I often advocate buying DVDs and BDs directly from the publisher store, if one is available.

I don't know if this is, in fact, Discotek's strategy. As they remain a two-man operation, handling direct sales will strain their limited resources (they really need to hire a staff, ahem...sliding resume under the door...). But those sales will result of greater revenues for the company, which is crucially important for a niche market as anime. This could be a very fascinating experiment, and I'm looking forward to the results.

As for the so-called anime "fans" who have held back from buying the DVD, now you'll have no excuse. If you're waiting for the Blu-Ray, here it is. Pony up the cash. This is a great movie, and a terrific company that deserves your support.

Disney Announces New Studio Ghibli Blu-Ray Titles



Disney has announced their final wave of Studio Ghibli titles on Blu-Ray Disc: Spirited Away and The Cat Returns. No release date has yet been announced, but we can rest assured that both titles will be available in the coming weeks.

With this announcemnet, Disney will complete their collection of Studio Ghibli feature films Blu-Ray. However, there is one glaring exception: My Neighbors the Yamadas, Isao Takahata's 1999 animated feature. Yamada-kun was one of the first Ghibli BDs released in Japan, and its endless delays on American shores puzzled fans. Today, with Disney's announcement, and given their history of grouping together several titles in a "release wave," it appears that Yamada-kun will not be released on BD at all.

As always, the relationship between Ghibli Freaks and Disney has been a challenging one, to say the least. Critics will point to endless foot-dragging, painfully slow release schedules, and an uneven track record in the quality of English language dub scripts. But there is much to celebrate: a decade ago, none of these movies were available in the US, apart from My Neighbor Totoro, which was held by Fox and available in a dub-only, pan-and-scan DVD. Today, nearly all of the Ghibli features are available at any major retailer.

Is it puzzling and a little frustrating that My Neighbors the Yamadas won't be released? Of course. But I don't believe Disney is doing so out of spite. Okay, maybe just a little. Their relationship with Hayao Miyazaki was also, shall we say, challenging. I don't think they ever got over the "Godfather"-esque incident with the samurai sword in Harvey Weinstein's mailbox. But I'm thankful for what we do have. And Miyazaki-san has two Academy Awards.

And, of course, it goes without saying that I would love to see Ghiblies Episode 2 included with The Cat Returns. The Yoshiyuki Momose-directed anthology short film played in Japan on a double bill with Neko no Ongaeshi ("The Cat Returns the Favor"), and the two make a fine pair. Left on its own, the main feature is a bit lacking. Oh, well, another reason to add the Japanese import to your library.

Apart from Disney, the following Studio Ghibli movies are available on Blu-Ray: Grave of the Fireflies, from Sentai Filmworks; From Up on Poppy Hill, The Story of the Princess Kaguya, and When Marnie Was There, from GKids Films. Omohide Poro Poro and Umi ga Kikoeru remain unlicensed, and unlikely to ever see a US release. Ghibli's many short films, and particularly the 2005 DVD Ghibli ga Ippai Special: Short Short, have never been released outside Japan.

2015-03-24

Overnight Thread ("The Sky-Colored Seed")



"The Sky-Colored Seed" (Sora Iro no Tane) was a 1992 short film created by Yoshifumi Kondo for Studio Ghibli, broadcast on Japanese network NHK to commemorate their 40th anniversary. This film, the second directed by Kondo (the first being Telecom's 1984 Nemo pilot).

This short film is composed of two segments, and run roughly 90 seconds in all. It's based on a children's book by Reiko Nakagawa and Yuriko Omura. In the story, a boy with a toy airplane meets a fox carrying a seed. The two agree to exchange, and the boy plants the seed into the ground, which grows into a large house that draws together all the animals of the neighborhood. The fox returns, and in his jealousy, demands the return of his seed for the boy's toy plane, and expels all the animals from the house. The house continues to balloon in size, until it pops against the sun, evaporating instantly. The fox is left alone, bewildered.

It's a great little film, cheerfully animated and rendered in that "children's storybook" style. Here is a good example of Studio Ghibli demonstrating their skills, moving beyond the typical "anime" look. Their strong Western influence and willingness to experiment visually has always been the studio's greatest strengths. You never quite knew what to expect from Studio Ghibli. They were always coming up with surprises.

It's hard to realize that we've been without Yoshifumi Kondo for almost 20 years. His loss, in my opinion, proved crippling to Studio Ghibli. I can't say whether he could have crafted an endless supply of blockbuster hits, ala Hayao Miyazaki's blockbuster period, but any new Kondo film would be wonderful, unique, peaceful, humane. The world needs more artists like that, and more charming little movies like The Sky-Colored Seed.

"Mi Vecino Miyazaki" Book Publishes Second Edition


"Mi Vecino Miyazaki," the Studio Ghibli movie book written by Alvaro Lopez Martin and Marta Garcia Villar from Generacion Ghibli, has now published its second edition. Some minor edits and updates are included in this latest printing, keeping the book up-to-date for Ghibli and animation fans everywhere.

It's good to see that this book has sold so well. Here's hoping the second edition is equally successful. Be sure to grab your copy if you haven't yet done so, but remember that this book is en espanol. English speakers will still enjoy having this excellent volume in their libraries.

(Full disclosure: I contributed a short capsule review of My Neighbors the Yamadas for this book.)

When Marnie Was There Blu-Ray/DVD Release




When Marnie Was There, the 2014 Studio Ghibli feature film directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Arrietty), was released to Blu-Ray and DVD in Japan on March 18. The packaging features the silhouette designs and cardboard cover of Ghibli's BD series, and looks terrific as always. Picture and audio quality should be fantastic, and well worth the price of importing. A DVD is also available at a lower price, and should also look excellent. Dedicated fans, of course, will want to own everything.

Here in the USA, GKids is preparing Marnie for a theatrical run, perhaps the final Studio Ghibli movie to appear on our movie screens. Expect GKids to also release the Blu-Ray, although no specifics have yet been announced.

(Photos: Blu-Ray.com Studio Ghibli Import thread)

Heidi, Girl of the Alps #01 (English Subtitles)



It took four decades, but we finally have the Heidi series with English subtitles. Much thanks to the dedication and hard work of the fansub community, who worked across many years and several different parties to provide us with the final, and most significant, masterwork of Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki, and Yoichi Kotabe. This landmark series spearheaded Japan's anime boom in the 1970s, and became an international success around the world. Heidi may be the first truly "global" anime series.

I've raved about this classic series enough times, so I don't feel the need to add to the hype. I've long argued that the three World Masterpiece Theater series of the 1970s - 1974's Heidi, Girl of the Alps; 1976's 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (Marco); 1979's Anne of Green Gables - are the true masterpieces of the Takahata/Miyazaki canon. The Studio Ghibli movies owe everything to these three, like short novellas derived from the great epics. And everything comes back to Heidi.

To all of the Ghibli Freaks out there who are weeping over the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki and the fading away of Studio Ghibli, have we got a surprise for you. You thought you've seen everything? You've only scratched the surface.  Here's the first episode of Heidi, with 51 more episodes to follow. After that, 52 episodes of Marco, 50 episodes of Anne...oh, and 26 episodes of Future Boy Conan. Why the heck don't Western Miyazaki fans know about Future Boy Conan? Isn't that the weirdest thing?

Ah, well. Here is episode one of Heidi, presented with English subtitles. Isao Takahata was the director, Hayao Miyazaki the scene designer and "idea man," and Yoichi Kotabe the animation director and "character designer" (the first time this term was used in an anime production, coined by Takahata).

2015-03-22

Overnight Thread ("The Story of Heidi")



One of the great cruelties for animation lovers is how Heidi, Girl of the Alps - the landmark anime series created by Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe - became an international success everywhere in in the world, except for the United States. For reasons that remain unknown, this classic cartoon series was never broadcast on our shores.

However, there was this one exception: a "greatest hits" movie compilation of Heidi which appeared on VHS. I don't yet know who was responsible for publishing the title, or who produced the English language dub. The videocassette is long out-of-print and a rare find on Ebay. If you find a copy, expect to pay a hundred dollars or more.

Here is "The Story of Heidi" in its entirety. It skims over the 1974 TV series fairly well, thanks to the concise structure of the original children's novel, and Takahata's expert pacing. I do believe he was also responsible for the "movie" versions of Heidi, Marco and Anne, although he was never very happy with the idea of truncating his masterworks. But business is business.

Let's see how busy I am tomorrow, and if we can't get a few posts published Monday. Enjoy the Heidi video!

2015-03-16

Hiromasa Yonebayashi's (and Studio Ghibli's) Future


Arrietty the Borrower and When Marnie Was There director Hiromasa Yonebayashi was in the news last week, first with an appearance at the Ghibli Museum's 12th Annual Animation Festival, which showcased a number of animated films around the world (including Marnie, of course). At this appearance on March 7, Yonebayashi was asked about his latest film, and his future plans:

During the Q&A portion of the event, Yonebayashi was asked the one question that was on everyone in the audience’s mind (and is constantly on the mind of every Ghibli fan), “When is your next film coming out?”

After gently reminding the audience that there was a four-year gap between the release of his first and second films, he also joked that if you take too long between films, people may forget who are, poking fun at fellow Ghibli director Isao Takahata, who took eight years to complete The Tale of Princess Kaguya.

Yonebayashi continued with some juicier details. He explained that while he sees the need for and importance of “quiet” films such as Marnie, he agrees with Ghibli poducer Toshio Suzuki, who, for the sake of the animation itself, would prefer to do a film with more movement and excitement. On that note, Yonebayashi suggested that his next film could quite possibly be the direct opposite of Marnie and could be more along the lines of the playful and active Ponyo.

It was Yonebayashi's second event five days later that sparked attention on the internet. At a Tokyo event promoting Marnie, he revealed that he is no longer employed at Studio Ghibli. He, along with the studio's staff, were retired in late 2014, as the studio is currently suspending animation productions as they reconsider their future plans.

As you can expect, this caused mild panic among Ghibli Freaks online, and as these things usually go, a little information goes a long way. Unlike most Japanese animation studios, Studio Ghibli employed a full-time staff, which has steadily grown over the years as Hayao Miyazaki's films such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away became record-shattering blockbusters. The studio was also steadily involved in smaller projects, including Ghibli Museum short films, television commercials, music videos, and video games.

Today, Hayao Miyazaki is formally retired from feature film directing, and despite his wishes to create more short movies for the Ghibli Museum, and create a new Samurai comic, is keeping a lower profile, managing the studio's affairs and enjoying his spare time. He appears to be settling into his retirement. Isao Takahata, his elder partner of 50 years, is not retired, and would like to pursue new film projects, but the difficulties in securing funding and producers, and the march of time itself, may prove to be insurmountable. As for Ghibli's other ventures, they have all but dried up.

And so the studio has entered a holding pattern, not working on any new films. If and when any new productions are announced, the staff will likely be assembled on a contract basis. Yonebayashi, for instance, would most probably direct his third feature film for Studio Ghibli, and most of the veteran talent would return. But those are a lot of "ifs." As always, I would keep my eyes and ears trained on Toshi Suzuki, the studio's Svengali and power behind the throne, for any news. Everything else is just internet gossip and message board groupthink.

2015-02-27

Daria: The Complete Animated Series - Amazon Sale


Amazon is selling Daria: The Complete Animated Series for only $12.99. Hurry, grab it now! Go, go go! This is one of the great animated cartoon shows of the late 1990s, full of acid wit and wisecracks for any occassion. At this price, it's a total steal. And don't we need some of Daria-isms right now? Everything in the world sucks, and we need some good comebacks.

Some fans have complained that nearly all the original music from the TV broadcasts, actual pop music from the MTV rosters of the day, didn't survive the transition to DVD. But I don't mind all that much, and it's a small sacrifice to having this great series at my fingertips. Now, Beavis and Butthead, that's a different story. You need the music videos for that one. But Daria's "new" incidental music is just fine. And the theme song is still there in all its grungy wonderfulness.

Seriously, grab this DVD as fast as possible. Get it before Amazon comes to their senses and jacks up the price.

2015-02-25

What is Going to Happen to Pixar?


Disney's Oscar win for Big Hero 6 was a massive upset, and firmly resurrects the company's fabled animation studios to greatness. With a solid string of critical and commercial hits, including Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled, and Frozen, and now two Academy Awards in a row, it leaves an unsettling question lingering in the background: What is going to happen to Pixar? Does the studio have a future?

This sounds like an odd question, but hear me out. I think there are solid reasons for asking. Let's consider the recent accumulation of evidence:

1) Ever since Disney bought the Pixar studio, John Lasseter and Ed Catmull have thoroughly transformed Disney's own animation studios, changing the corporate structure to away from the older, every-project-for-itself ethos, and adopting Pixar's own "brain trust" model of cooperation and teamwork. Creativity is encouraged from all people, regardless of who works on which movie. The Pixar model is now fully transplanted at Disney.

2) The quality of Disney's feature animated films has skyrocketed since 2008. I think the success of these films speak for themselves: Tangled, Winnie the Pooh (2011), Wreck-It Ralph, Planes, Frozen, Big Hero 6. Some of these could easily pass for Pixar films. And Frozen became an all-time global blockbuster. With five Academy Awards in three years (two Feature Film, two Short Film, one Original Song), there can be no question that Disney Animation is back.

3) While Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS) has surged, Pixar has struggled creatively. Yes, their movies are still highly successful with the global box office, and the studio's string of box-office hits has yet to be broken. But they're relying far too heavily on sequels - Toy Story 3, Monsters U, Finding Dory, The Incredibles 2, Cars 3...And another Toy Story directed by Lasseter-san himself (you didn't really believe TS3 was the last one, right?).

Meanwhile, Brave and The Good Dinosaur both struggled in production, resulting in delays and shakeups in the director's chairs. And, be honest: weren't you disappointed that Pixar's first original movie since the buyout was a princess fairy tale? Brave may be a good movie, but it just felt wrong, like somebody swapped it with Wreck-It Ralph by mistake. What happened to Pixar's "Rubber Soul" phase, the era that gave us Ratatouille, Wall-E, and the first act of Up?

Pete Docter's upcoming feature, Inside Out, promises to be a return to form, but this only highlights the length of the studio's current drought. Anyone can see that most of the creative energy has been invested in the Disney side of the aisle.

4) The Cars franchise has already made the jump from Pixar to Disney, with 2013's Planes and 2014's Planes: Fire & Rescue. The series is immensely popular with children, especially in regard to the toys. Every time I walk into the Disney Store at the Mall of America, the Cars & Planes toys are everywhere. It is not inconceivable that more movie franchises will see sequels or spin-offs appear on the Disney side.

5) The lines between Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios are blurring. Eventually, the lines may disappear completely. Both siblings feature the same bosses, the same brain trust, the same creative spirit, and more of the same franchises. Pixar has become effectively cloned. How much longer until the "Disney" and "Pixar" brands just become "Disney"? To the general public, the two are the same, and always have been ever since Toy Story back in 1995.

6) Pixar has suffered a brain drain. This is arguably the most troubling development. Founding "Pixar brain trust" member Joe Ranft was killed in a 2995 car crash, and fellow director Andrew Stanton left the studio to pursue live-action films. Same goes for Brad Bird, arguably Pixar's greatest director, and the closest thing we have to an American Takahata.  Their loss leaves a void that has yet to be filled.

Again, notice how two Pixar directors, Brenda Chapman (Brave) and Bob Peterson (The Good Dinosaur), struggled with productions and were eventually replaced.  And what's that? Stanton and Bird are coming back? Terrific, thank God that...Oh, wait. More sequels. Sigh.

These are the questions that are roaming freely in my mind. I'm a great fan of the Pixar movies, like most of you. I think Toy Story was a revelation, daring and fresh and wildly innovative, openly willing to ignore stale convention and cynical corporate meddling. It felt exciting, new. And that feeling was reinforced again and again. No more. That mojo lies in Pixar's hallowed halls. It lies in Disney's. And so, we must ask the questions again: What is going to happen to Pixar? Does the studio have a future?

My own personal hope (the one I championed in my "Rubber Soul" essay) would be that Pixar continued to push the boundaries of American animation, breaking with Disney conventions and commercial expectations to thoroughly as to create a new paradigm for the medium. Why couldn't Pixar create its answer to Hedgehog in the Fog, or The Man Who Planted Trees, or Heidi, Girl of the Alps, or Omohide Poro Poro, or Night on the Galactic Railroad? Today, sadly, that dream seems more impossible than ever. The most likely future for Pixar, in my humble opinion, is that they continue as a legacy/sequel factory in the short term, eventually becoming fully absorbed into the WDAS brand in the long run.

2015-02-23

Overnight Thread (Man Getting Hit by Football)



A busy and sometimes busy day today, and we're still feeling the fallout over last night's Oscars. I wrote an article about Disney's Big Hero 6 win, but scrapped it after consideration. Instead, I'm writing another article about Pixar's future, now that Disney's animation studios are back on top. It's hard to tell which studio was merged into the other, and I'm left wondering where the future lies.

Also, I'm sitting on another Hayao Miyazaki comic, albeit one with a final episode that has never been translated. I think it's the last major comic to be published on this site. There are still little bits and pieces to uncover, but we're getting pretty close to chronicling this important facet to Miyazaki-san's career. I would really like to see all of these works published in the USA, of course, and hopefully that will happen in the future.

For tonight's video, what better choice than our favorite award-winning film, "Man Getting Hit by Football"? You're laughing as hard as Homer, don't deny it.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness Available on DVD and iTunes


The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, Mami Sunada's 2013 documentary look into the inner workings of Studio Ghibli, was released on DVD on January 27. It was previously released on digital download services, including Amazon Instant Video and Apple iTunes.

As many have noticed, this isn't really a "Studio Ghibli" documentary as a Hayao Miyazaki one. Isao Takahata, the co-founder and "senior" partner of 50 years, appears only briefly. The attention, as always, is on Miya-san, who is finishing his "final" feature film, and abruptly announcing his retirement. Nobody believes it, of course. But time marches forward, with both founding filmmakers well into their 70s. The Wind Rises and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya both have a sense of closure, of summarizing each director's careers. Besides, isn't it greedy of us to expect more, more, more?

In Japan, behind-the-scenes documentaries are fairly common with Studio Ghibli movies, but this is the first major one to see a release Stateside. One hopes that other films, such as the three-hour Princess Mononoke documentary, could be imported in the future. All depends on how well this movie performs for GKids Films, which, of course, is a fancy way of telling you to purchase this movie and help make it a hit.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness currently holds an 89% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes. It's an excellent picture, well worth the investment, and easily recommended.

My Oscar Night Impressions


As I get older, watching the Oscars every year feels more like sitting through a high school auditorium assembly. It's not a lot of fun, usually packed with hype that rarely delivers, is woefully predictable, but the occassional unscripted moments are enough to keep you holding on. And, needless to say, the whole pageant runs at least an hour too long.

The Oscars play out like a marathon, and a certain level of endurance is required. You can see this with Neil Patrick Harris, this year's host, who began bursting with energy on the stage, only to feel exhausted and almost overwhelmed by the end. I remember the terrific opening number and some of the impromptu zingers; I can't remember anything memorable in the final hour, aside from the "locked envelope" gag that fizzled in the end. By that point, it's past 11:00 pm, and we're all trying to get to bed. Today, I'm still struggling to wake up after two cups of coffee (which normally is enough caffeine to trigger existential panic attacks).

That said, this year's Oscars telecast was okay-ish. Pretty good. It had a few nice moments, one or two genuine surprises (provided you didn't catch the other awards shows or check the betting odds). Let's see if I can compile a short list of last night's show:

The Good:

1) The opening song number was very good, with Neil Patrick Harris singing and dancing through a pastiche of classic movies. The Jack Black cameo added a much-needed satirical bite and made me smile. Jack Black should host the Oscars; he has a manic, boundless energy that's infectious. He might actually last all twelve hours of the show without gasping for air by the end. Also, is it just me, or is he slowly turning into Orson Welles? He could pass for Citizen Kane's caffeinated grandson.

2) Birdman took the top honors (Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, and Original Screenplay), but Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel also scored four Oscars (Best Costume Design, Makeup, Production Design, Original Score). Whiplash captured three (Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons, Film Mixing and Sound Mixing). All of the top pictures came away with something, owing to the Academy's current goal of "fairness."

3) The "Everything is Awesome" number was terrific, and felt like a vindication for The Lego Movie's inexplicable snub this year. Bonus points for Will Arnet's Batman cameo. Double Bonus Points for Mark Mothersbaugh's Devo cameo, complete with the red "energy dome" hat. Did you also notice the "Lego" logo behind him was taken from the 1980 "Dev-O Live" album? This performance is packed with tiny, fleeting details that require multiple viewings on YouTube. Highlight of the show for me.

4) Congratulations on Citizenfour's Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. I expected the Academy, in its usual toothlessness, to avoid such a charged political movie. Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 is another solid win

5) Common and John Legend's "Glory" brought the house down. We all knew they'd win an Oscar as compensation for Selma's ignoble snubbing, but they still played their hearts out. The audience was moved to tears. Kudos to Common for highlighting the modern scandal of African-American men in prisons. The United States jails more of its citizens than any nation on Earth; something is clearly wrong with that statistic, and must be very critically examined.

The Bad:

1) My reaction over the Best Animated Feature Oscar on Twitter: "WHAT?!" Need I say more?  Most of us cynically expected Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon to win the award because we assume, with good reason, the Academy voters don't give a damn about animation, and only see it as The Electric Babysitter. Turns out we weren't cynical enough. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is an expressionist masterpiece of art; Big Hero 6 is a box of Cap'n Crunch.

2) The awards are too damned predictable. If you follow the awards ceremonies leading up to the Oscars, you'll have a virtual lock on all the major awards. The official odds on the winners were almost 100% correct, aside from Disney's Big Hero 6, which just blindsided everybody. Something needs to change; either schedule the Golden Globes and SAG Awards at different times of the year, or change the Oscar voting perameters, or expand the Academy membership for more (and younger) members.

3) The show ran an hour too long. Why did the main show begin at 7:30? Who made that call? A looong tribute to The Sound of Music seemed to drain all the energy out of the theater. Lady Gaga gave a good performance (her Kitchenware rubber gloves were thankfully lost). Julie Andrews looked fine. But the whole sequence just dragged, and coming after the "In Memorandum" sequence, just put me to sleep. I don't think the show ever recovered its earlier energy after this.

4) Only one Oscar for Richard Linklater's Boyhood, one for Selma, one for The Imitation Game? We'll have to check back in 15 years to see how badly those decisions have aged. The Oscars are notorious for snubbing the true classics. But, as the saying goes, it's good just to be nominated. Arguing the results is always the most fun part of any Oscar party.

2015-02-22

Gauche the Cellist Soundtrack LP



Gauche the Cellist is one of my favorite animated movies, and when I mentioned how much I loved the soundtrack, I was directed to the official soundtrack album released in Japan. And here it is...well, the photos from a recent Ebay auction, at least.

Michiyo Mamiya and his orchestra deliver a spectacular performance of Beethoven's "Pastorale" 6th Symphony. I still haven't found a better recording. I also love how director Isao Takahata breaks up Beethoven throughout the movie, weaving the music out of sequence, small segments, major movements. It's not the simple 1-2-3-4-5 progression; this isn't another Silly Symphonies direct interpretation, but treated as an equal character in the greater play.

This soundtrack LP is pretty rare, so if you find a copy, expect to spend a lot of money. The cover design features an original color illustration on the front, and a cast illustration on back. Numerous movie screenshots, and a full-size poster, are included in the package. Very impressive, overall. I just wish more copies were available, and that prices were a bit lower. Ah, well, it's all part of being a diehard collector, right?

2015-02-21

Oscar Week's Animated Features - The Complete Program



On Thursday at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, the Motion Picture Academy celebrated its Oscar nominees for Best Animated Feature. This two-hour stage presentation included the major players from all five nominated movies, where they discussed their craft and their thoughts of the animation medium.

We posted a news article for this event on Friday. Today, we have the entire presentation available for viewing. As always, Thank God For YouTube. Isao Takahata's segment begins at 1:22:00.

A special thanks to Heinz Freyhofer, who has graciously served as Ghibli Blog's news "gopher" this week. He has supplied me with several of the news articles published on this site, and for that, I am extremely grateful.  Enjoy the Oscar Week presentation!

Overnight Thread (Spooky Snow White)



For some reason, I wanted another spooky video for the overnight thread, and remembered this backwards Snow White video from several years back. Growing up in the 1980s, there were endless witch hunts against the evils of rock 'n roll. These took the form of VHS tapes and cassette tapes with endless conspiracy theories and "examples" of how Satan is corrupting America's youth. Scary album covers, lyrics taken out of context, and music video clips were offered as evidence. And the star of the show, always..."subliminal backwards messages."

Imagine handing a ten-year-old wearing headphones and listening to backwards audio clips of Lef Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, late at night..."Spooky" doesn't even come close. So. Add in UFOs, ghost stories, and cheesy monster movies, and you've got a pretty entertaining childhood.

And so I'm subjecting you to scaaaary music late at night. Play with headphones in the dark. Then try to sleep tight.  BOO!!!

Anyway, today was another big day for Ghibli Blog, and busy with posts. We're also getting ready for Oscar Sunday, as well as resting up over the weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, expect more music posts and a lighter publishing schedule, but I'll include more Studio Ghibli soundtrack LPs. And we might live-blog The Oscars. Enjoy, all!

2015-02-20

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the "Least Deserving Oscar Win"

Movie critic Sam Adams isn't waiting until Oscar night to denounce the expected win for Dreamworks' animated feature, How to Train Your Dragon 2. He's tearing into the Motion Picture's toothlessness:

The problem isn't that "Dragon" is a terrible movie — it's not — but that of the nominees in its category, it's the least deserving by a substantial distance. "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya," by Isao Takahata, is a flat-out masterpiece, possibly the last to be released by Japan's famed Studio Ghibli; "Song of the Sea," by Tomm Moore, who was nominated for "The Secret of Kells" is close behind. "Big Hero 6" has a lazy superhero plot at its center, but the details around it are enchanting, especially the characterization of the squishy robot sidekick, Baymax, and "The Boxtrolls," while relatively disappointing compared to its Laika predecessors "Coraline" and "ParaNorman," still bristles with visual invention. 
That leaves "How to Train Your Dragon 2," a fine but unremarkable sequel that in all honesty I don't remember well enough to muster specific criticisms against. It was enjoyable while it lasted, but forgotten almost immediately thereafter. If you'll pardon the pun (and you probably shouldn't), it's utterly toothless. I'm baffled as to how anyone find it superior to even one of its fellow nominees (with the possible exception of "The Boxtrolls,") let alone all four. Its presumed win seems to be the latest triumph of a category that overwhelmingly favors studio product over individual expression, and which has been shameless rigged to shut out innovative techniques like the interpolated rotoscoping of Richard Linklater's "Waking Life" and "A Scanner Darkly." Even when movies that play with the form aren't explicitly cast out, they're shunned the way "The LEGO Movie" was this year, deemed unworthy for failing to hew to the most conservative definitions of "real" animation. 
With the documentary and foreign film categories' overhaul, Best Animated Feature now has the dubious honor of being the Oscars' most compromised and questionable category. If "How to Train Your Dragon 2" wins on Sunday, it will be just the latest example.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya: UK Poster and Release Date


Isao Takahata's Oscar-nominated masterpiece, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, will be released in UK theatres on March 20. The announcement was first publicized by Empire Online this morning. The official UK movie poster has also been released, and looks very stylish, very nice.

Princess Kaguya is an underdog for this Sunday's Oscars, as Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the expected front-runner (having won at the Golden Globes and the Annies). But I have argued that Paku-san's movie deserves to win, and is the most likely candidate for an upset.

Naturally, if Princess Kaguya wins the Best Animated Feature Oscar, Ghibl Blog will claim all the credit :P

Oscars Honor Feature Animated Filmmakers


On Thursday, the Motion Picture Academy honored its nominees for Best Animated Feature, in anticipation of this Sunday's Oscar broadcast.  The event, hosted by Disney's Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck (Frozen), allowed the filmmakers to discuss their craft, the challenges in creating animated movies, and the state of the medium. Some clips from the gathering:

At the event, the Oscar-nominated filmmakers — from Big Hero 6, How to Train Your Dragon 2, The Boxtrolls, Song of the Sea and The Tale of Princess Kaguya — took the stage to discuss their honored work. Topics included: how stories got the green light (How to Train Your Dragon 2 was pitched as the second part of a necessary trilogy); how the idea for a movie was born (Song of the Sea features seals inspired by the ones director Tomm Moore saw dead on the beach); which parts of the story were discarded (The Boxtrolls originally ended with an armored rat attacking the town); and why directors brought co-directors on board (Big Hero 6's Don Hall needed Chris Williams because he had to be in too many places at once).

The common thread throughout the talks was this: Animation is unbelievably tiring and time-consuming, but the nominated filmmakers need to create it. Many grew up loving comic books, and then took to animation upon the realization that it meant making their comics move.
"It never felt like there was ever a choice to work in animation," Big Hero 6 co-director Don Hall told USA TODAY. "It's almost a compulsion."

But boy, are those stories hard to tell. Tony Stacchi, co-director of stop-motion film The Boxtrolls, told USA TODAY that he felt like quitting his movie plenty of times because the work was so draining.

"Any life that the puppets display, any feeling of any existence, was sucked out of the animators. We had back pain and bloody fingers" on set, he said. Working in animation "is an insane way to make a movie."


(Photo: Academy Governor Bill Kroyer with animated feature film nominees. Isao Takahata is seated at center. Credit: Aaron Poole/A.M.P.A.S.)

Photos - Song of the Sea





Song of the Sea, the 2014 animated film created by Ireland's Cartoon Sarloon and directed by Tomm Moore, is a gorgeous and visually sumptuous movie that demonstrates the unique power of hand-drawn, 2D animation. It speaks to the viability of the medium in the Age of Computers. And it's the work of one of the true rising stars in animation today.

I'm a great fan of Moore's previous film, 2009's The Secret of Kells, which brilliantly combined Irish folklore, medieval manuscripts, cartoon surrealism and religious iconography. It's a thing of beauty to watch, and its reverence for the almost mystical power of books...in the world before print transformed human civilization and the human mind, manuscript is everything. This is a good time to brush up on our Marshall McLuhan texts.

Song of the Sea is nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, and is the second film distributed by GKids Films this year (the other, as we all know, is Isao Takahata's The Tale of the Princess Kaguya). I am cheering loudly for Princess Kaguya to win, but if Moore's sophomore movie takes home the Oscar, I will be quite happy. It would demonstrate that the Motion Picture Academy voters had actually bothered to put in some effort on a genre that, frankly, they dismiss as second-rate. It takes no effort to hand trophies to Disney/Pixar or Dreamworks. Handing one to GKids Films? That would be much better, for Hollywood and the world of animation.

The Academy Awards will be broadcast this Sunday.

Lupin the 3rd Special: Hayao Miyazaki on LaserDisc



"New Lupin the 3rd Special" will be instantly recognizable to Lupin and Hayao Miyazaki fans. This laserdisc release from Japan includes the two Lupin Series Two episodes personally directed by Miyazaki. While at this time, he worked at the Telecom animation studio behind the scenes (alongside longtime friend and alum Yasuo Otsuka), guiding and mentoring the younger animators, only two episodes were directed by him. They are, needless to say, the series' two best episodes: "Albatross: Wings of Death" and "Farewell, Beloved Lupin."

As we have come to expect from LaserDisc, the packaging is superb. The large 12" canvas allows for greater variety in artwork, illustrations, and screenshots. It's also nice to see the title written in English ("New Lupin the Third," or Shin Lupin, was the formal name to the second series, which ran from 1976-80).

You will notice the director's names listed on the cover. Hayao Miyazaki, for reasons not entirely made clear, used a pen name for these episodes, instead of his own. Was this because his two most recent directorial works, 1978's Future Boy Conan and 1979's Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro, were both commercial failures? Did he or the studio bosses feel the Miyazaki name was no longer bankable, years after the great triumphs of Heidi and Marco? These are questions we are left to debate and contemplate.

It seems inconceivable that the name "Hayao Miyazaki" would be considered risky or unprofitable, but the period of 1978-1983 is a very difficult time for the director. If we were to present his entire 50-year career as a five-act drama, this would be Act III. It is a time of hardship and difficulty, as multiple animated projects either fail to become hits (Conan, Cagliostro), are formally retired (Lupin Series Two), or are scuttled before completion (Sherlock Hound). Miyazaki also prepared story ideas for My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke (the first version), only to be stymied as no producer or studio was willing to accept. By 1983, after a final failure involving the trans-Pacific Nemo film project, Hayao Miyazaki's animation career appeared all but finished.

But this period is also creatively fruitful, as Miyazaki works with a stable crew of artists and animators with Nippon Animation and Telecom. The same crew is responsible for Future Boy Conan, Castle of Cagliostro, the Lupin Series Two episodes, and Sherlock Hound. That gives these works a consistency, a solid foundation. We see Miyazaki maturing as a director, perfecting the cliffhanger adventure serials that define the first half of his career (Animal Treasure Island was often cited as an influence for the Telecom animators like Kazuhide Tomonaga and Yoshifumi Kondo). And we're seeing the maturity brought about by Heidi, Marco, and Anne in Miyazaki's work. Future Boy Conan feels like the idea halfway point, doesn't it, between his younger, adventurous works and his older, serious works at Studio Ghibli?

This period shows Hayao Miyazaki in transition, approaching middle age, struggling to define himself, and searching for new directions. The years of struggle will eventually pay off, spectacularly, in 1984 with Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, which not only revived his animation career, but reinvented it as well. And so these Lupin the 3rd episodes can be seen as a path to that destination - Rubber Soul en route to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Lupin the 3rd: The First TV Series (LaserDisc Box Set)

 

I just found this amazing item on Ebay last night, selling for the oh-so affordable price of $200. This is Lupin the 3rd: The First TV Series on Laserdisc. Dubbed the "TV Perfection Box," this impressive box set contains all 23 episodes of the original 1971-72 television anime series on six discs, each packaged with a fully illustrated cover, all presented in a solid gold box. "Perfection," indeed.

The six disc covers feature reproductions of classic scenes from the original TV series, and some of the series' best moments. Interestingly, five out of the six highlight the later Takahata/Miyazaki directed episodes; the earlier, grittier Masaaki Osuumi directed episodes are given the short shrift. That's really too bad, because I always admired his vision for Lupin (after all, Osuumi and Yasuo Otsuka were the creators of Lupin anime). He just needed a little more time for everything to gel. Takahata and Miyazaki, in many ways, benefited from all the early prep work, making middle episodes of Lupin Series One, in my opinion, the best.

I am especially a fan of the series finale, which feels entirely like Miyazaki's work. You have the crazy car chases, a hidden hanger packed with obscure aircraft, and various bits of slapstick comedy. There are even two cameos of Yasuo Otsuka and Miyazaki which always make me chuckle. The climax, where the Lupin gang is cornered in a junkyard, has a fitting sense of closure, and their final escape...well, I shouldn't spoil what happens. You'll have to watch and find out for yourselves.

I'll bet Discotek Media wishes they could get their hands on this. The packaging design is nothing less than spectacular, a perfect reminder of what makes LaserDisc so cool. And, as we can safely guess, this box set must be extremely rare. Goodness knows it commands a high enough price.

A few more photos of the Lupin the 3rd TV Perfection Box appear after the jump break. Pay special attention to the group photo on the back page of the booklet, featuring a cast of characters throughout the entire series run. It's a great touch:

2015-02-19

Overnight Thread (Neo Tokyo JP Trailer)



This morning, we announced the arrival of the anime anthology film, Robot Carnival, on DVD this year. Many people have made favorable comparisons to another similar anthology movie titled Neo Tokyo. This film features three segments, each directed by Rintaro, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, and once again, Katsuhiro Otomo, and was released in Japan in 1987, with a Streamline Pictures release in 1989.

I swear I am not going on a Katsuhiro Otomo kick this week. Honest! It's just been a very fortunate bit of luck. But it's always good to reexamine the career of one of Japanese animation's giants. And now I'm really in the mood to read The Dark Knight Returns or The Killing Joke...

Thursday was another banner day for Ghibli Blog. Traffic reached another high, thanks to the Goro Miyazaki interview, and our look at Hayao Miyazaki's Imaginary Flying Machines. I'm always surprised to see which posts get attention; it's completely impossible to predict what will happen, or if anybody will actually show up to the site.

Time for bed - good night!

Fade to Lack Reviews Horus, Prince of the Sun DVD


Fade to Lack author Johnathan Lack recently profiled the Horus, Prince of the Sun DVD, and gave it a glowing review. He definitely has a solid grasp on this revolutionary anime film and the hard work of Isao Takahata and company.

A couple excerpts from his lengthy review:

I had heard of the film many times before, a constant fixture in research I have done on Takahata and Miyazaki; yet until Discotek’s recent DVD release – which arrived at the tail-end of 2014, with minimal attention or fanfare – I had never had the chance to see it, for this is the first time Horus has been made commercially available in the United States. It is a cause for immense celebration. This is a jaw-dropping film, a stunning work of radical power and unbridled cinematic passion that remains a wonder to behold 46 years after its theatrical release. To watch it is to see the history of modern anime unfold; all the potential of Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki, and the industry as a whole is contained within Horus’ brief yet dense 82 minutes, and now that I have seen it, it is clear to me that no appraisal of either man’s careers, let alone the last five decades of Japanese animation, can be undertaken without seeing and discussing Horus. It is that sort of milestone, and to finally see it is like uncovering a long-buried treasure.
 
I am, again, amazed to consider that Takahata and his team got away with any of this. Horus was a statement, an announcement of a wide swath of major talents working tirelessly to prove themselves. Everything about the film’s existence amazes me – that it was directed and created by such young, untested artists; that it pushed boundaries as far it did, in as many ways as it did, at the time it was made; and of course, that those responsible for its creation would only go on to improve from here, building on this foundation to do nothing less than transform the face of cinema. This is a film we should speak of in the same tones as the initial works of the French New Wave, or of Italian Neorealism, or any other major paradigm shift in the history of world cinema. Like those works, Horus took what previously existed and redefined ‘convention’ in so many different ways; it was the start of something big, and stands as an essential cinematic text.
 
Lack also singles out praises for the Horus bonus features, for which I say on behalf of everyone involved, thank you for the kind words:
 
This top-notch presentation of the film itself would of course be enough – especially for such a reasonably priced release – but the supplemental package Discotek has curated is an embarrassment of riches, especially when compared with most other anime home video releases. Two full audio commentaries are provided, both well-researched from knowledgeable enthusiasts; the second may not be a recording of professional quality, but the content is great nevertheless. There are two video interviews, one with animator Yoichi Kotabe, a major figure from this era who shares excellent insight into the creation of Horus, and one with director Isao Takahata, which is a rare, supremely informative treat indeed. To hear him talk about the turmoil that went into making the film, or discuss in such depth the inspirations he took from other films and movements around the world, is a joy, and I am ecstatic that Discotek uncovered and translated the conversation.
 
The author does point out a number of editing and typing errors in my texts, and for that I must fully confess. I did notice that while watching the Horus DVD. Another quick editing pass would have helped, no doubt. But in my defense, I was working furiously around the clock, literally working until the final hour (my audio commentary tracks were finished just after 4:00am deadline day). My brain was thoroughly fried by that point. Let that be a lesson for all writers: no matter how good you are, you'll still need a good editor on call.
 
An excellent review, and I'm eagerly looking forward to reading more. When are the reviews coming? I sent out press releases and made many email inquiries. The guilty parties know who they are...show us your Horus reviews!

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