Search

2017-10-14

Here Are My New Book Covers: Zen Arcade, Pop Life, Greatest Hits

Ghibli Blog: Daniel Thomas MacInnes

Ladies and Gentlemen, here are the book covers to my upcoming books. The brilliant designers from 99 Designs created these great works, and I am forever in their debt. These just look amazing. I now turn to the skilled formatting designers to put everything together. Meanwhile, I will be working on setting up the new DT Media website, setting up the Amazon sales and author pages, and sending out review copies to pretty much everywhere.

When will these books finally be released? I'm still hoping for late October; Halloween would be nice. These titles will be available exclusively at Amazon, but later will be expanded to Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo at a later date. For now, I just want to concentrate attention on one single storefront before expanding.

I have not yet firmly decided on prices; I am currently thinking of $14.99 for the paperback and $4.99 for the ebook, but nothing is yet set in stone. There may also be some surprises for everyone on the mailing list, so if you're thinking of joining up, now's the time.

Finally, if you are a review critic for any media outlet, please contact me and I will send you copies of all three books as soon as they're available.


Ghibli Blog: Zen Arcade Book Cover

Zen Arcade: Classic Video Game Reviews

"Do you love retro video games? Are you a veteran collector, or a young player wondering where to begin? Zen Arcade collects 140 reviews of video games across six classic platforms: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super NES, Nintendo 64, NEC Turbografx-16, Sega Genesis and SNK Neo-Geo. Author Daniel Thomas MacInnes, a video game writer for over 20 years, guides you through this living history with intelligence, humor and wit. Zen Arcade is a celebration of the vitality and power of classic video games to inspire and entertain."


Ghibli Blog: Pop Life Book Cover

Pop Life

"Pop Life is a collection of essays across four broad themes: film & television, music & hi-fi audio, video games, and the political & personal. Author Daniel Thomas MacInnes tackles every aspect of 'the pop life' with biting wit, humor and keen insight, bringing readers on an illuminating journey across the cultural landscape. This book follows in the tradition of Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael, Chuck Klosterman and Hunter S. Thompson, and will prove insightful, illuminating and entertaining for all readers."


Ghibli Blog: Greatest Hits Book Cover

Greatest Hits: An Anthology in Four Volumes

"Greatest Hits: An Anthology in Four Volumes is a compilation volume of selections from two current books (Zen Arcade, Pop Life), and two upcoming books (Videogame Classics, Conversations on Ghibli). Author Daniel Thomas MacInnes examines and dissects the pop culture universe: film and television, animation and live-action, music and audio, video and computer games, politics and current events with sharp wit, humor and insight."


2017-10-13

My Neighbors the Yamada on US Blu-Ray Release Date: January 16, 2018

Ghibli Blog: My Neighbors the Yamada on US Blu-Ray Release Date: January 16, 2018

At long last, it's nearly here! GKIDS has finally announced the long-awaited release date of Studio Ghibli's 1999 classic My Neighbors the Yamadas on Blu-Ray for January 16, 2018. No further word has been made regarding bonus features, but we expect to find some new goodies for the fans.

My Neighbors the Yamada is Isao Takahata's newspaper comic strip adaptation, an anthology of wildly amusing misadventures featuring an average Japanese family and their daily foibles. The visual style is practically groundbreaking, a zen-watercolor style with vast splashes of color, and equally vast splashes of empty space. There are a number of inventive CGI sequences that explode off the screen, a wonderfully surreal introduction to the family history from marriage to (folk tale) childbirth. And there is a jubilant, almost bittersweet musical number at the end that features fireworks, umbrellas, and seemingly half the population of Japan.

This is the movie that you wish Hollywood executives would watch when the time comes to attempt adaptations of popular comic books. It's like Bill Melendez' Peanuts cartoons, but with a vastly larger budget, wider color palette and stronger pop-jazz bent. Don't you dare try to make a Calvin and Hobbes movie without memorizing every frame of this near-masterpiece.

Listen to Paku-san, aspiring moviemakers. Always listen to Paku-san. He's the Yasujiro Oju of our generation and we must treasure him while he still walks among us.

Artist Spotlight: Studio Ghibli Pixel Art by Richard J. Evans

Ghibli Blog: Artist Spotlight: Studio Ghibli Pixel Art by Richard J. Evans

Ghibli Blog: Artist Spotlight: Studio Ghibli Pixel Art by Richard J. Evans


Ghibli Blog: Artist Spotlight: Studio Ghibli Pixel Art by Richard J. Evans

Ghibli Blog: Artist Spotlight: Studio Ghibli Pixel Art by Richard J. Evans

Three years ago, artist Richard J. Evans embarked on an interesting project: a series of digital artworks based on the movies of Studio Ghibli, rendered entirely in "pixel art." This is an art style that is deliberately low-fi, low-resolution and quite blocky, inspired, one supposes, by the look of computer graphics from the 1980s. This sub-genre of art has become very popular in recent years and shows no signs of slowing down.

Evans successfully captures the hand-drawn animation style of the Ghibli films quite masterfully, with a very wide color palette at his disposal (much more than what was available on computers and videogamess of the 1980s), and everything is sharply detailed, which maintaining those large blocky pixels. The ones you see here are my personal favorites, but the artist has also paid tribute to nearly every Ghibli movie ever made, and they're all terrific.

Overall, great job. Creating art within very hard limitations can be quite challenging, but the results are equally rewarding.

You can see more of Evans' work on his website. Be sure to send him a thanks for his efforts.

Ghibli Fest Continues: Spirited Away in Theaters 10/29, 10/30, 11/1

Ghibli Blog: Spirited Away in Theaters October 30 - November 1

Ghibli Fest, sponsored by film distributor GKIDS, continues with Hayao Miyazaki's Academy Award-winning masterpiece Spirited Away in theaters October 29, 30 and November 1. The events are presented in conjunction with Fathom Events, and will feature screenings in both English (dub) and Japanese (sub) language soundtracks.

Spirited Away will be given a fairly wide release, which is a big plus for Ghibli Freaks everywhere. Here in Chicago, there are 24 theaters participating, not including the outer suburbs (which, frankly, are like visiting another state). No doubt, conditions will be the same in your area.

Tickets can be purchased in advance by visiting the GKIDS website.

2017-10-11

GKIDS Studio Ghibli Blu-Ray/DVD Titles Coming October 17


This coming Tuesday, October 17 sees the first wave of Studio Ghibli Blu-Ray/DVD movies from GKIDS. The titles included will be My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, and Ponyo.

GKIDS has promised that all versions will include multiple language soundtracks, English subtitles, and new bonus features. We are hopeful that previous issues surrounding Mononoke (subtitles) and Ponyo (audio quality) will be resolved. Unfortunately, it has been confirmed that Kiki's Delivery Service will retain the "dubtitles" that have been present in all home video releases.

The cover designs are all terrific, although only Mononoke features new cover art. The slipcovers are welcome, as always, and fits into the GKIDS design very nicely. Picture quality should be identical to the previous Disney Blu-Ray releases, although we will be perfectly happy to be proven wrong.

For the most part, these releases exist to consolidate the Studio Ghibli catalog under one roof. If you own these movies under the Disney label, there are few reasons to make the jump. Princess Mononoke and Ponyo will be my first picks, for the aforementioned reasons. Fans will be happy to collect everything. And if you're just beginning to build your library, now is the perfect place to start.

I'm looking forward to watching these movies again, and can't wait for the following waves. What a great time to be a Ghibli Freak!

Update: Blogger is being a pain in the neck again. Stop chewing up my articles!

Photos: Mei and the Kittenbus (2003)

Ghibli Blog: Mei and the Kittenbus

Ghibli Blog: Mei and the Kittenbus

Ghibli Blog: Mei and the Kittenbus

Ghibli Blog: Mei and the Kittenbus

Here are some photos from the 2003 Ghibli Museum short film Mei and the Kittenbus. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, this is a sequel of sorts to the beloved children's classic My Neighbor Totoro.

Mei and the Kittenbus is fairly short, roughly ten minutes. In the first sequence, young Mei playing around her family house until she discovers a new friend, the "kittenbus," who is a pint-sized version of Catbus. The two play and frolic around and have a good time.

In the second sequence, Mei is awakened at night by Kittenbus, who takes her on a journey, where they discover dozens of "cat buses" of all shapes and sizes, and populated by hundreds of large Totoros. Everyone is joining together to meet the elder Catbus, the oldest and largest of them all (and voiced by Miyazaki himself). Here, Mei is reunited with Totoro, who is still carrying his umbrella.

Everyone is happy and cheerful. Mei is returned to her home, and the story ends.

While this film, like all the Ghibli Museum short films, remain exclusively in Japan, Westerners can purchase the official art books, which include large screenshots detailing the stories. These are nice collectibles and very valuable for scholars who wish to discover this little-known aspect of Studio Ghibli.

Will Mei and the Kittenbus ever be shown outside of Japan? Not likely, at least not while Miyazaki is still alive. The museum was created with a decidedly non-commercial approach, deliberately avoiding the mass consumerism of a Disneyland. Because of this, the museum's short films are intended to be seen only there, with no possibility of a home video release.

Even after Miyazaki passes (hopefully not for many more years), Toshio Suzuki will likely still honor his friend's wishes. Whoever ends up controlling Studio Ghibli after the original founders are gone will likely decide the fate of these movies. But that's not a conversation we're ready to have, for obvious reasons. I'll gladly prefer to keep these movies in the vault in exchange for keeping Miyazaki around a little longer.

Support This Website With Amazon Associates

Ghibli Blog: Support this website with Amazon Associates

Hi, everyone. I wanted to share a quick message about Ghibli Blog and our ongoing plans to build and grow. As you can see, there are a number of small Google ads which bring in a couple pennies every day, depending on site traffic. I've experimented with these in the past, and while it never earns much money, every little bit helps. I promise to keep these ads discreet and not let them overwhelm the website.

You may also notice the Amazon ads on the right sidebar. This is our newest addition: Amazon Associates. When you purchase items shown in these ads, we will receive a percentage of the sale. Better yet, even if you don't buy that item, anything you purchase on that visit will still count. Best of all: this will not cost you one single penny.

Do you want to support Ghibli Blog? Here's how: when you want to buy something on Amazon, first click on one of the Amazon ads on this site. You don't have to buy the item from the ad, so if you're not interested, just continue shopping. For everything that you buy, we will receive a 20 percent royalty check from Jeff Bezos. Yay!

We at DT Media and Ghibli Blog are working hard to build something special, including this website and our upcoming book releases. This is a full-time job, and if you enjoy the content you read daily -- news, reviews, essays and more -- then please support us and enable us to continue our work.

Thank you very much.

2017-10-10

Photos: Howl's Moving Castle

Ghibli Blog: Howl's Moving Castle

Ghibli Blog: Howl's Moving Castle

Ghibli Blog: Howl's Moving Castle

Ghibli Blog: Howl's Moving Castle

I'm a great fan of Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, enough to see the movie four times when it played at the local theater in 2005. It felt like a distillation of his entire body of work, from Toei Doga to Studio Ghibli, from animation to comics. Was the movie a big, sprawling mess? Absolutely, which is precisely the thing I enjoyed most about it.

Fans of Diana Wynne Jones' fantasy novels were, understandably, less charitable with Miyazaki's very loose "adaptation," which only seemed to skim the names of the main characters and basic setting before chucking the rest and running wild. If you were expecting something akin to the books, or a faithful translation ala Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, you were bound to be disappointed.

I never read the novels, and have never been a fan of the fantasy genre. Science-fiction was always my style. Because of this, I never saw Howl as anything more than a Miyazaki story, one that seemed to plumb the depths of his personal quirks and obsessions. He seemed less interested in telling Jones' tale, and more interested in sharing his insights on the war, work ethic and marriage. The romantic leads are clearly meant to be the Miyazaki Clan, as we have seen in Animal Treasure Island, Future Boy Conan, Sherlock Hound, Ponyo and The Wind Rises.

I enjoy the joyous surrealism of this movie, the Fellini-esque carnival atmosphere and obsessions with his personal emotions. I enjoy Sophie's transformations, from young to old, back to young again,  and then a happy medium of youth and acquired wisdom. I enjoy the mashup of sidekicks and oddball characters who feel like refugees from Oz (one almost expects to find a yellow brick road somewhere. I especially enjoy the hulking castle, pieces together from impossible pieces that shouldn't fit together, yet somehow still works. It has real personality.

And, yes, I even enjoy the ending that attempts to shoehorn one too many plot points into a too-neat-by-half ending. One character is even reduced to tossing out wisecracks to the audience like Tom Servo and Crow, and we find ourselves agreeing with her. Great movies are rarely perfect movies, as Pauline Kael loved to say. You have to appreciate the cheesy moments now and then, or you're never going to enjoy going to the movies.

UPDATE: Blogger seems to have eaten this post, for some unknown reason. I'll just leave everything here and we'll discuss Howl's Moving Castle in depth at a later time. Yay, screenshots!

DT Media: Book Cover Design Contests Underway




News on the upcoming books: I have begun cover design contests for my three titles at 99 Designs. I have supplied detailed notes on the books and what I'm looking for, which range from "exactly like this" to "I have no idea what I'm doing." Artists and illustrators will compete and the winners will create covers for the paperback and ebook editions.

Zen Arcade: Classic Video Game Reviews is a collection of 140 videogame reviews for NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, Turbografx-16, Genesis and Neo-Geo. All the titles have been released on Nintendo's Virtual Console and similar digital platforms. Two more books in the series are planned if this one is successful.

The cover design recreates the style of Nintendo Wii game packaging, complete with the swirl on top with the DTM logo on top-right. There are a tangle of game controllers, some rainbow colors, and a bunch of empty space. I hope the designers really make this one shine.

Greatest Hits: An Anthology in Four Volumes is an anthology of essays from four books, including two that I'm still working on, "Videogame Classics" and "Conversations on Ghibli." Yes, this will be my first published writings on the never-ending Studio Ghibli book project.

The cover design is aiming for a tabloid style. I wanted to use Totoro instead of an LP/CD, but I can't get the copyrights from Ghibli. This may become a problem with my efforts to publish the Ghibli book down the line. Maybe the designers will surprise me with something amazing.

Pop Life is a collection of pop culture essays on film & television, music & audio, video games, and politics & current events. This is the most "Chuck Klosterman" of my three books, and also the largest of the three. I really love this one.

The cover design will be a recreation of Gustavo Cerati's 1999 Bocanada album, but with me on the cover. I'm strongly tempted to leave no text on the cover, which would look cool, but might prove confusing to the public. We'll see how it goes.

The 99 Designs contest runs for a full week, but the first round runs four days. As soon as the covers are finished, I'll hand things over to the formatting team, then we'll be ready for launch. Is there still time to launch before Halloween? Cross yer fingers, kids.

2017-10-09

Future Boy Conan: The Playstation 2 Video Game

Ghibli Blog: Future Boy Conan on Playstation 2

Ghibli Blog: Future Boy Conan on Playstation 2

Future Boy Conan is the 1978 NHK anime series directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and is a thrilling combination of adventure, romance and comedy, with strong doses of political and environmental themes that would become icons of the Studio Ghibli era. It's a fantastic show and might possibly be the director's greatest work in animation.

And here is the one thing Ghibli Freaks everywhere have begged and pleaded for years: a Miyazaki video game! D3, a software publisher dedicated largely to cartoon-videogame tie-ins, brought Future Boy Conan to the Playstation 2 in Japan.

If you're familiar with the TV series, then you'll love this game, which recreates the entire series from start to finish. Playing as Conan, you explore fully three-dimensional environments, fulfilling mission requirements, searching for objects, meeting characters, and beating up bad guys. In other words, you get to do pretty much everything you saw on the show.

D3 recreates the world of Future Boy Conan with an almost obsessive attention to detail. You can tell the programmers and designers were true fans and not just cashing in a paycheck. Animations are supremely fluid and aim to capture the stylings of the show. I especially enjoyed watching Conan running recklessly, just like he does in a dozen TV episodes.

The graphics are rendered in a style called "cel shading," in which 3D polygon models are layered with a thick black outline that mimics that look of 2D cartoon drawings. It became famous in Sega's Jet Set Radio (or Jet Grind Radio in the US), but the technique was pioneered previously in Wacky Races and Fear Effect on Dreamcast and Playstation 1, respectively. You may also recognize this style with Ni No Kuni, which was jointly produced with Studio Ghibli (the sequel uses many of the same animators, even though the studio was on hiatus at the time).

Despite my best investigations, I could not find an English-language patch for PS2 Conan. It was released exclusively in Japan and features a fair amount of text. You may need to consult a FAQ guide for assistance. Physical copies can be found on Ebay for $34.00 - $75.00, but this appears to be a slightly obscure release.

Here are a couple gameplay videos to show off Future Boy Conan. Now give us more Miyazaki videogames! And somebody release this series in the States!







Arrietty Blu-Ray: No UK Dub on GKIDS Reissue


Sad news for American Ghibli Freaks: film distributor GKIDS today announced that their upcoming Blu-Ray release of The Secret World of Arrietty will not include the beloved UK dub as previously hoped. It will only include the Japanese and American (Disney) soundtracks.

The news was reported in an October 1 post on GKIDS Twitter: "Looked like UK had a glimmer of hope but it unfortunately is more thorny than we thought." This presumably refers to the complicated legal rights issues between Japan, US and UK releases of Arrietty. No further details have been given at this time.

It's very unfortunate that North American fans will miss out on the excellent UK soundtrack, which fits the source material perfectly and is superior to the Disney dub (which is very fine in its own regard). Your best option remains to import the UK Blu-Ray, provided you have a way to override your player's region code.

The Secret World of Arrietty will be released on Blu-Ray/DVD on November 21, as part of the GKIDS reissue campaign for the Studio Ghibli film catalog.

Castle in the Sky: You Know Who Else Was a Sky Pirate?

Ghibli Blog: Castle in the Sky

This past Friday, Japanese television network Nippon TV aired Studio Ghibli's 1986 classic Laputa: Castle in the Sky. During the broadcast, the network's shared trivia and memorable quotes on Twitter. One fascinating revelation: the character of Dora, the leader of the pirate clan, was inspired by Hayao Miyazaki's mom. He wanted to portray his mother as a brave and rogue-ish-yet-heroic figure. He even remarked that she was a dominating figure, where even a family of four sons would never dare to challenge her. And, of course, he was motivated by the trauma of his mother's long battle with tuberculosis, which lasted nine years during the young Miyazaki's childhood.

Whenever I think of Miyazaki's references to his mother, I am reminded of the mothers in My Neighbor Totoro and Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, who were bedridden with illness. The Nausicaa books contain an especially haunting moment where Nausicaa discloses feelings of isolation and alienation as a result of her mother's ordeal, resulting in one of the most chilling lines of the entire novel: "My mother taught me that some wounds can never be healed. But she didn't love me."

How much of that was based on Miyazaki's own childhood? How much is invented solely for the story? Like all artists, he probably took a little from column "A" and a little from column "B". By all accounts, he remained deeply devoted to his mother throughout her life, and she lived to a very old age. His thoughts on the matter have remained private, however, leaving us to speculate and theorize by examining his art.

I like the idea of Dora as a heroic mother, and she's a great, curmudgeonly character who supplies great heart to Castle in the Sky. I can't imagine the picture without her or her bumbling sons. They're not so much pirates as a family on endless adventures.

You can find the Nippon TV Twitter messages here and here, in Japanese, of course. Thanks also to Geek for sharing the news on their site.

2017-10-06

Puss in Boots 1969 Trailer



Puss in Boots, the 1969 Toei Doga feature, is one of the all-time classic anime films. If you're a fan of old Tom and Jerry cartoons, then you'll have a blast. It's very funny and goofy, with a number of terrific action sequences, a few song-and-dance numbers, and some really inspired art design. This movie remains almost entirely unknown in the West, which is a damn shame. It deserves to find an audience, and it's a personal favorite.

The castle chase sequence in the final act is probably the most famous, and was animated jointly by Yasuo Otsuka and Hayao Miyazaki. This sequence would later be parodied in 1971's Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, which Miyazaki also animated, and was his final film at Toei before jumping ship with Isao Takahata and Yoichi Kotabe to join their elder brother Otsuka at A Productions. Nearly the entire crew who created Horus, Prince of the Sun worked on this picture, and you can feel the sense of excitement and liberation as they created this classic. What a great movie!

Here is the first of two trailers created for this movie. The subtitles indicate that this was borrowed (ahem) from the Discotek DVD, which is now out-of-print. Obviously, I would love to see this movie reissued again, or even released on Blu-Ray.

Kiki's Delivery Service 1998 VHS Promo



When Disney secured the US distribution rights to Studio Ghibli's films, they clearly had their eyes on Kiki's Delivery Service. Here was a family-friendly movie that was charming, upbeat and very similar in tone to their own movies. For parents who probably associated "Japanimation" with sex, violence and cheap production values, this would be a very welcome relief. Add in a new dubbed soundtrack created by Disney themselves, and you have a guaranteed hit on home video.

This video is the original 1998 promo for the videocassette, and according to the YouTube page, appeared on the VHS for The Black Cauldron. Notice the colorful logo which would be replaced in the DVD that appeared five years later. I always preferred this to the later design, when Disney appeared to be far less invested in Studio Ghibli. I don't care much for the corny narration or the dub, but I'm not the target audience, which would be parents and small children.

It's fascinating how this trailer focuses on the climactic action sequence. There's quite a bit more action that one would expect from a "children's cartoon," albeit with all the hokey narration and preachy moral values. In a Puritanical society, such concessions are necessary in order to sneak past the guards. Mom and Dad will nod with approval at the important messages, and the kids will be thrilled by the exciting flying scenes and the sights of a foreign city (modeled greatly on Sweden, as we all know).

It's really too bad that the relationship between Disney and Studio Ghibli was such a troubled one. They rarely seemed to be on the same page, often viewing one another as rivals rather than partners. The cultural differences were just too great at the time. Also, Hayao Miyazaki probably shouldn't have made a grim and gory Kurosawa epic right when he signed the distribution papers. I can't help but feel that Princess Mononoke burned more bridges than it built, and is really the point where that marriage turned sour. Maybe it's just me.

In any case, here's Kiki to cheer everybody up.

My Neighbor Totoro 1993 US Trailer



Here is a very nice find: the original 1993 theatrical trailer for My Neighbor Totoro in the United States, courtesy of original distributor Troma, Inc. This would be the first Studio Ghibli movie to be released in the States, the beginning of a very long and complicated journey towards mainstream acceptance on our shores.

The Troma version of Totoro featured an English-language dub that is beloved by fans to this day. Many still consider it superior to the 2006 Disney version that later appeared on DVD and Blu-Ray. 20th Century Fox would release the movie on VHS, LaserDisc and DVD, although the latter release was merely sourced from the LD, with the traditional "full screen" pan-and-scan picture.

The original 1993 press release was preserved by the Miyazaki Mailing List, and it's a fascinating read. I'd like to find an original copy, if only for posterity. This marked the first serious attempt to bring Hayao Miyazaki to the American mainstream. Troma's strategy would become the standard sales pitch: Miyazaki as Japan's Walt Disney. This has never been entirely true (if I would compare Miyazaki to any American filmmaker, it would be Steven Spielberg), but understandably necessary when the family-friendly cartoon market was dominated by Disney, which was experiencing their great renaissance in the early 1990s, thanks to The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.

Here's the relevant text from the Troma press release:

"Japan's Mickey Mouse" 
Troma's release of the award-winning family film MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO will introduce American audiences to TOTORO, which in Japan is a household name. "In Japan TOTORO is more beloved than Mickey Mouse and the Troma Team is honored to introduce this superb family entertainment to American audiences," says Lloyd Kaufman. Throughout Japan, one can see the furry, fat and lovable creatures, called TOTOROs on a wide variety of licensed products including plush toys, tote bags, pillows, lunch boxes and many others. 
MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO also introduces the creative imagination and art of Japan's top animation director, Hayao Miyazaki. "Mr. Miyazaki's animation is magnificent and sublime; funny yet very touching. In my opinion he is a genius" comments Kaufman. He is as revered in Japan as Walt Disney is revered in America and has had enormous box-office success, attracting audiences of adults, as well as children.

The tagline "more popular than Mickey Mouse" was commonly used in those days, and was always aimed more at parents than children. I remember that phrase was previously used to describe Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog. For Baby Boomer parents, Mickey was the touchstone for children's entertainment. For Generation X/Y and young Millennials? Not so much.

This illustrates once again the immense difficulty in bringing Japanese animation to the States. "Japanimation" wasn't just a variation on familiar cartoons, it was an entirely different art form.

I am aware that it's unlikely to ever happen, but I would like to see a home video release of My Neighbor Totoro that includes the original 1993 Troma dub and trailer. You could include the 2006 Disney dub as well. There's plenty enough room for everyone. I think the fans would be thrilled.

2017-10-05

Castle in the Sky 1999 VHS Promo



Ugh, look at that horrible logo! It look like Kermit the Frog exploded. My eyes, the goggles do nothing!

This is the original 1999 VHS promo for Disney's US release of Hayao Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky. It features an English dub that has aged very badly, a corny narration voice-over, and a low-resolution pan-and-scan picture that was a hallmark of the videotape era.

It's fascinating that Disney had originally planned to release Castle in the Sky on video in 1999, no doubt to tie in with Princess Mononoke. However, their shocked reaction to Miyazaki's 1997 film (which was far more violent and adult than they were expecting), as well as the subsequent difficulties with Studio Ghibli (cough, Miyazaki threatening Miramax head Harvey Weinstein with a samurai sword) left such plans in a holding pattern.

Perhaps Castle in the Sky was just too "anime" for the time. Even in the late '90s, Hollywood struggled with the difficulties in selling Japanese animation to a mainstream audience, who expected cartoons to follow in the traditions of Snow White, Mickey Mouse, and Bugs Bunny. An animated Steven Spielberg movie was not only unusual, it was entirely alien. Nobody could wrap their heads around it, and you can see this struggle in this film's movie reviews at the time.

By the turn of the century, Disney would only release one Ghibli catalog title: Kiki's Delivery Service. It was a much easier choice, far closer to the kind of children's fairy tales they wanted from Miyazaki. The home video rights to My Neighbor Totoro would remain in 20th Century Fox's hands for several more years. Mononoke was just too violent for children. The rest of the studio's movies were just too weird, too unconventional, too foreign. We would have to wait for Miyazaki's Spirited Away, and the relentless pushing by Pixar's John Lasseter, to finally end the impasse and move things forward.

Even then, Disney always seemed to be dragging their heels in regards to Studio Ghibli, never fully understanding these movies or how to sell them to the American public. To be fair, this is a daunting challenge, one we still grapple with today. We have more or less accepted that Ghibli will never achieve more than cult status in the United States. It's just what it is. We live in a country where reality show stars become Presidents and cartoons about talking poop become blockbuster hits.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky Recreated in Minecraft



Japanese artist Mocci Hajikura has spent the past four years recreating the environments and locations from Studio Ghibli's classic Laputa: Castle in the Sky. He has now completed his project, releasing several videos to YouTube. All of your favorite scenes from the movie have been rendered to scale, including the industrial town, the pirate ship, and most famously, the floating city of Laputa itself.

In 2015, he created a series of YouTube videos to correspond with the movie's television broadcast. These final 2017 videos also correspond to the latest Castle in the Sky broadcast presentation.

This is highly impressive. We have seen many Minecraft works based on Studio Ghibli movies, and this is easily the most ambitious yet. Most of Miyazaki's scenes and designs are rendered in painstaking detail; even the movie's title sequence has been recreated perfectly.

Courtesy of Hajikura, here are all seven Castle in the Sky Minecraft videos, complete and unabridged. Thankfully, there are no scary Creeper attacks. Those guys nearly gave me a heart attack in Minecraft Alpha. Enjoy and share!

2017-10-03

Interview With Telecom & Ghibli Animator Atsuko Tanaka


Writer Katy Castillo at YattaTachi has just posted an impressive interview with legendary animator Atsuko Tanaka. They discuss her experience working on various anime productions, including the recent blockbuster , the differences between Japan and America's animation (mostly lip-syncing), and her opinions on Hayao Miyazaki. It's a very fascinating read, and as always, I wish there were more.

Tanaka-san began her career at Shin-Ei Animation, later joining the Telecom studio, where she met up with Miyazaki, providing key animation on Lupin the 3rd: Series Two, The Castle of Cagliostro and Sherlock Hound. In 1984, she was part of the small team that created the 1984 Nemo pilot film, one of the all-time great anime masterpieces. At Studio Ghibli, she worked on My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, Pom Poko, Mimi wo Sumaseba, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, Tales From Earthsea, Ponyo, The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There. Most recently, Tanaka joined the staff at Studio Ponoc for Mary and the Witch's Flower.

It's a great interview well worth reading. In these clips, Tanaka discusses what it's like to work with Miyazaki:



How would you compare working at Studio Ghibli to working at other studio environments? 
We’ve heard that working with Miyazaki can be a bit… stressful. I’ve been working alongside Miyazaki for a long, long time, even before Ghibli. And before that, I think he was much scarier to be around. After Ghibli, of course, he was very strict on the work we do. However, he wasn’t really doing anything with us, so that was good.
Was it easier because you understood his mannerisms and knew that his approach was a bit more upfront and direct? 
As long as he is not making movies, he is a very nice and gentle person. This is my personal opinion, but Miyazaki is very, very into his production, of course. He gets tough if somebody else is not thinking as deep as he is, but it is almost impossible because it’s his creation. That is kind of how it is. Especially with understanding the movie, he always wants more. Miyazaki has a lot of knowledge about different things. Let’s say there is a car in a scene: he knows everything about this car. About how to cook? He knows everything about how to cook. When I worked on the scene in Howl’s Moving Castle where they cook bacon and eggs, I didn’t know at the time that you make the egg using the bacon’s oil. I didn’t know that, but of course he did. He knows a lot about airplanes and other things. Although he says, “Oh, I don’t have much knowledge,” he does have a lot of knowledge, even about daily life and cooking, so it’s very hard to catch up to him.

Lu Over the Wall: All the Anime Reviews the New Masaaki Yuasa Movie



Who is the greatest talent in Japanese animation today? Unquestionably, it's Masaaki Yuasa, the visual firebrand who has been blazing trails and blowing minds for over a decade. His 2004 movie Mind Game remains a milestone for hand-drawn animation. In 2017, his newest movie has arrived: Lu Over the Wall. And it looks absolutely spectacular. It appears to be a romance between a young aspiring musician and a mermaid; hearing the music causes the mermaid to sprout legs and walk on land, leading to discoveries, unwelcome attention from the locals, romantic rivalries, and an angry father who may end up flooding the entire town.

Hmm. This sounds vaguely familiar.

Scottish anime website All the Anime has written a lengthy review of the new film, which is currently screening at the Scotland Loves Anime film festival. Critic Johnathan Clements raises the obvious comparisons to Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea. Personally, I welcome our new aquatic overlords. I found Ponyo to be a spectacular movie, visually dazzling and inspiring, a heartfelt tribute to the joys of hand-drawn animation. Nine years later, we're seeing a younger generation take their inspiration and push the medium further.

I think if Fellini had made animated features, they would look very much like Yuasa's. Why is he still so obscure in the West? Anime and cartoon lovers should embrace him as a visionary genius. Every time I watch something he's created, I feel like I'm rediscovering the medium all over again. Here is something thrillingly, excitingly new. Aren't you sick and tired of all these stupid franchise sequels and formulaic cartoons? Aren't you tired of the endless recycling of the same soapy moral lessons and tired sitcom plots? Don't you want something better in your lives?

I'm really looking forward to seeing this movie. Don't let another Yuasa masterwork fall through the cracks.



2017-10-02

Video: Heidi Meets Super Mario Kart



This Heidi-meets-Super-Mario-Kart video never gets old. It always leaves me with a big, silly grin. Why can't somebody make a real video game like this? I'd pay good money to play. Wouldn't you? Of course, you would.

Japanese Voice Actor Ryuji Saikachi Has Died


Sad news for anime fans everywhere. Veteran Japanese voice actor Ryuji Saikachi died on September 29 from congestive heart failure. He was 89 years old. He was a fixture on more than 80 anime films and television series, dubbing American movies (including Disney's The Lion King), videogames and commercials.

His animation credits include the following: Dragon Ball Z, Tokyo Godfathers, Paranoia Agent, Night on the Galactic Railroad, Galaxy Express 999, Wolf's Rain, Unico in the Island of Magic, 3x3 Eyes Seima Densetsu, Roujin Z, Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise, Mermaid Forest and Tensai Bakabon.

For Ghibli Freaks, Saikachi is remembered for playing the train engineer in Laputa: Castle in the Sky, a member of the orchestra in Gauche the Cellist, and most famously, Matthew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables.

Thanks to Anime News Network for their article and research.

Was Anne of Green Gables Dubbed Into English?


Was Anne of Green Gables ever dubbed into English? I Miss Bionix examines various issues surrounding the 1979 World Masterpiece Theater production, including the discovery of episodes that were dubbed for Western markets. What happened? Who were the intended countries for this version? And how is it possible that this fantastic series was never released in North America?

This article explores several issues, including the very complicated issue of international copyrights. These Anne episodes appear to be owned by Belgian/German company Studio 100, who were responsible for the recent CGI remakes of Heidi and Maya the Bee. In 2008, the company bought Germany's EM Entertainment, which included a number of classic World Masterpiece Theater series, including Heidi, Maya and Anne. Previously, EM acquired the catalog from KirchGroup, who may have been the original broadcast distributors in the 1980s.

If you're wondering why it's so difficult to obtain the rights to many classic anime movies and TV series, this is a perfect illustration. Any North American distributor would have to navigate through several companies in Japan and Europe, each party demanding a hefty paycheck and attaching strict conditions. And without a possibility for TV or cable broadcast, the costs would be far too prohibitive for most indie distributors.

The English Anne episodes are currently available on YouTube, minus one episode. Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to watch, as I'm not in the proper country. D'oh.

Here is a short preview of the English-language dub of Anne. It was produced in South Africa, who were responsible for many European anime dubs in the 1980s. Sounds very good.



Ghiblies "Episode 1" (2000)



Ghiblies was a 12-minute animated short that aired on NHK TV in Japan in April 8, 2000, as part of a  television special about Spirited Away, which was then in production and scheduled for release the following year. It is among the most rare pieces in the Studio Ghibli canon; it has never been released on any home video format, and only appears now and then on social media sites.

The cartoon is a spoof of Studio Ghibli, and all of the characters are based on the staff, led by the Machiavellian Toshio Suzuki, who seems to delight in tormenting his workers. One interesting character is a ghost who is actually a corporate spy sent by a rival animation studio, but chose to remain as part of the Ghibli staff. Much of the material seen in this special was later reworked in the 2002 theatrical short Ghiblies Episode 2.

The art and animation design follows the sparse watercolor approach as My Neighbors the Yamada, which, at the time, was the latest feature film by the studio. This is an interesting approach, as Yamada was a box-office bomb and the studio's biggest commercial failure (one would think Ghibli would want nothing to do with it). There may also have been a rift between the two directors, which led to Takahata's withdrawal from directing. In the 2013 documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, Miyazaki is still visibly upset about Takahata's management of Ghibli during the production of Yamada, where the studio restructured from cel animation to computers (all subsequent Ghibli movies have been created digitally).

In 2003, Takahata contributed one short scene for the anthology film Winter Days, and then returned for the 2010 Anne of Green Gables anthology movie that was given a brief theatrical run. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya would arrive three years later, receiving an Academy Awards nomination.

It's fascinating, then, to see Ghibli return to that watercolor style for a number of short film projects, including Ghiblies. It speaks well to their talents as artists that they are willing to continue the visual experimentation. Working in television also gave them an added degree of freedom, creating some of the studio's best work.

Both Ghiblies episodes were directed by Yoshiyuki Momose, who by all measures was the studio's true heir to the director's chair. He directed three Capsule music videos in 2004 and 2005, which are probably my favorite animated shorts created by Ghibli (specifically, Ghibli offshoot Studio Kajino). He developed a unique way of joining hand-drawn and computer animation that is wholly unique, and suggests an alternate future where Studio Ghibli, and anime in general, could have evolved. Why he was never given a feature film to direct remains an astonishing mystery, and an astonishing blunder.

In any case, get your hands on Ghiblies "Episode 1" by any means necessary. And tell Studio Ghibli to release it on home video, already. Shut up and take our money!

Update: Oh, look, somebody uploaded it to YouTube. It plays at double the speed, presumably to evade the copyright bots, and the subtitles are in French, but you'll be fine.



Miyazaki Art Show at Spoke Art Gallery

Miyazaki Art Show

New York's Spoke Art gallery held a "pop-up" exhibition this weekend devoted to Studio Ghibli. Titled "Miyazaki Art Show," this weekend show featured artworks by over 100 artists throughout the world, celebrating the films of the acclaimed director.

The description from Spoke Art website, "Including a diverse array of original painting, sculpture and limited edition prints, the Miyazaki Art Show offers each artists' perspective and interpretation of beloved characters and themes throughout Miyazaki's films. Imbued with the legendary director's sense of adventure, deep reverence for nature and strong female characters, this dynamic exhibition is not to be missed."

Unfortunately, this exhibition ran only during this past weekend, September 29 to October 1. By all accounts, the show was a success, as most items were sold. Prices for artworks ranged from as little as $25.00 to $1,600.00. More artworks will be added to the Spoke Art website in the coming days.

Here are a few select pieces from the Miyazaki Art Show. You can see more of the artworks on the gallery website here and here. Be sure to send a thank you to the gallery and encourage more Ghibli exhibitions.


Miyazaki Art Show

Miyazaki Art Show

Miyazaki Art Show

Miyazaki Art Show

2017-09-26

Totoro is Still Not the "God of Death"

My Neighbor Totoro (not a "god of death")

It's embarrassing that we even have to discuss this matter ten years after already debunking it, but some conspiracy theories just won't go away. I'm talking about the idea that My Neighbor Totoro is actually based on a grisly murder known as the Sayama Incident in 1963 Japan, and that the friendly Totoro is actually a gruesome "God of Death" who functions like a fuzzy Grim Reaper who carries children to their graves.

The whole idea is patently rediculous and is based on mis-translations and over-reading minor details in the movie (such as the disappearance of shadows under Satsuki and Mei near the end). The gossip grew so loud that Studio Ghibli was forced to issue a public statement denying the conspiracy theory. No doubt this resulted in Hayao Miyazaki hitting his head against his desk, grumbling loudly at the gullibility of people. What sort of monster do you think he is, anyway, imagining that he smuggles horrible themes into his family pictures? What sort of sadist would do such a thing?

Why do such conspiracies persist? Many people today seem to look at movies as secret jigsaw puzzles, where hidden messages and themes are revealed only to those who piece together the arcane clues. Consider the endless speculation over Stanley Kubrick's The Shining as one key example. Depending on who's telling the tale, that movie is either about the Apollo 11 moon landing, the Holocaust, the Native American genocide, the Federal Reserve, the Illuminati, or any combination of the above. It's never enough to enjoy a movie on its own terms. Everything has to be a plot.

There is also this tendency to ruin anything that is innocent and pure. It's very fashionable to tear down one's childhood heroes, to make everything sinister and twisted and dark. It's sometimes funny for a cheap laugh, and goodness knows Family Guy has made a thousand gags mining that vein. For an immature "Peter Pan" generation, tearing down one's childhood idols can stand as a badge of maturity. "Look at how hip and clever I am," says the unemployed 30-year-old who still lives with his parents.

Much of this also stems from a greater ignorance of film history and theory. Many people don't know how to read a movie, or translate its visual language. They may have never seen any movies made before they were born, or almost certainly anything made before Star Wars. They know little of silent film, or Film Noir, Italian Neorealism, French New Wave, or any major periods. They search for patters that do not exist, find messages in continuity errors, and imagine vast plots out of misunderstood visual cues or lines of dialog. Movies are not jigsaw puzzles.

When I was a child, I was told that "Hotel California" was a song about how The Eagles became members of the Church of Satan, and that the hotel in question was a haunted house. None of this was even remotely true, but why let facts get in the way of things?

So, kids, let's take this from the top once again. Totoro is not a "God of Death." Spirited Away isn't about child prostitution. Toy Story 3 is not about the Holocaust. The Smurfs are not Nazis, Communists or Satanists. The Care Bears are not gay voodoo devil worshippers. Garfield is not hallucinating. Charlie Brown is not dying from cancer. Kubrick didn't fake the moon landing. There are no backwards-masked Satanic messages. Vaccines don't cause autism. Global Warming is real. The Earth is round.

It's like the 1980s never ended. I need an Advil.

Here's a recent YouTube video I found that discusses the Totoro "God of Death" conspiracy theory. It pretty much recites from the script, so if you haven't heard about this before, well, enjoy.



Mary and the Witch's Flower: Early US/UK Reviews

Mary and the Witch's Flower

Although it won't arrive in US theaters until late this year, Mary and the Witch's Flower has received a couple of early reviews from online critics. Tasha Robinson at The Verge praises the movie highly, saying that it "feels like a complete continuation of [Studio Ghibli's] work. It is a welcome relief for every animation fan who thought that particular era of Japanese animation had, after 30 years, quietly come to a close."

Across the pond, Germain Lossier at Gizmodo UK promises Mary is "destined to become one of your favorite animated films. He continues: "The movie may look bold and weird, but Mary's story is such a sprawling adventure, the juxtaposition of the two keeps the whole movie fresh. Just when you think it's going one way, it goes another, and that only adds to the whimsical feeling that pervades throughout the movie."

American animation distributor GKIDS has secured the US distribution rights, and will give the movie a limited theatrical release in time for Oscar season at the end of the year. Similar releases in the UK and other territories are also expected in the coming months.

2017-09-22

Artist Spotlight: Mononoke Hime by Michael Tunk

Mononoke Hime by Michael Tunk

This absolutely fantastic collage piece titled "Mononoke Hime" was created by California-based artist Michael Tunk. His paintings employ classical surrealism with a pop art sensibility that is also reminiscent of underground punk zine culture.

According to his website bio, "Michael Tunk takes photographs and magazines from the 1800's-1980's and re-contextualizes them into something beautiful. He takes refused detritus and spins a yarn of gold. He takes the weight from a hoarders home and fixes it into aesthetic candy. His pieces are never photoshopped, he uses only Xacto blades and what’s left of the bones in his wrists."

I enjoy the way this collage invokes a sense of mystery about this world, and a slight sense of dread as well. We are not walking into another one of Walt Disney's enchanted forests, but a strange and mysterious land where discovery and danger lie around every turn. Everything is wildly colorful, more than a little psychedelic, invoking all its dreamlike implications. Dali and Warhol would be proud.


Please visit Tunk's website to see samples of his work, and send him a note with your thanks.

Film School Rejects Ranks the Studio Ghibli Movies


In 2015, pop culture website Film School Rejects devoted a long article to the feature films of Studio Ghibli, ranking all of the titles from Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (1984) to When Marnie Was There (2014).

Here are their rankings in numerical order:

22. Tales From Earthsea (2006, Goro Miyazaki)
21. Umi ga Kikoeru (Ocean Waves) (1993, Tomomoi Mochizuki)
20. The Secret World of Arrietty (2010, Hiromasa Yonebayashi)
19. When Marnie Was There (2014, Hiromasa Yonebayashi)
18. Howl's Moving Castle (2004, Hayao Miyazaki)
17. From Up on Poppy Hill (2011, Goto Miyazaki)
16. Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea (2008, Hayao Miyazaki)
15. Grave of the Fireflies (1988, Isao Takahata)
14. The Wind Rises (2013, Hayao Miyazaki)
13. Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (1984, Hayao Miyazaki)
12. The Cat Returns the Favor (2002, Hiroyuki Morita)
11. My Neighbors the Yamada (1999, Isao Takahata)
10. Spirited Away (2001, Hayao Miyazaki)
09. Omohide Poro Poro (Only Yesterday) (1991, Isao Takahata)
08. Porco Rosso (1992, Hayao Miyazaki)
07. Pom Poko (1994, Isao Takahata)
06. Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986, Hayao Miyazaki)
05. My Neighbor Totoro (1988, Hayao Miyazaki)
04. Kiki's Delivery Service (1989, Hayao Miyazaki)
03. Mimi wo Sumaseba (Whisper of the Heart) (1995, Yoshifumi Kondo)
02. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013, Isao Takahata)
01. Princess Mononoke (1997, Hayao Miyazaki)

Overall, I am fairly impressed with this list. As I've stated in the past, most "best-of" Studio Ghibli polls tend to revolve exclusively around Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, usually ignoring every movie not directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Film School Rejects does a very good job balancing the studio library, recognizing the works of Isao Takahata, as well as other directors such as Hiroyuki Morita, Yoshifumi Kondo and Hiromasa Yonebayashi.

As always, we have our differences, maybe this movie should be higher, maybe that movie should be lower. Overall, however, I am impressed. This is much better than Anime News Network's recent article, in which the editorial staff openly confessed to never having seen most Ghibli films.

My own personal Ghibli list? Well, I'm the publisher of Ghibli Blog, so I'll cop out and say I like everything. Omohide Poro Poro and Mimi wo Sumaseba are my favorites. Tales From Earths and The Cat Returns are my least favorites. Everything else is just one massive clump, all terrific, all brilliant.

2017-09-19

Photos: Laputa: Castle in the Sky






Obviously, since today is Pirate Day, we can't forget Dora and her clan of bumbling air pirates, can we? Here are some new screenshots from the always-excellent Blu-Ray release.

Castle in the Sky is one of those movies one can easily take for granted. As a swashbuckling action-adventure, it is virtually flawless. The action set pieces are masterfully designed and executed. The comedy bits are masterfully timed. The classic Hollywood romance is endlessly endearing. There's really nothing to compare to Miyazaki's 1986 classic, except for Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade.

Fascinating that after all these years, I still think of this movie as "Spielberg movie." Maybe it's just me.

Animal Treasure Island: International Pirate Day





Today is International Pirate Day (or, to be more specific, International Talk Like a Pirate Day), which means it's time to pull out our favorite pirate-themed anime film featuring Hayao Miyazaki...Animal Treasure Island!

The Discotek DVD has been out-of-print for several years, but copies are still widely available online. When I last checked this morning, I found several sellers on Ebay. The Japanese LaserDisc release is still available, so if you're a diehard fan, you're really in luck.

I've always had great affection for this movie. Its blend of classic cartoon slapstick and heroic adventure never grows old. Perhaps it's because Japanese animation steered away from this very Western style of cartoons that flourished so widely in the 1960s. Anime in the 1970s and 1980s would  embrace pulp violence, sci-fi soap operas with giant robots, or Neorealist literary adaptations.

The centerpiece of the movie, as always, is the fantastic pirate battle that was conceived and animated entirely by Hayao Miyazaki. It's one of the all-time great cartoon comedy bits, with endless waves of pig pirates, thrilling escapades from tall heights, and lots of little sight gags in the corners of the frame.

The heroine Cathy is a direct descendent to Nausicaa, the pirate Captain is a direct descendent to Porco Rosso, and the movie's climax, where a treasure ship is revealed underneath a lake, is a direct descendent to The Castle of Cagliostro. Miyazaki's creative fingerprints are all over this movie, even with the presence of beloved Toei Doga veterans like Yoichi Kotabe, Reiko Okuyama and Yasuji Mori.

Released in 1971, Animal Treasure Island failed to become a success at the Japanese box office, which is just baffling when you consider that its previous movie, the 1969 Puss in Boots, was a grand success. Perhaps kids were just turning away to watch cartoons on TV. Perhaps the weather was just lousy that summer. Who knows? In any case, this movie remains criminally underrated and deserves to be widely known. Here is an anime film that Disney could use! Where's Pixar when ya need 'em?

Oh, well. Get Animal Treasure Island by any means necessary. It's well worth the effort.

More Ghibli Blog Posts To Discover