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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 Soundtrack LP

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!

Three Million Pageviews

Ghibli Blog reached a new milestone today: three million pageviews. Yay!

Much thanks to everyone for supporting this website over the years. It's greatly appreciated. I wouldn't be doing this if I thought I was speaking to an empty theater. The audience makes all the difference.

Steampunk and Howl's Moving Castle


Steampunk Scholar discusses the elements of Steampunk in Hayao Miyazaki's 2004 feature film, Howl's Moving Castle:

To return to Howl, the retrofuturist elements are evidenced most clearly in the battle scenes: the technology of Ingary is anachronistic for the nineteenth century look and feel of the film. The film's war sequences are hybrids of both World Wars, with massive airships and dreadnought-style battleships that never existed, but evoke a sense of the past. This type of technology has been present in steampunk precedents and steampunk itself since its inception: consider the battle from Moorcock's Warlord of the Air, anthologized by the Vandermeers in their first Steampunk anthology, or the cover of Fitzpatrick's War with its endless rain of war machines in the background. If we were to say that steampunk is a genre concerned with war, we'd only be representing some steampunk texts, but not all: there are no epic sky battles in Morlock Night, or Rucker's The Hollow Earth. Instead, what appears in all of these is some retrofuturist concept - an idea of how the past viewed the future - in the case of steampunk, specifically how the past of the nineteenth and early twentieth century viewed the future. Miyazaki's designs for the war machines of Howl fall squarely within this aesthetic delineation.

So is it the application of the steampunk aesthetic that changes the themes of Howl from book to film? Kimmich argues the abandonment of the crosshatch element from the novel and the inclusion of the war Ingary is waging as responsible for the major divergence. As already noted, the steampunk aesthetic is utilized immediately, and Kimmich finds the first 30 minutes of the film faithful to the book: steampunk is not an impediment to crosshatch narratives, since Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials employs a steampunk aesthetic in Lyra's world, to good effect. Kimmich concedes the reasons for Miyazaki's rejection of the crosshatch elements as being necessary in adapting the novel to film, since the film could not create the same sense of unfamiliarity about our own world the novel achieves.

Hayao Miyazaki Short Films - Imaginary Flying Machines (2002)


Imaginary Flying Machines (Kuusou no Sora Tobu Kikaitachi) is a 2002 short film directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and created exclusively for the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan. It is devoted to Miyazaki's favorite subject, aircraft. The visual imagery evokes Jules Verne, Fritz Lang, Albert Robida, and what is known as "steampunk." The many flying machines, real and very imagined, are some of the most dazzling of the director's career.

This film was a companion piece to a Ghibli Museum exhibit titled, "Castle in the Sky and Imaginary Science Fiction Machines." This exhibit used Studio Ghibli's inaugural film as starting point for examining, and romanticizing, the early years of flight.  One animated sequence actually shows Pazu putting the finishing touches to his aircraft that we saw in the 1986 movie. And to a great extent, Imaginary Flying Machines plays out like an extension of Laputa's title sequence (the theme song plays in my head when I look at these images).

The extravagent painterly style, the use of pig characters, including Miyazaki's voice-over narration, all evoke the feel of Miyazaki's manga comics. There is usually a dividing line between his comics and his animated movies; in terms of complex compositions, framing and layouts, detailed cross-sections of machines, more evident use of pencil and brushstrokes. One can easily see the comics form as Miyazaki's true vision, the goal his animations aspire to reach. And here is a rare opportunity where the two forms meet; perhaps this is only attainable in short-form animation? Time and budgetary pressures for feature-length animation would probably make this visual style impossible.

It's important to remember just how recent an invention aircraft are, and how old the dream of flight lived in the human imagination. Miyazaki's visions aim back to those older romanticisms, those lofty dreams of what it must be like to fly like birds, and dance among the clouds. The reality of commercial flight, by contrast, feels mundane, almost ordinary. A flight from Minneapolis to New York is no different than a ride on the light rail train to the Mall of America, or a bus trip to Dinkytown. It's all so damned boring and soulless, the product of a boring and soulless civilization. I would much rather take a ride on Miyazaki's imaginary flying machines, thank you very much.

I have no doubt that, one day, we will have a home video collection of all the Ghibli Museum short films. On that day, Imaginary Flying Machines will achive its much-deserved fame. This movie deserves to be seen.

More screenshots (taken from the Ghibli Museum book) appear after the jump break:

Robot Carnival Coming to DVD This Year



On February 3, Discotek Media announced that they have acquired the rights to the cult-classic 1987 anime anthology movie, Robot Carnival, and release the DVD sometime this year. This film consists of eight short segments, each by a different director, sandwiched in between opening and closing sequences directed by the great Katsuhiro Otomo and Atsuko Fukushima. Other directors include Koji Morimoto, Yasumomi Umetsu, and Takeshi Nakamura.

The music in Robot Carnival was created by none other than Joe Hisaishi, who we all know and love for his Studio Ghibli scores. This score fits more closely with his 1980s music, most notably Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind and Castle of the Sky. Expect stylish synth music instead of classical orchestras, in other words.

Robot Carnival is my kind of anime film: Stylish, kinetic, futuristic, a bit surreal and alien, a bit funny, a bit dangerous. Much of the animation work reminds me of Akira; either this is because many of the animator-directors on this movie worked on Otomo's 1988 masterpiece, or it's because I really don't know jack about anime. I know, I'm an "old person" now. But for my fellow Generation X'ers, Akira was a ten-megaton bomb on the popular culture. It was as big as Star Wars to us; Star Wars, of course, being The Biggest Thing Ever.

In any case, fans of 1980s anime should keep their eyes open for Robot Carnival. It has remained a cult favorite for many years, and this upcoming DVD will hopefully meet a new generation of fans (for whom anime is defined by cupie-doll soap operas...see that age thing creeping in again?)

The Discotek release will include the Japanese language soundtrack (with English subtitles), and the Streamline Pictures US dub. The Streamline is noteworthy for shuffling the order of Robot Carnival's ten segments, as well as making changes to the ending segment. Will this version be included on DVD? Only time will tell, but I would have to guess "yes."

Presented above is the Streamline Pictures trailer for Robot Carnival's theatrical release. No release date on the Discotek DVD has yet been announced, but expect it to arrive this year. I'm really looking forward to this one.

2015-02-18

Overnight Thread (Akira US Trailer)



Today was a busy day for me personally, including my latest visit to the dentist's office since my two periodontal gum surgeries in December and January. Ugh, I did not enjoy that experience. It was an endurance test, for sure. Most of the drugs didn't help much, either, except for some "knock out" drugs that caused me to, basically, black out for 12 hours after the surgery.

So let that be a lesson to ya, kiddies: Brush and floss your teeth! And stay away from the sodas. Those things burn through teeth like acid. You don't want to have to undergo gum surgery.

Anyway, today was a slow day for Ghibli Blog, but we did post an interview with Goro Miyazaki, where he discusses his career and complicated relationship with his father. And don't forget the Totoro poster; or perhaps you prefer my own artwork.

For tonight's movie, let's watch the US trailer for Akira, one of the all-time anime masterpieces. This is the Streamline Pictures version, the one most of my generation grew up with, so it remains a personal favorite. Yes, it's good to have the Japanese soundtrack on our DVD and Blu-Ray discs today, but there's something to be said for Streamline's US voice actors. For us Gen X'ers, Akira will probably forever be the "definitive anime movie." Which is not to say it's the best; just that it had the biggest impact on our lives at the time.

Anyway, keep sending in the news tips and comments. It's always appreciated.

Goro Miyazaki Discusses Ronia

Goro Miyazaki

Goro Miyazaki spoke to Japan's Asahi Shimbun today, discussing his career in landscape architecture, animated movies, and his complicated relationship with his famous father. He also discusses his latest project, the NHK anime series, Ronia, the Robber's Daughter.

Some excerpts from the full interview:

Q: You made your debut abruptly as an animated film director when you made Tales from Earthsea (2006). Don’t you think you were given that opportunity precisely because you are Hayao’s son?

A: I don’t know, really. As always, it was [Toshio] Suzuki, the producer, who came up with the proposal, but I have no idea if that was because I am Hayao Miyazaki’s son or was for other reasons.

My father was strongly opposed. He said, for one thing, “How hard do you think I worked as an underling before I was finally a director? It’s reckless for an amateur to be one.”

For another, he said, “If you direct a movie even once, you will be called a director for the rest of your life. Do you understand what that means?”

I replied, at that time, that I didn’t understand. Only later did I realize what that meant. My father was right.

Q: Ronia shows in careful detail how the protagonist girl interacts with her father. In Tales from Earthsea, a boy, who is the main character, stabs his father with a sword in an opening scene. But father-child relations seldom constitute a leitmotif in Hayao Miyazaki’s works. What do you think?

A: I read the original Ronia when I had just become a father myself, so how the robber father rejoiced when Ronia was born came very vividly to me. That is the source of my creative drive.

But apart from that, what you said probably has to do with the fact that I have to remain conscious of my own father, even now.

I used to believe that imagery was there as a means of expressing narratives. But the works of my father have made me realize strongly that imagery has a side that is not about narratives or about logic, and can exist on its own if only it comes with a certain sort of sensuous persuasiveness or an instantaneous pleasure.

I often ask myself what is the vehicle of expression for the sensuosity in my father’s works, and what he has that I don’t have. I also believe that there must be, on the contrary, something that I do have but he doesn’t. Well, life would be easy if I knew what that something was.

I could define it as a goal to create works that would parallel Miyazaki’s anime works from 30 years ago.

But Hayao Miyazaki is a genius who never stops updating himself. When I have climbed several steps, I find him going still further. I will probably never be able to overtake him, and I am telling myself these days that it’s just useless to try to overtake him.

Q: You have left Studio Ghibli to make Ronia, and in doing so, you are using computer graphics to create a likeness of the touch of hand-drawn anime. What do you have to say about that?

A: When Takahata and Miyazaki were creating TV anime series 40 years ago, the art was still evolving, and it involved a variety of trial and error. But the methodology of hand-drawn animated films has been established and is now fully mature.

If I were to create hand-drawn TV anime series now, I would only be following a path carved out by Hayao Miyazaki and others as a latecomer. Well, I wouldn’t like that.

Expression by computer graphics remains incomplete, so both the workers and myself believe that there still remains something that we could do.

It is generally believed that hand-drawn anime is superior to computer graphics when it comes to expressing emotions, but anime artists who use computer graphics maintain a sound ambition to believe that they could achieve something if they tried. They are, I believe, young of heart.

My Neighbor Totoro Poster For Sale: "Near the Camphor Tree"


Artist AJ Frena's "Near the Camphor Tree," is an excellent painting inspired by the characters of My Neighbor Totoro. Created with giclee print on velvet fine art paper (16"x20"), a limited run of 75 prints are available for sale. Each print will cost $40.

You can purchase this piece at Bottleneck Art Gallery. Fresna previously created an illustrated print inspired by Princess Mononoke.

I really like this painting. There's a strong graffiti influence in the lines and movements. I could see this on the side of any building in any major city. And there's just a hint of danger in Catbus' eyes, just a hint of things not seen. The ruins of an old bicycle in the foreground offers a contrast against the eternally dominant forces of nature. Cities rise and fall, and the trees reclaim the land. It's a very Miyazaki-esque theme.

If you're interested, be sure to pick up your print while it's still available.

2015-02-17

Is Isao Takahata's Planning His Next Movie?

Buried in the lede of this AP story about Isao Takahata and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a short description of his next film project.

Takahata has his mind set on his next work, a story about exploited girls, forced to work as nannies with infants strapped on their backs. Most lullabies in Japan were not for parents singing babies to sleep, but for such young women, crying out about their suffering, Takahata said.

All the stories he wants to tell, including "Kaguya," he said, urges everyone to live life to their fullest, to be all they can be, not bogged down by petty concerns like money and prestige.


One should bear in mind that Takahata has spent the last decade working on various film projects, all of which were put back on the shelf or abandoned for one reason or another. But this is a positive step from his previous statements made a few months ago, where he was resigned to the probability that he wouldn't have another opportunity to create another feature film. Many factors have to come together, most notably financing and a hands-on producer with the stamina to endure the legendarily slow-moving director. "Isao Takahata is descended from a tree sloth," Hayao Miyazaki once sarcastically intoned.

Perhaps the Academy Awards nomination has influenced Paku-san, and Studio Ghibli, for the better. Now we're really hoping Princess Kaguya wins the Oscar this Sunday.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya Blu-Ray/DVD Now Available

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya Blu-Ray/DVD

Isao Takahata's latest masterpiece, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD. Features include English and Japanese soundtracks, an English closed-captioned "dub-title" track, and proper English and French subtitles (these are confirmed to be accurate subs). Audio tracks on the BD are lossless. A feature-length documentary on the making of the movie is also included.

Blu-Ray.com's review of the Kaguya Blu-Ray is online:

Video Quality (5/5): Pristine as it is proficient, Universal's 1080p/AVC-encoded video presentation of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is, quite simply, gorgeous. Though the film's watercolor palette is subdued on the whole, dazzling splashes of color punctuate the proceedings, particularly once Kaguya leaves the soft greens and browns of the forest and travels to the city. Contrast and clarity are striking as well, even if Takahata's chosen aesthetic doesn't exactly lend itself to strong lines and revealing textures. Still, what the animators have created has been beautifully preserved, without anything that might raise red flags or be cause for concern. The image is incredibly clean, without a hint of grain to be found, yet none of it is due to noise reduction or any invasive technique. It's the animators' original art, without alteration or enhancement. The encode doesn't falter either. There isn't anything in the way of macroblocking, banding, noise, aliasing or ringing, and I didn't notice anything out of sorts. This is a flawless presentation whose only imperfections are those that trace back to the artist's pen and brush.

Audio Quality (4.5/5): Despite a misprint on the back cover, the Blu-ray release of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya does indeed feature two lossless options --- English and Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround -- as it should. Both mixes are terrific, with clean, clear dialogue, perfectly prioritized soundscapes, and full, immersive experiences. LFE output is strong and supportive. The rear speakers envelop the listener in the sounds of the forest, the capital city, the countryside, snowy fields, stormy villages, and heavenly clouds, while Joe Hisaishi's score engages and delights, enhancing but never overwhelming. Dynamics, directionality and cross-channel pans are exquisite as well, leaving next to nothing to criticize. Universal's AV presentation is magnificent.

A sampling of screenshots from the Princess Kaguya BD are available after the jump break:

Miyazaki Meets Kurosawa: The 1993 Broadcast (w/Transcripts)



In 1993, two giants of Japanese cinema met for the first time to share their insights and struggles in making movies. "Miyazaki Meets Kurosawa" was broadcast on Japanese television in 1993, one month after the release of Akira Kurosawa's final movie, Madadayo. Hayao Miyazaki's most recent feature film, Porco Rosso, was released the year before.

This famous interview has never been shown in the West, and has only been released to Japanese home video once - as part of a massive Studio Ghibli LaserDisc box set released in 1996. Similar box sets of the Ghibli movies were also released on VHS and Video CD (VCD), but the "Miyazaki Meets Kurosawa" program was not included on those formats. For this reason, the LD box remains the most valuable and expensive piece of Ghibli merchandise ever created.

Thankfully, this 1993 broadcast was preserved on videotape, and uploaded to YouTube for our enjoyment. The video has been split into ten segments, and, unfortunately, parts 3, 8, and 9 have been removed due to copyright dispute (presumably the television network). But we are more than happy to enjoy the footage that still remains. I especially enjoy the TV commercials at the very beginning, preserved in all their Japanese wackiness.

Thanks to Nausicaa.net and Yuto Shinagawa, an English language transcript has been made available. According to notes on another web forum, the transcript begins at 06:58 of the first video, when Miyazaki and Kurosawa are seated in their chairs. The first four minutes of small talk at the front door of Kurosawa's house, sadly, remain untranslated. Bear in mind, once again, that we are presently missing three segments to this video.

I have assembled the available YouTube videos into a single playlist, which appears above. The available English transcripts appear after the jump break. They are rather lengthy, so you may wish to print them out before watching. Ah, the old-fashioned way of watching foreign movies, with printed transcripts and VHS tapes! Just like old times. Enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime meeting of two cinematic giants: Hayao Miyazaki and Akira Kurosawa.




2015-02-16

Overnight Thread (Hedgehog in the Fog)



Tonight's Overnight Movie will by Yuri Norstein's 1975 masterpiece, Hedgehog in the Fog. I absolutely adore this movie. I placed it at #2 on my Ghibli Blog Animation Poll Top 20 list. No doubt it's a favorite of yours, as well. And if you've never seen this meditative, imaginative gem...sit back and prepare to be amazed. We often speak about hand-drawn animation as though it were an endangered species. But what about Yuri Norstein's unique style of animated cutouts?  Who will carry on this tradition to the future? In all of cinema, Norstein is a true original, wholly unique. And when he is gone, we shall never see his likes again. I pray that day never comes.

Today, Ghibli Blog resumed its normal programming schedule, and traffic has been very good. Miyazaki's On Your Mark on LaserDisc was the most popular individual post, although we are seeing a shift in how visitors read this blog, towards reading the home page and away from individual posts. I'm busy trying to share the love on social media: Facebook and Google+ and YouTube. Reddit continues to frustrate me when they won't cooperate. We get a lot of traffic from Reddit, but they are a mercurial bunch.

Tomorrow, we have a big surprise ready for you. You're going to love this one, and it's going to take a while to digest. Be sure to share and tell all your friends about us.  And if you enjoy all my hard work, please drop a couple coins into the tip jar at the top-right of the screen. Much thanks.

Tomm Moore Talks Song of the Sea and 2D Animation


Tomm Moore, the writer/director of this year's Oscar-nominated animated feature, Song of the Sea, sat down with MovieFail to discuss his career, the challenges of following up his 2009 animated film, The Secret of Kells, and the need to distinguish himself apart from animation powerhouses in the USA and Japan. Most importantly, he is a staunch defender of hand-drawn, 2D animation, and seeks to keep the tradition alive in the modern computer age:

Is there something hand-drawn 2D art brings to the table that you prefer computer animation?
 
I think hand-drawn has a lot still to do. I think it’s a medium that hasn’t really been fully used because for a long time, people working in hand-drawn were so influenced by Disney [that] they just copied Disney. And Disney’s look was limited by the technology of the time where they had to paint cells and layer the backgrounds and shoot them with a camera. You can only put so many cells underneath, you can only paint the characters flat. Now we’ve got this wealth of opportunity because we can use the computer to really make a hybrid style where we hand draw, hand animate, use all the language of painting and art history. And at the same time we can do loads more techniques…
 
You can make films with much smaller teams, much more specialized rather than having this huge factory of two hundred people painting cells. We can focus on the organic side of it and then move to the computer to help us with stuff like coloring the characters and things like that.
 
So I think that hand-drawn animation has an opportunity to reinvent itself and do whatever computer animation doesn’t really do well. And that’s basically did when photography came in. I think hand-drawn animation has huge potential that way. But just for me personally, I enjoy drawing. It’s the language that we’ve developed here in the studio – a certain visual language, a certain way of thinking. When we develop stories and films, especially the ones I’m going to direct, I think of something that’s going to take advantage of hand-drawn animation. Not to say that we wouldn’t try computer animation if it was the right story.
 
I was hanging out with the guys who did Big Hero 6 the other night, and you know – that’s a movie that makes sense in CG. (Laughs.) Superheroes and sci-fi tech. It doesn’t need to be hand-drawn watercolor painted; it doesn’t make sense. Different stories for different mediums.
 
You think these forms can coexist?
 
Yeah. I hope – artistically, yes. What does the audience respond to, that’s another question. Will they respond to hand-drawn animation? I really hope they will. It’s tough. A few years ago, John Lasseter was talking about bringing back hand-drawn animation. He said that people were blaming hand-drawn animation for the movies not being good and said that was like saying the cameras were the problem rather than the people, or the story, or the actors. I thought that was a really good analogy.
 
But at the same time, there really hasn’t been a successful blockbuster in 2D animation in a long time. I wonder if it’s the case that hand-drawn animation is going to end up being a specialized artistic process and never really be a mainstream form again. I’m ambivalent about whether that’s good or bad. (Laughs.)
 
It kind of leaves us that are still practicing it very free, without a huge expectation on us to make super blockbusters. Maybe that’s better – I’m not sure. Maybe we’re going to be relegated to the kind of area that stop-motion, or maybe sand animation are. (Laughs.) And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
 
But honestly I think 5-10 minutes maximum into a movie, you really shouldn’t be thinking about how it was made. You should be engaged in the story and the characters and the world.

Studio Ghibli Remastered DVDs in Japan


Late last year, around the time that Studio Ghibli released their massive Hayao Miyazaki Blu-Ray Box, they also reissued the studio's catalog titles on DVD. These discs are based on the HD Blu-Ray remasters for the box set, and are now available for 4,700Yen, or roughly $45USD.

I'm quite curious to see how these DVDs look. The prior discs were released over a decade ago, and looked quite excellent for the time; Nausicaa was arguably the best of the lot, super crisp and sharp picture, and even included an audio commentary track (the only Ghibli film to do so). The Region 2 Japanese discs were also notably superior to most, if not all, of the DVDs released by Disney here in the US. Don't even get me started on that dreadful Castle in the Sky cover; those kids look like they've been to the plastic surgeon.

The cover designs have also been changed somewhat. The Ghibli ga Ippai DVDs originally featured a color band over the top half, with original artwork below (usually taken from the Studio Ghibli Calendars). That changed to full-size illustrations by the time Spirited Away and Nausicaa were released. I really like these new covers, which reprint one of the movie poster designs; I must admit, however, I do prefer the older Nausicaa cover. But to each their own. And the back cover illustrations look terrific. Very classy, very stylish.

Nausicaa and Spirited Away also appear to have 3 discs in their package. I'm quite curious to know what is included. Usually, the Ghibli DVDs included storyboards on the second disc, but Princess Mononoke included a third "International" disc, featuring eight foreign language tracks. Perhaps this is what has happened to these new releases.

I am curious to see how these new DVDs look, and how they compare to the previous releases. Will the difference be as noticable? The older discs already looked excellent, and given the size limitations of the DVD format, I'm not sure how much more could be squeezed out of the discs. I'm also a bit hesitant to recommend these videos, since the Blu-Ray discs are so spectacular, and a quantum leap in quality over the standard-definition format. But those Japanese BDs cost upwards of $75-$80, restricting them to the most diehard of fans. The average family can't afford such a luxury.

For those families, and for those still sticking with DVD (a format that is still very successful, while BD has stagnated for years), these Studio Ghibli videos are an excellent alternative. How I wish Disney could have been bothered to put such care into these movies! Ah, well, such is life.

Hayao Miyazaki's "On Your Mark" on LaserDisc


Some images of Hayao Miyazaki's 1995 short film, On Your Mark, on CAV LaserDisc. The film bears the imprint "Studio Ghibli Experimental Theater," which is very interesting. This was the studio's first work in short film animation, after producing only feature-length films. In later years, the studio would create numerous TV commercials for clients such as NHK and Yomiuri Shimbun, and the many short films for the Ghibli Museum. Surely, Miyazaki considered On Your Mark to be successful enough to continue the formula.

This LaserDisc package is especially impressive, thanks to its full color artwork on the back cover, and large booket which includes numerous screenshots. This is a good opportunity to compare against the newly-released Blu-Ray. I think the BD comes far closer to realizing the original artwork than the ancient LD or DVD, but that's just me.

The Studio Ghibli films LD's were sold separately, or packaged together in a massive box set collection. That collection is now extremely rare and expensive, easily one of the crown jewels for diehard collectors. The box set is also noteworthy for including a televised 1993 interview between Hayao Miyazaki and Akira Kurosawa. This interview has never been released in any other format; one would think it would have surfaced on Criterion Collection by now. Perhaps there are too many rights issues to resolve (the Kurosawa estate, Nibariki, NHK). Strange.

In any case, Ghibli LaserDiscs are fairly easy to find on Ebay, and are reasonably priced, around $20. English subtitles will not be included, only the Japanese soundtrack. Keep that in mind if you want to start a collection.

More photos appear after the jump break:

Night on the Galactic Railroad Coming to DVD and Blu-Ray

Night on the Galactic Railroad Blu-Ray and DVD

Earlier this month, Discotek Media announced that they have acquired the rights to Gisaburo Suugi's 1985 anime masterpiece, Night on the Galactic Railroad, and will be releasing the film on DVD later this year. A Blu-Ray is also planned for future release, but no firm date has been set. Cover design and bonus features have yet to be determined.

This is one of my favorite animated movies, a deeply religious meditation on life and death. Imagine The Polar Express if it were created by Thomas Merton, C.S. Lewis or Thich Nhat Hanh. The story is adapted from the famous story by Japanese poet Kenji Miyazawa, who struggled deeply with the death of his younger sister, incorporating elements of his Christian and Buddhist faith. His death at age 37 from pneumonia left his story unfinished.

Gisaburo Suugi is one of a handful of the greatest Japanese animator/directors. His credits include the 1958 Toei Doga animated feature, Hakujaden; the 1967 TV series Goku no Daibouken (episode #4 is a classic); the 1969 Lupin III pilot film; and the 1973 adult art-film, Belladonna of Sadness (which is also coming to home video this year).

Ghibli Blog has previous discussed Night on the Galactic Railroad here, here and here.

Quote For the Day

“Because you are alive, everything is possible.”

- Thich Nhat Hanh, "Living Buddha, Living Christ"

2015-02-15

Overnight Thread (Warriors of the Wind Trailer)



Here's the television ad for Warriors of the Wind, the notorious 1985 New Line Cinema hack-job of one of the all-time great anime masterpieces. It's almost comical to look at today, but imagine 30 years ago. If you were a fan of "Japanimation," or hearing the name of Hayao Miyazaki for the first time, this was the best you were going to get. Unless you knew someone from Japan who could send you videotapes, this was the best you were gonna get. You anime kids today have no idea how easy things are today.

Since we will be returning to Ghibli Blog's regular programming on Monday, I wanted to share this commercial. Someone online told me they still own a 35mm copy of the Warriors of the Wind trailer. I'd love to see that, wouldn't you?

Well, what did we learn with this first "weekend" experiment on Ghibli Blog? I learned that if we're going to follow a "music and arts" theme on Saturday, then it should cover Sunday, too. I just don't have the time. Fortunately, a number of posts proved popular, and traffic to the site overall remained high. Those are very good trends, and suggest where we could go in the future.

For Ghibli Freaks, I promise to publish more articles about the Studio Ghibli soundtrack LPs. Those can fit into the "music" theme, right? I have some photos of the soundtrack album for Gauche the Cellist that I'll publish next weekend.

I know that I promised a review of the Bellari VP-130, an excellent tube phono stage preamp, for the weekend's major "hi-fi audio" post. Didn't have time for that, unfortunately, but we can do that next weekend. We do have lives to lead on the weekends, ya know!

Thanks to everyone, old and new, for supporting this site.

2015-02-14

Studio Ghibli Soundtrack LP: Kiki's Delivery Service

Studio Ghibli Soundtrack LP: Kiki's Delivery Service

Saturday is "Music Day" on Ghibli Blog, but I didn't want to completely alienate our regular readers, so let's take a look at one of the Studio Ghibli soundtrack LPs from Japan.

In Japan, multiple vinyl LPs associated with the Ghibli movies were released by Takuma Shoten. These include "soundtrack," "image album," "symphonic," and "drama records." 45-rpm record singles were also released for the films if a pop song was attached.

For collectors, these record albums are a prize catch, featuring full-color artwork, sometimes exclusively created for the specific album, and screenshots from the movies. Prices on Ebay range from as little as $15-$20 to well over $600. A recent Ebay auction of Isao Takahata's 1982 Gauche the Cellist asked for a whopping $150 (he didn't get any bids) - Ack!

These photos for Hayao Miyazaki's Kiki's Delivery Service come from a regular contributor to the Buta Connection forums in France. He has a very nice collection of Ghibli LPs. Kiki's comes with a single LP, with text and photos on both sides of the sleeve. An extra paper advertising the other Ghibli soundtrack albums is also included. It's very nicely packaged, was probably very affordable back in 1989, and should remain so today. I wouldn't expect to spend more than $15 or $20.

Kiki's Delivery Service was Studio Ghibli's first box office hit in Japan, and it's a charming, quiet little movie, much closer in spirit to My Neighbor Totoro than anything. It remains a little underrated in the Miyazaki canon, which only goes to show there's no accounting for taste. I'd be very happy to have this album in my collection, just to hear Yumi Arai's terrific theme song (it reminds me so much of Karen Carpenter, God Rest Her Soul).


Studio Ghibli Soundtrack LP: Kiki's Delivery Service

Studio Ghibli Soundtrack LP: Kiki's Delivery Service


(Photos: Buta Connection, "jrd1")

2015-02-13

Simpsons Fan Theory: Homer is in a 20-Year Coma


I'm normally not a fan of "fan theories," but this one is too good to pass up. Reddit user "Hardtopickaname" has a novel theory: that Homer Simpson never awoke from a coma he suffered over 20 years ago, and the entire series run from that point has been a series of dreams taking place within Homer's mind. Sounds crazy? Submitted for your approval, here is his grand thesis:

October 1992: Homer The Heretic airs and ends with Homer talking to God.

Homer: God, I gotta ask you something. What's the meaning of life?
God: Homer, I can't tell you that.
Homer: C'mon!
God: You'll find out when you die.
Homer: I can't wait that long!
God: You can't wait six months?
Homer: No, tell me now!
God: Well, okay. The meaning of life is…

April 1993 (six months later): So It’s Come To This: A Simpsons Clip Show airs and involves Bart’s April Fools prank inadvertently putting Homer into the hospital, where he is then crushed by a vending machine and put in a coma. Now the episode ends with Homer waking up (and giving us a hilarious POV shot of him choking Bart), but it seems to be too convenient and sudden.

I propose that Homer didn’t actually wake up from his coma. He is still in a vegetative state and every single Simpsons episode afterwards is in Homer’s imagination.

This is why the characters don’t age. Homer remembers Bart, Lisa, and Maggie as 10, 8, and 1 year old, so they will always appear that way in his dreams. He is subconsciously aware of time passing, so his mind will often “update” his memories so that the year they occurred matches up with the age he thinks he is (e.g. That 90’s Show contradicting other flashback episodes).

While the characters’ ages don’t change, the events happening to the Simpsons definitely did. The plots of episodes following the April Fools show are far zanier than beforehand. Let’s compare, shall we?

Plot Examples Before April 1993:
Bart cheats on an IQ test
Homer tries to give up drinking
Marge considers cheating on Homer
Lisa has a crush on her teacher
Yes, there were some wacky plots, but overall fairly mundane stuff. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Plot Examples After April 1993:
Homer goes into outer space
Principal Skinner is revealed as an imposter
Mr. Burns captures the Loch Ness Monster
Homer works for a super-villain who takes over the eastern US
Bart and Homer buy a racehorse and discover the secret land of jockeys
Celebrity after celebrity after celebrity

This is clearly Homer’s imagination running wild. With no real world restrictions, Homer’s mind is able to dream up scenarios of him and his family in fantasies involving him winning a Grammy, his father fighting his boss for buried WW2 treasure, his wife getting breast implants, his infant daughter saving him from drowning, etc.

The massive amounts of celebrity appearances are easily explained as well. People in comas can sometime hear what people in the same room are saying. While Homer wouldn’t physically react, his mind processes that information and includes it in his dreams.

Maybe the nurse leaves the radio on and Homer hears a Lady Gaga song. Suddenly:


 His family visits and talk with each other about the new Mel Gibson movie they’re going to be seeing after leaving the hospital. Next thing you know:


And so on.

There’s one last thing I want to leave you with. Going back to Homer’s conversation with God, "What is the meaning of life?" Or at least Homer’s life? Well life can have different meaning for different people and a purpose or reason for one’s existence can be as unique as their fingerprints. For Homer, his grand purpose is obvious – he is here to entertain. His dreams, his imaginative adventures, have provided millions of fans with amusement and will continue to do so for decades.

Isao Takahata Will Attend the Oscars

Isao Takahata at the Oscars

Isao Takahata will be attending the 87th Academy Awards on February 22. Yoshiaki Nishimura, the producer for The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, will also be in attendance. This will mark the first time a Japanese director nominated for Best Animated Feature will be present (Hayao Miyazaki stayed home in 2003, the year Spirited Away won the Oscar, to protest the Iraq War).

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya won the Animation Film Award at Japan's 68th Mainichi Film Awards. It was also awarded Best Animated Film by the 8th Asia Pacific Screen Awards, the Boston Film Critics Society and the LA Film Critics Awards, and was nominated for three Annie Awards.

Here on Ghibli Blog, I have made the case why Princess Kaguya will win the Oscar.

(Photo: Deadline.com. The Oscar Nominees Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton, February 2. Isao Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura are on the second standing row, far right. Click on the photo to view in full-size.)

(h/t: Anime News Network)

Pauline Kael on Disney's "The Little Mermaid"


Pauline Kael's 1989 review of Disney's The Little Mermaid, printed in full below:

Hans Christian Andersen's tear-stained The Little Mermaid is peerlessly mythic. It's the closest thing women have to a feminine Faust story. The Little Mermaid gives up her lovely voice - her means of expression - in exchange for legs, so she'll be able to walk on land and attract the man she loves. If she can win him in marriage, she will gain an immortal soul; if she can't, she'll be foam on the sea.

I didn't expect the new Disney The Little Mermaid to be Faust, but after reading the reviews ('everything an animated feature should be,' 'reclaims the movie house as a dream palace,' and so on) I expected to see something more than a bland reworking of old Disney fairy tales, featuring a teen-age tootsie in a flirty seashell bra. This is a technologically sophisticated cartoon with just about all the simpering old Disney values in place. (The Faust theme acquires a wholesome family sub-theme.) The film does have a cheerful calypso number ('Under the Sea'), and the color is bright-at least, until the mermaid goes on land, when everything seems to dull out.

Are we trying to put kids into some sort of moral-aesthetic safe house? Parents seem desperate for harmless family entertainment. Probably they don't mind this movie's being vapid, because the whole family can share it, and no one is offended. We're caught in a culture warp. Our children are flushed with pleasure when we read them Where the Wild Things Are or Roald Dahl's sinister stories. Kids are ecstatic watching videos of The Secret of NIMH and The Dark Crystal. Yet here comes the press telling us that The Little Mermaid is 'due for immortality.' People are made to feel that this stale pastry is what they should be taking their kids to, that it's art for children. And when they see the movie they may believe it, because this Mermaid is just a slightly updated version of what their parents took them to. They've been imprinted with Disney-style kitsch.

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