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2017-12-14

Spirited Away Academy Awards Screener

Spirited Away Academy Awards Screener

Ghibli fan Molly DeWolff asks about this impressive little piece of Studio Ghibli memorabilia:

Hi! 
I found an academy screener copy of Spirited Away at my local library book sale and wondered if you could tell me a little bit about it? After relatively thorough google searching, your tweet about the same copy back in June of this year (though the one I found is NOT sealed) is the closest I came to finding anything like it. Is a copy like this collectible or worth keeping? Can you tell me where I can find more information on it? 
Thanks! I appreciate your help.

I shared some photos of this VHS Spirited Away screener on my Twitter page earlier this year. I found it on Ebay, which means one lucky Miyazaki fan now has this prized item in their collection. I'm a little envious, and I'm wondering right now why I never tried to buy it when I had the chance.

Movie "screeners" are commonly used in Hollywood during the awards season. Free copies are distributed to voters and judges, usually along with a nice gift basket, press kit or other promotional items. It is the same as any home video release, only without the endless commercials and with minimal packaging. Also, as this was distributed at the end of 2002, the Disney producers released on videotape. It's crazy to imagine that people were still watching movies on VHS barely only 16 years ago.

Right now, as I'm writing this post, a local Chicago TV station is broadcasting Mel Brooks' 1968 comedy classic The Producers. They're playing an old videotape. You can really hear the tape hiss in the background, the details are smudgy, the colors are bleeding everywhere, and the picture is cropped...but it still looks pretty good. I'm having a fun time. Heck, at this point, I'd feel very tempted to pop in this Spirited Away VHS and make a big bowl of popcorn.

Anyway, if you ever find any screener VHS tapes, hold onto them. They'll be worth something someday. Maybe. Whatever. Sentimental value is priceless.

2017-12-11

Future Boy Conan LaserDisc Box Set


Future Boy Conan is Hayao Miyazaki's 26-episode series that aired on Japan's NHK network in 1978. It was not a ratings hit, but the series has become a cult classic as Miyazaki's name rose to fame with the movies of Studio Ghibli. It may even be his finest achievement in animation, a perfect distillation of his many talents and personas. Action, adventure and romance crash head on into sober observations of war, decay and destruction. The buoyant, younger Miyazaki meets his cynical, older self that would soon emerge with Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind.

In the West, Conan remains virtually unknown, even among Ghibli fans. In Japan, however, the series has been widely celebrated on all the major home video formats, from VHS to Blu-Ray. Here is one excellent example of this: a glorious LaserDisc box set, featuring all 26 episodes on six discs and a large art book, all packaged in an impressive case design. This looks absolutely spectacular.

These Conan box sets are found on Ebay from time to time, and the price is quite expensive, as you would expect. At this point, it's really a conversation piece for the diehard fans. It certainly will look awesome on your bookshelf next to the other LaserDiscs and vinyl records. But would it actually be played often? Probably not, especially when a vastly superior Blu-Ray release is more easily available (and just as frightfully expensive).

Unfortunately, for English-speaking fans, no commercial release of Future Boy Conan includes English subtitles. It appears there was at least a cursory attempt at exporting the series, hence the "Engrish" title, "Conan, The Boy in Future." I don't have the heart to tell Nippon Animation that nobody actually talks like that. We've always used the direct translation of Mirai Shonen Conan, "Future Boy Conan." I just know that if we ever secured a Western release, this would become a major argument, just as we had a major fight over title "Horus, Prince of the Sun" a few years back.

I have no idea why Nippon Animation (the Japanese animation studio who holds the rights) has never successfully exported this series. Like most matters in the movie business, the answer likely comes down to money. Now that the show's creator is an internationally-famous movie director with two Academy Awards, the price tag has shot through the roof. Hey, this is their chance to cash in on that meal ticket.

Also, it must be said: there is virtually no interest or demand for Future Boy Conan in the States. Anime fans, who are largely teenagers and college students, won't touch anything they consider "old", meaning anything older than they are. They also won't touch Miyazaki or Ghibli, as they consider those too "mainstream". Ghibli fans, likewise, have little to no interest in anything Miyazaki or Takahata created before 1984. Believe me, I've tried. They like to share Totoro fan pictures. Beyond that, it's a struggle to gain any attention. Oh, well.

2017-12-09

Riffs: When Marnie Was There, My Neighbor Totoro, Omohide Poro Poro





Hiromasa Yonebayashi pays tribute to the Studio Ghibli movies in all of his work, and When Marnie Was There is chock full of them. Here is one easy riff for fans: Anna is wearing the same hat as Mei in My Neighbor Totoro. However, I was also reminded of Taeko's hat in Omohide Poro Poro. Maybe that's just me, or maybe it's intentional. You be the judge.

2017-12-07

Download My Ebooks For FREE on Amazon

Greatest Hits: An Anthology in Four Volumes

Pop Life

Zen Arcade: Classic Video Game Reviews

Good news, everybody! My ebooks are FREE on Amazon from now until Sunday, December 10. Please download a copy of each and leave a reader review.

Zen Arcade: Classic Video Game Reviews features 140 classic video game reviews for NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, Genesis, NEC Turbografx and Neo-Geo. Do you love retro games? Did you score that awesome Super NES Mini? Here's your guide. You've played the games, now read the book.

Pop Life features essays and stories on movies & television, music & audio, classic & modern video games, and politics & life. Oh, and there are a number of chapters on Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, Ghibli and anime. This book is awesome. It's funny and grouchy and feels like a classic rock double album.

Greatest Hits: An Anthology in Four Volumes is an anthology of stories, reviews and essays on pop culture and life. Read 26 chapters about Studio Ghibli. Read 20 chapters about the greatest video games ever made. Read about vinyl records and cool albums and great movies you shouldn't miss.

Remember, kids: the sooner you download my books, the sooner I'll get off your case and go back to posting Totoro pictures. I think that's a pretty fair bargain, don't you?


2017-12-06

Mary and the Witch's Flower English Dub Trailer



Studio Ponoc and Madman Entertainment have unveiled the first trailer for the English-language release of Mary and the Witch's Flower. As you would expect from an animation studio staffed by Studio Ghibli alumni, the art direction and animation looks wonderful. Colors just pop out of the screen with verve and gusto. Shots are skillfully composed, complex yet still easily understood. There is a great amount of creativity in these scenes. I'm really looking forward to seeing this movie in theaters.

I really enjoy this new dub. The actors are all sporting English accents, which fits the story much better than the typically bland Southern California accents you get most of the time. I am reminded of the brilliant UK-exclusive soundtrack for Arrietty the Borrower, which I greatly preferred to the US Disney version.

To longtime Ghibli fans, this movie looks like a mashup of Miyazaki movies. If you're used to playing the "Ghibli Riffs" game, then you will have a field day with this picture. I spotted a good number in this trailer, which I will detail in a future post. For me, I always enjoy spotting these unique easter eggs, and I'm glad to see the tradition continue into the next generation.

Mary and the Witch's Flower pulled in respectable numbers at Japan's box office, certainly nowhere near the level of Hayao Miyazaki blockbusters, but even the master himself wasn't able to sustain that stratospheric level of success forever. Studio Ponoc and director Hiromasa Yonebayashi should be proud of their accomplishments. He has really progressed as a director. I was one who felt that The Secret World of Arrietty spoke more to his future potential than his actual skills (the movie is entertaining but slight). When Marnie Was There showed great improvement in his filmmaking skills; still not quite to the level of Miyazaki, Takahata, Yoshifumi Kondo or Yoshiyuki Momose, but better than the other lesser known directors. Now he is ready to conquer the world.

If this trailer appears a touch too derivative of Ghibli, it's clearly a gesture of affection as much as a desire to carry the flame forward. Given the enormous costs of producing hand-drawn animation of this quality, all concessions to the mass market must be taken. Ponoc needs Ghibli fans to show up in force, especially in the home country. These folks need a big success so they can continue making movies. We don't want the spirit of Ghibli to truly die out.

Next time, however, I expect to see something truly original, something that breaks in a new direction. Perhaps we will even see another feature director emerge to lighten the burden on Yonebayashi's shoulders? I always thought Katsuya Kondo had great potential in the director's chair. I still cannot understand why Momose was never given a feature film at Ghibli; his Capsule music video trilogy is the best thing Ghibli created in ages. Just imagine if Toshio Suzuki tapped his shoulder to sit on the captain's chair...instead of Goro Miyazaki, the reluctant prince.

Mary and the Witch's Flower opens on January 18, 2018 in the United States. Get your tickets early.

2017-12-01

Riffs: Heidi, Girl of the Alps, Omohide Poro Poro


Riffs: Heidi, Girl of the Alps, Omohide Poro Poro

Riffs: Heidi, Girl of the Alps, Omohide Poro Poro

Of all the great works in the Hayao Miyazaki-Isao Takahata canon, it is Heidi that stands tallest. At least where the riffs stand. Nearly every one of the 52 episodes from the groundbreaking anime series has been quoted in the directors' later works. For those of you playing the "Ghibli Riff Game", you will never truly become a champion until you've spotted all those Heidi moments.

Here is but one terrific example. This shot from Omohide Poro Poro (Only Yesterday) of children running down the aisle of a train passenger car is directly quoting a shot from a later episode of Heidi, one in which the title character, her "Alm-Uncle" and her friends spend a vacation at the ruins of a great castle. Notice how characters wink back at the camera as they skirt on by. That's a very sly shot.

One extra riff tidbit: the Heidi episodes set at the castle (a completely original plot line that was never in the original Johanna Spyri novel) were later riffed in Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro, when Lupin and Jigen encounter the ruins of the Cagliostro family castle. And the elderly groundskeeper who speaks to them? He is voiced by the same Japanese actor who voiced the Grandfather in Heidi.

Better learn your Ghibli Riffs, kids.

P.S. I've been holding onto that Heidi screenshot on my computers since 2005, when I bought a Taiwan DVD Heidi box set and watched the whole series. No, there were no English subtitles, which was unfortunate, but I was able to follow pretty easily in my crummy toddler-level Japanese grammar skills. I'm still not any better.

2017-11-30

Toshio Suzuki Discusses New Hayao Miyazaki, Goro Miyazaki Projects

Goro Miyazaki

Japanese movie website Eiga Natalie reported on Wednesday that Studio Ghibli co-founder Toshio Suzuki has discussed details on Hayao Miyazaki's new film project. In the letter, Suzuki describes the movie as a "hand-drawn action-adventure fantasy". He also states that he understood Miyazaki's motivations for returning from his retirement after reading the story outline. He concludes by promising that Studio Ghibli will continue to make movies "until the day it fails."

Suzuki also revealed that Goro Miyazaki, the director of Ronja the Robber's Daughter, is working on a new CG animation project. The details of this project, including possible involvement by Studio Ghibli, were not revealed.

Thanks to Anime News Network for their reporting and translation.

2017-11-29

I Released Three Lousy Books

I Released Three Lousy Books

I'm trying not to go overboard like some desperate teenager in search of a prom date, so I'll keep this to a minimum. I wrote three books called Zen Arcade: Classic Video Game Reviews, Pop Life and Greatest Hits: An Anthology in Four Volumes. All three ebooks are now available on Amazon. The paperback editions are coming, as I'm only waiting for my proof copies to ensure quality.

Zen Arcade is a collection of 140 reviews for video games released on NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, Turbografx-16 and Neo-Geo. It's a great read and an enlightening look at the history of classic games. There are a lot of personal stories in there, and more than a few grouchy wisecracks. It's also wickedly funny. At least I think so. But what do I know? There are no pictures, which ensures that no gamers will ever look at it.

Pop Life is a collection of essays and personal memoirs on popular culture and life. You'll read about movies, music, games and politics. You'll read my praises and rants on Studio Ghibli, Pixar, Metallica, DEVO, Miles Davis, Michael Jackson, the War on Terror, and the passings of many people who were dear to me. It's basically a mashup of The Beatles' White Album and The Shining. Again, no pictures. I have no idea what I'm doing.

Greatest Hits is a collection (surprise) of essays on movies, music, games and life. It's an anthology that includes chapters from the previous two books, plus two books that are still unfinished: "Videogame Classics" and "Conversations on Ghibli." Yes, this is the book with 26 Studio Ghibli chapters. Again, no pictures, just text. Who the heck signed off on this? What a rip. No wonder this book only sold five copies. This sucks. I'm going back to Pokemon Go.

Anyway, you can find the links to my books on the right-hand column on the screen. Simply click on the covers and you'll be sent to Amazon. You'll also see other projects that I've worked on over the years, including the Lupin the 3rd box set, Horus, Prince of the Sun, and the Mi Vecino Miyazaki books from Spain. I loved working on all of these. I never made a dime from any of 'em. Whatever. Nobody cares.

(Snark.)

Seriously, though, check out my books. I worked hard on these projects. If I'm lucky, I'll make enough money to afford a Happy Meal. It's good to have goals in life.

Studio Ghibli Names New President, Chairman, Museum Director

Studio Ghibli Names New President, Chairman, Museum Director

Kiyofumi Nakajima, formerly the head of the Ghibli Museum, has been named the new president of Studio Ghibli on Tuesday. Former studio president Koji Hoshino was promoted to chairman. Studio co-founder Toshio Suzuki will continue in his longtime role as producer.

Studio Ghibli's production department was closed in 2013 after studio co-founder Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement from feature films. It was revived earlier this year as Miyazaki announced his return with the production of How Do You Live, which is expected to take three to four years to complete.

Nakajima had previously served as the director of the Ghibli Museum since 2005, when Goro Miyazaki was drafted as the director of the Ghibli feature Gedo Senki (Tales From Earthsea). Hoshino was appointed Ghibli president in 2008.

The new director of the Ghibli Museum and Tokuma Memorial Cultural Foundation for Animation is Kazuki Anzai, who was previously a director of the museum exhibits and planning. She joined Studio Ghibli in 1998 and has been involved with the museum since its founding in 2001.

These new developments indicate a strong commitment to Ghibli in the coming years, as the studio continues production on Miyazaki's latest "final movie". It is uncertain what will happen to the production department after its completion, or what direction the studio will take after Miyazaki is gone.

Much thanks to Anime News Network for the news scoop.

2017-11-28

Riffs: Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro

Riffs: Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro

Riffs: Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro

Riffs: Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro

Riffs: Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro

Here is a Ghibli Riff that I hadn't noticed at first, but now it seems obvious. The scene with the giant radish spirit in the elevator mimics shots and poses from My Neighbor Totoro's classic scene at the bus stop.

I think one of the things I enjoy about Miyazaki's movies is how he fills his canvas with so all these little details, and populates his worlds with minor characters who come and go, yet leave an indelible impression upon our imaginations. This radish character is a throwaway, barely on the screen for a moment and then gone forever. And I'm left wanting more. I'd like to see a whole movie about this character. Wouldn't you? Eh, maybe, maybe not. Whatever.

Every Studio Ghibli movie features at least a handful of riffs that aim back to earlier works. Many have well over a dozen. Spirited Away has shots that wink back to Future Boy Conan, Castle of Cagliostro, My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke (the original 1980 storyboard book), among others. If you can find them all, kudos to you. You should make a contest among your Ghibli loving friends. Let's see just how well you know your Miyazaki.

Artist Spotlight: Spirited Away by Vannah Galaxy

Artist Spotlight: Spirited Away by Vannah Galaxy

Vannah Galaxy is an up-and-coming visual artist who is extremely skilled with pens and paper. Her dreamlike illustrations are imaginative and inspiring. She works with colors and paints, but my favorites are drawn in black-and-white, much like underground comics. Here, we see one of her favorite movies, Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away, rendered in intricate detail, capturing its many wonderfully surrealist characters. On her Instagram page, Vannah describes the creative process behind this piece:

My personal favourite Ghibli movie ♥So this was done almost entirely traditionally, with mostly 0.03 and 0.05 copic pens. I finished my shading last night and scanned it today. After I cleaned up some of the black areas (the ink can be a bit shiny, and it shows when scanned), I added some pale grey shadows for a little more depth. This piece is a little smaller than A3 and I'll definitely be selling prints sometime in the future if anyone's interested :)

2017-11-27

Set The Tape Ranks the Studio Ghibli Movies

Whisper of the Heart

It's time for another "greatest hits" retrospective of the Studio Ghibli movies, and UK movie blog Set The Tape is the latest contender. The first part of their multi-episode saga began last week and will continue in the coming days and weeks.

The writers are working backward, and here's where the rankings stand so far:


  • 23. Tales From Earthsea
  • 22. Porco Rosso
  • 21. Pom Poko
  • 20. My Neighbors the Yamadas
  • 19. Ocean Waves
  • 18. Whisper of the Heart


This is going to be interesting reading. If nothing else, it's gutsy to put fan favorites Porco Rosso and Whisper of the Heart at the bottom of the pile. I'm looking forward to reading the fan comments defending their favorite Ghibli movies. Do people still leave comments on blogs? Whatever.

I do hope the writers will continue to shake things up as they move down their Ghibli rankings. Please don't let this be yet another list that puts My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away on top. That's just lazy. Be a little more creative with your top pick and argue the case. Surprise us.

Follow Set The Tape for future installments on their Ranking Studio Ghibli series.


2017-11-23

Riffs: Spirited Away, Mary and the Witch's Flower

Riffs: Spirited Away, Mary and the Witch's Flower

Riffs: Spirited Away, Mary and the Witch's Flower

It's no secret that Yonebayashi and Studio Ponoc see themselves as the next generation of Studio Ghibli. Many of their artists are alumni from the famed studio, and wish to continue the tradition of high quality, hand-drawn animation into the future. This will be a daunting challenge, as CG has completely overwhelmed everything in its path, but hopefully there will be enough people in the world who prefer the old ways. We will see.

Mary and the Witch's Flower at times feels like a mashup of all your favorite Hayao Miyazaki movies, including Kiki's Delivery Service and Spirited Away. Here, in this shot, we see a riff that points back to Miyazaki's 2001 Oscar-winning classic, albeit with a slight change in camera angle. It is here that Yonebayashi makes a fascinating choice: he quotes the Ghibli movies, but not in the slavish blink-and-you'll-miss-it style you see from other films. When Marnie Was There did the very same thing, quoting and riffing on Omohide Poro Poro and Spirited Away but used as a reference point, not simply a challenging bit of obscure trivia for the fans (or, most likely, the creators).

For me, the "Ghibli Riffs" are one of the most fascinating thing about these movies, if for no other reason than the fact that hardly anybody knows these things exist. If I have failed in any aspect with this website project, it's not properly cataloging all these obscure Easter eggs. Oh, well, whatever, nevermind.

Photos: Pom Poko

Photos: Pom Poko

Pom Poko is visually dazzling, wildly surreal, intensely multi-layered, and masterfully weaves together mock documentary, comedy and drama all at once. It's the most colorful and inventive of Isao Takahata's movies. And, yet, it is arguably the least appreciated of all the Studio Ghibli movies in the West, and I've never fully understood why.

Pom Poko is a very Japanese movie, drenched to the bone in that nation's history and mythology. It probably helps to know some of the folk tales and children's songs to appreciate its depths. For Westerners, it may be too "inside baseball" for casual viewers to grok. You can't just pop in the videotape and veg out on the couch. This isn't another formulaic cartoon that you can enjoy while getting your digital methadone fix on your smartphones. Participation is required. Patience is required.

When this movie was finally released on DVD in the US, I imagined that it could become a cult classic, especially among animation fans. Heck, stoner fans should be gaga for Pom Poko. The only thing that Americans ever took away from it: balls. Huh-huh-heh-huh, heh-heh-huh-huh. They got balls.

Sometimes you want to listen to David Bowie or Lou Reed or Tom Waits while everybody else just wants to hear happy pop songs. Oh, well, it's alright. It's life and life only.

P.S. This screenshot shows one of my favorite gags from the movie. Back in the days of picture tube televisions, you sometimes had to give them a hard whack to make the picture come in. This joke is probably lost on a whole generation of kids by now. But it was a real thing that you had to do.

Ghibli Fest: Howl's Moving Castle in Theaters November 26, 27, 29

Ghibli Fest: Howl's Moving Castle in Theaters November 26, 27, 29

Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 concludes with Hayao Miyazaki's 2004 sprawling epic Howl's Moving Castle in theaters on November 26, 27, and 29. This will include both "dub" and "sub" screenings, so everyone will be able to enjoy this great movie.

Of all the Studio Ghibli films, I feel that Howl benefits the most from the big screen. Miyazaki paints with a wide canvas, he fills the edges and corners with little details and grand, sweeping gestures. Its episodic structure reminds me greatly of the Nausicaa books, which made radical shifts in tone and style as its story progressed. This is Miyazaki at his most lavish and self-indulgent. Many people at the time were thrown off as a result, especially fans of Diana Wynne Jones. I don't think they were expecting an adaption of Howl's Moving Castle that chucks half the plot, kidnaps the characters, and then just runs on a wild tangent. But that's what Miyazaki does, and it's something you will either love or hate.

My frame of reference is Horus, Prince of the Sun and Heidi, Girl of the Alps. I'm from Miyazaki's corner of the world, so I can recognize his archetypes and themes. These may not match perfectly with the movie's source material, but the same could be said of Alexander Key's The Incredible Tide, a sci-fi novel that served as the foundation for Future Boy Conan (a Miyazaki and anime classic that neither Miyazaki nor anime fans want anything to do with).

I love the romanticism of this movie, the earnestness of its characters, the lush colors and details of its settings, the bold and varied color palettes. Sophie is the ideal heroine for this picture, a person who is transformed from a young girl to an old woman and back again. By the end of the movie, she is her younger self, but retains her 90-year-old shock of white hair. She is the embodiment of her experiences, paradoxes and contradictions. She's just like that enormous, lumbering castle in that sense.

This is a great movie. You should watch it. I know it will take you away from your phones and your digital sugar pellets, but trust me, you will survive and be better for the experience.

Please visit the Ghibli Fest website to find the nearest screening in your city and to reserve tickets.

2017-11-21

Happy Birthday to Howl's Moving Castle

Happy Birthday to Howl's Moving Castle

A big happy birthday to Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, which was released in Japan on November 20, 2004. This movie is now officially a teenager, which explains Howl's crazy mood swings.

If nothing else, that crazy, disjointed castle is one of the zaniest creations Miyazaki has ever envisioned. It's the most entertaining bucket of bolts you'll find this side of the Millennium Falcon, with an added dose of Terry Gilliam weirdness.

I really need to watch this movie again. It's been too long.

Thanks For Nothing, Lasseter-San

Thanks For Nothing, Lasseter-San

Well, there goes any chance of ever getting this DVD released in the US. Thanks for nothing, jerkwad.

This rolling wave of harassment scandals sweeping Hollywood and Washington reminds me my freshman year in high school in 1989, when the Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain both crumbled. Every day, you were asking, "Who's next?" There was music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air.

I have great admiration for the Pixar movies, and will always respect John Lasseter the film artist. He helped to transform animation in a manner not seen since Walt Disney, for better and for worse. But his behavior is shameful, degrading and deeply destructive to countless lives. He needs to go. Now.

Let Pete Docter run the place instead. He's from Minnesota, he's nice. He's not a disgusting, hypocritical pig.

P.S. You just know that Hayao Miyazaki is going to dish out the trash talk, sooner or later.

2017-11-20

Studio Ghibli Blu-Rays: Porco Rosso, Arrietty on November 21



Porco Rosso and The Secret World of Arrietty are the newest titles to be reissued this Tuesday, November 21 on Blu-Ray, courtesy of GKIDS. They join the catalog migration to their new home at the US animation distributor.

Compared to previous Studio Ghibli reissues, there does not appear to be any notable changes from the previous Disney-released titles. Both movies feature new cover designs which are a genuine improvement, although I did like Disney's Arrietty poster. There were hopes that GKIDS would succeed in securing the UK soundtrack dub for Arrietty, but they were unsuccessful.

In any case, every Ghibli collector will want to have these movies in their movie library. Both are excellent films that your family will love. I know that I will be picking up a couple copies of Porco Rosso for early Christmas presents. And Arrietty was the most successful of all the Studio Ghibli movies in US theaters; this movie has a very devoted fan following.

Artist Spotlight: Totoro and Friends

Artist Spotlight: Totoro and Friends

You can never have enough Totoro fan art, it seems. I'm always amazed at the level of creativity and inspiration this humble little movie has spawned. Sometimes I have to pinch myself and remember that My Neighbor Totoro was an extremely obscure movie in the West as recently as a decade ago. Yes, it had a measure of success on home video (read: VHS), but the wider public never really discovered Miyazaki. Today, there is a thriving and growing fan community.

I really like this painting, which incorporates several Hayao Miyazaki characters into a Classical Japanese watercolor art style. We even see a cameo by the director himself in the background. Totoro shares the spotlight with No-Face, the Soot Sprites, a Kodama and Catbus, who appears as a kite. The composition is nicely balanced, which is a challenge when there's so many characters in view.

The artist who created this piece did an excellent job. Unfortunately, I was not able to discover the artist's name, so if you know who is responsible for this painting, please pass it along so that we can give proper credit.

2017-11-17

My New Books Are Now Available on Amazon Kindle

Greatest Hits: An Anthology in Four Volumes

Pop Life

Zen Arcade: Classic Video Game Reviews

Good news, everybody! I am happy to report that my new books are now available for pre-order on Amazon. Launch Day is this coming Tuesday, November 21. All three titles will be available in ebook and paperback. Simply click on the cover images to go directly to the Amazon pages, where you can pre-order the titles for your Kindle apps and ebook readers.

During our "launch period" all three ebooks will be available for only 99 cents. This is a sale that will last for a limited time, after which they will return to their normal prices. I will announce when that time comes.

The paperback editions will be available on November 21 for $19.99. Each book is 6" x 9" and ranges from 350-450 pages. These are big books.

Enjoy the new books, and happy pre-ordering!

Ghibli Fan Posters: Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Porco Rosso

Ghibli Fan Posters: Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Porco Rosso


Here are a pair of excellent fan-designed movie posters for two of my favorite Hayao Miyazaki movies, Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind and Porco Rosso. I really enjoy these designs, which incorporate an indie comic book style. Nausicaa evokes the surreal images of the Ohmu shell, with the title character seated near the eye and the toxic fungus. Porco Rosso evokes the myth and mystery of its central character, a legendary pilot who has renounced his humanity.

Poster designs like these always remind me of the way movie posters were made long, long ago. It was an established art form all its own, as movie collectors and fans will tell you. Once the conglomerates took over the major Hollywood studios, however, everything became subsumed by marketing hacks. Everything just became another crummy commercial. The age of Photoshop has been especially cruel. Movies can still be magical. Most of the time, however, they're nothing more than plastic, a disposable product designed for immediate consumption, discarded three days after opening. Meh.

I want classic movie posters again. Don't you? Of course, you do.

2017-11-15

Mi Vecino Miyazaki Book Reaches 5th Edition

Mi Vecino Miyazaki Book Reaches 5th Edition

Mi Vecino Miyazaki Book Reaches 5th Edition

Mi Vecino Miyazaki Book Reaches 5th Edition

Mi Vecino Miyazaki, the excellent Spanish book dedicated to the films of Studio Ghibli, has now reached its fifth edition. This latest edition has been updated to include all the Ghibli movies released to this date, including The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There, The Red Turtle and Studio Ponoc.

In addition, the cover has been redesigned, keeping much closer to the follow-up book, Antes De Mi Vecino Miyazaki, as well as other animation books published by Diablo. I really like this design, it's very colorful and showcases all these wonderful movies in bold color and detail. The layouts have likewise been given a makeover, remaining as bold and inviting as ever, with generous use of screenshots and production artwork.

One unfortunate change, unfortunately, has been made to this book. In order to squeeze in the new chapters and updated content, authors Alvaro Lopez Martin and Marta Garcia Villar have removed the collaborators' contributions. These included short snippets from selected writers, including me. I sent them micro-reviews on several Studio Ghibli movies, and they published the piece on My Neighbors the Yamadas. That piece, and all the others, will no longer be available in the newest edition.

Combine these changes and additions to the new cover design, and it looks like the previous editions of Mi Vecino Miyazaki will become collectors' items. I hope you've already bought your copy so that you can show off to your friends in a few years.

If you haven't yet purchased this book, the latest edition of Mi Vecino Miyazaki is a must-have for all Studio Ghibli and animation fans. Highly, highly recommended.

2017-11-14

Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus on VHS

Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus on VHS

Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus on VHS

Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus on VHS


This is a nice find from one of my recent Ebay searches: a Japanese VHS release of Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus, the second of two Panda short films created by Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe. I'm surprised to see that both cartoons are not included on this tape, but such things were common back in the day. All the better to get more money from the parents.

Of the two Panda cartoons, I like this one more. They're both great fun, of course, but Rainy-Day Circus has a wide and colorful cast of characters, a bouncy tiger, a runaway train, and a massive flood. You can't beat that.

Panda Kopanda always seems to fall through the cracks: too short to be considered a "movie," not enough episodes to be considered "television." Not many Miyazaki and Takahata fans are even aware that it exists. But that's a challenge that time will solve, as it has solved that same problem for the Studio Ghibli catalog.

Remember that Panda Kopanda is available on DVD from Discotek. It's a solid release and belongs in your movie library.

2017-11-12

DT Media: Check Out Our New Website

DT Media: Always worth a browse - indie publisher of print and digital media.

DT Media: Always worth a browse - indie publisher of print and digital media.

At long last, the DT Media website is now live! Please bookmark and visit.

DT Media is the name of my indie publishing label that specializes in the creative arts, including art, photography, books and zines. Our website features a pop culture blog, an Instagram gallery, and an ever-growing library of published books and zines.

This month, we will release three new books: Zen Arcade: Classic Video Game Reviews, Pop Life and Greatest Hits: An Anthology in Four Volumes. Please click these links to visit each title's page, which features cover art, book description, and selected chapters for browsing. These pages will continue to evolve in the coming days and weeks, as we will include review clips from readers and critics.

I've spent the last 18 months writing, editing and assembling these books. The covers are fantastic, the content is fantastic. Once the Amazon pages are up, I will write a formal post announcing all the details. Expect that to happen this week (cough, Thanksgiving).

As I've stated, DT Media also features a blog which will be filled with regular content. For now, I am publishing reviews and articles that also appear in the books, such as the Ponyo review as seen in the screenshot above. There will also be new content, so please check for regular updates.

Ghibli Blog will continue as always. As you can see, I've been working overtime since September to provide essential content for this site that you cannot find anywhere else: news, reviews, essays, fan art, and more.

As always, if you want to follow the latest news and developments at DT Media and Ghibli Blog, please subscribe to our newsletter. When you join, you will also receive a free zine that is totally awesome and will make you the most popular kid on your block.

Much thanks, as always, and thanks for your support.

Movie Review: The World of Hans Christian Andersen (1968)

Movie Review: The World of Hans Christian Andersen

The World of Hans Christian Andersen is the American title to the 1968 Toei Doga animated feature Andersen Monogatari ("The Story of Andersen"). It was released in the US in 1971 by United Artists, in partnership with the legendary Hal Roach Studios, who handled the English-language dub.

The movie tells the tale of a young Hans Christian Andersen, who meets a magical storyteller who arrives to Earth from Heaven in order to guide the boy and inspire his talents as a storyteller. As young Hans observes the lives of the villagers around him, we see the trappings of the fairy tales that would make him famous. There are cartoon mice, cats and dogs, as well as about a hundred song-and-dance numbers.

Personally, I am not a great fan of this movie. Of all the Hiroshi Okawa-era Toei Doga movies (1958-1972), The World of Hans Christian Andersen feels the most formulaic, the most cliched, the most, shall we say, Disney-esque. In every way, it is a stereotypical "family cartoon" with sing-along songs, simple characters, contrived plot points, and an overall atmosphere of suffocating niceness. The swelling strings of the orchestra are pure cheese. This is a movie very specifically made for very small children who would be easily distracted and amused.

What made the classic Toei movies so compelling is how they learned the lessons of Walt Disney without copying his movies. Instead, they learned to adapt their own folk tales and legends, learned how to incorporate a purely Asian flavor to their animated features. In time, the animators learned new ways of expression, and new paradigms emerged which eventually became "anime." This movie, however, represents a massive thrust backwards. It is nowhere near the level of Hakujaden, Saiyuki, or Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon, Toei's best animated features up to that point.

Here's why I believe that happened. This movie was released in March of 1968, ahead of another Toei feature that was supposed to be completed and released earlier. It's name: The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun, the revolutionary anime masterpiece directed by Isao Takahata and helmed by Hayao Miyazaki, Yasuo Otsuka, Yoichi Kotabe, Reiko Okuyama and Yasuji Mori. The battle to create Horus lasted the better part of three years, ran massively over-budget and severely damaged relations with the production staff and its labor union (of which Takahata, Miyazaki and Otsuka served leading roles).

To the studio bosses of the day, Horus was an albatross, a dark, brooding, violent mess that would almost certainly give children heart attacks. It might even scare them away from Toei forever, into the waiting arms of rival animation studios that were flooding television screens. Something needed to be done to keep that traditional audience in place, and to prevent them from fleeing.

I believe this is the reason why Andersen Monogatari was made. It is the safest and most "child-friendly" movie the studio had ever made. It was a purely defensive move against a feared backlash, to say nothing about recovering all that money that was being spent on Horus (which ended up being the studio's biggest box-office flop, but that was at least partly due to studio sabotage as anything).

Hans Christian Andersen is not a bad movie. It's just very uninspired and very, very "safe." It could have been assembled by committee, and very likely was. To be fair, all the studio's best talent was locked up with Horus, leaving very few skilled animators or artists available for anything else (Jack and the Witch, Toei's 1967 feature, suffered from the same problem). The animation is lacking any real spark or inventiveness, never straying from the instruction manual, it seems. The story lacks inspiration in its characters or setting.

In the movie's defense, I do enjoy the "Little Match Girl" story thread the weaves in and out and supplies the climax. Here, the movie seems to have found a proper balance, striking an emotional cue that is fitting to Andersen's stories. The movie ends on a strong note. It probably doesn't matter that before the year was out, Horus, Prince of the Sun would completely demolish it to rubble. The World of Hans Christian Andersen is like that act on The Ed Sullivan Show that came on stage just before The Beatles. Does anyone remember that guy? No, of course not. Which is precisely the point.

P.S. The World of Hans Christian Andersen was recently uploaded to YouTube, in the original Japanese, where one person noted that the movie's final 25 minutes syncs up perfectly with David Bowie's Low album. That gave me a chuckle. These are the sort of things that make me question if we're really living in The Matrix.

Artist Spotlight: Studio Ghibli Movie Posters


Studio Ghibli movie posters are a popular front for indie artists and designers to show off their skills, and we've seen many inspired designs that give the official studio posters a run for their money. I really enjoy this series, which features abstract takes on Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Kiki's Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke and Howl's Moving Castle.

I really like the minimalist, zen approach to these posters. The only text is the title, in Japanese, accompanying a single silhouette with additional details inside. This style appeals most to the fans who are already familiar with these movies. This is a luxury that movie studios cannot afford, as the rules of advertising dominate over art design. Overall, great job, and as always, I would like to see this series expanded to include more Ghibli movies, and even the pre-Ghibli works as well.

I could not find the name of the artist who created these pieces. If you can find the designer, please pass it along so that we can give them the proper credit.

Ghibli Recipes: Fish Casserole (Kiki's Delivery Service)

Ghibli Recipes: Fish Casserole (Kiki's Delivery Service)

Here is a novel addition to every Studio Ghibli collection: a fish casserole as seen in Kiki's Delivery Service. You'll have to click the image to view in full size so that you can read the recipe.

In Minnesota, dishes like this are extremely common. You can mix up any combination of pasta with meats, fish, vegetables and cheese. Macaroni & Cheese is always a popular choice, as is Meat & Potatoes. Feel free to experiment to your heart's content. Personally, I would just get rid of those olives on the top. Happy cooking!

2017-11-06

Studio Ghibli Mii Characters

Studio Ghibli Mii Characters

Studio Ghibli Mii Characters

Studio Ghibli Mii Characters

Studio Ghibli Mii Characters


Nintendo created Mii Characters are player avatars for their home video game systems. They first appeared on the Wii in 2006 and continue to this day. Players can mix and match "Miis" and trade them with family and friends, and there options for creating characters is virtually limitless.

The Mii Characters fan website has been around almost since the very beginning, and they continue to post their creations and allow visitors to rate them (Nintendo once had an excellent Wii Channel called "Check Mii Out" that is, sadly, no longer available). And wouldn't you know it, there are some Studio Ghibli characters to check out.

At the present time, there aren't very many Ghibli Miis out there. I've had No-Face in my collection for years, which was fairly common. Hayao Miyazaki is new, as is Porco Rosso and Totoro, which is especially inspired. Great jaerb!

I really do wish I could download these to my Wii system, but as I've said, Check Mii Out was closed down by Nintendo, who have a notorious habit of killing successful ideas while endlessly repackaging and reselling the less successful ones (Pikmin, 3D Mario versus 2D Mario). I really don't understand their logic sometimes.

Oh, well. Enjoy these Ghibli Miis, and good luck recreating them for your Nintendo consoles.

2017-11-04

Photos: Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus (1973)

Photos: Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus (1973)

Photos: Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus (1973)

Photos: Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus (1973)

Photos: Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus (1973)

Here are some nice DVD screenshots from the 1973 short film, Panda Kopanda and the Rainy-Day Circus. This is the second of the two Panda cartoons made by Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki, Yoichi Kotabe and much of the old Toei Doga crew. It's also the better one, more interesting and funny and visually diverse. This roughly-half-hour cartoon is packed with scenarios and funny situations.

I really do wish more of these little movies had been made, at least one or two more. However, time moves quickly, and only a year later, Takahata, Miyazaki and Kotabe unleashed Heidi, Girl of the Alps to blockbuster success, leading the anime revolution of the 1970s. They would unleash an unparalleled string of animated classics over the next four decades, barely catching their breath.

Panda Kopanda is a children's cartoon, and there are no pretensions otherwise. There are no complex deeper themes or preachy moral lessons, no cynical attempts to sell toys or merchandise. Thank Heavens for that. These movies are criminally underrated (a new English-language dub would help a lot), but at least they're available on DVD, courtesy of Discotek.

Little touches that I enjoy: the sight of a rural town massively flooded, a precursor to Miyazaki's own Ponyo; the shot of Baby Panda being chased by a sea of hands, again a precursor to the flashback scene in Nausicaa; a bumbling burglar voiced by Yasuo Yamada (Lupin); a runaway circus train, packed with animals, crashing through a town and stopping at the mayor's front gate. Everything is cheerful, everyone is having fun. What more can you ask for?

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