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2011-01-27

Arrietty in France - A Healthy Second Weekend

Arrietty, le petit monde des chapardeurs has enjoyed a healthy second week in French cinema.  According to Box Office Mojo, Arrietty continues to hold the #5 space on the box office for January 19-23.  It earned $1,268,611 for the weekend, a decline of only 9.8% from its opening week.  The number of movie screens has also been expanded to 252, an increase of 47.  The film's per-screen average is the third highest for the 1/19-23 period, at $5,034 per screen (falling narrowly behind Season of the Witch's $5,148).

Arrietty's total in France stands at $2,942,933.  It appears to have strong legs and will hopefully continue to draw in audiences in the coming days and weeks.  Later this year, Madman and Optimum will deliver Arrietty to theaters in Australia and the UK.  As reported late last night, Disney has pushed back the US release date to February 17, 2012.  Blu-Ray and DVD releases are also planned for later this year.

Arrietty the Borrower US Release Delayed Until February, 2012


Arrietty the Borrower's US release has been delayed until February 17, 2012.

According to Deadline.com, Disney will not release Studio Ghibli's latest theatrical feature in North America this year as widely expected.  Instead, the movie has scheduled for February of next year.  An official announcement on release date and cast is expected soon.

Clearly, this is very frustrating and disappointing news.  Arrietty is currently playing in theatres across France, and will soon be headed to the UK and Australia.  Once again, the US and Canada are the last in line.  By this time next year, Goro Miyazaki's Kokuriko-Zaka Kara will have already played on Japanese movie screens, and Ghibli will be gearing up for their next feature production, presumably Hayao Miyazaki's next epic.

Not only that, Arrietty will be released on Blu-Ray and DVD this summer in Japan, France, and possibly elsewhere.  It is now entirely conceivable that a US theatrical release may not happen at all, and the movie would simply go directly to video.  This does not bode well for the prospects of any future Studio Ghibli movies not directed by Miyazaki being seen on American movie screens.  Is this an indication of the future of the Disney-Ghibli relationship?  Some relationship.

This is very discouraging.  We may have to wait for the next Hayao Miyazaki-directed film before we Americans can see Ghibli on the big screen again.  This is why I told you to see Ponyo and Earthsea while we had the chance, kids.

Photos - Anne of Green Gables


I recently added a large number of screenshots from Anne of Green Gables to Ghibli Blog's Facebook page, so I decided I should post a few here on the website.  Anne is another classic in the Takahata-Miyazaki canon that I don't spend nearly enough time writing about; one of these days, we're going to sit down and go through the entire series, episode by episode, start to finish.

I think it's very insightful to compare Isao Takahata's version of Anne to the popular Canadian tv production from the 1980s.  While they are both similar in many ways, Takahata's Anne is much more rooted in the neo-realist tradition, with a reverence towards accuracy in all details, great and small.  The World Masterpiece Theater series was a way to introduce Japanese audiences, young and old, to the outside world.  These series - Heidi, Marco, Anne - are as much about their respective Western countries as they are about the original books.

Takahata also balances this naturalism with the romantic flair of Anne Shirley's vivid imagination.  We are constantly brought into her world, and her world takes on a surreal, impressionist flair.  This psychological focus is a signature element of the Takahata style, and no other director has focused so intensely on the paradox of psychology in animation.  No character in animation is real, after all; these are drawings and paintings.  But how do you portray a character's thoughts, their mood, their personality?  Walt Disney and his animators discovered how to reveal character through movement.  The genius of Takahata is how he can reveal character through stillness, silence.

Mamoru Oshii once declared that "Isao Takahata is walking logic."  You can see that powerful intellect on display throughout his career, and especially so in Anne of Green Gables.

2011-01-25

A Blue Totoro Plush Hat


We had a look at a Catbus Hat recently, and how here's a cute and charming blue Totoro Plush Hat to complete the ensemble.  I like this one a lot more; it's just more practical for cold Minnesota winters.  Also, it's blue.  I'll have to order a pair for Marcee and myself.

You can order the Totoro Plush Hat from Amazon and ThinkGeek.  Not bad for a "traffic bait" post, eh?

2011 Oscar Nominations: King's Speech, True Grit, Social Network

This morning, the 2011 Oscar nominations were announced.  "The King's Speech" leads with 12 nominations, while the Coen Brothers, our local heroes, surged into second place with "True Grit" and 10 nominations.  "The Social Network," the early runaway favorite, sits at third place with eight nods.  "The Boxer" and "Inception" also received eight picks, including Best Picture.  This could be an interesting battle for the top awards.

Christopher Nolan was ignored for a Best Director nomination, and this seems to be causing grief on Twitter.  If the Motion Picture Academy were wiser, Inception would be a stronger contender for the top awards.  They lament falling ratings for the Oscars, and yet they studiously avoid any movie that was a hit at the box office.  It would also help if they opened up Best Picture and Best Director to, say, comedies, documentaries, or animation.  Instead, it's the same dramas released late in the year.

Animation fans will be happy to see "Toy Story 3" nominated for Best Picture, but this is a ceremonial pick.  Academy voters are still struggling to fill ten Best Picture slots, and the second half, like last year, are throwaways.  Pixar will still be happy to have another feather in their cap.

I am surprised and happy to see Sylvain Chomet's "The Illusionist" nominated for Best Animated Feature.  Once again, spaces are reserved for Pixar Movie and Dreamworks Movie, and this remains a category that nobody in particular really cares about.  Pixar will walk away with the Oscar yet again, because it requires the least amount of time to think about.

Here are the complete 2011 Oscar Nominations:

Best Picture

‘Black Swan’
‘The Fighter’
‘Inception’
‘The Kids Are All Right’
‘The King’s Speech’
‘127 Hours’
‘The Social Network’
‘Toy Story 3′
‘True Grit’
‘Winter’s Bone’

Best Director

Darren Aronofsky, ‘Black Swan’
David O’Russell, ‘The Fighter’
Tom Hooper, ‘The King’s Speech’
David Fincher, ‘The Social Network’
Joel and Ethan Coen, ‘True Grit’

Best Actor

Javier Bardem, ‘Biutiful’
Jeff Bridges, ‘True Grit’
Jesse Eisenberg, ‘The Social Network’
Colin Firth, ‘The King’s Speech’
James Franco, ‘127 Hours’

Best Actress

Annette Bening, ‘The Kids Are All Right’
Nicole Kidman, ‘Rabbit Hole’
Jennifer Lawrence, ‘Winter’s Bone’
Natalie Portman, ‘Black Swan’
Michelle Williams, ‘Blue Valentine’

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale, ‘The Fighter’
John Hawkes, ‘Winter’s Bone’
Jeremy Renner, ‘The Town’
Mark Ruffalo, ‘The Kids Are All Right’
Geoffrey Rush, ‘The King’s Speech’

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams, ‘The Fighter’
Helena Bonham Carter, ‘The King’s Speech’
Melissa Leo, ‘The Fighter’
Hailee Steinfeld, ‘True Grit’
Jacki Weaver, ‘Animal Kingdom’

Best Animated Feature Film

‘How to Train Your Dragon’
‘Illusionist’
‘Toy Story 3′

Best Foreign Film

Mexico - ‘Biutiful’
Greece - ‘Dogtooth’
Denmark - ‘In a Better World’
Canada - ‘Incendies’
Algeria - ‘Outside the law’

Best Original Screenplay

‘Another Year’
‘The Fighter’
‘Inception’
‘The Kids Are All Right’
‘The King’s Speech’

Best Adapted Screenplay

‘127 Hours’
‘The Social Network’
‘Toy Story 3′
‘True Grit’
‘Winter’s Bone’

Best Art Direction

‘Alice in Wonderland’
‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I’
‘Inception’
‘The King’s Speech’
‘True Grit’

Best Costume Design

‘Alice in Wonderland’
‘I Am Love’
‘The King’s Speech’
‘The Tempest’
‘True Grit’

Best Original Score

‘How to Train Your Dragon’ John Powell
‘Inception’ Hans Zimmer
‘The King’s Speech’ Alexandre Desplat
‘127 Hours’ A.R. Rahman
‘The Social Network’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Best Documentary

‘Exit through the Gift Shop’ Banksy and Jaimie D’Cruz
‘Gasland’ Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic
‘Inside Job’ Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
‘Restrepo’ Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
‘Waste Land’ Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley

Best Film Editing

‘Black Swan’
‘The Fighter’
‘The Kings Speech’
‘127 Hours’
‘The Social Network’

Best Makeup

‘Barney’s Version’
‘The Way Back’
‘The Wolfman’

Best Sound Editing

‘Inception’
‘Toy Story 3′
‘TRON: Legacy’
‘True Grit’
‘Unstoppable’

Best Sound Mixing

‘Inception’
‘The King’s Speech’
‘Salt’
‘The Social Network’
‘True Grit’

2011-01-24

Jainko Chie Added to Video Rotation


As you can see, I've added Isao Takahata's 1981 movie Jarinko Chie to the video rotation in the middle column.  This video (the complete movie on one Youtube window) includes English subtitles, so everyone is able to follow along.  As always, I don't know how long this movie will remain on Youtube before it is pulled by TMS, so be sure to take advantage of the opportunity and watch the movie.

Also, the link to the Jarinko Chie fansub (720p Blu-Ray) is available at the Downloads section.  Since France remains the only Western country to see a commercial release, the fansub will remain your only option for seeing Takahata's most excellent film.  This is a marvelous picture and you owe it to yourself to watch it once or twice.

Finally, I've added a folder of Jarink Chie (BD) screenshots to The Ghibli Blog on Facebook page.  Feel free to visit and share your impressions.  Arigatou.

Goro Miyazaki's 44th Birthday


A belated Happy Birthday to Goro Miyazaki, who turned 44 last Friday, January 21.  He is currently in production as director of Studio Ghibli's next feature, Kokuriko-Zaka Kara, which is currently scheduled for a summer release.  Let's hope that Goro-San has a terrific 2011.

Oh, and if this next movie crashes and burns like Gedo Senki did, you'll be remembered as the guy who killed Studio Ghibli.  So, no pressure at all, Goro-San.  No pressure at all.

Miyazaki and Friends Volunteering at Totoro's Forest


While those of us in the United States spent our Sunday watching the Packers and the Steelers, Hayao Miyazaki and 200 volunteers spent their day cleaning up the preserved forest Fuchi no Mori, or more commonly known as "Totoro's Forest."  The 5,700 square meter area in Higashi-Murayama (nearby Tokorozawa, where Miyazaki-san lives) served as the inspiration for the pristine wilderness in My Neighbor Totoro.

Plans for residential development in this area were defeated in 2007, thanks to the work of Miyazaki and local residents.  Later that year, they presented the city of Higashimurayama 73 million yen ($620,000) to preserve the land.  In 2008, Pixar organized a charity art auction to raise money for another forest preserve in the Sayama Hills; this area was also an inspiration for Totoro.

Thanks to NHK and Anime News Network for the report.

Photos - Mei and the Kittenbus


Yes, these are actual photos of Mei and the Kittenbus, which remains an exclusive addition to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan.  This comes from the terrific 2003 DVD documentary, Lasseter-San, Arigatou.  This documentary was released only in Japan, and is a video diary of Hayao Miyazaki's 2002 visit to North America for the Disney release of Spirited Away.  The entire enterprise was under the strict supervision of John Lasseter, who immediately became Miyazaki's champion Hollywood.

Miyazaki shared Mei and the Kittenbus with the Pixar staff on his visit, and this is where the screenshots come from.  Lasseter-San, Arigatou is a terrific DVD, and should be seen by Ghibli and Pixar lovers alike.  Consider this a real gem in your movie library; the odds of this being released outside of Japan is next to nil.  Too bad for the rest of the world.

I do hope Miyazaki has a plan to protect his works after his death.  You just know the powers that be will be pillaging his works for endless sequels and cheap knockoffs.  It it were an American cartoon character, we'd already have at least a dozen Totoro videos.  Perish the thought!

2011-01-23

Castle in the Sky, My Neighbors the Yamadas Blu-Ray in Australia April 20


Madman Entertainment has announced this week that Studio Ghibli's latest Blu-Ray discs, Laputa: Castle in the Sky and My Neighbors the Yamadas, will be released in Australia on April 20. Huzzah!

This is excellent news. I was fully expecting to have bragging rights for owning the Japanese Ghibli Blu-Rays straight through the summer. It seems Ghibli may be moving more aggressively on the global market. This is good news for the rest of us. If these BDs are coming to Australia in three months, then the UK and France can't be far behind. The North American market will likely be the last, and left up to Disney's schedule.

Fan Impressions of Princess Mononoke, 1999


I wanted to share this page of reviews by fans who were lucky enough to see early pre-release screenings of the Miramax-dubbed Princess Mononoke in 1999. I find this to be a very valuable tool, in that we are weeing initial impressions from dedicated Studio Ghibli fans back when they were truly the keepers of the flame. They were fierce defenders of Ghibli, but eager to see Hayao Miyazaki win mainstream acceptance. Anime during this time was still very much an underground, "alternative" thing, while greater America was indifferent, baffled or hostile.

Heck, Roger Ebert was pretty much the only major film critic in the US to openly champion anime, and do so on anime's own terms. This sub-culture appeared as counterculture as the beats of the '50s and the hippies of the '60s. Thankfully, we've come a long way in the years since, but that's because of the generational shift as younger people embrace the scene.

For me, I'm really enjoying these short essays. I haven't spent serious time with Mononoke in a number of years, so this really does feel like a rediscovery, one that gives me a greater appreciation not only of Miyazaki's vision, but the American version as well. Now if only I could get that nasty scratch removed from my R2 Mononoke DVD...


Fan Impressions of Princess Mononoke (1999, Nausicaa.net)

Forest of the Shishi Gami


Forest of the Shishi Gami - Mononoke Hime fansite

I discovered this ancient (by internet time) website devoted to Mononoke Hime.  It was last updated back in August, 1998, which means this is an unfiltered look into Miyazaki's grand epic.  This site essentially explains the characters and many of the concepts in the film, and some of the ideas from Japan's mythic past that are unknown to Westerners.

I think we're very fortunate that this website is still alive on the internet (graphics are long gone), so we should take advantage of the opportunity and preserve this history while we still can.  For the future Mononoke Blu-Ray, I would like to see a greater effort to communicate and explain the more Japanese elements of the film, instead of just glossing it over.  Some better subtitles, one that retained the Japanese titles, would be an excellent start.

2011-01-21

Sake Into Wine: Neil Gaiman and Princess Mononoke


A number of years ago, Hollywood Gothique sat down with Neil Gaiman to discuss his American adaptation for Princess Mononoke. His rendition of a Studio Ghibli script is unique in that it retains a poetic, lyrical style, one that respects the original dialog while also explaining certain elements of Asian culture to Western audiences.  This is always a debating point for the dubs-versus-subs crowd, and that's perfectly fine.  But what cannot be denied is the honest, heartfelt desire to bring Hayao Miyazaki's vision to the outside world.

In the interview, Gaiman discusses the challenges in balancing translation with adaptation, and of conveying ideas that fall between the gaps of the two languages:

So there was a certain amount of creativity, not just mechanical translation.

There was an enormous amount of creativity in the job. If it had just been a matter of taking the script and tidying up the language to make it sound more like dialogue, that would have been easy. The fun for me was that all of these people are different; they have different characters and different voices.

There was some issue with Miramax about retaining the Japanese flavor in the dialog, suggestions that you replace "Samurai" with "Warrior."

That got a bit silly for awhile. “Samurai” they left; we got to keep “samurai.” We lost “sake”; “sake” became “wine.” We lost “Japan,” interestingly enough, and we even lost China—at one point [in the original version] they talk about these guns that come from China.

Did you have to be real concerned with synchronization, writing dialog that matches how long the characters' mouths are moving?

It’s not even a matter of how long they’re moving their mouths. It’s a matter of matching exactly. People have been asking if we reanimated it. There are two schools of thought coming out from the film. School of Thought #1 is that we reanimated the mouth movements. School #2 is that they must have made two different versions at the same time.

In Japan, it's standard to post-dub animation, so clearly it can be done.

What is interesting is that we actually match the mouth movements better than the Japanese one did, only because what would break suspension of disbelief for an American audience is much more than for a Japanese audience, so we had to be closer.

The delight with PRINCESS MONONOKE is we set a new standard for dubs. You get different responses from fans, because you get different types of fans watching it. One are the people who have seen the original Japanese film many times; sometimes they love it, and sometimes they have stuff they miss from the Japanese version, in terms of performances. In the Japanese one, for example, the part of Moro, the giant wolf, is played by a transvestite, a female impersonator; it actually sounds, frankly, like a fairly deep-voiced male actor, although Moro the wolf is a female. So they sort of remember a very deep, growling kind of voice. Now, we have Gillian Anderson, and we don’t try to recreate that voice. There was no attempt to recreate that. There was no attempt to tell Gillian Anderson, “Do it in a deep voice like a bloke” or anything. The idea was, we have Gillian Anderson, and she’s wonderful and astonishing, and she’s really, really good. We did that all the way through. Billy Bob [Thornton]does not sound like the Jigo from the Japanese version. But on the other hand, Billy Bob as this wonderful, sort of used car salesman—this little wild card forever fiddling stuff behind the scenes—is terrific.

You had to fill American audiences in on background information that would be obvious to Japanese viewers.  For instance, when Ashitaka cuts his hair, it symbolizes that he is now "dead" to the people of his village.

In the Japanese one, they are talking about other things, and he goes and cuts his hair, puts it on the alter, goes out, and never comes back to his village. As far as most Americans are concerned at this point, he’s just given himself a haircut, possibly because it’s going to be a slightly long trip. You want people to get the same amount of information that they would have got.

Was there a trade-off?  Did you have to leave out other dialog to make room for these new bits of information?

Rarely. Mostly no. There was very little that got left out. You change things for effect. At one point they’re talking about women and how they have to stay and guard the town. The captain of the guard says, “Don’t worry about our ladyship. I will protect her.” One of the women in Japanese turns to him and says, “Useless!”—and everybody laughs. Which is fair enough, but it doesn’t take you terribly far in doing the translation. You go, “Why is she saying ‘useless’? Why is this so funny?” So I have her go, “Even if you were a woman, you’d still be an idiot!”—and everybody laughs. Now, we lost the word “useless,” but we had the laugh and the context.

The Ghibli Blog on Wordle

I used the RSS feed to create a Wordle of The Ghibli Blog. A very impressive of this past week's events, don't you think? Heck, if I could add a logo to this word sculpture, or Photoshop the words "Ghibli Blog" into the mix, I could print this on t-shirts. Now that would be super cool, and in keeping with the punk rock tradition. Every band has to have their own t-shirt.

Update 1:42 -- I had so much fun tinkering around with the Wordle designer, I created a second one. This time, I used the site's main address. The classic movie poster style is pretty impressive, no? And this is the kind of graphic design that really grabs me. If and when I publish books based on this blog, this is exactly the cover design I'll pursue.

The Dumbing Down of the American Moviegoer, Ctd.

Sumitted without comment.  This review of Princess Mononoke was written in 1999, at the time of its theatrical release in the United States:

A film like this difficult to import, thanks to the cultural differences between Japan and the U.S. Lots of work was done to make the script understandable to American audiences; what's not necessary to explain in Japan might be necessary to explain in the U.S. This means the dialogue is not a direct translation. Sometimes this can work against the movie, like the bad dubbing script for Akira (the subtitled tape I have is much better). But Mononoke's script is good, and if ever there was dubbing that was top-notch, it's in this movie. (Kiki is also very well dubbed.) But dubbing is dubbing. Hearing a character say, "Forest God! We give you back your head!" is just funny no matter how it's said. If I'd just been reading it in subtitles while the original voices spoke on-screen, the cultural gap might not have been so silly—reading a translation like that is different from hearing a character come right out and say it. The audience laughed several times at things that were not meant to be funny. Sometimes, I understood why, like the head line, while other times I was cringing at what seemed to be a lack of openness to another culture's visions, like the strange human face of the Forest God. (Or maybe I was cringing to fight back my own smirking reaction to that face.) Either way, it's distracting and takes you out of the movie.

Portrait of the Artists - Miyazaki and Takahata


This photograph of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata was taken for the August, 2010 issue of Brutus Magazine in Japan, as part of their featured coverage of Arrietty the Borrower.  It's a rare chance to see the two greatest living filmmakers together.  Despite their long friendship, now dating back 45 years, Miya-san and Paku-san do not work together at Ghibli, and haven't for many years.

I've yet to understand precisely why this is so; most likely it is just the case of two very driven and strong-willed geniuses learning to respect one another's space.  But I think Mononoke Hime heralded a radical change in Studio Ghibli, from humble anime studio to blockbuster powerhouse.  Miyazaki was always made for sweeping epics, while Takahata preferred quiet, personal stories.  The Japanese public crave lavish escapist spectacles, movies like Star Wars and Titanic and Harry Potter and Avatar.  One director can deliver those roller coaster rides; the other cannot.

Notice how Miya-san's Princess Mononoke is followed by Paku-san's My Neighbors the Yamadas.  Are these two movies not polar opposites of one another?  Could Yamadas be seen as a rebuke, a counterpoint to the sweeping blockbuster epic?  Even the taglines are competing: "Ikiro!" says Miyazaki.  "Don't Overdo It!" responds Takahata.  You can see the friendship and, yes, the rivalry in those lines, and soon time will tell who has fell, and who's been left behind.

Ghibli's Blockbuster Era is a fascinating topic for discussion, and it's one that deserves to be examined because it brings us right to the crossroads we are facing today.  Hayao Miyazaki is almost certainly entering his final decade as a filmmaker, and given the length of time needed to plan, prepare, and produce feature films, he only has enough time for one or two more.  This is why we are hearing so much talk about his moving to short films for the Ghibli Museum, while the younger generation at Ghibli prepares to take the reins.  This could also be the reason why Toshio Suzuki talks about opening the museum shorts to the world, via Youtube or digital distribution or even Blu-Ray.

And meanwhile, we sit in hopeful anticipation for Takahata to finally return for one last movie, one more work of genius.  If only there were still room for another Gauche the Cellist, another Omohide Poro Poro, another Grave of the Fireflies.  Those are not movies that can earn 10 Billion Yen at the box office, and this is an age where 10 Billion is the bare minimum for success.

So, as always, success is fleeting, danger lurks behind every corner, and each new movie could be the last.  It has always been thus for Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.  The story has now been told for 45 years.  The story will continue.

Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro Blu-Ray Coming to France in March


Excellent news for our Ghibli friends in France - Castle of Cagliostro is coming to Blu-Ray on March 16, 2011.  The film will be released as a BD-DVD combo and solo packages.  As usual, the French often get the goodies before the rest of us, so once again, we're a little jealous.  We Americans are still relying on that ancient Cagliostro DVD that Manga Entertainment released a decade ago (we'll just forget that 2006 reissue, thank you very much).

This is excellent news for Ghibli Freaks everywhere because it shows us what future home video releases are in store.  I would certainly hope that Cagliostro BD will be released in Australia, the UK, and the USA.  Indeed, we should be sending emails and phone calls to our respective companies and show some support.  I want this movie on Blu-Ray, Manga!  Make it happen!

2011-01-20

Rocky & Bullwinkle - Free at IMDb


Yay!  Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons at IMDb!  And they're free, too!  Thanks to whoever uploaded these to Hulu.  Now if we can get these cartoons back on free broadcast tv, we'd really be making progress.  Free cartoons are a basic human right, dagnabbit!

Castle in the Sky Blu-Ray Has Arrived!


Huzzah!  My copy of Studio Ghibli's newly-released Castle in the Sky Blu-Ray arrived in the mail yesterday.  I ordered from Amazon.jp, which not only had the lowest prices, but the fastest delivery times.  My package arrived in just three days...nice!

This is a sterling package.  The cover design is made of thick, durable cardboard, and folds open in the middle.  It resembles a book instead of a plastic DVD case, and I am greatly impressed.  Small magnets are hidden inside, and this enables the cover to "snap" shut with ease.  The disc is held tightly by a front panel, which is now slightly larger than the panel for the Nausicaa Blu-Ray (there were complaints about discs falling out).

The cover is sleek, bold in its sunset reddish tone, with minimal graphics and no clutter anywhere.  All the technial (cough, legal) fine print is contained on the back of the plastic bag that comes wrapped around the case, which is a very savvy move.  I can't say enough good things about this design.  It's economical, it's stylized, it's cool.  The cardboard is quick thick and sturdy, and it is designed to last on your library shelf for years.  I'm highly enthusiastic about Ghibli's choice of packaging; I just want to carry this thing around and show people just how cool a Blu-Ray box can look.  This is what the movie industry should be using, not that hideous plastic.

A small booklet is contained inside, and includes notes from Hayao Miyazaki and one of the film's producers, copies of the movie posters, and a description of the extras on the disc.  To my surprise, there really aren't any new extras on this BD.  It's the exact same material from the Japanese DVD; of these, the half-hour behind-the-scenes promo video is the best.  A younger Miyazaki, clean-shaven and with jet black hair, looks so serious, do intense in his work.  Isao Takahata appears ageless.  Either he's never grown old or he was old from the start; I can never tell which.  Of the Ghibli staff, Michiyo Yasuda, the master of color, is a joy to see, as she shows off the tools of the studio's Ink and Paint department.

If you're concerned about the lack of BD extras, keep in mind that the movie itself takes up over 40GB, a stunning 6K transfer that looks absolutely astonishing.  Digital compression, artifacts, edge enhancement: all have been banished forever.  Now we finally see the sterling, bold colors of Ghibli's flagship movie.  You'll want to sit with your nose next to the HDTV, just to soak in all the clear details and every brushstroke.

Consumers in Japan have been complaining loudly about the Ghibli BDs, that the packages are flimsy, that the picture quality is ruined by film grain.  Frankly, they're a bunch of damn crybabies.  They need to grow up.  The packaging is sterling, and unless your idea of a movie night involves throwing the cover around like a hacky sack, your disc will be safe.  And the film grain is never an issue.  I'll bet most Westerners won't even notice that it exists until someone informs them.  These movies were shot and displayed on 35mm film.  This is what film looks like.  My verdict: Castle in the Sky looks spectacular.  No need for concern.

Castle in the Sky and My Neighbors the Yamadas (which I haven't bought yet) were released in Japan in December, so I would expect them to remain region-exclusive for the next six to nine months.  I am confident these movies will be available in the West in time for Christmas, on the same schedule as Nausicaa.  But no official word has been made, and we probably won't hear anything until summer at the earliest.  Keep that in mind as you consider whether to pull out the debit cards and import these BDs.  Expensive, yes.  But you'll have bragging rights for a long time.


2011-01-19

Ice Cream For Crow, or How to Sell a Mononoke Salad to a Junk-Food Eating Public


Mononoke Hime was a landmark film, hurling Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli into blockbuster status in Japan and earning praise and acclaim around the world.  In the United States, anime was building from the ghetto of the fansub underground to a more mainstream acceptance.  Hollywood was honestly trying to understand this strange film genre, these complex, adult, contemporary movies that also happen to be animated.  And so the sensibilities started to shift, if only a little.  Warriors of the Wind was out; Akira was in.

No doubt Disney was counting on Miyazaki to create another My Neighbor Totoro, a gentle cartoon that could be easily sold to parents and small children.  Instead, they were surprised with the complex, brooding and violent Mononoke.  Fortunately, Miramax was a part of the Disney empire and would be the ideal channel for Ghibli's first great American premier.  And so we end up with these twin posters for Princess Mononoke.

You'll immediately notice the trappings of a major Hollywood production, with the celebrity actors whose names are heralded in bold type.  This was unprecedented for an anime film.  Up to this point, anime dubbing was considered an afterthought, something to be shuffled off during the coffee break without much effort.  The injustices of Warriors of the Wind were past, but progress was still painfully slow.  Anime still needed to be amended, sanitized, fixed.  The form was not yet fully respected in the eyes of American producers and executives.  It was really only Akira that forced this perspective to change at all; and even then, anime would continue to remain in the art-house ghetto.

Within this environment, Princess Mononoke was a great leap forward.  It was by no means perfect, and in many ways, the years have not been kind to many of the actors' line readings, or to Neil Gaiman's refurbished script.  They tried their best, yes, but they were still bound to old notions and old stereotypes:  Cartoons are only for kids. Japan only makes cheap junk.  People only watch movies for the special effects.

Disney and Miramax are stuck with a movie they cannot understand, and they struggle to find a way to sell it to a public notoriously hostile to foreign animation (they're still hostile in 2011).  How to convince Americans fed on John Ford westerns, video games, and Star Wars that Princess Mononoke is a movie worth seeing?  There is heroism and villainy, but no real heros or villains, certainly not in the simple, melodramatic sense.  There is no white hat versus black hat.  Mononoke is a meditation on the nature of violence, of man's desire for destruction, of the doomed relationship between man and his world.  Everyone suffers.  Everyone loses.  The movie does not end with a triumph over a foe, or even an understanding of some saccharine moral lesson.  Issues are debated, nothing is resolved - even moreso than in the Nausicaa film.  Instead, ikiro; "we must live."

Again, how do you sell that to the American moviegoing public?  It's almost impossible in live-action, to say nothing of animation.  In this country, Animation Is A Baby-Sitter, and to this day it remains trapped within the Chuck E. Cheese world of primary colors and formulaic, repressed simplicity.  This is the archetype of a culture in decline.

The story of these Princess Mononoke movie posters is the story of this struggle.  You can see that uncertainty in the first poster, especially.  What does it convey?  What does it reveal about the story?  Does the coin motiv have any meaning?  Who is this title character?  Instead of the Japanese tagline, "Ikiro," we see standard Hollywood cliche.  What does that tagline even mean, anyway?  What does that have to do with this picture?  Nothing...but it's a familiar refrain and so it makes people feel safe.  Americans are easily startled by the strange and the new, and comforted by endless repetition...repetition...repetition...

The second Mononoke poster is, to my eyes, a great improvement.  At least we have a little art direction at play, a little texture and color.  Note how the lead character is no longer San, the Mononoke Hime, but the boy Ashitaka.  Now the cheesy tagline makes a little more sense.  The pose promises action and excitement, a giant fortress, prisoners to be rescued.  And there's just enough room at the top for the obligatory critic's quote that name-drops Star Wars.  "The Star Wars of animated movies!"  Whatever that means.

The idea that a foreign movie should be treated honestly and respectfully, without any need to sanitize or censor or simplify, was an alien notion in the late '90s.  It remains so today.  But the movie business is, in the end, a business.  It's easy to point to the producers and script writers and executives for dumbing down the movies.  It's easy to critize junk food merchants. But it's much harder to look in the mirror and face the one who's endlessly consuming junk food.  Ice cream for snow?  No.  Ice cream for crow.

Blogger's Choice Awards 2011

My site was nominated for Best Pop Culture Blog!

The Blogger's Choice Awards 2011 is upon us, and The Ghibli Blog is nominated for Best Pop Culture Blog, Best Entertainment Blog, Best Hobby Blog, and Best Blog of All Time.  Okay, the blogs nominate themselves, so that doesn't really mean very much.  But it still sounds cool and I'm adding it to my resume.

Anyway, if you click on this icon, which is also on the right-hand column, you can cast your vote for Ghibli Blog for Best Pop Culture Blog.  Be sure to vote early and spread the word.  I have no idea what we would win, apart from bragging rights...but, hey, a win is a win.  Let's see what we can do.

Arrietty's Opening Weekend in France


Courtesy of Box Office Mojo, we have the box office returns for the week of January 12-16, which includes the opening weekend for Arrietty the Borrower.  Playing on 205 screens, Arrietty earned $1,406,549 and landed at fifth place on the charts.  Season of the Witch (blech), the week's top earner, made $2,749,309, so that should give you a general idea of the larger picture.
I'm not an expert on France's movie business, so I can't yet say where Arrietty stands or how long its run will last.  According to the records, Ponyo grossed $6,901,818 during its French run.  Animation has a very strong tradition in that country, and it is a stronghold for not only Studio Ghibli, but the entire Miyazaki-Takahata canon.  Takahata, for example, makes regular appearances there, and many of their films are given theatrical runs.

I would really like to hear what the Ghibli fans in France have to say.  What were your impressions of the movie?  Were the theaters packed?  Is there a lot of positive buzz?

New Featured Posts on Ghibli Blog

Good news, everyone! We have rotated in a new series of "Featured Posts" on Ghibli Blog in the middle column of the page.  My idea is to rotate popular essays, reviews and photo galleries every week, to keep the home page fresh, and to give new visitors a sample of the wealth of material available on the website.

I'm not sure what day exactly I should rotate in the new posts, either the beginning or ending of the week.  We'll just take it by ear and see how it goes.

Oh, and just for record, "we" really means "me," and "wealth" currently stands at $1.09.  Ahem.

2011-01-18

The Ghibli Blog Now on Facebook

The Ghibli Blog now has its own fan page on Facebook. Hopefully, this will help to build the community and bring in new fans. The RSS feed has been connected, so that everyone on Facebook can follow along the latest news and ramblings from here.

Please, help me out and give Ghibli Blog on Facebook fan page a "thumbs up," and share with your family and friends. Help spread the word!

Sellout With Me Tonight

Okay, I have now officially Sold Out - The Ghibli Blog has ads.  Google Blogads, specifically.  I may as well trade in all my Miles and Coltrane records for Vanilla Ice and Stryper.  Ah, well, I may actually make a couple pennies on this scheme.  And by that, I literally mean pennies.

Photos - Lupin III: Albatross: Wings of Death


I finally managed to see Albatross: Wings of Death in the original Japanese language tonight.  Huzzah!  I certainly don't wish to say anything bad about the American actors from the '90s Streamline videos, but Yasuo Yamada is the definitive Lupin, and the original cast is by far the best.  It's really fun to be able to watch this episode with all its zany comic timing fully intact.

I really do wish we could have had more comedy adventure anime from Miyazaki during this period.  If only he and Yasuo Otsuka could have helmed a few more Lupin TV episodes.  If only Sherlock Hound was seen to completion.  If only Cagliostro was the hit at the box office that it deserved to be.  This is the most important lesson Miyazaki fans in the West need to learn - you've only seen the second half of his career, and the first half is completely different.  This is the era of the boyish, comic book Miyazaki, the era of Animal Treasure Island and Lupin and Conan.  I miss his youthful days.

Albatross: Wings of Death is also packed with Miyazaki riffs.  There are a number of nods to Cagliostro, and shots that will be quoted in future anime.  As always, half the fun lies in trying to spot them all.  This is where the true Ghibli Freaks are revealed.  I'll have to write a single post that covers all of this episode's riffs (that is, if my PC and TV aren't locked in a death race to see which breaks first).

Oh, and I also found a fansubbed torrent link for this episode.  It's been added to the Downloads section.  Now I just need to find Farewell, Beloved Lupin, and I'll be happy.  Bonjour!

2011-01-16

A Catbus Hat


Now this is cute: your very own Catbus hat.  You can buy them at CuteSense.com, which is affiliated with Ebay, for $17.99 apiece.  I could see this becoming a hit if it were available here in the States.  Until then, thank goodness for the internets.

Buy the Catbus Hat here.

2011-01-15

Poster - Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Sherlock Hound


Here is another addition to our gallery of Nausicaa movie posters from Japan. This poster shows us not only the feature, but the opening short - which just so happens to be two episodes of the (then) never-aired Meitantai Holmes, or Sherlock Hound as it's known in the West.

For Sherlock Hound, this was the first time Japanese audiences were able to see any episodes of the show. Perhaps the success of Nausicaa in theaters is what led to the series being revived and put back into production. However, by the time Sherlock Hound mkII aired on television, all of the principal players had since moved on, with Miyazaki, to Studio Ghibli. And the people left running the series had nowhere near the skill nor talent.

It's really striking to see the difference in quality between the six original Miyazaki-directed Sherlock Holmes episodes with the MkII version. The original Telecom series, after all, had such supreme talent as Kazuhide Tomanaga and Yoshifumi Kondo and Nobuo Tomizawa and Kyoto Tanaka...the same group responsible for the spectacular 1984 Nemo pilot. Oh, and good 'ol Yasuo Otsuka makes a cameo for one thrilling chase scene involving a giant locomotive car. I always love how these episodes would find some excuse to stage a car chase.

The Nausicaa half of this movie poster is a reworking of an earlier Nausucaa poster that we looked at before. It's an iconic image that means more to the readers of the manga series, which was still very much ongoing in 1984. Roughly one-quarter of the complete saga was written by the time Miyazaki created his film adaptation, and, as we all know, the manga took many radical shifts over the later years, exploring the deeper themes of the story and fleshing out Nausicaa's world in far greater detail.

I'm sure there are many fans who would love to see the complete Nausicaa manga turned into an anime, but it's far too long and far too complex. It is, as the old phrase goes, the "un-filmable story." Hayao Miyazaki famously avoids sequels. That said, he poured many of the complex themes of Nausicaa into Princess Mononoke, which also happened to be his first directorial feature after finally ending the manga. Truly, Mononoke can be seen as the third part of a thematic trilogy, after Nausicaa the movie and Nausicaa the graphic novel.

Why mess with perfection, I ask? Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind is just about the greatest anime film ever made, especially for purveyors of "cool" anime. And the Nausicaa novel is Hayao Miyazaki's crowning masterpiece. Any attempts to tinker with the formula will only lead to chaos and ruin. Look to Meitantei Holmes. Look to Sherlock Hound. Let's hope and pray that Michael Bay never gets wind of that manga.

Photos - Warriors of the Wind


When Hayao Miyazaki travels to the United States, do you think he goes to the New World Cinema building and throws rocks at the windows?

Ah, Warriors of the Wind, the most notorious anime hack job in history. The first words you see when you play the videotape are "Mansion International Presents." Manson...that makes sense. The worst part is knowing that this crude cut-up would keep the real Nausicaa away from American shores for 20 years. Twenty Freakin' Years. At least the lousy dub is good for a few laughs.

Let's also take a look at how 1985 Warriors of the Wind VHS compares to the 2010 Nausicaa Blu-Ray. Woooww. Ah, the miracle that was VHS. For some reason, videotapes looked a heck of a lot better in the '80s. Back then, this was a really big deal. Now, the pictures are so blurry you can barely make out anything. Ah, well, such is the fate of all consumer electronics technologies.

2011-01-14

Polish Anime Movie Posters - Animal Treasure Island, Puss in Boots 3


In an age where Photoshop and marketing departments have drained all the fun out of movie posters, there is still Poland.  This nation has produced some of the most ingeniously inventive designs anywhere in the world.  If you're the sort who enjoys collecting vintage movie posters, then you need at least a couple Polish designs on your wall.

A number of Toei Doga films have been given the Polish treatment.  The first photo shows the poster for Animal Treasure Island, one of my all-time favorites.  I love that movie to death, and it's always within reach if I want to impress someone with classic Miyazaki (and friends) anime.  This design is pretty abstract, definitely "inside baseball."  If you didn't know what movie this was for, you'd probably miss it completely...score one for the dedicated fans.

The second photograph is the poster for Toei's Puss in Boots 3 (Around the World in 80 Days) from 1976.  I'm not a fan of the third movie; in fact, I think it's just dreadful.  But I am a huge fan of the original 1969 Puss in Boots, so I would be happy to have this poster among my collection.  I really dig this psychedelic, Peter Max-inspired watercolor design.  This reminds me of a lot of the trippy cartoons that played on Sesame Street way back in the '70s.  Animation was seriously trippy back in the '70s, wasn't it?

Would you like to buy these Polish anime movie posters?  PolishPoster.com has them for sale.  The Animal Treasure Island poster sells for $36.12 and is available here.  The Puss in Boots 3 poster sells for (ouch) $82.56 and is available here.  Let's hope they'll have enough inventory to go around.

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