Artist Spotlight: Mononoke Hime by Michael Tunk

Mononoke Hime by Michael Tunk

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

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

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

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

Film School Rejects Ranks the Studio Ghibli Movies

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

Here are their rankings in numerical order:

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

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

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

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


Photos: Laputa: Castle in the Sky

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

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

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

Animal Treasure Island: International Pirate Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Artist Spotlight: Spirited Away by Holly C Brown

Spirited Away

Today's artist spotlight is a terrific Spirited Away illustration, drawn in the style of woodcut carvings. We find highlights from many of our favorite scenes and characters from the movie.

This is very fresh and inventive. I enjoy the comic book designs and the flow of the motions on the page. I'd like to see more of the Studio Ghibli films included as part of a series.

You can find more artwork on the artist's website.

Future Boy Conan in 1990 Animage Article

Here's another excellent find from the archives: an extensive eight-page Future Boy Conan article from Animage magazine's July 1990 issue. Hayao Miyazaki drew the cover illustration and delivered a short interview.

This is a terrific article, filled with color and b/w artwork from the series. A short overview of Miyazaki's career is included at the start. By 1990, he is already a familiar name among anime fans, thanks to Studio Ghibli's hit movies. Conan, however, was not a ratings hit when it aired in 1978, and maintained cult status. Much like Horus, Prince of the Sun, its stature would grow over time.

The remaining five pages appear below the break. Note the photo of a pre-beard Miyazaki; he would have been 49 years old at the time of this article, already a veteran of three decades, yet his greatest successes still lie ahead.

1995 Animage Interview with Hayao Miyazaki and Yoshifumi Kondo

In their September 1995 issue, Japan's Animage magazine featured an article on Studio Ghibli's then-newest picture, Mimi wo Sumaseba (Whisper of the Heart), which was released to theaters the previous July. Two lengthy interviews with director Yoshifumi Kondo and producer (and screenwriter) Hayao Miyazaki follow.

As we all are aware, Animage was published by Tokuma Shoten, who were also the financiers of Studio Ghibli in those days. The magazine was always present to provide free coverage of all things Ghibli, and build hype for their animated feature films. You don't really read these articles and reviews for any serious movie criticism, but to enjoy the inside coverage of your favorite movies. It's not unlike Nintendo Power in that regard.

If there are any translators who would like to transcribe these interviews, feel free to go ahead. Any help is greatly appreciated.

Thanks to Anim'Archive for the vintage magazine scans.


Animage Article on Horus, Prince of the Sun

In July of 1978, Animage magazine published an article celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Great Adventures of Horus, Prince of the Sun. The film had achieved cult legend status by that time, as the careers of Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki and the legendary Toei Doga crew unleashed a decade's worth of anime classics of film and television.

This article features a number of production drawings, several published books you can still find online with a little effort. One item of interest are the official lobby cards on the second and third pages. Most of these are today found scattered around the internet, and Toei has provided a number of illustrations for use in various home video releases. We have never seen the complete set, however.

Toei really ought to release a complete set of Horus lobby cards. We could either sell them separately or as part of a deluxe Blu-Ray package. I remain confident that with enough brand building, Horus could build an audience. It's a fantastic movie with great characters and a rich universe worth exploring.

Thanks to Anim'Archive for these magazine scans.

Photos: Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea

I haven't posted anything about Ponyo in a very long time, so we're long overdue to revisit this great movie. I absolutely loved this movie when it was released in American theaters, saw it three times and had a blast each and every time. It's a wonderfully lush and loving tribute to hand-drawn animation, a defiant middle finger to the age of computer-graphics animation. Every frame bursts with color and wonder, like a great children's book brought to life.

This is probably my favorite Hayao Miyazaki movie post-Spirited Away, and it's probably the most visually dazzling and inspiring. Ponyo is an artist's movie, an animator's movie. It celebrates the craft itself. You can practically smell the pencils and watercolor paints.

When you think about how much money mainstream dreck like The Emoji Movie or The Angry Birds Movie earns at the box office, and then reflect on the fact that Ponyo barely struggled to make $15 million, even with the full backing of the Disney empire...ugh. The mind reels.

Once again, to quote John Lennon: "War is over...if you want it." Stop wasting good money on cartoon poop emojis. Spend that money on Ponyo.

Artist Spotlight: Kiki and Ursula by Madi Hodges

Today's artist spotlight is an amazingly talented artist and animator at Wild Canary Animation named Madi Hodges. I really love the bold colors in the trees and the cabin. Kiki and Ursula are both cheerful with their bird friends, and brushwork shows a great variety throughout the frame. You can tell an animation professional created this piece. Terrific!

You can follow Madi Hodges' Pinterest page for more examples of her excellent work. Ask her to create more Ghibli paintings!

Jarinko Chie 1981 Magazine Scans

Here is a terrific find: a highly detailed Japanese magazine article on Isao Takahata's then-new movie, Jarinko Chie. This comes from the May, 1981 issue of My Anime magazine. We have some excellent layouts (you have no idea how difficult that was to achieve before desktop computers were invented), a quick rundown of the main characters, and a brief interview with director Takahata and his animation director, the ever-reliable Yasuo Otsuka (Yoichi Kotabe was also brought on board as co-animation director, creating Chie and her mother).

One special note of interest is the voice cast, who were members of a famous comedy troupe, much like Second City, SCTV or SNL. All of the dialog was recorded before animation began, which is a rare thing in Japanese animation, but something that Takahata has often employed. Most anime films dub the dialog after animation has been completed, and this has always been a curiosity to American animators.

Jainko Chie is a really fantastic movie, full of slapstick comedy and depictions of daily life in Kobe, Japan. Compared to Paku-san's other films, it is probably closest to My Neighbors the Yamada, but perhaps with a touch more of a Simpsons style. Chie's father always reminds me of Homer Simpson. It really needs to be released here in the West, and please don't use those lame titles "Chie the Brat" or "Downtown Story." Just stick with the original title, okay?

Anyone out there who is fluent in Japanese is welcome to help translate this article. Much thanks to Anim'Archive for providing the magazine scans.

Isao Takahata Talks to Variety

In February of 2016, Variety sat down to speak with Isao Takahata to discuss his long, illustrious career, and his thoughts on animation. Naturally, this is the sort of discussion that could become enormously long and detailed, but the interview was kept fairly brief.

One interesting note that was news to me: the surviving staff members of Horus, Prince of the Sun met together for a celebration in 2015, marking the film's 38th anniversary. As everybody knows from watching the Blu-Ray (hint, hint), the movie had a very turbulent production that lasted nearly three years and was pulled from Japanese theaters after less than two weeks, yet in time grew in stature, and today is widely regarded as a groundbreaking classic. It was nice to have the old production team back together again. I wonder if there are any photos or videos from this event?

The interview discusses advances in computer technology and Paku-san's evolving visual style, which first emerged in Omohide Poro Poro and continued to My Neighbors the Yamada and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.

Your acclaimed film, “Omohide Poro Poro,” was released in Japan in 1991, but it’s only just now coming to English-speaking audiences in the U.S. as “Only Yesterday.” How do you think your style changed since the film first came out?

If I understand correctly what you mean by style, the pictorial style in my works has gone through many changes. I consider myself to have taken advantage of the fact that I cannot draw. For many years I have wanted to improve on the simplistic flat-plane image of cel animation. But I didn’t want to solve this by going into the 3D-CG method of three-dimensionality and substantiality. I wanted to solve this by a method of “reduction” of not drawing everything on the screen, in order to stimulate people’s imagination and raise the level of artistry. My assertion was that this method is what can and should be applied in Japan, following on our long painting tradition from the 12th century Scrolls of Frolicking Animals, ink paintings, and ukiyo-e woodblock prints all the way to manga. This was realized later in “My Neighbors the Yamadas” (1999) and “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” (2013), but actually, I had taken to putting this into practice somewhat by leaving areas of the frames blank in the recollection scenes in Only Yesterday.

Read the rest of the interview. Now if we could only find producers out there who are willing (and patient enough) to finance one more Takahata film. Any takers out there? Bueller?


Warriors of the Wind: Tales From the Overlook Hotel

Since we're talking about Nausicaa today, I thought it would be a good time to pull out everybody's favorite chestnut of cartoon cheese: Warriors of the Wind. This is the 1985 US release of Hayao Miyazaki's classic movie, famously butchered and chopped into little pieces, like murder victims at the Overlook Hotel. It was despised by its creators, hated by anime aficionados, and widely derided for decades to come. Yet, despite all of this, it did build a small cult following of fans who would one day grow up to become diehard Ghibli Freaks.

Warriors of the Wind isn't merely a bad Nausicaa dub with a few edits. Almost one quarter of the movie was removed, including crucial story elements and plot points. Characters names were badly changed ("Princess Sandra"). The title of the movie was completely changed. Most famously, the movie poster featured a roster of heroes from various sci-fi and fantasy movies, none of whom actually appear in the movie. The poor heroine is stuck in the background, wearing a Star Trek miniskirt and looking very confused.

How could such a thing happen? It's important to understand just how different the movie landscape all those years ago. In 1985, Japanese animation was widely disrespected in the US, relegated to the status of, ugh, "Saturday Morning Cartoons." They were regarded as vastly inferior to the classic animated features of Walt Disney "Japanimation" was looked down upon as junk, at a time when "Made in Japan" was still a punchline.

In those days, our exposure to anime was extremely limited. Astro Boy, Speed Racer, Star Blazers. We had access to a small handful of TV cartoon shows that were very strange and very different, more like comic books than the Bugs Bunny and Hanna-Barbara cartoons that filled our screens. Most kids shrugged and changed the channel. A few lucky ones would sit down and watch and become fans. Most parents couldn't be bothered, unless they somehow stumbled onto the violent anime features, at which time they completely freaked out.

In this environment, with this understanding, it makes a good deal of sense why New World Pictures, the US distributor, would take an axe to the Nausicaa film. There was no constituency for the title, no mainstream audience, no homegrown anime community to draw upon. The only market for animation were small children who wanted to see Saturday cartoons on the big screen, and their parents who couldn't understand why they just couldn't be happy watching Road Runner at home for free.

Who else would want to see a movie such as this? What about the sci-fi and fantasy fans? They skew a little bit older, usually teenagers or early college students. Maybe they'll show up if we convince them this movie fits into their scene. And so we'll add characters from Dune and Clash of the Titans and maybe some robots with lightsabers. Who cares? They'll likely just be stoned, anyway. Just hurry up and take their money before they sober up.

It's funny how nobody cops to being involved in this movie project. June Foray was rumored to have played the lead, Princess Zandra (ugh), but she flatly denied it when asked. There's another character who sounds just like Bullwinkle. Another character sounds like one of the Ninja Turtles. It was probably one of those jobs where you walk into the booth and record everything on the first take during lunch break. "Hey, hey, this is talking Krusty." That sort of thing.

It's 1985. What did you think would happen? It would be several years before Akira would be unleashed on the Americans, marking the first real sea change in how "Japanimation" was accepted. It would take many more years of hard work and struggle to achieve any kind of acceptance. Even today, anime remains very much a niche genre. The Studio Ghibli movies have only barely registered on US movie screens -- Hayao Miyazaki's last movie, The Wind Rises, barely earned five million dollars, and the man has won two Academy Awards.

Thankfully, anime is given enough respect today that an atrocity like Warriors of the Wind would never happen again. But it's still a struggle for acceptance.

Have you ever seen the 1985 TV commercial for Warriors of the Wind? Here it is...brace yourselves:

Studio Ghibli Fest 2017: Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind in September

GKIDS' Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 continues its series of theatrical screenings of select Ghibli movies with Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind on September 24, 25 and 27.

The movie will be shown in both "dubbed" (September 24, 27) and "subtitled" (September 25) versions. Tickets are still available, so be sure to pick up yours before they sell out.

In addition, if you provide your Ghibli Fest ticket stub to any Hot Topic, you will receive a 10 percent discount on any purchase. They are building up a very impressive collection of Ghibli swag, so be sure to pay them a visit after the show.

Visit the official website to see if Nausicaa is playing in your local theater.

Artist Spotlight: Howl by Shikon Kiara

Ghibli Blog Artist Spotlight: Howl's Moving Castle

Today's artist spotlight features a wonderfully colorful and expressionist painting of Howl, the romantic lead in Hayao Miyazaki's 2004 movie Howl's Moving Castle. Very dynamic with skillful use of color, employing just enough negative space to allow the painting to breathe. Howl's pose is interesting; either he is falling from above, or trying to break free from the confines of his canvas.

Kudos to artist Shikon Kiara for this illustration, which was discovered on Fanpop and Pinterest. I could not find an artist's site, however. Hopefully, there are more illustrations by this artist to share with the world.