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2019-12-10

Artist Spotlight: Gio Gio Art



I found this terrific illustration of San the Princess Mononoke at the Reddit Ghibli thread. It was created by a person named "Gio Gio Art," who also has an Instagram account at "Giorgio.rt."

This piece has a great sense of tension in its pose, a sense of action and motion. I think it defines the character very well, who is defined by action and assertiveness. San is not a "cutesy" anime character but a tough gal who will whomp you six ways from Sunday.

I also enjoy the color palette with its light brown fur and ample use of empty space. The red tones on the mask are especially nice as well, as are the blood splatters. All in all, great work.

3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (Marco): The Series Playlist




I present to you 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (aka "Marco") in its entirety. This 52-episode series was the 1976 season of World Masterpiece Theater, and the second in Isao Takahata's celebrated Heidi-Marco-Anne trilogy of masterworks.

This video contains the playlist for all 52 episodes, presented in Japanese audio with English subtitles.

Now a few quick notes about its creators. This series was a teamwork collaboration between Takahata (director), Hayao Miyazaki (layout, scene design) and Yoichi Kotabe (character design). It is the direct followup to Heidi, Girl of the Alps, which became a groundbreaking success in Japan and throughout the world. The trio had begun at Toei Doga and continued as a team for a number of years, first teaming with alum Yasuo Otsuka on Moomin and Lupin the 3rd, then working tirelessly on the Pippi Longstocking project that was notoriously scuttled by author Astrid Lindgren, then finally to Heidi.

Heidi succeeded because the trio of Takahata-Miyazaki-Kotabe worked together as a team, contributing story ideas and characters together. With the Marco series, however, Takahata took a more firm control over the story, pushing relentlessly in the direction of emotionally-charged melodrama. Its scale became epic, spanning two continents, an ocean and a widely varied cast of characters, and all stylized after the Italian Neo-realists. Flights of fancy or imagination are almost nonexistent. Marco's journey is not driven by wonder or discovery, but obsession, suffering and pain. Imagine the Book of Job starring James Dean and you'll have some idea of what to expect.

It would seem that Marco's obsession reflected Takahata's, and is it said that his relationship with Miyazaki and Kotabe suffered as a result. By the end of the series, Kotabe walked away, effectively breaking up the band that had stuck together throughout the decade. He would return five years later to work with Paku-san again in the 1981 movie Jarinko Chie, and later with Miyazaki in Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, but his animation career began to decline. In the mid-1980s, he found himself working at the most unlikeliest of places: Nintendo. There, he would help with art and character design for many of the company's most beloved videogames, including Super Mario Kart and Pokemon. Remember Pikachu? That's Kotabe.

Hayao Miyazaki would finally begin his solo directing career (not counting the 1972 Yuki's Sun pilot film) with the spectacular 1978 series Future Boy Conan. Yasuo Otsuka, who served as the animation director, famously noted how his friend's relentless creative drive and work ethic had exploded during his time as Paku-san's right hand. And while Miyazaki did return one final time to serve as layout/scene designer for Anne of Green Gables in 1979, he left the series after 13 episodes to join TMS's Telecom studio to direct his first feature-length movie, Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro, once again with old friend Otsuka by his side.

The next time Takahata and Miyazaki worked together was on the infamous Nemo movie project, traveling to California as members of the Japan delegation. Both walked away over creative differences, and while Takahata continued to thrive with the wonderfully sublime 1982 film Gauche the Cellist and the 1982-83 TV version of Jarinko Chie, his colleague struggled after several years of commercial and creative failures.

Miyazaki retreated to his first love, drawing manga comics, creating a serial comic for Animage Magazine called Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind in 1983. After a long period of begging and pleading by the magazine's young editor, Toshio Suzuki, Miyazaki was convinced to direct a film adaptation of Nausicaa which was released to great success in 1984. Its success led directly to the founding of Nibariki, Miyazaki's production company, and, of course, Studio Ghibli, which found its first commercial success in 1989 with Kiki's Delivery Service*. The rest, as they say, is history.

Takahata, as I've said, continued to enjoy success as a director, and he was the top dog at the time. He helped Miyazaki by guest-directing two episodes of Conan, and brought along young animator Yoshifumi Kondo as the animation director/character designer for Anne of Green Gables. Kondo had previously worked on Lupin Series One and he quickly became Paku-san's new prized student, the right-hand-man for the famous "director who cannot draw" in Grave of the Fireflies, Omohide Poro Poro and Pom Poko. Kondo died in 1998 from a brain aneurism, leaving Takahata reportedly guilt-stricken over working his prodigy so hard**.

3000 Leagues in Search of Mother sits at a fascinating crossroads in these three careers. It represents the peaks of the post-Toei years, drives the evolution of 1970s anime and sets the stage for Studio Ghibli. It represents a beginning, middle and end of converging eras. And despite any creative turbulence behind the scenes, this series remains a masterpiece of dramatic storytelling and naturalist animation. In my opinion, it is the greatest of the Heidi-Marco-Anne trilogy, the richest and deepest and most compelling, filled with mythic grandeur.

Watch this series. Just put down whatever is on your Netflix playlist and watch this instead.

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(*Note: That's correct, the first three Ghibli features -- Laputa: Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies -- all lost money in their initial theatrical runs. Their success, especially Totoro, would come years later with home video and merchandising.)

(**Note: This story came from a rather strange rant last year by Toshio Suzuki, who accused the late Takahata of being a tyrant who drove away talent and led Ghibli to ruin. It's very odd as this portrayal of the director as a hotheaded control freak is greatly at odds with his image as the epitome of zen cool ("walking logic" in Mamoru Oshii's words) and more descriptive of Miyazaki.)

2019-12-06

Artist Spotlight: Iggy Starpup

Studio Ghibli felt embroideries



Phoenix-based artist and illustrator Courtney Doom, aka Iggy Starpup, has created a series of lovingly crafted Studio Ghibli felt embroideries. According to her bio profile, she crafts pop culture-themed embroidery hoop art and subjects also include Harry Potter and Pokemon.

Iggy Starpup is an arts graduate of Arizona State University and enjoys crafting, drawing, photography and film. You can purchase her work directly from her Etsy page.

More photos of her Studio Ghibli craft works are available below the jump.

(h/t to the excellent Ghibli Collector)

Poster: My Neighbor Totoro (China)



This charming and artistic poster design for My Neighbor Totoro was created for the film's theatrical release in China on December 2018. It marked Studio Ghibli's long-awaited foray into mainland China and has already been followed by Spirited Away in June of this year. Four more Ghibli features are planned for release as well: Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle and The Wind Rises.

I enjoy the spaciousness of this poster design, very much in a classical Asian style of utilizing negative space. You can almost feel the fur of the giant Totoro as the two girls wade through, like walking through boundless fields of grass. The text simply describes the title, Hayao Miyazaki's name and the voice cast. No need for any tag line or description as this is a well-known children's classic.

Chinese movie lovers, of course, have long been able to watch My Neighbor Totoro on home video formats, to say nothing of pirated bootlegs. But this theatrical release was a first and marks a new development in the growth of Ghibli across the globe. Whatever becomes of the studio, its catalog titles are guaranteed a long and bright future.


Hakujaden Blu-Ray Box Released in Japan



This is great news for all animation lovers. Toei Doga's seminal 1958 animated feature Hakujaden is now available in Japan on Blu-Ray. This wonderful box set includes a treasure trove of memorabilia, including a copy of the poster, illustrations, newspaper clippings and a color booklet.

Hakujaden is Japan's first feature-length animated movie, as well as the first animated movie in color. The story is based on a Chinese folk myth of a magical serpent who transforms into a young woman and falls in love with a young man. She is pursued by a monk, and a pair of cartoon animals tag along for the adventure. The key animation was drawn entirely by the studio's founding veterans, Yasuji Mori and Akira Daikubara, and young animators who began their careers here include Yasuo Otsuka, Reiko Okuyama and Akemi Ota, as well as visionary anime director Rintaro, who I absolutely adore for his masterful 2001 Metropolis that he created with Katsuhiro Otomo.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that English subtitles are included in this release, which is extremely fortunate for those of you who have not seen it. A fansub translation was released a decade ago, but it has completely disappeared since then as the related anime sites have disbanded or shut down. It would have helped greatly if Toei would include subtitles in their home video releases, now that their legendary movies are (finally) arriving on Blu-Ray.

The Hakujaden Blu-Ray is available on Amazon JP for 10,258 Yen, or roughly $94USD. Be sure to spend a few minutes begging your favorite anime publisher to pick up this title for a Western release. Hey, GKIDS, is anybody listening? Discotek? Anybody? Bueller?

Hayao Miyazaki's Next Feature Film Is Still 2-3 Years Away



This is an old news post, but bears repeating as there has been very few updates in the past year. As we all know, Hayao Miyazaki returned from his "retirement" to create one more animated feature with Studio Ghibli. Titled "How Do You Live," this movie is based on a 1937 novel by Genzaburo Yoshino.

While originally planned for a theatrical release in time for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, the extremely slow production schedule has pushed back that date to 2021 or even 2022. As always, Miyazaki is drawing the storyboards himself, and animation is reportedly progressing at the pace of one minute per month (I'm still trying to find the source on that).

The pace of this production is far slower than in the past, owing greatly to Miyazaki's age (now 78) and reduced work schedule. Studio Ghibli has also had to completely hire a new staff of artists and animators, since the disbanded its animation teams in the wake of Miyazaki's retirement. Many of the biggest names such as Kazuo Oga, Yoshiyuki Momose and Katsuya Kondo have moved on to other projects and studios, most notably Studio Kajino.

For these reasons, we should not expect to see the new movie for another two or three years. Progress is being made slowly but consistently. The greatest challenge, of course, is time, as last year's passing of Isao Takahata makes all too clear. Let us hope and pray that Miyazaki-san will stay in good health long enough to complete this final work.

Western Ghibli fans should also be aware that Miyazaki's new movie will not be a fantasy in the style of My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away or Ponyo, but will be a "realistic" story similar in style to The Wind Rises. Don't let the Harry Potter-ish illustration above fool you. In any event, expect one last brilliant masterwork from the sensei.

2019-11-19

Poster: Gulliver's Space Travels




Here are two movie posters for the 1963 Toei Doga animated feature film Gulliver's Space Travels. Specifically, these belong to the US version, dubbed Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon. This is a terrific movie that's full of spark and adventure and color, a nice change from the usual Toei fare of Eastern myths and fairy tales. It has a very distinct Western flair in its visual design and story that helps set it apart from just about anything at the time.

Hayao Miyazaki fans know about this movie, of course. It was his second feature film as an in-between animator, and he famously drew attention by suggesting a vital change to the movie's ending, one that was embraced by the director and production team. The scene in question was later riffed in My Neighbor Totoro in one of those cool "blink and you'll miss it" moments.

The US version of Gulliver is very nice and benefits nicely from the source material. The voices are not too irritating and the songs are bearable. By anime dub standards, you could do a lot worse. These poster designs are also very nice, especially the second one which is washed in rich color tones and dynamic character poses.

It's very unfortunate that the Toei Doga classics are all but impossible to find today. A decade ago, a few dedicated fans created English fansubs for nearly all of their anime feature films, but the websites are gone and its creators vanished. Today, you might be able to track down the Japanese DVDs that were released around the turn of the century, but you'll have to live without subtitles. Hopefully, that situation will change one day.

P.S. Here's a great surprise: Gulliver's Space Travels is available on YouTube, in the original Japanese audio and English subtitles. Check this out before it gets pulled down.


2019-11-17

Photos: Anne of Green Gables

Photos: Anne of Green Gables

Photos: Anne of Green Gables

Photos: Anne of Green Gables

Photos: Anne of Green Gables


Some screenshots from the latter episodes of Isao Takahata's 1979 Anne of Green Gables. A fascinating bit of trivia: the house in this series is modeled after the "official" Green Gables house in Canada. Takahata and his team visited the location for their research (Paku-san was a pioneer in location research in anime). A 2004 NHK TV documentary showed the director returning to pay his respects as well as meet with the legendary animator Frederic Back.

Again, watch this series by any means necessary. It's fantastic and if you've ever enjoyed the Studio Ghibli movies, you'll be head over heels for this one.

Heidi, Girl of the Alps English Fansub Translation

Heidi, Girl of the Alps English Fansub Translation


Heidi, Girl of the Alps is the landmark 1974 anime television series created by Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe. It was a tremendous success in Japan and helped to spawn an entire genre of literary-based cartoon dramas, sparking the World Masterpiece Theater to prominence for years and inspiring generations. Outside of Japan, Heidi also became a beloved childhood favorite, as the series was exported to nearly every corner of the globe.

That is, of course, every place on the globe except the United States. For reasons that remain unknown, Heidi was never brought to our shores, meaning that we missed out on what all the other kids were enjoying these past 45 years.

Thankfully, after many years of dedication and hard work, an English fan translation, or "fansub", was completed by Silver Zero Subs. Using the Japanese Blu-Ray box set as a video source, Heidi has never looked or sounded better, offering crisp picture displays that burst with color and detail. And finally being able to enjoy this series in English is a genuine thrill.

You can find a copy of the Heidi English fansub at the Silver Zero Subs download page. This series has also been posted onto YouTube, but we should probably expect the copyright robots to take those videos down, sooner or later.

As always, I would be thrilled to see Heidi given a commercial release here in the States. GKIDS would be my best choice, and their biggest challenge would be to find a television or streaming network to broadcast all 52 episodes. As we are now entering the next stage of the "streaming wars," perhaps this is the opportunity to strike. Oh, well, it likely won't ever happen, but it's good to dream.

In any case, download Heidi while you can and enjoy this all-time classic.

Anne of Green Gables: 2018 Fansub Translation

Anne of Green Gables: 2018 Fansub Translation


In December 2018, Silver Zero Subs finally completed their long English fansub translation of Anne of Green Gables, Isao Takahata's 1979 television production with World Masterpiece Theater.

Anne had been translated into English many years ago, but this new fansub takes advantage of the show's Blu-Ray box set that was released in Japan. The picture quality is a dramatic improvement over the ancient DVD (or possibly even VHS) source.

Obviously, we would love to see Anne and all the other WMT series commercially released on home video in the West, but given the enormous costs of licensing and producing an English-language soundtrack, such a move is highly unlikely if not impossible. These fan translations are always a labor of love, often taking years of dedication and hard work to see completion. They're certainly not doing this for the money, but love of anime and the need to preserve those works that disappear unfairly.

Personally, I think this is a magnificent series and the best adaptation of Anne ever seen. Takahata captures the spirit of Maud Montgomery's classic novel while skillfully filling out the characters and their world. The addition of new animation director Yoshifumi Kondo (replacing Yoichi Kotabe, who worked on Heidi and Marco) also adds a degree of natural realism to the story, thanks to his brilliant character designs. You can see why Kondo was so beloved at Studio Ghibli years later. Hayao Miyazaki also served as the sole layout designer, as he did with the two previous series, but he famously dropped out after episode 13 to direct his first feature film, The Castle of Cagliostro. Because of this, Anne feels much more like Paku-san's baby, especially when compared to the team effort on Heidi.

A fantastic series, overall, one that deserved to be seen and enjoyed by everyone. Expect the usual amount of humor, psychological realism and tear-jerking melodrama. This is Paku-san, after all.

You can find Anne of Green Gables at the Silver Zero Subs download page.

Photos: Omohide Poro Poro

Photos: Omohide Poro Poro (Only Yesterday)

Photos: Omohide Poro Poro (Only Yesterday)

Photos: Omohide Poro Poro (Only Yesterday)

Photos: Omohide Poro Poro (Only Yesterday)

Isao Takahata's 1991 Studio Ghibl masterwork Omohide Poro Poro remains my all-time favorite animated feature film. This is a movie that I have championed for many years and remains, for me, the gold standard for the untapped potential for dramatic, naturalist animation, one inspired by Ozu and Fellini and Bergman and Renoir.

Miraculously, this movie is now available on Blu-Ray format in the States, thanks to the efforts of GKIDS, the American film distributor that has become a champion for global animation.

These screenshots were taken from the Japanese DVD, which I purchased way back in 2005, along with a stack of other Ghibli films. This was at a time when hardly anybody knew these gems existed, and it felt like a true treasure, a true secret left untold. I feel much happier today that this secret can now be shared with everyone.

For me, the genius of Omohide Poro Poro is its ability to weave multiple narratives between past and present, detailing key events in the childhood of a quiet office worker who yearns for direction and purpose. It is a commentary on (then) contemporary Japan, whose "bubble economy" created in pursuit of Western materialism had burst, offering the opportunity to reconnect with a Japan of the past. It is a film about those post-war generations, raised on television and movies, versed in the language of American Pop, learning to rediscover the cultural language of their homeland.

2019-11-16

1984 Nemo Pilot: The Complete Riffs

Ghibli Blog - 1984 Nemo Pilot

Ghibli Blog - 1984 Nemo Pilot

Ghibli Blog - 1984 Nemo Pilot

Ghibli Blog - 1984 Nemo Pilot


The 1984 Nemo pilot film is a landmark of Japanese anime, a three-and-one-half minute short that dazzles with a mastery of character animation, action and set design. It was created at Tokyo Movie Shinsha's Telecom studio, created by Yoshifumi Kondo (director), Kazuhide Tomonaga (animation director, ekonte, key animation), Nobuo Tomizawa (key animation), Kyoto Tanaka (key animation) and Nizo Yamamoto (art direction). These very same people worked with Hayao Miyazaki on Lupin the 3rd, Future Boy Conan and Sherlock Hound, as well as the later Studio Ghibli movies.

Several "riffs," or quoted shots, appear in this Nemo pilot. Some aim back to previous films, while others are seen in later works. Here is a brief rundown of those riffs, as shown by the screenshots above:

1. Nemo hops onto his bed as it rises above the floor, passing a collection of toy airplanes on the right side of the frame. Miyazaki would later quote this shot in Porco Rosso, in the scene where Marco describes the sight of endless ghost planes floating in the clouds.

2. Nemo and an unnamed boy give chase through an Edwardian-era city street, startling a policeman below. This shot was directly taken from Sherlock Hound, which was created by the same animators in 1981.

3. After skidding underneath a bridge, Nemo's bed skips over the river several times. This sequence is taken from Animal Treasure Island, Toei Doga's 1971 feature film. It would also be used again in Porco Rosso in 1992.

4. Nemo gives chase through a series of winding curves through buildings. This shot and composition would later be riffed by My Neighbor Totoro, in the scene where Catbus races Mei and Satsuki to their mother, running through the woods.

Finally, we should also note that the completed Little Nemo animated feature recreates almost the entirety of the 1984 Nemo pilot in its opening sequence, and makes for an interesting contrast between the Japanese and American animators.

2019-09-08

AnimeLand Magazine 2014 Miyazaki Issue










These magazine scans are of the January/February 2014 issue of AnimeLand magazine, published in France. Hayao Miyazaki is the cover star of this issue, which devotes 15 pages to the animation legend and his films. In addition to Studio Ghibli, the magazine discusses his work in manga comics and his extensive pre-Ghibli works. Sherlock Hound (known simply as Sherlock Holmes in UK and France) is given an article all to itself, as well as four pages on The Wind Rises.

I really enjoyed looking through these pages. I don't read French very well, and what I do know probably just comes from watching Pepe Le Pew cartoons, but I think anybody can understand the thrust of the articles. The page layouts are very clean and the art assets are suitably colorful. I'm reminded a little of the excellent books Mi Vecino Miyazaki and Antes De Mi Vecino Miyazaki.

Kudos to the Ghibli fan who sent me a .pdf copy of these magazine scans.

2019-09-07

Photo of the Day: Shameless Clickbait Edition




In keeping with current trends, here is a poor, shameless attempt at clickbait instead of a long and thoughtful film essay. So here's a pair of nice fan art illustrations of Totoro dressed as Batman and The Joker.

(Fake Game Show Host Voice) Which one is your favorite?

(Seriously, though, I see that Ghibli Blog has generated over 4.9 million page views, which is very nice.)

What The Heck Have I Been Up To Lately?



I wrote and published a bunch of ebooks. You can check them out by visiting my DT MEDIA website.

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