Horus, Prince of the Sun on Blu-Ray

Here's a friendly reminder that Horus, Prince of the Sun is now available on Blu-Ray at all your favorite online retailers. This new edition features an all-new audio commentary track written and recorded by yours truly. All of the bonus features from the DVD are present, including revised (and copy-edited) notes for the "riffs" feature.

I haven't seen any attention given to the Horus BD yet, aside from a couple mentions on the Blu-Ray.com forums. I am looking forward to what all the reviewers have to say, especially those who complained about the DVD release. Well, your wishes have been granted. Here's the HD version in all its glory, packed with features and content. This is the best release of this groundbreaking anime movie anywhere in the world.

If you haven't yet done so, please pick up a copy and share your thoughts. You can also write a review on Amazon, which is always helpful. Arigatou!

Miyazaki's Next Feature Film Delayed Past 2019

Hayao Miyazaki's upcoming feature film, officially revealed on NHK's The Never-Ending Man, will no longer meet its original 2019 release date. This is according to Toshio Suzuki, who made the announcement at this weekend's Niconico Chokaigi 2017 convention in Japan. The film was planned to be released ahead of Japan's Summer Olympic Games in 2020, but this deadline may no longer be possible.

According to Suzki-san, Miyazaki-san has currently finished storyboards for the first 20 minutes of the movie project (title and details have yet to be revealed). This has caused some concerned among Western anime sites such as Anime News Network, but I assure everyone that this is fully in keeping with Miyazaki's directorial style. Unlike most animation directors, he does not wait until storyboards or script are finalized before beginning production. Instead, only the first of five acts, roughly 20-30 minutes, are completed once the machine starts running. From that point on, everything moves full speed, a desperate race to finish the story just ahead of the animators.

This is a habit born from the legendary TV productions of the 1970s like Heidi, Girl of the Alps, 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, Future Boy Conan, and Anne of Green Gables. The stories are being created during the productions themselves, lending a freewheeling, almost improvisational groove to Miyazaki's films. The sole exception was 1979's Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro, which was fully written and storyboarded before production began. In every other instance, the stories, and the endings, remain a mystery to everyone, including Miyazaki himself.

You will notice that Miyazaki's feature films often don't "end" as much as they "stop." The true climax will be several scenes earlier, such as Spirited Away's scene of Sen riding in the train, or Howl's Moving Castle's flashback scene where Sofie witnesses Howl's childhood. Sometimes, the endings can feel a bit abrupt. There's a great line at the end of Howl, where Suliman, watching the heroes, sarcastically quips, "What? A happy ending?!" It's always very funny, because that's what the audience is thinking, too (it also reminds you of Charlie Chaplin's original ending to The Gold Rush, which was similarly self-conscious of its movie conventions).

For now, I wouldn't worry about the status of Miyazaki's storyboards. The main pressures on the new Studio Ghibli production will be budget, staffing, and the stamina of the director himself, who turns 76 this year and will be nearly 80 when his movie is finished. The strain of hands-on working on The Wind Rises, personally approving or editing key animation drawings (a practice he retired from after Spirited Away, but was forced to revive under the pressure of staff shortages, as Isao Takahata's The Tale of the Princess Kagua was also in production).

With a normal two-year production cycle, Studio Ghibli could meet their orginal Summer 2019 release date. But with an aging Miyazaki at the helm, greater care will be needed. And that means more time.

In addition, the question of personnel is a major challenge for Ghibli. When the studio dismissed their longtime animation staff, they lost their best available talent. Many are now working at the nearby Studio Ponoc, working quietly on Hiromasa Yonebayashi's Mary and the Witch's Flower. The two studios maintain a very warm relationship, like a parent and fully-grown child. Would some of those animators return for one final Hayao Miyazaki movie? It's a welcoming idea. However, if this is not possible (Ponoc no doubt has future plans already in place), then staffing and talent will prove more challenging. And that means more time.

Finally, the issue of money. Financing is always the bane of filmmakers, even famous studios and directors. The ever-rising production costs of feature film animation, coupled with diminishing returns at the box office (as audiences reject hand-drawn in favor of computer animation), means that even Hayao Miyazaki must struggle to pay the bills. The Wind Rises earned a spectacular amount of money at the Japanese box office, yet still failed to turn a profit (Paku-San's Princess Kaguya only earned half its total budget). And that means more time.

Time...tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Hayao Miyazaki is 76 years old, and his tomorrows are drawing short. The question of whether he even lives to complete his latest project is no trivial matter. This issue may influence all others.

Hayao Miyazaki's Boro the Caterpillar Arrives in July

Hayao Miyazaki's latest short film, Boro the Caterpillar (Kemushi no Boro) will debut this July at the Ghibli Museum in Japan. The eagerly-awaited movie marks the celebrated director's return to animation after The Wind Rises and his much-publicized retirement from feature film directing. The news was announced by Ghibli co-founder Toshio Suzuki, spoke at the Niconico Chokaigi 2017 convention this Saturday.

Boro is also known to feature computer graphics animation, although what form this shall take remains a mystery. On The Never-Ending Man, NHK's recent documentary program, Miyazaki was shown creating his drawings the old fashioned way, with pencil and paper. A modern tablet was the only nod given to today's technology, which Miyazaki-san famously and stubbornly resists.

Many people are not aware that Studio Ghibli has long experimented with computer animation, albeit in a supporting role, while hand-drawn animation remained dominant. As CG animation has become the overwhelming favorite of moviegoers around the world, Japan remains a fierce holdout for the old artform. Any future evolution of anime will likely continue to combine pencils and computers in their wholly unique way.

So where does that leave Hayao Miyazaki? My own personal gut feeling -- and this really is nothing more than that -- is that Boro the Caterpillar will feature elements of both traditional and computer animation. Anyone expecting Studio Ghibli to suddenly morph into Pixar will likely be disappointed. Perhaps this will be closer to Yoshiyuki Momose's celebrated Capsule music videos, or the experimental styles of Ghiblies Episode 2? Or will this movie resemble Goro Miyazaki's Ronja the Robber's Daughter?

July approaches, and expectations are high. Anything could happen. Let us hope Boro marks the renaissance of Studio Ghibli, not its swan song.

Ocean Waves (Umi ga Kikoeru) Blu-Ray Arrives April 18

Ocean Waves (Umi ga Kikoeru) is scheduled to be released on Blu-Ray this April 18. The 1993 made-for-television movie, directed by Tomomi Mochizuki, is the final Studio Ghibli feature film to see a home video release in North America. This is also the first time this movie has been released on our shores in any format.

Interestingly enough, Universal Studios Home Entertainment has picked up the distribution, under license from GKIDS, and the film has been given a PG-13 rating. This is a bit excessive and overly cautious, in my opinion, but the important thing is that this movie will be available in its complete and uncut form at last.

In addition to the main film, a 40-minute documentary featuring the production staff reunion has been included. This bonus feature was originally included on the Japanese DVD and Blu-Ray discs, and it's terrific that we finally get the chance to have it here (with English subtitles, of course).

Best of all, Ghiblies Episode 2, the outstanding 2002 anthology short film directed by Yoshiyuki Momose (one of Studio Ghibli's great talents) will make its appearance as an added bonus. In Japan, this 30-minute short appeared as the opening slot of a double bill with The Cat Returns the Favor. I think it made more sense to put those two movies together on home video, but it's great to finally have Ghiblies in our collections.

Ocean Waves is presented in its original Japanese language with English subtitles. As expected, there is not enough audience in the US to support an English-language dub or wider theatrical release. I think the distributors are selling audiences short. Animation doesn't have to merely be "The Electric Babysitter," existing solely to pacify toddlers and sell cheap merchandise. More and better options are available. Oh, well, at least we have the home video release, which is no small shakes.

This is definitely a great movie that all Ghibli Freaks and animation fans should enjoy. This release is highly recommended.

Press Release: Horus, Prince of the Sun Blu-Ray (March 28, 2017)

Horus, Prince of the Sun Blu-Ray



Discotek Media announces the release of Blu-Ray, “Horus, Prince of the Sun.” (March 28, 2017, $29.95).

March 28, 2017 -- Horus, Prince of the Sun (Taiyou no Ouji Horusu no Daibouken), the directorial feature film debut of Isao Takahata (Academy Award Nominee, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya), tells a tale of adventure in an ancient world. Four parties are caught in a web of deceit and survival: the hero who seeks to connect with his roots, the heroine who is torn between light and darkness, the villagers who feel caught in the middle, and the ice devil who schemes to destroy them all.

Vivid, visceral and violent, yet charged with kinetic energy, Horus introduced many stylistic innovations and legendary action sequences, establishing a new paradigm of Japanese animation. Unsuccessful in its original 1968 theatrical run, this film is today recognized as a trailblazing milestone in the history of anime.

Horus marks the first major collaboration between Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki (two-time Academy Award winner), a famed partnership that would continue across five decades, from Toei Doga to Studio Ghibli.

Now available in the US in high definition Blu-Ray, Discotek is proud to present this groundbreaking anime feature by the creators of Lupin the 3rd, Grave of the Fireflies, and Spirited Away.

Directed by Isao Takahata. Animation Direction by Yasuo Otsuka. Scene Design by Hayao Miyazaki. Key Animation by Yasuji Mori, Reiko Okuyama, Yoichi Kotabe. Musical Direction by Michiyo Mamiya. Screenplay by Kazuo Fukazawa.


New and improved English subtitle translation.

[NEW] Audio commentary by Daniel Thomas MacInnes, recorded exclusively for Blu-Ray.

Audio commentary by noted anime scholar Mike Toole.

Every Poet a Thief: Inspirations From Horus, a gallery of influences and themes quoted in the films of Studio Ghibli.

Hilda and Horus: Just Like Twins, an essay on the film’s main characters and their interconnecting tales of trauma and revenge.

Reiko Okuyama: A Tribute to a Legend, an essay by anime scholar Benjamin Ettinger on pioneering feminist and artist and Reiko Okuyama.

Message of Hope: A Conversation With Isao Takahata, a 2010 interview with Isao Takahata by film critic and Studio Ghibli scholar Peter van der Lugt.

Two 2008 video discussions with director Isao Takahata and key animator Yoichi Kotabe.

Production gallery, featuring publicity stills, movie posters and home video releases around the world

Theatrical trailer, with new and improved English language subtitles.

PLUS: Rare photographs of the film's creators: Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki, Yasuo Otsuka, Yasuji Mori, Reiko Okuyama, and Yoichi Kotabe.



For press inquiries, please contact Discotek Media at sales@discotekmedia.com.

Spirited Away: The 8-Bit Videogame

This is just super cool. The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro has been recreated as an NES-style 8-bit videogame. The video progresses through the major scenes of the movie, as Chihiro/Sen and her family arrive at an abandoned Japanese theme park, which leads to a haunted bath house for the spirit world, and many exciting adventures for the young girl who must rescue her lost parents (who have been turned into pigs).

I really enjoyed this video.  Apart from some 3D effects, it could easily be created for the NES. I could see this working as a side-scrolling adventure game, like Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link, or perhaps a graphical adventure like Maniac Mansion. Somebody should make this happen. It clearly would never receive the official blessing of Studio Ghibli, but at least Miyazaki might respect the effort. He probably wouldn't tear your head off the way he famously did to those CG programmers who created the mutant zombie demo. Ouch. That was just brutal.

Kudos to the programmers who created this demo. This is a great work of classic digital art.

New Trailer: Mary and the Witch's Flower

Studio Ponoc, founded and staffed by Studio Ghibli alumni, has just released the second trailer for their upcoming feature film, Mary and the Witch's Flower. Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who previously directed Arrietty the Borrower and When Marnie Was There, is promising his greatest work yet. He clearly sees himself as the heir to Hayao Miyazaki.

Mary will be released in Japan this June. Will the public embrace Studio Ponoc? I certainly hope so. This trailer looks absolutely spectacular, with lush colors and extremely fluid animation. Yes, it is very clearly a "Miyazaki" film, but this may be just what the public wants. And we will discover if Yonebayashi has any new ideas, or if he is content to recreate Spirited Away and Kiki's Delivery Service.

Either way, this movie is going to be something special, and a worldwide release is all but guaranteed. I just hope we won't have to wait a full year or more to get this movie. Bring it over this year! We have money!

The Next Miyazaki Feature Film is NOT "Boro the Caterpiller"

After the news broke yesterday that Hayao Miyazaki is returning to feature film production, a few facts have been brought to my attention, so I wanted to correct the official record.

Back in November, NHK TV aired a special about Hayao Miyazaki, Owaranai Hito Miyazaki Hayao ("The Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki"), showing him working on a new short film for the Ghibli Museum called Boro the Caterpiller. During this program, it was also revealed that the director was also reconsidering his "retirement" from feature films, even going so far as to show him working on storyboards.

There seems to be some confusion on the specifics, as these NHK specials are famously vague. Studio Ghibli loves to reveal only snippets here and there, only revealing everything once productions are nearly complete. Because of this, the idea emerged that Boro the Caterpiller, in addition to being a short film, was also the subject for Miyazaki's new feature.

The story first broke on Anime News Network, which detailed the events of the NHK special. The Boro and feature projects are mentioned separately. This was followed by Indie Wire, which conflated the two into a single project. From here, the meme was carried away by the internet echo chamber, which leads us to today.

Let's be clear on this matter. Boro the Caterpiller is a short film created for the Ghibli Museum. Miyazaki's feature film is a separate project, not related in any way. At one point during the NHK program, the director even asks the cameraman, "I think, if I make a feature film, what should I make?" In addition, while he is seen on camera working on storyboards, its contents are never revealed. This, again, is in keeping with Ghibli's tradition of teasing out only tiny pieces for the fans.

I've been writing about Studio Ghibli since 2003, and I can assure you that such misunderstandings are very common. Westerners pick up on bits and pieces, often just casual conversation by Miyazaki himself, that balloons into unofficial news. Movie sequels to Porco Rosso and Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind are two good examples. Other examples: the idea that Hayao Miyazaki's career began with Studio Ghibli; that Castle of Cagliostro or Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind was his "first movie"; that any number of pre-Ghibli works are "Ghibli Films," even citing Toei Doga movies; and citing just about any anime film as "Miyazaki." For many Westerners, "Miyazaki" is merely shorthand for "Japanese cartoons that remind me of Disney."

We're getting better with accurate news, but the internet is a vast echo chamber for gossip, which spreads like wildfire and quickly becomes "conventional wisdom."

Much thanks to Japanese reader Tsk06, a follower on Ghibli Blog Twitter, for helping me out on this subject. As always, we greatly appreciate our fans and supporters.

Hayao Miyazaki Returns With New Feature Film in 2019

Update 2:20 pm, February 25: We have updated this article in light of new information.

Now it's official: HE'S BAAAACK!!!!

During pre-Oscars interviews for The Red Turtle (which is produced by Studio Ghibli), Toshio Suzuki finally made it official: Hayao Miyazaki is working on another feature-length animated movie. The title and subject of the proposed movie has not yet been revealed, but storyboard creation is currently away, with the full animation production set to commence in June of this year. The film is planned for a June 2019 release date.

Back in November, Japanese TV network NHK aired a special on Hayao Miyazaki, detailing his daily activities at Studio Ghibli, as well as his production of Boro the Caterpiller, an animated short film made exclusively for the Ghibli Museum. During this program, the director floats the idea of returning to feature films for the first time since his well-publicized 2013 "retirement."

Hayao Miyazaki is notorious for his "retirements" which never seem to last. I wonder if Miyazaki felt the itch again in the wake of Makoto Shinkai's Your Name, which became a blockbuster hit in Japan, second only to Spirited Away (the movie's worldwide box office numbers have actually surpassed Spirited Away). And let us not forget the imminent arrival of Mary and the Witch's Flower, directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Arrietty, When Marnie Was There) and produced by Studio Ponoc, which is founded and staffed by Studio Ghibli alumni.

It would make sense if Miyazaki felt his time had passed in 2013. Four years ago, 2D animation was "obsolete" and doomed to extinction, like silent movies after the arrival of sound. In 2017, the landscape is very different. While CG animation continues to dominate around the globe, hand-drawn animation features continue to achieve critical and popular success. A much-deserved Oscar nomination for The Red Turtle, a haunting and lyrical movie by Michaƫl Dudok de Wit, will no doubt help to keep the tradition alive.

Most likely, Miyazaki-san just can't sit still. His idea of "retirement" only ever applied to feature films, as he continued to tinker around with short films, manga comics and overseeing Studio Ghibli. Like Patty and Selma, he's working a job that he'll be doing ten years after he dies. He's not going anywhere, and Thank God for that.

Horus, Prince of the Sun Blu-Ray Arrives in March

On January 12, Discotek Media finally made it official: the landmark anime masterpiece Horus, Prince of the Sun is coming to Blu-Ray in March. I am really excited to finally share this with you, and all Ghibli Freaks should start saving their pennies.

Back in September, I was contacted by Discotek about their plans for the Horus Blu-Ray. It was something that I had anticipated as soon as I finished production on the DVD, and already had begun preliminary work on the future project. Once the official word was given, I immediately got to work.

The biggest addition to the Horus BD is an all-new audio commentary track, written and recorded by me. This replaces the audio track I recorded for the DVD, and it is vastly superior in every way. On this new audio commentary, I discuss the production of the film, the film's technical innovations, the early career of director Isao Takahata, and the influence of this film on the career of Hayao Miyazaki. We discuss who created the cast of characters (something I discovered when digging around asian fansites), the debate over "Horus" versus "Hols," the story behind the title "Little Norse Prince," and themes involving the Vietnam War and the role of the individual in society.

When recording the DVD commentary, I wanted to just riff in a conversational tone, using note cards as a reference point. That strategy proved to be an embarrassing failure as I suffered a terrible bout of stage fright. I felt like the frog from "One Froggy Evening," and I had to drag every thought and sentence out of my mouth over the course of a week. Finally, I started writing better notes, and took refuge in reading essays from other writers and scholars in the Ghibli fan community. I was found myself reading a Google translation of Buta Connection's Horus essays from French into a slightly mangled Engrish. And all of this happened very late at night. I recorded a series of short audio tracks and finally reached the end as dawn broke on deadline day. I sent over my work right at the moment of the final deadline, and I am eternally grateful to the Discotek crew for their support and patience.

I fought, struggled, quit, felt dejected, returned to the mike, fought another three rounds, and finally completed my first DVD audio commentary. It was hell, but I made it to the finish, completely exhausted. And let us not forget that I also wrote/edited the English subtitles (four revisions, no less), wrote/edited nearly all the bonus material (the only features not mine were Mike Toole's excellent audio commentary and the video interviews), wrote an "official" press release, and wrote the sales page for Amazon and other online retailers. And, of course, I fought like hell for the proper movie title, "Horus, Prince of the Sun" (Toei wanted Discotek to only use "Little Norse Prince").

For the Blu-Ray, I was much more prepared. The written essays were given a much-needed revision and copy edit, I updated the "riffs" feature to include more films, and I wrote a new description for the back cover, which is a great improvement (the DVD lifted the cover text from the Optimum UK DVD). The new audio commentary was the main focus. I wrote an extensive script for the entire length of the film, roughly 10,000 words, covering every Horus-related topic I could find.

Using a $40 USB microphone and a MacBook Pro in my apartment living room, I recorded nine audio tracks (breaking things up into smaller thematic segments) over the course of a long Saturday evening. I did several takes of each audio track, and felt far more loose and comfortable. I even recorded a final "thank you" track at the very end, just to be sure the commentary would run the full length of the movie. When finished, I felt very tired but very satisfied. I left nothing on the table, and said everything that needed to be said.

I have been a huge fan of Horus, Prince of the Sun ever since the earliest days of Ghibli Blog. Working on these projects have been an absolute thrill for me, and a true labor of love. I wanted to give this great movie the "Criterion" treatment that it deserves, and raise the bar for anime on home video. I just wanted to inspire everyone. I hope you will be inspired by this amazing movie.

As always, much thanks for your support. I consider this new BD to be the definitive take on Horus, and I can't wait for you to hold your own copy in your hands. I'll eagerly await your reviews and comments, and look forward to the next movie project. Be sure to pre-order your copy at Amazon today!

Masaski Yuasa Returns to Feature Film: Night is Short, Walk On Girl

Masaaki Yuasa is, in my humble opinion, the most exciting talent in Japanese animation today. He first grabbed my attention with his wildly inventive (and decidedly Fellini-esque) 2004 anime film Mind Game. In the years since, he has worked relentlessly on television, including Kemonozume in 2006, Kaiba in 2008, The Tatami Galaxy in 2010, Kick-Heart in 2013, and Ping Pong in 2014. Now he has returned at last to feature animated movies, and I couldn't be happier.

Night is Short, Walk on Girl is a fantasy romance adapted from a 2006 novel by Tomihiko Morimi, who also wrote The Tatami Galaxy (a number of key staff from that series has also returned for this film). The teaser trailer demonstrates Yuasa's obsessions with pushing the limits of animation, with cartoon surrealism, and with romantic obsessions. I was definitely reminded of the setup behind Mind Game, where a frustrated young comics artist tried to woo a beautiful woman he's known for years.

As always, I expect the unexpected. I love the elasticity and freewheeling spirit Yuasa brings to his work. He continues to push anime into uncharted territory, exploding and exploiting pop culture cliches, unleashing the limitless possibilities of the cartoon form. He doesn't seem like the type who would be offended by the word "cartoon," as though it were a lesser expression to remind us of Tex Avery and Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones and the Fleischers. I love the cinematic seriousness of anime as much as anyone, but I wouldn't become Puritanical about it. Just look at The Castle of Cagliostro for a perfect illustration of pulp realism mashed perfectly into Road Runner routines.

Night is Short, Walk On Girl will be released in Japan on April 7, 2017. Let's hope a US distributor picks up this movie (I'm still waiting for Mind Game, which popped up on Netflix some months ago). GKIDS, I'm looking in your direction! Don't let us down!

And tell somebody to wake up Ben Ettinger. He's a huge Masaaki Yuasa fan, and he's been in hiding since last summer.

Fun Fact: According to Wikipedia, Yuasa worked as a key animator on Isao Takahata's 1999 Studio Ghibli classic My Neighbors the Yamadas. That's very impressive if true, but it also adds to the great talent to slip through Ghibli's fingers. If only Miyazaki could have held onto Yuasa and Mamoru Hosoda. Heck, open the door to the occasional collaboration with Hideaki Anno and Mamoru Oshii. Then add in the studio's home-grown talent like Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Goro Miyazaki, Yoshiyuki Momose and Osamu Tanabe. Imagine that possible future!

Much thanks to Cartoon Brew for breaking the story. Great job as always, everyone!

Poster: Mary and the Witch's Flower

Here are the first movie posters to Hiromasa Yonebayashi's upcoming feature film, Mary and the Witch's Flower. Its design is pure Ghibli, which is no doubt the filmmakers' intention. They seek to continue the legacy of the world's greatest animation studio, to continue the rich legacy of Miyazaki and Takahata into the new century. And I'm sure there will be many surprises along the way. I can't wait!

Much thanks to Buta Connection for the poster photos.

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