2007-03-31

What's This? Gedo Senki DVD? A Dub?

Word on the street - specifically, the website otakunews.com - is that Gedo Senki (Tales From Earthsea) will be released on DVD this July 4 in Japan. This is rather sudden news, but Ghibli typically releases DVDs in summer or the Holidays, so it seems pretty sensible to me. The biggest surprise? Apparantly a Disney dub will be included! Seriously, no bluffing. It seems Disney has been working quietly behind the scenes to prepare an English-language dub for the film.

As always, expect English subtitles to be included on the DVD, and the usual extras like trailers and storyboards. Hey, now I don't feel so bad about having crummy subs on my download copy. Oops. Forget I said that. Nuthin' to see here, kids. Move along.

Miyazaki on NHK's Professional - Ponyo's Debut

(Update: This video has since been removed from Youtube.  Sorry.)

Just recently, Japanese network NHK aired a special episode of its series, "Professional." For three months last summer, a director and camera followed Hayao Miyazaki around the Ghibli studio as he was beginning the production of the next movie. This footage marked the official debut of Ponyo on a Cliff (Gake no Ue no Ponyo) to the Japanese public.

Thankfully, I know someone from Japan who Tivo'd the show, and sent me five short clips to watch. Naturally, I uploaded everything to YouTube, so we can all watch together. I'm pretty certain this is the first real footage seen anywhere in America, so I'm proud to be able to present to you the first footage from the making of Miyazaki's next film.

And, as always, I wish to thank my Japanese contact, who very graciously sent these clips to me. It hadn't even occured to me to ask. Hmm. Maybe I should send him my copy of the Gedo Senki subtitle file, and see if he can clean it up a bit.

Anyway, here are the five clips from NHK Professional:

Clip One - Explaining Ponyo



Miyazaki explains the basic plot to Ponyo, and we see character drawings of Ponyo the fish-princess and Sousuke the boy. We also see Ponyo as a fully human girl, continuing the themes of metamorphosis from Porco Rosso and Howl's Moving Castle.

The heroine is a goldfish princess named Ponyo. The boy is a five-year-old named Sousuke. Says Miyazaki, "I want to make a film that audiences feel that 'Ponyo is so cuts,' and 'Sousuke did a good job."

Clip Two - Ponyo on a Jellyfish



Miyazaki at his desk, sketching and painting. We see character designs pinned to the walls, and some impressive drawings of Ponyo riding on a pack of jellyfish. Hey, look at that! Heidi Tree! Surprise!

The title to this segment is, "making anime isn't logic." Miyazaki explains that it's easy for a movie to be dull if it's made by logic; its scope will be narrow by logical thinking. "I'll try to destroy logical making," he says. "Kids easily feel that...because they live without logic."

Clip Three - Big Tsunami and Ponyo



My favorite moment by far - Miyazaki pulls open his desk and brings out a box of pastel sticks. What a great thrill, in this age of plastic CGI, to see a great artist create the old-fashioned way. Pencils, paintbrushes, watercolors, pastels. These clips give us a great insight into his drawing style. We see a painting of Ponyo riding a fish during a storm, and Miyazaki painiting the film's title cards.

Am I the only one who really digs this studio? It has such a terrific atmosphere, more like a treehouse than an animation studio. It's much freer and more open. Little wonder, since the Ghibli building was designed by Miyazaki himself.

Clip Four - Preview of Gedo



Miyazaki attends the June 28 studio screening of Goro Miyazaki's Gedo Senki, with his lifelong collaborator and friend Michiyo Yasuda in tow. He sits near the front, apart from everyone else. After the first hour, he walks out of the theatre, visibly agitated and tense. He's clearly upset, and spends the rest of the time talking about this to Yasuda. This is a surprising contrast from the official story, in which Ms. Yasuda later speaks to Goro and the studio of Father Miyazaki's approval. Did that story really happen, or was she merely being diplomatic?

Strangely enough, I had pretty much the same reaction after watching the first five minutes of Goro's picture - I got as far as the title card before I had to split for the day job, and I was just agitated and upset all damned day. Still haven't watched the rest of the movie, but I can understand now just why the whole Goro backlash happened.

I really enjoyed seeing the amount of affection and comraderie between these two old friends, Miyazaki and Yasuda. Watching them giggle and goof off and bump into one another. Another favorite moment.

Clip Five - Storyboard and Ending



July 17, The Ghibli animators arrive with pencils and brushes in tow. Pencils! What a rush. Many more of Miyazaki's watercolor drawings on display. It seems the first act is finished and everybody's ready to go. Miyazaki begins work on the e-konte, which serve as the "shooting script" or final storyboards of the movie. This is the first time I've seen these in their actual size (I bought the e-konte book for Horus last year).

Interviews with Ghibli President Toshio Suzuki and again with Michiyo Yasuda, who is the chief color designer as always. Her art book has been out of print for many years, and I'd kill to see it someday.

We finish with a first peek into an actual animation cell of the film, Ponyo peeking her head out. That's the final tease, kids. You'll have to wait until the first trailers are released, hopefully by the end of this year.

Film Reviews Update

Short update here. As you know, I've written many film reviews on my original website, DanielThomas.org. I'm going to be reprinting them here at the blog, over the course of the next several days, and have the review links (on the right-hand column) point directly to them.

DanielThomas.org is four years old, and I haven't touched the site in months. I'm still mulling over whether to keep it alive or just let is pass away, so at the very least I'll move the film stuff over here. Maybe I should re-post the other movie reviews, too. Depends on my mood, I guess.

Ponyo on a Cliff to be CGI-Free

According to a recent article in Variety, Studio Ghibli is announcing that the upcoming Ponyo on a Cliff will not incorporate any computer animation. The entire movie will be presented in the traditional, hand-drawn way, with a visual style wrapped around pastels and watercolors. Makes a lot of sense to me, considering that Miyazaki wants to create another children's classic on par with My Neighbor Totoro.

Studio Ghibli has never fully embraced CGI, certainly not the way the American studios have. They approached it slowly, carefully. Computers were first used in Takahata's Pom Poko for only three shots, then again briefly in Miyazaki's music video short On Your Mark, and also for one scene in Whisper/Mimi (the Miyazaki-directed flying sequence). Computer technology was always used to augment and support the existing skills. Things like compostions and scrolling, mostly.

Mononoke marked the first great step into CGI, and Ghibli finally found its proper balance. It was also the studio's final film with traditional paints and cells; My Neighbors the Yamadas was created entirely on computers, which was very expensive at the time, but was a crucial investment. Spirited Away continued to move things forward, further integrating CGI into the traditional style.

Even though Ghibli continued to make steps towards computers, Miyazaki always insisted that CGI-assisted shots would compose a small fraction of a total picture, roughly 10%. I don't know if that's a firm number, or a general rule. It seems that there is a greater CGI presence in, say, Howl's Moving Castle, than Mononoke or Sen or The Cat Returns. Then again, maybe I'm just thinking of that great, lumbering castle.

With the studio's short films, Ghibli allowed greater freedom for its artists and animators to experiment, and there's a far greater use of CGI found in Ghiblies Episode 2 than any of the major studio films. Likewise, Yoshiyuki Momose's three magnificent Capsule videos, which chronicle a fashionable young woman of the future, is completely dominated by computers. Another excellent example are the series of very brief House Foods commercials a few years back; the first three ads were directed by Miyazaki himself, and the latter two were directed by Momose.

CGI animation in the West has pretty much copied from Pixar's formula. Everyone's still trying to top Toy Story, and, of course, they can't. Heck, even Pixar hasn't topped it. But there's a creepy sameness to all things CGI these days. I'm burned out on the shiny, plastic-doll look that populates everything. For all its supposed strengths, nobody has even tried to experiment and explore the possibilies of computer animation. Everywhere, ironically enough, except Studio Ghibli, which has always kept the machines at arm's length.

And now Miyazaki will keep those boats tethered to the docks entirely for Ponyo's voyage. Kinda makes me wonder just what would have happened if Disney allowed Howl to be seen in this country, the impact that would have been felt across the public and the animation studios. Just how deep would the influence have been felt? I hear that same phrase from every American animator - "Miyazaki is God." Well, just when are you gonna prove it? For all this supposed reverence, I'm not seeing it in anyone's work. Aside from Toy Story, I guess.

2007-03-29

Movie Night - Future Boy Conan, Ep. 6

(Update: This video has since been removed from Youtube.  Sorry.)

Just finished uploading another episode of Future Boy Conan, so here it is. Since we're all gossiping about Miyazaki's new movie, it's a good time to revisit one of the classics from 30 years ago. Can you belive Future Boy Conan is nearly 30 years old? Time flies.

In this week's episode, Conan has found Lana who is imprisoned in Industria. He eventually finds a way in, and they manage a successful jailbreak. Eventually, they wander into a hangar, discuss the history of Industria, and just why Lana has been relentlessly pursued. They meet the Industrian leader, Lepka (who, oddly enough, looks just like the Count of Cagliostro), and are recaptured. Meanwhile, Capt. Dyce and his crew choose to rebel against their bosses and break Lana out. Jimsy catches wind and runs off to help break Conan loose while Dyce runs off with Lana in tow. Another action-packed episode. What happens next? I don't know! But I'm sure there are some really cool breakfast cereal commercials to keep us distracted.

2007-03-27

Conversations on Ghibli Has Moved (Duh)

As you can gather, I've moved the Ghibli blog to a new address, one that's much simpler to remember and spell out. Everything is the same and nothing has been lost. The address is now www.ghiblicon.blogspot.com.

Please make the necessary adjustments for your links and bookmarks. I've kept the old address as a splash page to send you over here, just to make things as easy as possible.

I was thinking about this while mulling over plans for the weekly podcast project. I realized I needed a shorter web address, one that would be quicker to jot down and memorize. Thankfully, "GhibliCon" was available, so here we are. Note to self: hurry up and secure "GhibliPodcast" before it's too late...

2007-03-26

The New Miyazaki Film - Ponyo on a Cliff


This past week, Studio Ghibli finally announced Hayao Miyazaki's new film - Ponyo on a Cliff, or Gake no ue no Ponyo. This is a story that centers around a five-year-old boy named Soskue, and a goldfish princess named Ponyo that wants to become human. The movie has been in production since last summer, and is set for a summer 2008 release.

One exciting detail about Ponyo is that the entire movie will be storyboarded in detailed pastels and watercolors. This is a much more detailed, time-involved process, and a rarity in Japanese animation. It gives us a great insight into the mind of Miyazaki, as well as his ambitions.

And it seems that Miyazaki's patented style of personal storytelling will continue with this film. Goro Miyazaki - the estranged elder son who directed last year's controversial Gedo Senki - is the model for the character of Sosuke. Toshio Suzuke has highlighted the movie's themes as, "father," "mother," and "cliff."

It's interesting to me that Miyazaki's focus has moved so strongly to his family relations. To a great extent, Howl's Moving Castle was a tribute to his wife (the archetypal Heroine) and their marriage. Goro's movie debut was very heavily wrapped around his father's icons and his conflicted feelings about their relationship. Now Father Miyazaki has responded with a story about his son as a young boy. Where will this go? How deep will these themes penetrate Ponyo on a Cliff? At this point, nobody knows.

As an artist (or as someone who splatters paint on canvas and calls it "art"), I'm really thrilled to see more of Ponyo's watercolor paintings. Studio Ghibli has made great strides in capturing that painted watercolor look into its animations. My Neighbors the Yamadas was the first great step in that direction, and you can see it continued in Ghiblies and Ghiblies Episode 2 and the various shorts on the Short Short DVD. They've managed to incorporate computer technology in bringing the hand-drawn style to life in a way the Americans have never conceived. We're still too obsessed with trying to top Toy Story. Which, of course, ain't ever gonna happen.

Ponyo on a Cliff will probably start trickling out by the end of the year. That's usually when the first teaser trailers appear. That is, if Ghibli can meet the summer 2008 release date. The old man still has something to prove, he's still got an ambition. That's the thing that excites me the most about this project. It's the thing that makes Miyazaki one of the great filmmakers of our age.

Ah, well, back to The Beatles!

Update: Have comments for this post been switched off? It certainly wasnt' anything on my part. I'm always eager to see you batting your ideas around. Appears to be a Blogger thing, which is weird because it's been working so well lately.

2007-03-24

Sgt. Pepper's on Vinyl - and Mono!



A bit of an off-topic surprise, folks, but I wanted to share. I've been collecting vinyl for a couple months, thanks to a recent purchase of a portable turntable. PREACHY SERMON OF THE DAY - get yourselves a turntable and vinyl records.

Anyway, I go record hunting on Saturdays, thanks to several local vinyl record shops in Uptown Minneapolis. Treehouse Records is the best place for used vinyl, and today, tucked away in the recently-acquired stock...The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Hearts Club Band.

Oh, and did you notice that little sticker? MONO.

When I saw this, the adrenaline kicked in. I could hardly believe my own eyes. Is this the long-sought, legendary mono version of Sgt. Pepper's? I pulled out the record and checked the serial number.

Yep. This is the real deal, kids. The mono version of Sgt. Pepper's!

And did you see that price tag again? $25.00. That really sent my head spinning. I was almost certain someone would club me on the head and run off with the record. Breathe, breathe, calm down, don't panic.

This is one of the holy grails of vinyl records. You see, most '60s pop albums were recorded and mixed exclusively for mono sound. Stereo was still a novelty for older consumers with greater incomes, and as a consequence was used mainly for jazz or classical. Coltrane's Giant Steps has some of the best sound you'll ever hear on vinyl.

So that means all the early Beatles albums were created for mono. These are the versions they wanted you to listen to. After the mono album was finished, the master tapes were sent to another plant for the necessary alterations into stereo. Eventually, stereo took over, and those were the versions that persevered.

What does this mean? It means Sgt. Pepper's hasn't been available in mono for 35 or 40 years. It hasn't been around for decades.

The version I have is the Capitol release, and I don't think this baby's been played more than once or twice. It's in perfect shape. The original vinyl sleeve is also here, with the psychedelic water pattern. And, finally, the paper cutouts are present as well.

There are a number of differences between this version and the stereo version everyone knows. Some subtle changes, and a few major changes. At least one song is played at a different tempo, numerous sounds in the mix pop in and out, and you can hear Paul's shouts at the end of the Sgt. Pepper's Reprise. Oh, and the Capitol version doesn't have the famous run-out groove, which royally sucks. I love that part! Ah, well.

How much is this worth? The last time I checked Ebay, a copy of Sgt. Pepper's mono sold for $500. I bought mine for 25 bucks. Ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!

We Have Jarinko Chie Subtitles!


This is a great day for treasure hunts. First, on my Saturday record hunts, I score....drum roll, please....the original mono version of Sgt. Pepper's for $25. Now, we finally have a subtitle file for Jarinko Chie!

We have subs for Chie! Yay!!

Reader James Mar sent me an email early this morning with a handy link to the long-awaited .srt subtitle file for Chie. As I explained to him, and as you all know, this is one of the very last Isao Takahata works not to be subtitled into English. A fansub has always been requested from fans over the years, but the project was never undertaken.

So now we finally have the subtitles, and we just need to properly attach it to a video file. I'll be sending copies to fansubbers, and hoping that Jarinko Chie will finally be available online.

I've managed to create a video file from my DVD - and this is where the YouTube video comes from - but the timing is slightly off, and the file is slightly glitchy. It's really not usable.

I'm posting the direct link for the .srt subtitle file here, in hopes that someone in the know can finally piece everything together. Send the word out - with a ha na nani and a ha cha cha!

Jarinko Chie - English Subtitle File (.srt)

2007-03-20

Miyazaki Riffs #9



Another early Miyazaki work that gets quoted a lot is Panda Kopanda (and, naturally, Panda Kopanda and the Rainy Day Circus). It was a much-loved production, full of warm memories, and a genuine touchstone into the realm of idyllic childhood. Little wonder, then, that the short film became a strong reference point for My Neighbor Totoro many years later.

We've already seen that excellent riff involving the cop on the bicycle, which is riffed in Totoro's opening scene. Here's another riff, a low-angle shot of Mimi running around her house. This exact shot is reproduced for the two girls in Totoro. Again, like nearly all the riffs, it's a very quick shot, one of those blink-and-you-miss-it opportunities that Miyazaki gives to his fans.

If you're worried about what you will do once you've seen everything there is to see, don't worry. You still have all the riffs to discover. And if you're understanding of Miyazaki only stretches to Studio Ghibli, then this will underscore the importance of becoming familiar with his pre-Ghibli works.

2007-03-18

Miyazaki Riffs #8



As a general rule for Miyazaki fans, if a scene has anything to do with farm animals, it's probably quoting Heidi. Today's example quotes the first episode of Heidi - an episode that's chock full of riffs. There was a humorous little gag involving a pair of goats that reappear in the third act of My Neighbor Totoro.

This scene from Totoro, in which little Mei gets temporarily lost while chasing her sister, uses the Heidi gag to keep things a bit light. The mood of the film is becoming steadily darker in act three, as the focus shifts to the mother's illness, and how that affects the two sisters. Mei is obviously affected and upset, but she's too young to really understand truly what's happening. Satsuke, the older sister, is old enough to grasp the concept of death, and the seriousness of her mother's longstanding illness.

So this scene we're looking at is part of that steady buildup of tension, preparation for Satsuke's moment of crisis when her sister is suddenly missing. Mei is never in any real danger, and Miyazaki calmly shows the audience that there isn't much to fear. The older sister doesn't get that reassurance. Her fears of loss are suddenly made manifest.

Wow, this piece ended up being heavier than I planned. I just wanted to talk about the goats. This is what I get when I write while listening to Sabbath's Master of Reality and Nirvana's Bleach. At least they sound fantastic on vinyl. Take that, iPod losers! Hah!

2007-03-17

Buy These DVDs - Buyer's Guide

As I've posted recently, I added direct links for many of the anime series and films discussed on this blog. I think the list is just about complete, as it fills out everything not already covered by domestic DVD releases or fansubs. So now I'd like to give you a short "buyer's guide" that you can use as a handy reference.

I'm not going to recite plots or commentaries. If you want to know more about them, check the Conversations on Ghibli blog archives or my lengthy reviews. Yadda yadda. You know the score.

Buy These DVDs - Buyer's Guide

Heidi, Girl of the Alps - Taiwan box set, no subtitles. Box set of the entire 52-episode series from 1974. Buy this or hand in your Ghibli card.

3000 Leagues in Search of Mother - Taiwan box set, English subtitles. Box set of the entire 52-episode series from 1976. Buy this or I'll come to your house and trample your garden.

Panda Kopanda - R2 DVD, English subtitles. Includes both Panda Kopanda short films, 1972 and 1973. There's also a long television interview with Takahata and Miyazaki.

Jarinko Chie - R2 DVD. No subs, obviously, but the picture quality is fantastic on a big screen. Miles better than youtube. Oh, and the DVD cover looks terrific.

Gauche the Cellist - R2 DVD, English subtitles. This is the new Ghibli ga Ippai release, with two discs and improved picture quality. Over 80 minutes of bonus interviews with all the guilty parties. Buy this or you hate your kids (you probably vote Republican).

Castle in the Sky - R2 DVD, English subtitles. There's no shitty Disney dub (the worst anime dub ever, kids), and the picture quality is vastly improved from the R1 disc. A short making-of video is included, which was buried on the US version. And the box art is super-cool.

Story of Yanagawa Waterways - R2 DVD, English subtitles. This is Takahata's sole live-action film, a three-hour documentary on the history and culture of the waterways of Japan's Yanagawa region. It's a terrific documentary. Oh, and there's an English-language soundtrack that perfectly matches the original Japanese dialog.

Omohide Poro Poro - R2 DVD, English subtitles. Sorry, never heard of this movie. It might be alright. A 45-minute making-of video is included on disc two. This film is also available in Australia and the UK, so if you live there, you have options. We yanks don't.

Umi Ga Kikoeru - R2 DVD, English subtitles. I Can Hear the Sea, aka Ocean Waves. A great documentary with the production team is included. We'll not be seeing this here in the US anytime soon, so here's your real chance to watch on your television.

Princess Mononoke - R2 DVD, English subtitles. Why include the Japanese Mononoke Hime DVD? Because it completely destroys the shitty Disney/Miramax disc here in the States. The picture quality is vastly superior, with the proper colors and lighting. Audio tracks in eight languages are included, including the Miramax dub.

The Cat Returns/Ghiblies Ep 2 - R2 DVD, English subtitles. Did you know the Japanese DVD for Cat Returns includes Ghiblies Episode 2 on a second disc? Did you know that Disney sucks eggs? The cover features the original movie poster, which is infinitely better than that lousy R1 disc.

Yasuo Otsuka's Joy in Motion - R2 DVD, English subtitles. This is the Otsuka documentary that I wrote about some months ago. It's a terrific look into the history of post-war Japanese animation and one of anime's founding fathers. Absolutely essential viewing for all animation lovers.

Ghibli Ga Ippai Short Short - R2 DVD. There are no English subtitles, but subtitles are entirely unnecessary. This is Ghibli's 40-minute collection of short animations, music videos, commercials, and all things in between. Miyazaki's On Your Mark is here, btw. A fantastic 34-page color booklet is included, and more extras.

Winter Days - R2 DVD, no subtitles. 2003 animation anthology, featuring a buffet of styles and techniques. Yuri Norstein leads off with another masterpiece. Others include Takahata, Kotabe and Okuyama, Alexander Petrov, and animators around the world. The best bonus? Lengthy interviews with all of the animators. Not having subtitles royally sucks.

Happy buying!

Movie Night - Jarinko Chie

(Update 1/22/11: Since this post was published, the Youtube videos were taken down.  A new Youtube video of Jarinko Chie is now available.  You can watch Jarinko Chie here.)

And now, dear readers and silent hangers-on, I present to you Isao Takahata's 1981 movie Jarinko Chie. Our old friends Yasuo Otsuka and Yoichi Kotabe were the Animation Directors, and the cast of characters were pulled from Japan's famous comedy troupe, Yoshimoto Kogyo (Mind Game used actors from there as well).

The dialog was all recorded before animating, or "pre-scored," something that is standard here in the States, but very uncommon in Japan. Oh, and the actress who played Chie was elected to Congress. Not a bad achievement!

Jarinko Chie was adapted from a very popular manga by Etsumi Haruki. The story revolves around a 10-year-old girl named Chie; her thuggish, gangster-wannabe father, Tetsu; her mother, Yoshi; and an oddball assortment of friends and hangers-on. The film is episodic, a little like My Neighbors the Yamadas, but there's a tighter narrative, weaving around the central thread of Chie's desires to see her parents reunited.

Mostly structured as a slapstick comedy, Jarinko Chie is a story about family, seperation and loss. Takahata's trademark drama is present, mixed in with the comedy, and wrapped around a grand tribute to Kobe and Japan's western Kansai region. The film was produced at Telecom and proved successful enough to warrant a popular TV series, which ran for two seasons. Takahata served as general director.

I'm sad to report that I do not have English subtitles for you tonight. Hopefully, you will be able to enjoy the film regardless. Repeated viewings will be rewarded, and I promise to share what dialog I do know. Enjoy!

2007-03-16

Takahata Riffs #4



Okay, last one before I post the movie up. Just think of this as a continuation of the previous post. The shots from Jarinko Chie and Omohide Poro Poro come from the same scenes as the last riff. Doggonit, hurry up and upload already!

Takahata Riffs #3



There are at least a couple more riffs from Jarinko Chie that I want to show to everyone. Just let me throw a pizza in the oven and Master of Reality on the turntable.

This is a good opportunity to explain just what you can do by riffing. As we've seen, and as all movie lovers already know, quoting shots or brief moments from earlier movies is a common way of paying tribute. Young filmmakers pay tribute to their teachers, more experienced veterans tip their hats to cherished memories from their own past.

There's another reason, and I think it's the best method, the most intelligent. Observe the latest Takahata riff - it's a shot that reappears in Omohide Poro Poro years later. It's an important homage because it reflects the kind of picture we're watching. I don't think this is quite the same as Miyazaki's Panda Kopanda riff at the start of My Neighbor Totoro; that was at the very beginning, while the Jarinko Chie riffs all appear in Poro Poro's second half.

Chie is, in many ways, a tribute Japan's western Kansai region, and Kobe in particular, where the story takes place. Poro Poro is all about tribute; a tribute to the '60s and the enormous cultural changes taking place, a tribute to Japan's agricultural past. The only real difference is time. The first movie is a love letter to the present day. The second is a lovelorn letter to the past, a yearning to return to what was lost. Which is, of course, the theme du jour for Studio Ghihbli.

So in that respect, Poro Poro plays out like a World Masterpiece Theatre version of Jarinko Chie, with all the complicated family drama played out on a cultural scale.

Now on to the screenshots. The first shot comes in an early scene, with a moment of seriousness after a lengthy bit of slapstick and blue humor. Oh, have I ever told you that Jarinko Chie is loaded with bathroom humor? Must've slipped my mind.

The second shot is at the end of one of my favorite scenes in Poro Poro, the ending to the Hyokkori Hyoutan Jima segment. I always bat about in my mind whether this scene or the sunrise scene is the film's single best moment; fantastic detail, brilliant color, a masterful use of editing, and heavy emotions. Every technique from the filmmaker's bag of tricks is on display.

And, naturally, it also helps that I really dig both movies.

Takahata Riffs #2



There aren't a lot of riffs in Takahata's 1981 movie, Jarinko Chie, but there are a few really good ones. Most of them are later quoted later in Omohide Poro Poro or My Neighbors the Yamadas. Makes sense, you suppose, when you realize that Chie inhabits the styles of both those later films.

Here's one good riff from Jarinko Chie that appears in Poro Poro. I'm not going to reveal the context, since that would spoil a pretty big surprise. I don't think anything is spoiled if you haven't seen this picture.

Oh, and I'm still working on uploading Chie to youtube, sans subtitles. It should be up later tonight.

2007-03-15

Help Me Find a Wife - Win a Prize!

Okay, that's not true. There aren't any prizes.

I'll be turning 34 next month, and I'm really not looking forward to it. I don't mind the aging process, but I'm running out of time if I want to raise a family, and the prospects aren't very good. For some weird reason, I've evolved into a hippie/punk hybrid who never outgrew his curiousity for discovering things. You'll discover most people abandon their teenage spirit and retreat into a surburban hell of repression and fear and far too much tv.

Heck, I've just bought a turntable and I'm buying freaking vinyl records. Oh, and I blog about obscure foreign animation. What's with that? Why can't I just be happy watching Boondock Saints and American Idol?

Anyway, I need a parter-in-crime to grow old with, and still have some fun before the clock burns out. There has to be a genuine hippie/punk folk singer around here somewhere. And I'm not talking the grungy, sloppy "hippie" clique you see in college; you know, the kids who never bathe or change clothes and whose lives revolve around jam bands and hemp. I mean the spirit of the idealism and energy of the '60s.

So here's the kind of girl I'm looking for. Keep your eyes peeled and see if you can find anyone who fits this description of the following three people:

Joan Baez,


Joni Mitchell,


Cathy from Animal Treasure Island. Maybe I just really wanna be a pirate.


2007-03-14

Riff Spectacular - The Heidi Tree

Time to get back into the riffs with a vengeance. Here's one of the most important riffs of them all - The Heidi Tree.

I've shown a number of riffs from Miyazaki and Takahata, and if you're observant, you'll notice that most of them quote the early works - Horus and Puss in Boots and Panda Kopanda and what have you. The motherland of all riffs, however, is Heidi. It's the most heavily riffed work from the masters' careers.

It's easy to see why, considering the enormous success of Heidi, its immense influence upon anime culture and spreading its popularity in the '70s. The series continues to be ranked near the top of favorite anime series and films in Japan. And it marks Isao Takahata's triumph, his vindication for everything he fought for in Horus.

I've been cataloging every riff I find in the series, and now I'm starting back from the beginning again to catch anything I've missed. Nearly every episode of Heidi contains at least one riff. Many episodes contain several. I've counted at least six in the first episode alone. And it continued to be riffed extensively by Miyazaki and Takahata into the present day. I'll guarantee that at least a couple Heidi quotes will appear in the next Miyazaki film.

The Heidi Tree - sounds like a great name for an album, dontcha think?

The Heidi Tree refers to a specific kind of shot that comes from the first episode of the series. It's a low-angle shot of a large tree, looking high upon the trunk and branches. It's an excellent shot, and it's significant because it reappears again and again over the years. So, basically, a Heidi Tree refers to this kind of shot - that should become the official name for it. :P

First, here's the original Heidi Tree from Heidi, Girl of the Alps, episode 1.


Here's a different shot from a later episode, something I call "Heidi Tree With Sparkles."


Now let's see all the places Miyazaki and Takahata riffed this. First one's from episode 13 of Future Boy Conan:

Then, episode 3 of Anne of Green Gables, although I may be stretching it a bit:


Here it is again in Gauche the Cellist, using the same camera tilt as in Anne:


A Heidi Tree With Sparkles pops up in Nausicaa:


Another riff in Laputa: Castle in the Sky:


Miyazaki's third Heidi Tree in three films, this time My Neighbor Totoro:


Finally...or is it??? Studio Ghibli's Umi Ga Kikoeru, I Can Hear the Sea, a very lovely Heidi Tree With Sparkles:


To the best of my memory, these are all of 'em. But that really means I haven't sat down recently and watched all of the Ghibli movies. Why not find out for yourselves? See if you can find a Heidi Tree in any of the other movies. Oh, and have I mentioned that you can make a drinking game out of spotting the riffs in the Ghibli movies? I'll tell you all about it later. Happy hunting!

Heidi Highlight Reel

(Update: This video has since been removed from Youtube.  Sorry.)

This excellent little highlight reel of Heidi series appears to come from Japanese television, although I honestly don't know the context. I only know what I found by scouring around YouTube, and I've wanted something from Heidi to show, so this is terrific.

My only gripe about this video is that all the major emotional climaxes - the climaxes to acts one, two, and three - are given away. Clearly this is meant for an audience that already knows the story by heart. A "remember that old show you loved" sort of thing. However, I don't think it's a problem, since Americans haven't seen the series in its entirety. You really need the proper context, and the slow, steady buildup to really appreciate the big weepy scenes.

I have a couple software programs that may allow me to cut out individual episodes of Heidi from my DVD's, which would enable me to upload and share them. I'll be sure to see if I can make it work. Until then, here's a highlight video of that Heidi series I'm always harping about. Enjoy!

Movie Night - Future Boy Conan, Ep. 5

(Update: This video has since been removed from Youtube.  Sorry.)

We're on a movie bender, kids. Here's episode 5 of Future Boy Conan, which I uploaded some weeks ago. Let's sit back and watch.

This is a great episode of Conan. Conan and Jimsy reach Industria, wreak havok, get into a couple cool chases, and Conan and Lana are finally reunited. Yay! This is the first real payoff of the series. That reminds me - I really must upload more episodes. My subscribers must be plotting against me for leaving them in the lurch for so long.

After spending a couple weeks plowing through the second half of Heidi, and finding riffs scattered throughout a number of Takahata movies, it's a great rush to sit down with one of Miyazaki's action-fueled serial adventures. The serious overtones of Future Boy Conan won't become dominant for a while yet, so I can still sit back and enjoy the thrill ride.

Why Conan has never been picked up in the States baffles me. I can see the challenges (and opportunities) of broadcasting or releasing Heidi, Marco, and Anne. But Conan sells itself. It's got "hit show" written all over it, and someone ought to move quickly while Miyazaki's name is still in the public consciousness. Heck, the whole anime fad could be over before you see this on DVD or Adult Swim. Again, whatever. I'd take out some loans myself, but, well, you know. I'm broke, and I don't think a stack of records counts as collateral.

Movie Night - 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, Ep. 2

Hey, great, I can get some movies and shows back on the blog again. I'm still smarting from Anne's removal from YouTube, and expecting my eventual execution after I've uploaded enough anime shows. If and when that happens, I'll just jump ship to DailyMotion...until that site gets bought out by some big corporate entity. Rinse, repeat.

Anyways, I uploaded episode 2 of 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother some time ago, so we should sit down and watch it. The first episode was posted here a long time ago, so be sure to get caught up. That's the crucial episode that establishes the plot and direction for the series, its emotional depth and intensity, and the first shades of Marco's James Dean mood swings.

The next few episodes focus on Marco's daily life, and rank as the most purely neorealist in the Takahata canon. Of course, this is all part of the master plan; getting us used to the normal daily rhythm, steadily building the tension. The payoffs will come and they will be devestating. If you were bowled over by the intensity of Grave of the Fireflies, than Marco is the show for you.

So here's episode 2. I'll try to get the rest of the fansubbed episodes uploaded. Be warned, though - that only goes up to episode 7. After that, you'll need to get the Taiwan DVD set. Big freakin' deal. You'll only pay thirty bucks for yours - I got slapped for a hundred clams. I don't think the postcards are that valuable. Whatever.





2007-03-13

Interesting Fact of the Day

Conversations on Ghibli is the #5 link on Microsoft Live Search for "I Hate American Idol."

I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Maybe I should re-post stuff from my main website just to see if that boosts traffic. Huh.

2007-03-12

Purchase DVDs Links Added

Want to complete your Miyazaki and Takahata DVD collection? I have good news for you. I'm adding direct links to the online merchants where you can purchase the DVDs. I'll be adding to the list when I can.

The Heidi and 3000 Leagues box sets come from JS DVD Mall, which hails from Taiwan. The Heidi set currently costs US$24.35, but does not include subtitles. The Marco set costs $30.17, and does include subtitles. Everything else comes from the YesAsia site, which is where I get all my movies. Both merchants have been very helpful to me, and I recommend them.

As always, you will need to override your DVD player's region lockout code in order to run these, but there are several options available. When I get back from work, I'll show you what you can do. Happy hunting!

Today's Screenshots - My Neighbor Totoro






Here are some terrific shots from one of my favorite scenes from My Neighbor Totoro. You could probably take screenshots from every cut in the movie and have something wonderful to look at. I don't think there's a superfluous shot in the entire movie.

For one thing, the background art is amazing. Lush, detailed, full of subtle hues and contrasts and just teeming with life. Kazuo Oga was the Art Director for the movie, and he's the master painter at Ghibli - he's the one to turn to when you want detailed paintings of the outdoors. Can you believe I still haven't purchased Oga's direct-to-DVD film yet? That's definitely going into the shopping cart on my next buying spree.

I love the way these first two shots make use of negative space, the way the trees focus our attention to the center of the frame. The Japanese are far more conscious of using formal compositions than in the West, and it's one of the reasons I prefer these animated movies to what we have here in the States. It's more painterly, more artistic, more skillful.

The comic bit where Mei tumbles down the tree and flops into Totoro's lap is a riff from somewhere, most likely an episode of Future Boy Conan, but I can't remember right now. Maybe I'm just reminded of that animated pinball sequence from '70s Sesame Street (the surreal one that got spoofed on Family Guy).

This fourth shot is one of the funnier bits in Totoro. I think it's probably important to let the little kids know that a giant cat-like, owl-like animal isn't something to be afraid of. Totoro is really a gentle sort, and we all see that Mei can yell just as loud. Poor Totoro's more scared of the girl than she is of him. Pay attention, storytellers - this is important. Make sure this scene is burned into your memories.

This whole scene is wonderfully staged, very genteel and pastoral and quiet. From the West's point of view, nothing much really happens, and that's what makes it work. This is the one film where Miyazaki most closely follows the style and methods of Takahata's work. When you get down to it, the main character in My Neighbor Totoro isn't the two girls or even the Tororos. It's the forest itself. Miyazaki's intention was for children to see this movie, and then go outside and play in the woods and let their imaginations run free.

I've long felt that My Neighbor Totoro is the finest children's movie ever made; these are only but a few examples why.

Yaaaay!!!!! Back Online!


Ohayoo, minna-san! The internet's back on! The car works again! Now I can drive it into a ditch.

And wouldn't you know it, I've got a million things to do. D'oh! I really should've taken the day off, but I need the overtime pay for the May 1 move. Oh, and I need a new driver's license, I need to hunt for a really good apartment, do the laundry, add screenshots to all the recent posts, catch up on the Videogames of the Damned blog, and continue to hunt for valuable vinyl records.

That Sundazed vinyl copy of Highway 61 Revisited - in the original mono mix - isn't gonna play itself.

Oh, and I've got a pile of posts to continue here as well. But, at least I can write from my own desk again and fill up the blog with as many screenshots as I want.

2007-03-10

Takahata's Objective Style, Part VIII

Documentary Realism

Titles. Oh, yeah, I suppose that would help out a bit. I'll have to remember to add titles to all the chapters in my Takahata series, just so everyone will be better able to follow along.

That said, let's move along. We've already seen some examples of Isao Takahata's skill in creating complicated central characters in order to fulfill an objective storytelling style. There are piles of more examples, and I'm probably going to try to list as many as I can, going through the entire canon. For now, however, let's take a look at another significant element of the Takahata style - documentary realism.

I think Takahata's early influences were firmly set in Europe's post-war cinema - the Italian Neorealists and the French New Wave - as well as domestic heroes like Yasujiro Ozu and Japan's rich art history. Most of them are already on display on Horus in one form or another, with nods to Eisenstein and Jean Renoir just for kicks. But the final, most crucial piece of the puzzle appeared later.

Heidi, Girl of the Alps premiered on television in 1974, and it ushered the arrival of Takahata's focus on documentary details. One of the great strengths of Heidi is how thouroughly detailed the daily lives of people in the Swiss Alps are recreated. The series became a travelogue for Japanese viewers, an opportunity to see the outside world in greater detail.

Takahata and Miyazaki had been moving toward a more naturalistic style during the early '70s, after the original Lupin III series ended. There are the two Panda Kopanda movies, and the infamous Pipi Longstockings projects, and there are also a couple other projects that never saw the light of day.

There's a short video clip floating around the internet that's taken from an unaired pilot from this period. It's very short, about 20 seconds, but it's very similar to Heidi in many ways. There's a child character playing around with a farm animals in a rural atmosphere, and crowds of people working their jobs in tents.

Then, of course, there was that pilot for Yuki's Sun (was that the name of it? - check up on that.) that Miyazaki directed. It included a fair amount of human melodrama and a young girl in the center role. I posted about it some time ago when I found the video clip online.

Heidi seems to be the end-result of all this practicing and expanding. But it's the documentary details that are new. This is arguably the major focus of the entire series. Perhaps it's necessary in order to adapt a relatively short story like Johanna Spiri's Heidi into a 52-episode television series. Perhaps it's necessary for the sake of drama and building tension. Perhaps this is really just an opportunity to take the home country around the world, in the guise of a famous children's novel.

I'd say it's all three, and they intertwine and become interchangable. The brilliance of Heidi lies in how perfectly its three acts are structured, with episodic adventures building, steadily, slowly, towards the emotional climax. Act one - Heidi is dropped off with her grandfather in the mountains. She learns the ways of daily life, makes friends, grows. Climax - the aunt returns from Frankfurt to take the child away with her.

The pacing of the show is something that would likely turn away many American anime fans, especially those expecting action, action!, ACTION! The pilot episode, really, only involves Heidi's ride up the mountain to her grandfather. In the original story, it is a couple pages. In Takahata's hands, this becomes a welcome into the real world of the mountains.

We see the presence of farming and herding. We see the domestic details of the housewives in the village. And then we see Peter the goat-herd and his flock of goats. Careful observation is rewarded, as things are very often observed but never spoken out loud. In this world, we are the visitors, the tourists, and no one is going to point out everything for us and explain all the local customs. We're going to have to figure it out for ourselves.

It's also in Heidi's pilot episode that we see the emergence of one of my favorite Takahata traits of all, the transitional nature shots. It's one of the defining traits of Ozu's films; Roger Ebert coined the term "pillow shots."

DOH!! Outta time!! Let's continue this later. We'll pick right up! Later!

2007-03-09

Don't Panic

My brother's moving into Minneapolis this week; in fact, he just drove in this morning. So don't worry if I'm not posting every day. I've got a good rhythm going now and I don't intend to disturb it. So don't panic. I'll try to write something later tonight.

Also, as hoped for, I'll have my cable bill completely paid off this weekend, so that means I'll be plugged back in on Monday. The pictures are coming back, and heaven knows my riffs folder is getting large enough that I won't be running out anytime soon.

Oh yeah, remind me to post about my idea for a Ghibli Drinking Game. Spot the riffs - take a swig! Ja, mata!

2007-03-06

Takahata's Objective Style, Part VII

Well, wouldn't ya know it, there's still a few more things I want to enlighten about Horus, Prince of the Sun. Eventually, of course, we'll be moving on to Takahata's more recent works - you know, the ones that you actually own on DVD - but there are still more insights to be gleaned about his storytelling style.

Oh, and just in case you're a new visitor to Conversations on Ghibli, you can download the fansub copy of Horus, which is subtitled in English (that's what a fansub is) and watch it on your computer. I recommend the VLC media player, as that one works the best. Be sure to download and watch the movie so you can get caught back up.

Okay, back to work. Horus remains a deeply compelling movie for me, not only for its technical breakthroughs, not for its innovations, but for all the behind-the-scenes battles waged during its production. The studio, Toei Doga, wanted the latest in a long line of family-friendly animated cartoons, entrenched in the American Disney style. They didn't anticipate a group of young college grads with grand ambitions. They certainly didn't expect something so serious and dark.

So, as I've explained before long ago (note to self: add text link), Isao Takahata and his team were hit with one setback after another. The movie's original title and premise, the setting, the running time. The worst offense was the insertion, at Toei's insistence, of several cartoon characters, in the hopes of appealing to all the little kiddies in the audience. Whatever.

Now here's where I really admire and respect Takahata. This is where the real filmmakers are made, in the trenches and the mud. He is forced to include a cartoon owl and cartoon squirrel into the film. Alright, he conceeds. But here's how we're gonna work it.

Much of movie is devoted to the psychology of the heroine, Hilda. One challenge with animation is how to deal with that psychology. It's easier with a live actor, but how do you convey inner states with pencil drawings? Stuck with a couple lousy extras nobody likes? Let's use them to bring out Hilda's mind.

The owl, Toto, and the squirrel, Chiro, become the Id and Superego of the character. They become the angel and devil on Hilda's shoulder. From this, we can see her inner battles made manifest.

This is something you can notice immediately. Observe how these animals appear. It looks as though they arise from within her. They arrive from behind, or above a tree or swing. They never wander around on their own, or really possess any personality themselves. They serve as the conflicting emotions within the girl.

This, really is a masterstroke, a great jujitsu counter-attack. The owl and squirrel become mysterious, even menacing, jousting for supremacy as Hilda struggles to find herself. The key scene - and I'm not just saying that because it's paused on the portable DVD next to me right now - is the scene in the meadow with Hilda and the small girl, Mauni. This is the best moment where the two sides appear and make their claims. It's all so brilliantly dramatic, and ends with the tragic overtones of death.

Am I the only one who's reminded of the famous Lyndon Johnson campaign ad from 1964, the one with the girl in the field picking flowers? That's the image in my mind as the owl torments the poor squirrel as the child sleeps. It's such a sense of doom. And, of course, there's a lot of wailing and crying. It's Takahata.

Oops. Outta time! Dagnabbit! There are other examples of this throughout Horus. Pay close attention when you watch. See what you can observe. Remember, class, we're dealing in symbols, icons. You are not a squirrel. Class dismissed!

Shimamoto in Seattle

Actress Sumi Shimamoto will be attending Sakura-Con in Seattle early next month. If anyone has plans to be in the Seattle area, then maybe you should consider going and paying a visit.

And wouldn't ya know it, I find out about this only one day before the online registration deadline. Nice. I've been kicking myself for failing to make the trip to Boston last autumn for Shimamoto's first American appearance at an anime convention. I've told myself that I need to sit down with Shimamoto and interview her, either for podcast or (better yet) a documentary short. I wish I had more time to prepare and gather a small film crew for a trip. It could be really great; unfortunately, I can't make it to Seattle. I'd need enough time for all my rock 'n roll pilgrimages.

As a general rule, I don't have any interest in anime conventions. I got the whole sci-fi, Star Trek nerd con back in my teens, and the sight of all the nerd girls dressed up like skimpy cupie dolls will most likely fill me with embarrassment or jealousy. Where the heck were all of you when I was 18 years old?!

For those who don't recognize the name Sumi Shimamoto, she was the actress who played the heroine Clarisse in Castle in Cagliostro back in 1979. I think that was her film debut. Miyazaki liked her enough to bring her back for the second Lupin III television series' finale, "Farewell, Beloved Lupin." She has also made appearances in Ghibli films My Neighbor Totoro and Umi Ga Kikoeru.

Her most famous role, and justly so, was Nausicaa, one of the great (if not the greatest) voice roles in an animation film. Her mixture of demure quietness and fiery passion was a molotov cocktail. I have no idea where she found that fire; it's as though she suddenly started channeling Toshiro Mifune or Brando. Nobody can shout better, nobody can pull off that wail of panicked desperation, as Shimamoto. Shimamoto IS the voice of the Miyazaki Heroine, the gold standard.

So, yeah, if you can spare a free Saturday in early April, head over to Sakura-Con in Seattle and say hi.

Thanks to Nausicaa.net for breaking the news.

2007-03-05

Takahata's Objective Style, Part VI

Long weekend, but pretty soon everything will be back to normal. So that means another stab at the Takahata lecture.

Whenever the subject of Horus, Prince of the Sun comes up - okay, I'm assuming this subject comes up at all, since I'm practically the only one who's ever seen it - the character discussion will always revolve around Hilda. That's the nature of the film. The bulk of the movie's psychology goes into her.

But then I remind myself that Takahata always presents characters with more than one side to themselves, and even though Hilda is the beginning of it all, we can see some of those complex traits in Horus as well.

I'm not sure about you, but here's the thing about Horus that really strikes me - he's not a traditional hero. He's far too obsessed. He's more like a character you'd expect to see in a Scorcese picture. I think typical Western movies tend to treat the male lead as a saintly figure, a Superman or a Lone Ranger, or maybe a Jimmy Stewart. They're always an ideal figure; again, they fit the role of the avatar for the audience.

Perhaps it was just a product of its era, perhaps it was a result of the movie's long and difficult production, or perhaps this was part of Takahata's master plan after all. In any event, Horus is a darker, more obsessive hero. And just like Hilda, he has a crucial weakness. It's his obsession with the wolves.

Horus is driven half mad by his unrelenting pursuit of the silver wolves. Consider the opening scene again. We are never given any backstory or explanation as to why this fight takes place. We are never told just why Horus is fighting for his life; only that he is far away from home. Just why is that? The film establishes a mood of violence and hardship. This is just a necessary condition of Horus' life.

I think this harsh existence has made Horus more ruthless than an ordinary person would be. I don't believe that he's a dangerous or violent person by nature; he certainly is a compassionate, caring individual who only wants to find his role in the greater society. Remember that it is Hilda's pain of loss and isolation that he relates to. In that regard, they're exactly the same.

I also think this ruthlessness is the key that enables him to kill the giant fish. A group of the best hunters from the village could not defeat it, but the boy could. He just seems to possess a little more rage, a little more ferocity when needed.

When the village chief and his puppetmaster (both characters seem to hail from Eisenstein's Alexander Nyevsky) assert that Horus is half-crazy, conjuring ghost stories out of thin air, the villagers take some of this to heart. Horus' obsessive pursuit for the death of the silver wolves, and their master, Grunwald, is a little unsettling when you think about it. It doesn't really take much for the town to become convinced that it is he who is the real villain.

Notice, if you will, how the owl (note to self: write a post about owl and squirrel) exploits this weakness in Act III's riot scene. All he needs to do is project an image of the silver wolf, and Horus lunges out with his axe without even thinking. "Hilda, get out of the way!" That's not very encouraging, kids.

Going back to the film's Vietnam angle, Horus seems to play a similar role as Hilda. While Hilda serves the part of the shell-shocked refugee, Horus serves the role of the emotionally-wounded soldier. He's the vet who returns home with post-traumatic stress disorder, experiences violent flashbacks, and winds up in games of Russian Roulette.

Okay, he's not that far gone. Not yet. But he's definitely getting there.

My guess is that Horus' battles with the silver wolves go back a very long time. They're arch-enemies, with longstanding grudges to settle. Add in an isolated, meager existence with a crashed boat for a home, an ailing father, and some stupid cartoon bear, and you've got a molotov cocktail on your hands. True, Horus is ultimately victorious and finally unites the village. But he still has to deal with the scars.

2007-03-04

Read Magazine Update

Well, folks, it seems I wasn't able to help out with Read Magazine's piece on Anne of Green Gables. They have tried to contact Nippon Animation, so perhaps they will supply the necessary art assets. For me, the only resource at my disposal are the fansubs, and all my screenshots which aren't at a high enough resolution to print properly (200dpi). Ah, well, that's life.

I'll be wishing them the best and hope they can spread the word about Anne. And, of course, the writers can always visit here if they needed some answers.

2007-03-02

Anniversary Time!

I have two recent anniversaries in my calendar, one last month and the other this month.

First, my original arts-and-writing website, DanielThomas.org, turned four years old in February. It's hard to believe that it's been four years since I first launched the site in 2003. It was the result of many weeks and months of hard work and planning. I originally wanted a website to host my artwork, as well as whatever I felt like writing about. I taught myself web design, thankfully discovering Dreamweaver and figuring out how to assemble all the pages together.

DanielThomas.org has always been a sprawling website. This goes against the rules of web design, which tell you to focus on one simple topic or theme in order to attract visitors. Sorry to say, I could never follow this rule. My life was just too sprawling; I had too many interests to keep bottled up.

I've redesigned and improved the site a number of times, and I think the last redesign was a year or two ago. I don't plan on changing anything else, and, strangely enough, I don't add much new content there anymore. Most everything that I need to access - the art galleries, the movie reviews, the game essays and strategy guides - is already there. So I think of it as a great library that has been very successful. I'll have to check the logs to see how many visitors I've had, but I broke the million-hit mark ages ago.

So happy birthday to DanielThomas.org.

Now to the second birthday. Conversations on Ghibli turns one year old on March 30! Yay!

I've been thinking about doing something to celebrate, like having a contest and giving away prizes. I'll let everyone know within a few days;

This blog is the main hangout for me now, and it's where I put the lion's share of my writing. The traffic isn't anywhere where I'd like it to be, but that's something I just need to work on. I'll need to work on the marketing angle more, making more connections to the animation communities. Oh, and I still want to do a weekly podcast. I'll tinker around with that tomorrow, when I'm not working on compiling the Heidi riffs.

Finally, I do plan to have my computer hooked back up to the internet by next weekend. Just need one more paycheck for rent and cable bill. And then I need to save for my move, hopefully in April. Unless, of course, I find some really cool records that I can't pass up. No way in bloody hell is "Elvis is Back!" getting out of my hands!

So, to recap - DanielThomas.org turned four in February, Conversations on Ghibli turns one on March 30. I'll be putting together some sort of contest with prizes. Cable modem will be back in another week. "Elvis is Back!" is the greatest rock 'n roll album of all time. Vinyl rocks. Ja, mata!