Thoughts on My Neighbor Totoro (Youtube Pulled Our Movie Edition)

Well, folks, I wanted to post another movie here on the blog, and I stumbled along into another copy of My Neighbor Totoro on YouTube. Well, why not? That works perfectly fine. And it's in the original language? That's fine, too; everybody knows the words by heart. At least, you should.

I've been watching Ken Burns' The War this week, and it's been a moving and profound experience. Above all else, it's a heavy film, the heaviest retelling of World War II I've ever seen. Likely this will become the war's heaviest statement, as that fateful and legendary generation is dying.

I wanted to write posts here that connect with that war, or deal with war in general, to continue the dialog. It isn't really that hard, since the two principle filmmakers at Studio Ghibli were born and raised during WWII, and profoundly affected by them. Hayao Miyazaki, especially, has been shaped by the war and its aftermath in his native Japan.

Which kind of brings us back to Totoro. Despite its reputation the world over as one of the happiest, most pastoral tributes to rural childhood ever put to film, it is likewise impacted greatly by the war. In this way, Miyazaki created a deeply personal film. He's always been a personal storyteller, narrating his own idealism and cynicism and romanticism and despair, engaging the audience into his ongoing dialogs. But My Neighbor Totoro is different. It's far more nostalgic, it carries into his past, without ever really engaging the present. If we can relate to the characters in Totoro, it's because Miyazaki touches universal themes of our collective humanity.

Japan's post-war years were wracked with poverty, suffering and disease. Tuberculosis was a deadly disease among the civilian population. Miyazaki's own mother was hospitalized, on and off again, for many years. This affected their relationship greatly; the son was especially impacted. In a sense, he never really recovered. His mother's illness, the son's pain, and the emotional distancing between them would be portrayed in My Neighbor Totoro, and both the film and manga versions of Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind.

Absent or surrogate parents played a role in Future Boy Conan, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and Kiki's Delivery Service. Porco Rosso deals with alienation and the difficulty to emotionally connect to loved ones. And the struggle to find and maintain those connections in a world torn by war and suffering are at the heart of Princess Mononoke and Howl's Moving Castle.

For Miyazaki, so much of his emotional trauma comes back to those early childhood years. The reality of so much suffering around him, caught in forces beyond their control. My Neighbor Totoro, in a sense, is an effort to make peace with that past. He creates a pastoral paradise, one where childhood is truly cherished and allowed to flourish and grow. It is a world without the trapping of the adult world; here, landscapes are teaming with life, dark forests only offer mystery and awe, and a giant furry animal lies underneath the trees, quietly snoring away.

My Neighbor Totoro is a movie with a dozen sides. You could appreciate it from any of those angles. That's why it's so beloved by all ages around the world. Well, here's another angle you may haven't thought of before.

Enjoy the movie! Get some more popcorn!


Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro in Theatres Sept 26

Good news, everyone! Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro will be showing in movie theatres across America on September 26, at 7:30 pm.

The complete list of movie theatres participating can be found here.

This screening is part of the ongoing Anime Bento movie series, presented by Manga Entertainment. One feature film is shown in participating theatres every week, one screening. I've heard of this promotion some months ago, and thought it was a pretty good idea, even if the anime being shown wasn't my thing. But now Manga has pulled out the heavyweight. It's all too rare that we get to see a Miyazaki picture on the big screen, so for fans this is pretty much a must-see event.

Unfortunately....the movie will be shown in dubbed form. Booo! I'll still be attending, of course, just as I have with every Miyazaki movie on the big screen. But I can't fathom how a forum aimed at the anime fan community would pass up the original language version. Yasuo Yamada? Sumi Shimamoto? Hello? Bueller? Bueller? The English language dubbing on the DVDs are pretty terrible, as nearly all anime dubs are. I wonder if that's even considered part of the appeal, like old kung-fu movies. Who knows?

In any case, if you're like me and you would prefer to hear the original voice cast, you could always record the audio soundtrack off the DVD, and then save it to your iPod. In fact, that's not a bad idea at all.

Here's something that the online fan community can really rally behind. I'd love to read about everyone's experiences in their towns. Host a local Miyazaki blog-a-thon! Post pictures, record videos, bring along your portable DVD player for private screenings. Make an event out of it.


Today's Screnshots - Animal Treasure Island

Time for a few new screenshots from everybody's - that means you - favorite pirate adventure movie, Animal Treasure Island. This time I wanted to include pictures from the opening and closing of the picture, which bookend this little album of photos.

I'm pretty sure I've written along these lines before, but I'm always amazed and enthralled at the bold use of colors from the Toei Doga era. These have some of the most vibrant use of colors in all of animation, anywhere in the world, but especially in Japan. I think, also, the iconic design of the characters and sets really allows the colors to come out and shine. The later Ghibli movies are all masterful, of course, exhibiting a level of skill unmatched anywhere else. And I'm a great fan of painters like Kazuo Oga who brought such an impressionist style to movies like My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke and Omohide Poro Poro. But I still have a sweet spot for that simpler, splashier style of late '60s, early '70s Toei.

And I think Animal Treasure Island is the most vibrant and colorful of 'em all. Puss in Boots spends much of its time at night, and Horus is always so dark and moody. This picture just screams fun. It's a party splashing right out of the screen. Note, also, the great attention in the variety of colors. There's a lot of blues in this movie, but look at the different kinds of blue, sometimes shifting from scene to scene.

Heck, I always liked that part in the pirate battle scene when the water and background is set all in green. Pretty much just there for effect, but it has a jazzy style. I'm reminded, of course, of my favorite Charlie Brown cartoons, with the color splashes in the background for closeups, even though there's no continuity. Cartoon and animation purists may cry foul; I say whatever. It's their loss. I miss cartoons that are stylish and fun just for the sake of being stylish and fun. Do we even know how anymore? Parts of Ratatouille give me some hope, but I still miss Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Bugs and Elmer, and good 'ol Charlie Brown.

Also, please note the photo of our beloved Miyazaki Heroine in her definitive pose. You have no idea how long it took me to capture that shot. Her pose is less than a second, but I had to capture it in motion.

And how about the terrific composition in that second shot? The one with Jim carrying the live bomb. This is what makes anime shine in skilled hands. The masters can convey action and tension and motion with a single pose, all on the strength of the composition and color and lighting. It's much closer to comic book and manga art than American animation, and I think it adds a real dynamism to the screen. This, I fear, is another skill that has become lost to American filmmakers, live action or animation. You see, is everyone had a copy of Animal Treasure Island, they could study it and learn all these valuable lessons, without me trying to teach 'em to ya while half-asleep.

Hah. Have a great day, kids.

Int'l Talk Like a Pirate Day is This Wednesday

Yaarrgh! This Wednesday is the annual Talk Like a Pirate Day! Avast! Throw on your favorite Rolling Stones records, stock up on root bear, fill the treasure box up with candy, and spend the night together watching the greatest pirate movie of all time....

....No, not the ones with Johnny Depp.

....No, not The Princess Bride.

....No, not that Pirate movie from the '80s with Gena Davis. Augh!

I'm talking about Animal Treasure Island!

A movie with action, adventure, sunken pirate treasure, a lost ship that gets stuck at the top of a volcano for some unknown reason, slapstick comedy gags, pirate drinking-and-looting songs, and everyone's favorite aggressive and moody heroine in blue. Oh, and don't forget the pirate battle against the pig ship....I don't want to put too much on this, but it's only the greatest pirate battle in the history of pirate battles! That's all. You can even make a drinking game out of spotting all of Miyazaki's crazy sight gags - there's the sub periscope, take a shot!

Again, I regularly make the case for this movie, which is available on DVD and practically disappeared on sight. But everyone deserves to have Animal Treasure Island in their collection. Oh, and don't forget to grab Puss in Boots while you're at the store - you can make it a double feature for Wednesday.

Yaargh! I want a beer barrel boat!

Reiko Okuyama Has Passed Away

It is with a profound sense of sorrow that I report to you the passing of Reiko Okuyama. Ben Ettinger reports that she died in May, and only discovered this truth on Friday. Those familiar with this blog will already remember her as the firebrand pioneer who broke down doors for women animators in Japan, and as a crucial member of what I like to call "The Horus Rebellion."

Here's what Ben Ettinger wrote about Okuyama's contribution to Horus, Prince of the Sun, from his must-read post on famous women in Japanese animation:

Next came the union's big film, Horus, Prince of the Sun (1965-68), in which Okuyama played a major part second only to Miyazaki in coming up with designs and drawing animation. She designed many of the female characters in the film, as well as their clothes, such as the little girl Mauni and the bride Pyria. She also animated numerous sequences, including the part where Coro arrives in the village and is chased by a lot of children, the scheming village chief, and even scenes of Hilda, such as Hilda in the rocking chair, Hilda holding Mauni in the meadow, and Hilda pushing Horus over the cliff. Mori did not correct her sections, so it should be possible to note some difference in Mori's and Okuyama's Hilda. Mori would have handled Hilda when she was experiencing complex, conflicting emotions, which he expressed masterfully in her expression, such as Hilda by the lake with Horus, whereas Okuyama handled Hilda when her expression could be more straightforward, such as Hilda throwing the axe at the village chief.

Reiko Okuyama contributed heavily to many of our Toei favorites, many of which I've written about, begging and pleading for you to see. She was often joined at the hip with her husband and partner, Yoichi Kotabe, proving her considerable skills and indominable spirit on Puss in Boots, Animal Treasure Island, The Flying Ghost Ship, and later joining Kotabe as co-Animation Director for 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother. She also worked on the strangely overlooked Puss in Boots sequels (Puss 2 is considered criminally overlooked by Ettinger), and Toei's final moment of greatness, Taro the Dragon Boy - again with Kotabe by her side.

Okuyama was also a fierce fighter for women's rights in the workplace, breaking down barriers to women in animation. She proved crucial in those years of the unions at Toei Doga, alongside Otsuka, Takahata, Miyazaki, and Kotabe. Her refusal to step down after becoming a mother in 1960 lead to battles with the studio, which threatened both her career and Kotabe's. But she and the union stayed strong, and they eventually prevailed, winning the rights of women to balance work and family without sacrificing their careers.

Reiko Okuyama was also Japan's first Animation Director, with 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea in 1969, a title she in fact shared with three others. And she continued this role for the two Puss in Boots sequels, Taro, and of course, 3000 Leagues. By the end of the '70s, she had drifted away from animation, moving towards children's book illustrations - which was really where she wanted to be at the very beginning. It's only because of a misunderstanding that she ever applied for a job at Toei; she thought the "Doga" meant illustrating books.

So she followed her muse for many years, as an illustrator, and as an artist. She became enamored with copperplate engraving in the mid-eighties, while she taught at Tokyo Designer Academy. It was this passion that would carry her through to the end of her life, with many appearances in art galleries and shows. A lucky encounter with Tadanari Okamoto in 1989 led to her involvement in his independent animation The Restaurant of Many Orders, and this sparked a reawakening that finally culminated in her triumphant comeback in 2003's anthology film Winter Days. For her short, she once again paired up with Yoichi Kotabe, this time incorporating her copperplate artistic style, and revealing a maturity and emotional depth never seen before. It remains one of her greatest works.

Like many of you, I was hoping that Reiko Okuyama could have created more works in this vein. It was emotional and vital, and spoke to the hopes and sorrows of womanhood, and of life. Sadly, it has become a perfect tribute to her passing; a celebration of her life, and a liberation of her spirit. Her loss for animation and the world is enormous, and she will be sorely missed.


Labor Day Movie - Horus, Prince of the Sun (subtitled)

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

Put down that pencil, soldier! Repeat after me! To-labor-day is Labor Day! Go hug a union worker, without whom you wouldn't have the weekend, the minimum wage, child labor laws, living wages, health and safety laws, the public school system and more.

I've uploaded this some weeks ago, and was waiting for the perfect opportunity. I'd say today is the best time, don't you? So here we go - Horus, Prince of the Sun, with English subtitles!

For comparison's sake, I'd say the older fansub - the one you can download directly from the links section - is the better one. This newest subtitle set tries to sound more conversational, more casual. These sort of things are always judgement calls, and only highlights that, yes, reading a couple lines of subtitled text are a poor substitute for hearing and knowing the spoken language. But, until we are all fluent in Japanese, this is our best second choice. Don't even get me started on dubbing.

Enjoy Isao Takahata and company's groundbreaking masterpiece from 1968. Bring your own popcorn. Play some Pink Floyd records (I'm playing Obscured by Clouds right now). And stop working! Unless you have no other choice - courtesy of President Stupid and the GOP.

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