The second movie poster for Laputa: Castle in the Sky. It's a more upbeat poster than the first one; the colors are brighter and warmer, and there's more action on display. I've long believed that the most skillful test of any animator is to depict action with a single pose. This image moves in your mind. It takes on a life of its own. This is a vitally important lesson for Western animators to learn.
I have to admit I prefer the blue poster to this one, but that's probably because its darker tones suggest the heavier emotional elements to the movie. That heart - romantic, contemplative, wistful - is what I take away from the experience. This poster shows more of the adventurous side, the fun side. Who wouldn't want to fly around in one of these zany contraptions? Miyazaki always had a gift for crazy flying machines. It's almost a shame that nobody in the real world tried to build something like this.
In any event, Castle in the Sky is an excellent movie. It really is a shame that the American DVD is so shoddy. The Japanese DVD looks so terrific that it may alone convince you of the virtues of importing. I can only imagine what the inevitable Blu-Ray disc will look like. Let's hope and pray that English subtitles will still be retained.
One of two really superb movie posters for Studio Ghibli's inagural feature, 1986's Laputa: Castle in the Sky. For its time, this is really a remarkable event in anime. Far too many features are tied to television shows, manga, or some other gasket of the corporate machine. Here is a fully original movie, not tied down to anything but Miyazaki's own illustrious past. But while owing a great deal to Future Boy Conan, Lupin III, or Animal Treasure Island, Castle in the Sky pushes deeper into the darker, more emotionally complex realm Miyazaki revealed in 1984 with Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind. These two films would form the emotional template for Studio Ghibli. In a sense, they still do.
This poster is terrific, taken from the movie, and full of deep blues. The entire setup to the picture is on display, at least the romantic heart of the film. That's probably what I enjoy the most about Castle in the Sky. In the midst of the laughs, the sorrows, the tragedies and the thrills, it's really this simple romance that everything is centered upon. John Lennon would have loved this.
Here's a pair of shots from one of the more poignant scenes from Laputa: Castle in the Sky. It's one of my favorite moments and I'm sure it's one of yours. I think this scene gets to the heart of what makes Miyazaki so special. He's not content to simply deliver cliffhanger thrills and adventure. While he's certainly more than able to handle any sort of action, his concern remains squarely on the human element. There's a greater concern about the characters and the world they inhabit, and these are often the moments when Miyazaki becomes more reflective about the human condition.
As he enters into middle age, Miyazaki's work achieves a new level of seriousness, a new thoughtfullness, and a greater urge to deal with the darker questions of humanity. Castle in the Sky is a skillful example of this. While its structure is firmly rooted in the cliffhanger serial style that he mastered so well in his youth - Puss in Boots, Animal Treasure Island, Lupin III, Future Boy Conan - the heavier questions emerge from the background.
By the time we reach the movie's third act, Castle in the Sky poses serious, troubling questions about ourselves and our civilization. There's a conflict between man and nature, which is a hallmark of so many Ghibli films. That battle between civilization and the natural world is depicted as greek tragedy in Miyazaki's world; this is a war that man is fated to lose, due his own arrogance, greed, and stupidity. There's little question which side he prefers, even though his heroes argue valiantly for peace and reconciliation. But that's more of a Mononoke issue than a Castle in the Sky issue.
No doubt the experiences of the War, and the memory of Hiroshima, haunts this movie. It's impossible to see the giant flying city, its doomsday weapons and its mushroom clouds, without recalling the Atomic Bomb. This is a common theme in Japanese art, but I don't recall anyone as passionate as Miyazaki. He almost gleefully destroys his toys and his cities. You know he was rooting for the Ohmu all along. The closing moments in Castle in the Sky, the image of the giant tree floating free into space, are a celebration and a requiem at once.
Which brings us back to this scene. The giant Superman robot leads the children down to the forest garden. There, they discover the tombs of the lost civilation. Even the robots themselves have died centuries ago, becoming part of the forest. There's something almost subversive about the giant monster presenting a flower. We remember the tragic death of the earlier robot, and we may look forward to Ohma, Nausicaa's God Warrior. It's always the same lament, the same blues song, about the decay of the mechanized world, and the need to reconnect with nature.
This tone - sad, wistful, almost mournful - is what gives this film its gravitas. It's what seperates it from so many of the mindless video game pictures to emerge in Star Wars' wake. In 1986, Miyazaki is no longer satisfied with entertaining us. Now he wants to engage us, as adults and as equals. He once had the answers for life's harder questions, but these were lost to the midlife crisis. Now he seeks new answers, and contemplates a future in which there are no more answers to be found, only questions. Only questions.
Yes, I know I have a blog where I can write about videogames, but this is so brilliant and clever that it should be loved by anime fans the world over. Chances are, I'm the last one to this party, and you already know the score. Ah, well.
These screenshots come from Keita Takahashi's Namco game, We Love Katamari. It is the sequel to the out-of-nowhere cult smash Katamari Damacy. It's a beautiful game, goofy and weird and fun and very, very psychedelic. And it somehow manages to leave its impression upon you, in a way you would not expect from a game. Strange. It inspires me to think about Terence McKenna raps, the Beatles' White Album, our obsession with consumerism, the collapse of America's capitalist economy, and everything in nature that makes me smile. In its way, Katamari is about living, real living.
It's almost like Hayao Miyazaki's revenge fantasies, where Japan is wiped out in a tsunami or a series of natural disasters. He's always, not so secretly, been cheering for the Ohmu stampedes. And here is a video game where you roll up all our junk, all our stupid toys, all of these useless things, roll them up into a giant ball and hurl it into space.
Katamari Damacy is sillier and more sly than it has any right to be. And the sequel, We Love Katamari, is even goofier. I'm still lurking around the game shops in the Twin Cities for a copy, though. A Playstation 2 will run you $50 used nowadays, so this is definitely set in the "impulse buy" category. This probably adds a layer of irony to the whole Katamari premise - I'm collecting more junk I don't really need to play a game about getting rid of all the junk I really don't need. Ah, well. Living is full of such goofy paradoxes.
Since my last post mentioned this, I should give this DVD a proper explanation. Released in Japan in 2005, Hayao Miyazaki and the Ghibl Museum is a documentary about the studio's famous museum in Mitaka, Japan. It remains something of a Mecca for Ghibli Freaks throughout the world.
The video is narrated by Isao Takahata, who walks us around with Goro Miyazaki, who has run the museum for many years. I know he passed the baton to someone else during the production of Gedo Senki, but I don't know if that move was permanent. His time would be more wisely spent learning from the masters at the studio instead, especially if he hopes for a future as a film director.
This documentary gives us a good opportunity to learn something about Goro, try to gauge what sort of person he is. There was a lot of dirty laundry aired during the production of his picture, and I think he came away damaged by the experienced. The backlash in Japan was very real and it's hard to say whether the public will warm up to him in the future. If Goro thought he was under a lot of pressure before, just wait until he begins his second movie. That will truly be the thing that makes or breaks him, and will sharply determine the future of Studio Ghibli.
I'm probably getting away from the script here. But this is a genuine concern for the fans, and there's still a great deal of mystery around the man. I'm sure if we were able to visit the Ghibl Museum and find Goro Miyazaki standing there, we'd be more interested in learning more about him than anything else in the place.
Anyway, this video goes into detail on the museum, its art motifs, its European style which stretches back to the productions of Heidi and Marco in the 1970's. We see the intimate degree that location scouting played in the design of Takahata's and Miyazaki's productions. The influence of the Neorealists looms large, possibly the single greatest influence on the filmmakers. Even today, the hard work and dedication learned from the days of Heidi, Marco and Anne are present in every Ghibli animation.
As you can see from the cover, that is the great Yuri Norstein at the museum, resting next to the giant robot from "Farewell Beloved Lupin" and Castle in the Sky. Friends and mentors alike arrive to pay their respects, including our own John Lasseter. Hopefully, he's taking notes. I'd really prefer to see a Pixar museum that was designed like this place, a strange brew of playground and university art college, than something purely commercial (sorry, Disneyland). Once again, I find myself presented with something imaginative and brilliant, but completely alien to America.
What does Lasseter think of this place? What elements inspire him? What does he point to when he seeks to discover a new idea? What happens when the Pixar artists congregate here? Will we see influence in their work? Will we one day see this sandbox art museum here in the States? Could they even pull it off if they tried? Or would the corporate suits dig their claws into everything and poison the artists' original vision?
There isn't a whiff of commercialism anywhere near the Ghibli Museum. Miyazaki consciously created something that was pure art, creativity for its own sake. This isn't an elaborate pyramid scheme to program children to obediently shell out endless sums of money. Merchandizing! Merchandizing!
Museum exhibits routinely include works from around the world (yes, including Pixar), going into immense detail. The aim is to inspire children young and old to create. Ghibli also has produced many short films exclusively for this venue. Miyazaki has created several shorts over the years; the Totoro semi-sequel Mei and the Kittenbus would likely be the most famous. But they are not intended for commercial screenings. You won't find them at the multiplex, and there won't be any DVDs. Miyazaki is strictly adamant about that. The only way you'll ever discover these films is to see them at the museum.
Such a unique place. Has there ever been a place or time when the artists held complete control for so long? It's completely unheard of in the movie business. It's almost like a vision from some other world, some long lost land. I wasn't joking when I said the Ghibli Museum is a Mecca for the Ghibli Freaks of the world. Sooner or later, you simply must suck in your gut and make your pilgrimmage. Either that or hand in your membership card. Really is that simple.
That scene with the giant robot from Toei's 1969 anime The Flying Ghost Ship got me thinking. Geoff Nickerson wondered if Brad Bird's movie The Iron Giant was influenced in any way by Miyazaki's giant robot in Castle in the Sky. I don't know if that's the case; if so, that would be pretty interesting when you consider the checkered history of Miyazaki's giant robot.
Miyazaki's original inspiration came from Superman. He and his peers were great fans of the Fleischer studio, and you can see that influence in productions like Animal Treasure Island, Sherlock Hound, and Porco Rosso. You may find more examples if you dig around. The giant robot appeared in the 1941 cartoon, "The Mechanical Monsters," where a giant robot robs banks under the control of a mad scientist. It's really a classic, and one of the great Superman cartoons.
Wow! I forgot how much I loved these Superman cartoons! The only good thing to come from the live-action movies was General Zod. Everything else was a wash.
Anyway, Miyazaki paid tribute to the Fleischers in "Farewell, Beloved Lupin. The 1979 Second Series finale also featured a giant robot which is robbing banks. This time, the robot is under the control of - surprise! - Miyazaki's Heroine, clad in blue, thoughful and moody as always. She was being manipulated by certain mysterious actors, who have framed Lupin for the crimes.
You can see how Miyazaki often works around similar motifs, either revisiting or recycling older ideas years later. The relationship between the Heroine and her robot in the Lupin finale is echoed strongly, many years later, as Nausicaa and Ohma, in the final volume of the Nausicaa manga. These are the smartest and wisest of the "Ghibli Riffs," because the complex relationship in one work is re-examined in another. There's a synthesis of meaning, an added dimension of depth. In this sense, much of Miyazaki's more serious work is part of a greater conversation, one life-long epic poem.
This is why it remains so difficult to truly understand the filmmaker until you have studied all of his work, and why Westerners who have only been exposed to My Neighbor Totoro or Spirited Away assume Miyazaki to be a Japanese Walt Disney. I've said it many times, and it's a crucial lesson to hear. Hayao Miyazaki is not Walt Disney.
Back to the Superman robot. Most Ghibli Freaks will also recognize it in Castle in the Sky, where it practically steals the show. Its scenes are probably the most memorable in the entire picture, blending adventure, suspense, and pathos all at once. Perhaps there's a bit of King Kong in that character, the giant monster who remains understood to all except the girl.
The idea for the giant robot was already sketched out for Nausicaa, as we can see from the 1984 film, even though Ohma emerges as a much deeper, richer character (this is another brilliant example of one work influencing the other - you cannot truly appreciate Ohma without knowing the movie God Warrior). But the character was placed, almost fully intact, into the first Studio Ghibli film, Castle in the Sky.
And there the story ends, except for one final appearance. The giant robot now stands as a statue at the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan. The studio released a DVD documentary about the museum in 2005. On the cover is a photograph of the famous robot. Seated at its foot? None other than the legendary animator, Yuri Norstein.
Another one of the great Studio Ghibli posters. It also happens to be one of my absolute favorite Miyazaki films. It's a spectacular showcase of color and detail, a wonderful bit of expressionism.
Howl is a film that baffles a lot of Westerners, particularly those who aren't as knowledgeable about Miyazaki as your typical Ghibli Freak. But I continue to insist that it's a spectacular movie, loaded with at least three pictures' worth of story in its two-hour length. It's certainly the most densely-packed of Miyazaki's films. No question about that. But it rewards your dedication. It's like the Beatles' White Album brought to the screen.
This is even cooler than the Lego Catbus. Looks like it was much harder to put together. Now if you could just build a couple hundred of them, we'd have the coolest art installation ever.
I feel so jealous. I couldn't make anything with Legos. Lincoln Logs were more my thing. That and crayons.
More photos here.
This is just too cool. A Lego Catbus!
More photos here. You can also see how it was put together.
In Japan, Ghiblies Episode 2 was the top half of a double bill with The Cat Returns. They are also packaged together for the Japanese DVD, which is especially nice, given how expensive these things are. Yes, DVDs in Japan are $45. Yes, that is a baffling crime.
It's a real shame that Ghiblies 2 wasn't brought here to the States alongside Cat Returns. For me, it's the better film by far, even if it only runs for half an hour. But, to be fair, this was the project by the studio's seasoned hands, while Neko no Ongaeshi was the work of the younger kids. They do make a nice pair together.
This is a great poster. I especially like the parody logo at the top left. Who was that man's name again? He's featured as the narrator of a "history of Ghibli" video on the Nausicaa DVD. Somebody check up on that. The scene depicted here comes from my favorite short from the film. It's such a beautiful piece of nostalgia, and a masterful melting of 2D and 3D animation.
Ghiblies 2 is one of those great "kitchen sink" films where the artists and animators have free reign to run amok. It also allows them a chance to experiment with CGI, instead of the feature films, where Ghibli - and Miyazaki especially - are far more cautious. Now they are complete rebellion against the computers. Who knows how long that will last?
The word is out that Yoshiyuki Momose has the green light to direct a new Ghibli film. Will it be a Ghiblies Episode 3? I do hope so. Momose is one of Ghibli's great hidden talents. Between Ghiblies 2 and the trio of Capsule music videos (seen on the Ghibli Short Short DVD), he's the best anime director the Americans haven't heard of. Miyazaki isn't the only one who works there, ya know.
One of the great things I love about the Ghibli films are their terrific posters. These are created by the studio themselves, and not some faceless marketing team hired by the suits. The artists remain in complete control of everything - the production, the trailers, and the posters.
For the last few years, Ghibli's Japanese DVDs were also adorned with their movie posters, which just looks terrific. Here is a perfect example, from Ghibli's 2002 production Neko no Ongaeshi, which translates as, "The Cat Returns the Favor." We know it better by its shorter international title, The Cat Returns.
Even though Cat Returns remains one of the minor studio works, I think the poster is just superb. It's one of my favorite Studio Ghibli posters, in fact. Now compare this to the Disney DVD that's available here in North America. It's probably not a fair comparison, since one is a full-scale movie poster, and the other is a cover for a direct-to-video DVD. There are different markets and different concerns. But it's not secret that Hollywood has lost the knack of making classic movie posters. Now it's all so bland and lifeless. It all just screams, "Photoshop."
Ah, well. You can still find good movie posters here and there, usually for the indie films. I still wish I had my Waking Life poster. I scored that from the pre-release screening here in Minneapolis back in 2001, and it remains a favorite movie to this day.
Another movie trailer found on YouTube. This is Toei Doga's 1963 feature film, Wan Wan Chusingura. It is based upon the famous Japanese story of the 47 Ronin, only performed entirely by dogs. This is another one of the early, obscure Toei pictures. I can only point to GhibliWorld and Anipages for sources, and Ben Ettinger has admitted he's yet to see the movie. Ah, well. It is available on DVD in Japan, so it'll be in my collection one day.
Now this is a great find! Here is the complete opening sequence to the 1960's Japanese puppet show, Hyokkori Hyoutan Jima.
For those who aren't aware, this classic children's show figured prominently in Isao Takahata's Ghibli masterpiece, Omohide Poro Poro. It happens to be one of the film's dramatic high points, and the concluding scene - where young Taeko-Chan sings along to the Hykkori Hyoutan Jima song to console herself - happens to be the banner to Conversations on Ghibli.
So, if you were wondering what that scene at the top of the page is from, now you know. Well, you should have already known, since I've shown Omohide Poro Poro a couple times when it was available on YouTube. But now all the new visitors know.
By the end of the sixties, Toei had begun to branch off with a series of low-budget pictures, none of which are remembered fondly. While the main crew we know and love was busy creating Horus, Puss in Boots, Animal Treasure Island, and Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, the glory days of the Toei studio were numbered.
The Flying Ghost Ship is rare, even for Toei movies. I think the fansub comes from a Russian DVD. This was because the movie was a joint venture between Russia and Japan. This is why all the dialog is in Russian - or at least in the fansub copy we can all download and watch. Perhaps it's also a symbol of its quick, slapdash nature. I'm sure more work was put into Horus on a good day than this entire movie's production. It's a fast, in-and-out affair.
I hope that doesn't sound too harsh. I happen to like Flying Ghost Ship; it has the feel of a cheesy 1950's B-movie. You almost expect to find Tom Servo and Crow sneaking into the front row and making wisecracks. Those kind of movies are fun for me. Heck, if any anime deserved to be shown on Mystery Science Theatre 3000, it would be this one.
I really do like the poster, though. I'm a real fan of classic Japanese movie posters. There's something about that art style, the way they cram so many details onto the page. The dramatic poses, the highlights from key scenes, the mountains of text. Those were the days of real movie posters. Everything today is handled squarely by marketing, and it all looks so dull, so plastic. Yawn. Do yourself a favor and collect a few classic movie posters for your home. I guarantee it will brighten the mood and make you cooler to your friends.
Back to Flying Ghost Ship. This is a short picture, only an hour, and yet it manages to cram three different storylines into its length. First, there is, um, ahem....alright, it's a cheesy Scooby Doo knockoff. See? They even have the same kind of dog. But this one doesn't talk or get baked on Scooby Snacks (now legal for medicinal uses). Which means this dog is really lame. But we do get a haunted house and a pirate ghost.
From that, we move onto a larger conspiracy involving the Ghost Ship and a giant robot attacking the city. Yep, it's yet another giant monster stomping Tokyo. Ghibli Freaks will sit up and pay attention, though. This monster robot attack was key animated by Hayao Miyazaki. And, predictably enough, it's the best scene in the movie. The shots of tanks rumbling through a crowded downtown would be riffed, years later, in the Lupin III Series Two finale, Farewell, Beloved Lupin.
There are also a couple more Miyazaki riffs, which both appeared later in Future Boy Conan. One would be the uniformed guards for the evil corporation, and the other would be the pirate "ghost," revealed to be....ah, that would be spoiling things. C'mon, you can download this and watch for yourself. Shouldn't take you any time at all.
Somehow, the movie ends with the hero and a young scientist girl in a submarine, diving towards a secret ocean base where a giant sea monster plots to destroy Japan. Oh, didn't I tell you? These giant crabs suddenly appear out of nowhere and start smashing things. Hah! Giant monsters are Japan's answer to the Death Star. If any movie gets stuck, here's your cheap plot escape - monster attack!
There's one more plot thread that really struck me, because it's a near-perfect copy to the "Slurm" episode of Futurama. That's the one where an immensely popular soft drink is, in fact, alien goo. And the whole corporate scheme is just a scam to take over the world. Hmm....yeah, somebody on the Futurama staff has most likely seen this movie. I wonder if he confessed where the original idea came from? It's not likely the plaigerism would be called out. Flying Ghost Ship, after all, isn't even available on DVD in Japan.
A couple more notes about Flying Ghost Ship. There was another riff in this movie, one that I've mentioned before. It's a deathbed confession scene that quotes Horus, and was used yet again in Conan in 1978. Miyazaki certainly took a lot from this movie when he was making Conan. Perhaps he just really liked those scenes he worked on, and didn't want them to wallow in obscurity.
The second thing I wanted to point out was that this film was Yoichi Kotabe's first as Animation Director. As always, his faithful wife, Reiko Okuyama, was by his side, working just as hard and proving herself brilliant. In their future lay Heidi and Marco, and Kotabe would serve as Animation Director for Toei Doga's 1979 feature Dragon Boy Taro, a brilliant film and an echo of Toei's golden age. Flying Ghost Ship? Eh, not so much. A picture like this points towards Toei's decline, one that has proved more or less permenent.
There are a few new additions to the Ghibli blog today. Basically, I'm just working to make things easier for everyone, from longtime fans to the newest visitors. Hopefully, this will make your stay here a better one.
First, I've been steadily working on adding tags to all of the posts. It's a long and slow process, because I have to edit each post, one at a time. But I think the effort will be worth it. Now, whenever I write about a topic - the Ghibli Riffs, for example - you can quickly see all the related posts. This should help you catch up more quickly, without having to read everything from the very beginning. We'll save that experience for the books.
Second, I've added links to more film reviews. The Pixar movies are given their own section now, since I've written about their last three feature films. I've also noticed that anytime I write about Pixar, I suddenly become very popular. Which means, naturally, that I'll have to write reviews for all of the Pixar movies, from Toy Story on down. Hey, an excuse to visit the video store!
I've also made sure to add links to my other anime film reviews, like Satoshi Kon's Paprika. I'm telling myself that I really should write something about my other favorite animation films, like last year's brilliant Persepolis (I'm also a great fan of the book) and the usual suspects. As always, my writing is pretty impulsive, without much long-range planning, so hopefully I won't become too distracted. But I do hope to get caught up.
Which reminds me - I really, really need to finish the rest of the Studio Ghibli reviews. I've been putting off a couple of them for years.
Finally, I've added links to general film reviews that I published on my old website, DanielThomas.org. I never wrote nearly often enough, and my plans for writing about every DVD I watched (and I've been a pretty obsessive movie fan) have never played out. Most of my writing was going into the animated movies, and that's what eventually led to this blog.
The most popular - or most infamous - review I wrote was the one for Boondock Saints. I absolutely hated it, detested it. And for the longest time, I would get hate mail every few days or weeks. Now that I think about it, I haven't received any new hate mail lately. Between this review and my rant, "Stryper Sucks," my inbox was always full.
So there you have it. Hopefully, the right column isn't becoming too crowded. I probably need a better template for this site. I'll need to hunt some computer nerds down one of these days.
I ran this post from a German blog that linked to Conversations on Ghibli into Babelfish...and, well, just enjoy:
"We press Daniel the thumbs that he exempts from warning lawyers remains and in its blog such ingenious views of the work of the large Hayao Miyazaki to far can present!"
That should be put on a t-shirt. I press you the thumbs!
Anyway, thanks to our blogger friends from Germany. This blog is read across Europe, so we're glad to have everyone join in on the party.
Here is the trailer for Toei Doga's second feature film, 1959's Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke, or as it's known in the West, Magic Boy. Ben Ettinger describes:
"Here we find Toei Doga plunging into the realm of the historical fantasy adventure spectacular, and the film is just plain fun to watch, great entertainment with lots of variety and action, but strangely, while it's a step forward from Hakujaden in terms of the animation, it seems to be a step backwards in terms of the content. Apparently this is attributable purely to Toei politics. The original script was transformed at a late stage in production into a simple bad-guy-vs-good-guy story at the behest of Toei execs who wanted to cash in on the popular formula Toei had been putting to use at the time in their live-action jidaigeki movies. There was widespread discontent among the animators because of this."
Embedding was disabled for this clip, so you'll just have to follow the link. Enjoy.
I haven't watched this movie lately, so I can't recall if this shot was used in the final film. But this does illustrate what I was saying about anime's power to communicate through formal composition. It's one of the crowning achievements of Studio Ghibli, I'd say.
The late, great Yoshifumi Kondo was the Character Designer and Animation Director for this movie, and he continued to deliver the same masterly touch he brought to Takahata's Anne of Green Gables. This may as well could be a shot from Anne.
I don't think I've ever written about Grave of the Fireflies on the Ghibli blog. That's a rather odd thing, and an unfortunate lapse on my part. For Americans, and Westerners in general, this is a very difficult and emotionally demanding movie to watch. I wasn't able to sit through the entire length on my first viewing; I needed to pause halfway and wait until the next day to finish.
This was my first discovery of Isao Takahata, inspired by Roger Ebert's Great Movies column. I was left completely devestated, in total shock. I had never seen an animation film remotely like it. And I was left with a gnawing hunger to discover more. Years later, I am sharing my discoveries and my questions, here on the Ghibli blog, with you.
EDIT (12/4, 8:22 am) - Someone pointed out this was a layout drawing, not a storyboard. D'oh! I should know better. I made the changes to the title of the post.
Yaargh! Avast with ye! There be plunderin' about!
Who drew the storyboards for Animal Treasure Island? I do wish these were compiled into a book, like Horus and the Studio Ghibli movies. This is such a laughably fun movie, I'd grab up any art books that were released. And these were painted in watercolor, too? Yaargh!
One of the great strengh of the best anime is the strong emphasis on composition and framing. This probably owes a great deal to the manga culture, and the long history of Japanese art. Some may scoff at this style as "comic book art," and that's fine. This is different from Disney or Warner Bros. But it is interesting, isn't it, that Japanese animation was once termed manga eiga - the comic book movie?
I'm of the belief that skilled animators must also have a keen understanding of layout and composition. They must be skilled painters, and must know how to use the whole canvas. Formal compostition has waned considerably in recent decades, no doubt fueled by the popularity of television - filmmakers with an eye on the television screen are less willing to paint to the corners of the widescreen format.
The second storyboard, where Jim is being carried away in a bag, is a perfect illustration of this. These are very cinematic-minded shots. We are seeing through the lens of an imaginary camera, and these layouts are crucial pieces of information for the viewers. The perfect shot can communicate as effectively as the perfect pose.
As promised, here are some samples of Yasuji Mori's artwork. First is this watercolor sketch of Hilda, the tragic heroine from Horus, Prince of the Sun. Hilda was Mori's creation, and he personally animated most of her scenes. The rest were handled by Reiko Okuyama. Together, they helped to create a deeply complex, complicated character unlike anything seen before in anime. And she blazed the trail for everything that followed. Heidi, Marco, Nausicaa, Akira, Evangelion, Paprika, Mind Game - all sprout from this one iconic heroine.
Now here is a sketch from Toei Doga's first color feature film, Hakujaden. The story is based on a Chinese folk tale. This was done in the spirit of reconciliation between China and Japan. This is the first anime movie under the Animation Director system. Sadly, this movie remains almost completely unknown to the outside world. We should work on that.
And here is a collection of character sheets from Toei's 1963 anime classic, Little Prince and the Eight Headed Dragon. This is an animation showcase, endlessly thrilling to watch, and to this day remains among the handful of anime classics. This should prove especially useful to American animators and artists. Mori's skills as an animator just shine. Go ahead, animators - share, share!
Today I discovered this wonderful internet shrine to one of the great pioneers of Japanese animation, Yasuji Mori. Mori was the godfather of the Toei Doga studio through its glory years of the 1950's to the 1970's. I've become something of a Toei fan, through my affection for all things Ghibli; no doubt Mori is greatly responsible for this.
Hakujaden is available on DVD in Japan, if I'm not mistaken. It's somewhere on my "DVDs to buy" list. If and when I get my hands on the movie, you'll be the first to know.
Since I'm going to rant about Horus again, I might as well post a few screenshots. Haven't done this in a while, thanks to a botched Windows XP installation. The DVD is completely disabled, and rebooting from my orginal disc no longer works. It's enough to drive me to buy a Macbook.
We really, really need to see the Toei classics on Blu-Ray. I still hold out hope that Takahata and Miyazaki could grab the rights to Horus at some point, and release it themselves.
Found it! That didn't take too long.
I saw this poster on The Poster Pit, and I should probably give props. I'll just let you sit quietly and marvel at the greatest/worst anime poster of all time. Have I ranted about this one yet?
This is the sort of thing that just makes me cranky. Let's just see if we can count all the things about this DVD cover that ticks me off. Ugh. It's just painful to even look at.
For those without a keen eye, this is not, "Prince Effin' Valiant," but a lousy Italian repackaging of Horus, Prince of the Sun, Isao Takahata's revolutionary masterpiece and one of my all-time favorite films. I think I've written about Horus once or twice. I even watched it again earlier this evening, before literally peeling myself away from the couch.
We're probably far enough along in the J-Pop and anime boom to remind the kids what things were like back in the old'n days. Two decades ago, this was the standard treatment for imported anime. Hacked films, altered scripts, rewritten scripts, painfully bad dubbing, and rediculously stupid covers. What jerk approved this lousy box? Somebody with a degree from a community college, I'll bet.
The reasoning by the suits is simple. Cartoons are for kids, and this one is just as good as any other. Little Timmy and Suzie won't complain, because they don't know any better. And, besides - it's foreign, which to our superior American minds means it sucks. It must. We're number one! U-S-A!! U-S-A!!
Such is the moronic attitude that made anime viewing on these shores so very difficult for so many years. Forget about imports with quality fansubs. Forget about newsrooms or websites or downloads. Unless you had some major connections, chances are this was your only way of getting into the scene. This was a major pain well into the '90s, even after Akira officially made Japanese animation "cool" for most Gen-X'ers.
When Horus was exported around the world, it was typically with the syruppy title, "Little Norse Prince Valiant," or just "The Little Norse Prince." The movie had ab-so-freakin'-lutely nothing whatsoever to do with Prince Valiant, but, ehh. Who cares? Timmy's loaded up on Ritalin. He's off in la-la land. One day he'll grow up to become a talk radio host.
Even today, at a time when all parties should know better, we're still battling this rediculous title. The UK release of Horus comes plastered with that stupid, "The Little Norse Prince" title, as if the suits in charge couldn't be bothered to translate the name. I mean, it's right there on the screen in big bold letters! How could you miss it? Didn't the opening scene with the wolves give you a clue? This isn't anybody's idea of a kiddie cartoon. Anybody except Sam Peckinpaw, I suppose.
And why do western cartoon boxes always have that stupid airbrushed look to it? And all the characters always have to be smiling. What the hell is with that?! C'mon, you've had enough chance to see this movie if you've been following the Ghibli blog. You can even download the fansub right this minute. Look at that damned cover. Does that cover resemble anything - ANYTHING - in this movie?!
You see, above all else, this is the reason why I love Horus, Prince of the Sun. It is the polar opposite of THIS. Horus and Hilda don't sing and dance like freakin' Smurfs. They come roaring through your speakers like Black Sabbath. Every time I watch, I sit in amazement that Takahata, Miyazaki, and the crew ever pulled it off. It's a miracle that the Toei studio bosses never burned the negatives. For 1968, it's that shocking. Heck, it's that shocking today. This movie still couldn't be made in the States. Too dark. Too violent. Too heavy. Too freakin' awesome!
Truth be told, this DVD packaging isn't even the worst offender for anime imports. The worst offender of them all...well, strangely enough, that's another picture Miyazaki worked on. I'll see if I can find a photo online somewhere.
Why is this the only Ghibli blog on the internet? Really, what's the deal with that?
And why am I not getting higher traffic because of that?
GhibliWorld was the first to break news on the US cast for Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea this past week, but there seems to be some controversy on the matter. Disney has still not made any official announcement on the matter, and Anime News Network claimed that the story is false, based on a rumored test screening in Pasadena.
As with all things involving the internet, we must take these with a grain of salt. But I haven't been aware of GhibliWorld peddling falsehoods. They tend to get their facts and figures straight, even if it means ruffling a few feathers (which is unfortunate). In any event, until I hear official word otherwise, I would expect this to be the American casting for Ponyo.
This is where the Ghibli Freaks all try to discern Disney's plans for the movie, whether they will seriously promote Ponyo, or bury it to a quick death in the art-house theatres. While I'm hopeful it will be treated better than poor Howl (202 screens on opening week, then kicked down to 37), I am just as clueless as anybody. It's really not in the business of Hollywood studios to promote their rivals, after all. Even if they're guaranteed a cut of the action.
As with all things, we will simply have to wait and see.
I was reading through the archives of Ben Ettinger's Anipages (our most valued resource for anime history), and re-discovered this excellent post on two classic television series. Wolf Boy Ken (1963-65, 86 episodes) and Hustle Punch (1965-66, 26 episodes) were Toei Doga's television series, and featured all of our favorite Toei players of the '60s - Yasuo Otsuka, Yasuji Mori, Reiko Okuyama, Yoichi Kotabe, Akemi Ota, Hayao Miyazaki, and Isao Takahata.
Wolf Boy Ken, in particular, holds a special distinction as Takahata's directoral debut. He had already worked as Assistant Director on a couple features (including the 1963 classic Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon), and this series saw him in the director's chair for the first time. He was certainly impressive enough for the studio to give him the honor of directing the next Toei Doga feature film in 1965 - which became Horus, Prince of the Sun.
Anyway, Ben Ettinger goes into great detail on all the major players for these two shows, explaining their significance and his own fond memories. A DVD of selected episodes was released in Japan a few years ago, and I told myself long ago to get myself a copy. There were several DVDs of Toei's '60s television shows, but I honestly don't know if they're still in print. I'll have to look into that the next time I plan to pick up some new discs.
Again, be sure to read the Anipages essay.
Another treasure from YouTube. These two video clips feature Miyazaki in the United States to promote Princess Mononoke in the US. They make appearances before the press, before film festivals, and tour the Disney studios, speaking with many friends and admirers.
It's a very telling document, especially considering the way Mononoke, and future Ghibli films, were finally handled by Disney. I've held this opinion for quite some time, and I've argued it here on the Ghibli blog now and then, but watching these interviews really prove just how nervous Disney was at Miyazaki's new film.
When Disney signed the distribution deal with Studio Ghibli, there's no doubt that Disney had one eye on its competitors, wanting to snag the rights before a rival Hollywood studio did. But I think that's only half the story; they really wanted children's movies like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service. And they were expecting Miyazaki to deliver more movies in that vein. Then, to their shock, he delivers his darkest and most adult film yet.
Disney, as part of their contract, is obligated to release Miyazaki's future films in the US, and Mononoke was the first. This was a very big deal to both parties, but especially for Ghibli, which had yet to crack the American market. The names Miyazaki and Takahata were known the world over, but still unknown here, aside from the animation freaks. Each party - Ghibli and Disney - had one eye on the other, feeling this new relationship out.
There's a palpable sense of nervousness from the Disney people. You can hear the same worries in their questions. Mononoke isn't a cut-and-dried adventure. There is no clear hero and no clear villain. Every character is drawn in shades of grey. Heck, the entire picture is splintered like a Picasso painting. Instead of a simple moral lesson with a cheap corporate sales pitch at the end ("Buy all our products and toys!!"), we have several sides caught in a doomed war, splintered in multiple directions. Mononoke is a complex film.
I don't wish to sound overly harsh against Disney. Despite our best hopes, the truth is that animation in the US remains the domain of children. The last time the Oak Street Cinema screened a series of Miyazaki films, they included Mononoke in the schedule, between Totoro and Kiki. Sure enough, the theatre was filled with parents, their five-year-old children in tow. Oops. Clearly, greater effort at educating the public is needed.
Still, as an artist and dedicated Ghibl Freak, I am endlessly annoyed by all these stupid questions from the suits, the expectation that Miyazaki dumb his work down to the level of...I dunno. Why does everything in this country be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator? Are we really that dumb? Is this a question of cultural conditioning? Was Pauline Kael right, in that parents have become imprinted with Disney-style kitsch? Or do we point the finger at the executives from the Marketing Dept.?
Questions, questions, questions. I suspect the answer is a combination of all three, and that the education is the only solution. And that's going to take some time. Japan and America are separated by a common language (animation); it would appear that Disney only realized this once Miyazaki arrived with his Kurosawa epic in tow.
(Update: This video has since been removed from Youtube. Sorry.)
Iblard Jikan was a direct-to-DVD project released late last year in Japan on DVD and Blu-Ray. It is based upon the work of fantasy artist Naohisa Inoue, who also contributed his work for the fantasy dream sequences in Mimi wo Sumaseba (Whisper of the Heart).
I wrote a post last December on the Iblard DVD here, so feel free to catch up. Fortunately, this short film is available on YouTube, so I thought it would be fun to watch it. Since there's next to no chance of ever seeing it commercially available here in the US, we may as well take advantage of this opportunity.
This is a very interesting and entertaining Studio Ghibli work. It's always a thrill for me to see the studio's amazing talent unleashed on a minor project, free from the tyranny of Miyazaki or Takahata. There is often a certain freedom, a greater sense of visual experimentation, in these shorts. These are very often the proving grounds for ideas techniques used later in the proper Ghibli films.
Iblard Jikan contains very little animation, which may be a bit of a surprise. The Inoue's artwork is the star of the show. The animators are only adding flourishes to his world. In fact, there really isn't any narrative present at all; only a travelogue of locales in the Iblard realm. The more cynical will toss this aside as a glorified slideshow, and they may be on to something. But it's very difficult to resist the quality of Inoue's psychedelic paintings. Does the DVD come with mushrooms?
If anything, watching this short only makes me want to sit down and watch Mimi again, one of my favorite movies, animation or live. For most everybody else, Iblard Jikan is a minor work for the dedicated Ghibli Freaks only.
Iblard Jikan runs about 30 minutes, in three segments.
Series three of The Making of Princess Mononoke Hime. With Enlish subtitles. Segments 1-10 of 15. Unfortunately, the final five segments have yet to be uploaded to YouTube. I'll add them as soon as they are made available. This is continued with Part 1 - Part 2.
As you can tell by visiting my politics-n-pop blog, Videogames of the Damned, I've been very busy working through the US election. Because of this, I haven't been able to write here on the Ghibli blog these past few weeks. I just want to extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who still visits every day, posts comments, and otherwise checks up on me. In a perfect world, I'd have a couple other bloggers to help lighten the load for me, but I'll do my best.
I have a real surprise for all the Ghibli Freaks this weekend. This is a tv documentary from Japan called Mononoke hime wa Koushite Umarete - or, in other words, The Making of Princess Mononoke.
This lengthy documentary was two years in the making, as director Toshio Uratani followed Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli with videotape camera in hand, recording over 300 hours of footage. The film was released as three series, which runs roughly three hours.
In Japan, Mononoke achieved the rank of cultural phenonemon, smashing domestic box-office records and propelling Studio Ghibli to the top of the film world. Miyazaki began a new phase of his career, one of unparalled success. This began his epic period, which continued with The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chiriho, and Howl's Moving Castle, films which paint on larger and larger canvasses, more extravagent and stylish, more broadly thematic. These are Miyazaki's double albums, his Physical Grafitti, his Electric Ladyland.
That epic period has now passed, and with Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea, Miyazaki is back to painting on a smaller canvas. The densely-packed storytelling has given way to something more economic, more iconic and accessable. I don't think you'll need to consume the entirety of Miyazaki's career to understand Ponyo, as was necessary with Howl and (to a lesser degree) Mononoke. You can just walk into the theatre with a blank slate and enjoy Ponyo on its terms.
And we can now look back at Ghibli's blockbuster era, and try to understand how it all came to be.
One more note: unless I'm mistaken, this documentary is available in Japan on DVD. Unfortunately (surprise), there are no English subtitles on the disc. This is a bit of a surprise, since the disc comes on the Ghibli ga Ippai label. But most television documentaries on their label do not include subtitles. Takahata's The Story of Yanagawa Waterways is the only exception to the rule.
I'll post the documentary on the next three posts. Be sure to pass along to your friends. Oh, and don't tell YouTube. No need getting anybody into trouble.
VAP will be releasing the Blu-Ray box for the original Lupin III tv series (1971-71), next month in time for Christmas. This is the landmark series Yasuo Otsuka was responsible for, and it remains a landmark in anime. This Lupin is still gritter and more violent than later incarnations, especially in the early episodes. It was the first "adult" anime show in Japan, aimed squarely at college students instead of children. Here in America, it seems every animation show is aimed at college kids, but even this trend is very recent; a decade ago, only The Simpsons held that honor.
As every Ghibli Freak knows by heart, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata made the jump from Toei Doga to A Production and joined Otsuka and the others, where they worked as a two-man directing team. Looking at their output, spanning episodes 7-23, I think there may have been more of a tag-team approach. Some episodes clearly have a Takahata vibe; others are clearly the work of Miyazaki. No doubt there was a lot of give and take between the two, but their famous rivalry is already set in stone. In the future lay Panda Kopanda, a few scuttled projects (including the infamous Peppi Longstockings), and then the holy trinity - Heidi, Marco, Anne.
Lupin III was later revisited by Miyazaki, Otsuka, and the young Yoshifumi Kondo (the 22-year-old was discovered on Lupin Series 1) with Castle of Cagliostro in 1979; Future Boy Conan and Sherlock Hound continued this action-adventure period. It's a side to the artist that Miyazaki has all but retired since the earliest days of Ghibli, a hallmark of his youth.
For Isao Takahata, Lupin III was his first directoral project since Horus, Prince of the Sun. He was still likely seen as the Crazy Kid who made that Dark and Strange Movie about a boy and some wolves and a violently moody girl. Something to do with Vietnam, or the labor movement, or the riots and revolutions around the globe. The myth of Horus was building, slowly, steadily in the underground, passed along almost person to person, like a wise and subversive secret. It's impact would be felt, later, upon this younger generation.
So Takahata worked steadily with Lupin, practicing, perfecting his style, pushing the boundaries of these animated characters. Every episode, every scene, was another lesson learned, another step closer to the revolution. This time, the revolution would succeed; not silently among the underground, but in the daylight, visable to all. Heidi, Girl of the Alps would become a smash sensation, in Japan and throughout the globe, and Japan's Anime Boom would be ushered in. Takahata and Miyazaki would cement their reputations as the greatest storytellers of their generation.
So, in a sense, Lupin III was part of that longer narrative. It was a crucial battle in the revolution, the next important step after Horus. And it also happens to be a wickedly fun and thrilling television series. It's almost criminal that it only lasted 23 episodes, before falling to low ratings. Ahead of Their Time. Again.
Enough with my lectures. VAP's box set will be outrageously expensive (14, 364 Yen - around $150), as all Japanese box sets are. The series comes on four discs, and will include the famous 1969 Lupin pilot film, which was shot in standard and widescreen. A number of commericals are included, as is an interview with Monkey Punch, the creator of the Lupin III comic.
The Amazon.jp page doesn't mention subtitles. Again, it's a damned shame. This series is only known on our shores thanks to the fansub, and that was only completed a few years ago. Most Ghibli Freaks have probably never even seen this show. Neither have most Lupin fans, I'll wager. It's a shame, because in a real sense this was the very best of Lupin. There was a certain chemistry between the characters, a certain comic vibe that always reminds me of Seinfeld. Senfeld with guns and jailbreaks.
According to the Viz catalog, the Film Picture Book for Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea will be released here in the US sometime during Spring 2009. It runs 152 pages and should cost $19.99.
This should give us a good clue as to when Disney/Pixar will release the US version of Ponyo in theatres. I had expected a summer release, but spring may be better. With much less competition against rival studios (and Disney's own product), there will be a stronger incentive to properly promote the film. I'd certainly hope they would (finally) give a Studio Ghibli movie the proper exposure it deserves. 202 screens (Howl) is just insulting.
Maybe I should send a couple emails to Disney and Ponyo's US producers, and see if they'd answer a few questions for us. We'll see. The election season is nearly over, so I'll actually have some spare time to devote to these things again.