Video - Miyazaki in America (1999)

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.

Video - Iblard Jikan

(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.

The Making of Princess Mononoke - Series Three

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.

The Making of Princess Mononoke - Series Two

Series two of The Making of Princess Mononoke. With Enlish subtitles, in 15 segments. Continues with Part 1 - Part 3.

The Making of Princess Mononoke - Series 1

Series one of The Making of Princess Mononoke, with English subtitles. In 14 segments. Continue with Series 2 - Series 3.

Mononoke Hime wa Koushite Umarete - The Making of Princess Mononoke

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.

Seinfeld With Guns

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 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.

Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro Blu-Ray

December 3 is the release date for the Castle of Cagliostro Blu-Ray in Japan. I didn't see anything on the page that would suggest the inclusion of English subtitles, which would be a real shame. Under the BR standard, the US and Japan share the same region, so we can freely import without the need of hacks or easter egg codes to make our machines work.

Cagliostro is being published by VAP, which is a company I have no experience with. I'd have to assume at this point that there won't be subtitles. No doubt Manga would eventually release the BR themselves, since they hold the domestic rights. Hopefully, if and when that happens, we won't get screwed over with the cropped title sequence again. I've still held on to my older 2000 Cagliostro DVD just because of that.

The shift to BR is moving faster and faster, and no doubt 2009 will be a turning point. Only the very final holdouts will be left waiting. Studio Ghibli, of course, will probably be among the last of the holdouts. But I still have a few standard DVDs to pick up, so I don't mind yet.

Viz to Publish US Ponyo Book in Spring

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.

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