Isao Takahata's best known movie to the Western world, Grave of the Fireflies, will finally be released in Japan under Studio Ghibli's Ghibli Ga Ippai label. In Japan, Hotaru no Haka was released only on Warner Home Video, for reasons I've never understood. Now, Takahata's antiwar masterpiece will return home where it belongs.
Grave of the Fireflies is scheduled for release on August 6. Yes, that's correct, August 6. A briliant move, I'd say, to tie in one of Japan's most important reqiems about World War II with the anniversary of Hiroshima. And just like in America, that generation is passing away into history, and it becomes more and more important that future generations never forget.
It is no small coincidence that as Japan's WWII generation fades away, the younger population is champing more and more for a re-constituted army and a military buildup. This is becoming a major issue in Japan, and I think we're all aware of the destabalizing effects upon the region if Japan were to rebuild its military.
Hmm...perhaps the notoriously anti-war Miyazaki and Takahata are taking this opportunity to remind their people, young and old, of the horrors of war and the terrible cost of Japan's militarism. This was, after all, one of the over-arching themes Miyazaki brought to his Howl's Moving Castle. Japan's pacifism is a model to the world. I would argue that it was this choice, to beat their swords into plowshares, that enabled the country to ascend so quickly as a modern industrialized nation. Every dollar spent on bombs, guns and tanks, is one dollar less for the people, for the economy, for science and research and technology. One only need look at Bush-Cheney America in 2008 for proof. Enjoy your five-dollar gas, folks.
Ahem. I'm getting carried away. But that's what great art does. It sparks the needed discussions about the heavy issues. Grave of the Fireflies does this masterfully.
Now onto the new Ghibli DVD. Fireflies will be a two-disc set, like all the other films. The picture will be digitally remastered and should be notably improved from the old version. Six interviews, including Takahata and other staff members, will be audio only. Also included are location photos from the production, concept art, and newly-filmed e-konte (the finished storyboards, also a Ghibli DVD standard).
The first edition of the DVD will also include an audio CD recording of the original Hotaru no Haka novel, read by the actor Hashizume Isao. This will be the one to get for collectors, and this will become another treasured part of our Ghibli collections.
Will this movie be released on Blu-Ray? Not now. There are no plans announced, as Ghibli is still dipping their toes in the water, but the end of the format war does mean we should expect the Ghibli features to make their migration sooner or later. Still, I wouldn't expect to hear anything for at least another year or so. Once the Blu-Ray format reaches a critical mass, and standard DVD's begin to fade, then we'll see the jump.
Two short thoughts about the new Grave of the Fireflies DVD. Since Ghibli Ga Ippai is handled by Disney as part of the global distribution deal, this does open the door for Disney to release the DVD in the West. Unfortunately, I wouldn't see that as very likely, considering their unwillingness to release Omohide Poro Poro or Umi Ga Kikoeru on our shores. It's a safe bet you won't be seeing Fireflies with a Disney label on the box at your nearest Wal-Mart.
Our hope, as always, lies in John Lasseter and Pixar, those great artists who have been pulling for Studio Ghibli in America for years. It all depends upon their leverage and how much influence they would have in the Disney corporate structure. Which means, kids...we've all got to march out to the theatres this summer for Wall-E. You know my mantra. Pixar needs a big summer hit. More clout, more power, more freedom and leeway. And every one of the studio's films since Finding Nemo has earned fewer dollars. This downward trend needs to stop now.
I've often wondered why Disney just didn't issue Ghibli's catalog on a seperate Ghibli Collection label. They'll get the money either way, and having at least one degree of seperation would make it easier - for this backwards fundamentalist nation of ours - to present the studio's wide-ranging library to the public. But that's just my take.
Second and final thought about Fireflies. In the US and Canada, we have the excellent Grave of the Fireflies DVD from Central Park Media. It's a terrific two-disc set that was given lush treatment, including a dialog by two historians - one American, one Japanese - on the firebombing campaigns in WWII, and a short commentary by critic Roger Ebert. Ebert, you may or may not know, was the first major critic in America to champion Studio Ghibli, long before anyone else bothered to pay attention. His thoughts are some of the best insights about Japanese animation I've ever heard, and should probably be required viewing for every person you're trying to convert into a full-blooded Ghibli Freak.
CPM also digitally remastered the picture quality on their disc, and included a short video describing it. They did an excellent job, and I'm curious to see if Ghibli's DVD will be any better. Everything looks and sounds brilliant, the menus are well designed, and it all rolls up into one excellent package. I've long regarded this as the finest anime DVD in the Americas. This is exactly how Studio Ghibli movies should be presented in the West.
So the question for you is, then, would you want to import the new DVD in August? It all depends on how hardcore your devotion is. If you don't have the CPM two-disc version - skip the cheap single-disc version - you'll probably be fine with that. As for me, I'll definitely be pulling out the plastic come August. I've gone a long time without any Ghibli DVD's, so I'm overdue big time. I can't put all my money into my turntable and records, right?
A short and much-needed message for everyone who visits the Ghibli Blog. I've been without internet connection this past month. Again. Sigh. Fortunately, my money woes these past few months are past me now, so hopefully I'll be able to get that damned bill ($60/month) paid off.
Perhaps I should add a PayPal button to Conversations on Ghibli and ask for donations....hmm, maybe. We'll see. If every visitor to this site donated one lonely dollar, my internet connection would be paid in full.
As soon as I get back online, I'll get busy on uploading Anne of Green Gables episodes. I want to have the entire series available for viewing. And I really wish I could find that video splicing program I once had, so I could extract all the episodes of 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother...with the subtitles, of course. Talk to you soon!
Here's the Ghibli-themed question on my mind these days: Will Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea be screened at this year's Venice Film Festival? And will it appear at any other prominent movie fests?
I'm asking this because, well, as dedicated Ghibli Freaks, we're never satisfied with waiting an extra year or two for the Disney-distributed, Pixar-produced US release. What Miyazaki fan will be able to resist the allure of the internet...and you know exactly what I am alluding to...and wait patiently for Ponyo to be swept under the rug on a small handful of screens, the same way Disney buried Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away? No bloody way in hell.
But for the West, it's a given that Miyazaki's latest opus will make its appearance at Venice. It's a Ghibli tradition by now. I'm wondering if this will happen this year, or in 2009. The movie will be released in Japan this July, so it will be very fresh and playing to sold-out shows by September.
It also helps that I have this blog, which makes me a standing member of the press. Just speaking personally, I'd really like to visit Venice. Ha ha.