2009-12-16

Golden Globe Nominations Announced

The Golden Globe Nominations have been announced, and Ghibli Freaks will be paying special attention to the Animation and Foreign Film categories.  Sadly, Ponyo did not receive any nominations.

The movies nominated for Best Animated Feature Film include Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog, and Up.

While I would have been thrilled to see Miyazaki's Ponyo given a nod, it most likely would have to be in the Foreign Language category, and not the Animation Feature.  American movies take center stage in this venue, and this year has been excellent for the animation medium.  There's just a lot of competition this time around.

I have to say I'm happy to see Coraline and Fantastic Mr. Fox given nominations.  I wouldn't expect either to win (Pixar will wrap up the award once again), but it's very good news to see these more independent-minded (and inventive) films acknowledged.  I would like to see more films like those.  I'd like to see the medium expand and grow, and not merely rehash or mimic what Pixar has done.

I know it's a silly old cliche, but sometimes, it really is good enough just to be nominated.  The artists behind these films should feel proud.  And they should feel inspired to create more intelligent, original movies.  The animation medium is dependent on fresh ideas, not formula.  Let's hope some good comes from this.

The big question, for me, is what this suggest for the Oscar nominations.  The Golden Globes are often viewed as an early indicator of where the Motion Picture Academy will go.  That's probably truer for the major acting categories, and less so for the "minor" categories, but this does suggest where

Obviously, I think Ponyo deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Animation Feature.  Heck, I think it deserves a nod for Best Picture, and I've harped on that enough.  But it is quite possible that Hollywood will decide that Hayao Miyazaki has already been recognized for his achievements when he won the Oscar for Spirited Away.  The Golden Globe nominations suggest this.  We'll have to wait and see what happens.

Hayao Miyazaki's Thoughts on Pixar's Up



A dedicated reader passed along this Youtube link, a segment from Japanese television showing Hayao Miyazaki welcoming Pete Doctor and Pixar and discussing their latest movie, Up.  The video clip includes subtitles of Miyazaki's comments, but only in Japanese.  I'm sure this will make it easier for someone to translate it into English.

If someone could help out with that, it would be greatly appreciated.  You could either send me an email so I could post it here, or you could just use the comments.

Back From Vacation

Hello, everybody!  I'm back from a two-week stint of battling the flu, and spending time with the future wife down in Bogota.  I just got back home earlier tonight, and I've been digging through overdue emails and resolving to get back to work on the Ghibli Blog.

News was pretty slow the last few months, but it appears that things are picking up again.  This can only be a good thing.  My deep thanks and gratitude to the community of Ghibli Freaks, every one of you who have opinions to share, questions to ask, and story tips to pass along.  This site wouldn't be possible without you.

2009-12-02

A Charlie Brown Christmas

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

I see that A Charlie Brown Christmas is playing on the teevee this week, so I had to show it here on the blog.  It's much easier this way.  You won't have to feel frustrated with network-imposed cuts and too many commercials.  And watching online has a certain anti-establishment feel, which Charles Shultz' holiday classic shares.

I always say this is my favorite American animation of all, and I mean that sincerely.  I love the art style.  I love the way the Peanuts characters are brought to life on the screen.  I love those jazzy off-color backgrounds for the closeups.  Most of all, I love the story, so simple and sincere.  It's a story about childhood and the need to preserve their innocence from the cynicism of the adult world.  It's joyous for the sake of being joyous.  Moments come and go for no greater purpose than to depict daily life.  I'm thinking especially of the terrific opening on the lake.

In this regard, A Charlie Brown Christmas is the American Totoro.  For all the praise given to Hayao Miyazaki, I can't name a single animation produced in this country that strives to capture Totoro's lifelike pastoral feel.  Sparky Shultz and Bill Melendez were the only ones to ever pull it off.

And I am still amazed that this cartoon was even allowed on the air.  A prime-time cartoon show that decries and openly mocks commercialism?  Don't they know last week was Black Friday, the most important day of the year?  I got a lot invested in this ride!  Shut up!  Look at my furrowed brows of worry...this has to be real.

Ahem.  Don't know how I thought up Bill Hicks just there.  Maybe A Charlie Brown Christmas, as the saying goes, comes from a more innocent time.  Maybe the television medium was still new enough for more experimental content.  Maybe mass media has too much money attached to it in the 21st Century.  I wonder, as I munch on my Dolly Madisons, could Charlie Brown be made today, the same as it was in 1964?  What challenges would today's animators face?  Could the internet make a difference as an alternative outlet, away from the conglomerates who own the networks?  I'm really curious to know that, and I'd like to hear what the animation community as to say.

In any case, enjoy Charlie Brown.  This is one of the hallowed holiday traditions, like egg nog and Nat King Cole records and snow days.  Enjoy.

2009-11-29

Wii Music - Chariots of Fire



There's no real reason why I'm posting this on the Ghibli Blog.  I just wanted to show off all my cool songs from Wii Music.  If you're the creative type at all, then Wii Music is the best thing that ever happened to you.

This is my favorite song so far, although I have a few others that are fab. The amount of freedom given to you in this music game is just staggering. It was roundly beaten senseless by critics for its looks, but don't let that distract you. Wii Music is revolutionary. Enjoy!

Australian Ponyo Blu-Ray Cancelled

The following message comes from Madman in Australia:

Please note that due to circumstances beyond our control the PONYO BLU-RAY scheduled for December 29th is canceled.  Furthermore, the PONYO DVD is now a single-disc DVD product and remains scheduled for release December 29th.  We thank you for your ongoing custom and apologise for any inconvenience these changes cause.

One common theory why the North American Ponyo BD was delayed was to give an exclusive window to Japan.  Region-free players and discs make the home markets more vulnerable to imports than ever, and when you consider the high retail prices for Blr-Rays, this makes sense.  If this is so, I would expect to see Ponyo in Australia about the same time as the Americans.

In any event, this is a very hard blow for fans.  Whatever the reasons, everyone had their heart set on Ponyo for Christmas.  That's a real shame.  Somebody in the corporate food chain seriously FUBAR'd.

2009-11-26

The Hidden Dimension

I saw this final paragraph from Roger Ebert's review of Fantastic Mr. Fox, and I thought it perfectly aligned with my thoughts on Hayao Miyazaki's films like Ponyo.  This is a paragraph that should be framed and hung in the wall of writers and storytellers everywhere:

Like the hero of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," also based on one of his books, the creatures of Dahl's valley seem to know more than they're letting on; perhaps even secrets we don't much want to know. Children, especially, will find things they don't understand, and things that scare them. Excellent. A good story for children should suggest a hidden dimension, and that dimension of course is the lifetime still ahead of them. Six is a little early for a movie to suggest to kids that the case is closed. Oh, what if the kids start crying about words they don't know? -- Mommy, Mommy! What's creme brulee?" Show them, for goodness sake. They'll thank you for it. Take my word on this.

The Hidden Dimension.  I think that's a key factor in great storytelling.  It's kind of like Super Mario Brothers, with coin boxes buried in the walls and hidden pipes just off the screen.  Not everything needs to be shown or explained away.  The mystery itself is sufficient.  I think this was a point of contention for many Western viewers where Ponyo was concerned, but I think it's a great movie because of it.

Photos - The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro







Since I'm waiting for the family car to pick me up, I decided I should get off my duff and share some hi-res photos from Spirited Away.  If you're looking for a great Thanksgiving movie to share with the family today, you can't do better than this one.

As always, click on the photos to see them in the full size.  They're fairly large as they are hi-res, so please be patient if your internet connection is being a pain today.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!  Hope your Turkey Day goes well and the relatives are manageable.  This might be a good time to spring your Ghibli DVDs on those cousins and nephews.

2009-11-18

Short Program Note

A short program note for everyone: registration is now required for leaving comments.  OpenID is available in addition to Blogger.  Fortunately, all of our regulars are registered, so this shouldn't mean changes for anyone.

This is my latest salvo in the battle against spam-bots, and hopefully it will keep them out.  They really are annoying...like termites who are travelling salesmen.

2009-11-09

3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (Marco) Fansub Now Available!



Excellent news, everybody!  3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, aka Marco, is now available for download.  Yes, English subtitles are included!  Just head down to the Download section and begin downloading.

The 1976 World Masterpiece Theater series is an anime masterpiece.  The brainchild of Isao Takahata (director), Hayao Miyazaki (layout, continuity), and Yoichi Kotabe (character design), Marco is the second of three classic television series of the 1970s, both directed by Takahata-san - 1974's Heidi, Girl of the Alps; 1979's Anne of Green Gables.

This middle series is the most complex, and most emotional of the three.  Heidi paired exuberant energy with high melodrama; Marco scuttles the niceties and goes straight for the heart.  I think 3000 Leagues is the richer experience; the tragedy of Marco's suffering, and his endless search, becomes an archetype for man's search for meaning.  It achieves an epic grandeur.  At its heart, this is a deeply Jewish story.  You almost expect God to appear at the end and deliver his speech from the Book of Job.

Once again, Neo1024 delivers the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  One request: could you break up the torrent into smaller downloads?  14GB is probably going to be too much for many people.  Smaller file sizes would enable faster downloads and help make sharing easier.

Again, my deepest thanks.

2009-11-07

Night of the Living Spam-Bots

I've been getting hit with a lot of Spam-Bots in the comments for this blog recently.  Thank goodness I am able to screen them out, but it's becoming a bit of a pain.  Does this mean we're becoming more popular?  I think we'd all agree that we would much rather have real visitors than zombies.

2009-11-03

For Your Consideration

If you visit Cartoon Brew this morning, you'll see Disney's banner ads at the top of the page.  These are "For Your Consideration" ads for the upcoming Oscar awards season.  Ponyo is pitched as a potential nominee for Best Animated Feature, while Pixar's Up is pitched for Best Animated Feature and Best Picture.  Very interesting.

I can't say that I'm surprised that Up is getting the Best Picture push.  It is the studio's big movie of the year.  And the expansion to 10 Best Picture slots will make it easier than ever for Pixar to be given a place at the table.  Up's first 20 minutes pushes a lot of buttons and won over all the major critics.  And I'm sure a few folks still feel that Wall-E was unjustly snubbed.

However, I'm going to continue to insist that Ponyo is the animation movie that deserves a Best Picture nod.  It's the far better film of the two, wiser, smarter, quieter.  Hayao Miyazaki is arguably the world's greatest living film director (I'd gladly hand the title to Paku-san, if only he'd get back to work!), and Ponyo is the work of a master artist at the peak of his powers.

Pixar's Up, beloved at it is, remains a deeply uneven movie to me.  The marriage sequence is brilliant, wonderful, and frankly, overshadows the rest of the picture.  Most of the movie is just rehashing loud Star Wars chase scenes...like practically every other summer blockbuster these days.  I could care less about the talking dogs and the endless action scenes and the impossibly old Kirk Douglas who's chasing some silly bird.  I cared about the marriage.  That first 20 minutes should have been the entire picture, and it could have been a masterpiece.

Of course, I wouldn't expect Disney to promote a foreign movie (Ghibli) over one of their own, so I can't blame them for giving the extra push to Pixar's latest.  I'd do the same in their shoes.  Instead, I believe it is the imperative of every one of us, Ghibli Freaks within and without the movie business, to promote Ponyo for a Best Picture nomination.

How much does a banner ad at Cartoon Brew cost?  Why not pool some money together and buy a front page ad for Ponyo?  For Your Consideration - Best Picture!

Let's see what we can do to make a difference.  We won't know unless we try...right?

2009-10-30

The Blu-Ray Blog Gets the Scoop on Ponyo

I just wanted to give a shout-out to The Blu-Ray Blog, for breaking the latest scoop on Ponyo's US DVD and Blu-Ray releases.  You can read their Ponyo post here.  Great work, guys!

Hmm...looking closer at the DVD + plush package, I'm noticing that the DVD name-drops Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid."  Interesting.  You always have to do this sort of thing with Americans, in order to get them to try something new.  If it works, it works.  I think the stuffed Ponyo will help sell the movie more than anything.

Ponyo DVD + Plush Gift Set Comng March 2010



Ponyo US producer Frank Marshall discussed the upcoming Ponyo DVD and Blu-Ray on his Twitter page.  He confirms again that the release has been pushed back, from December 8 to next March.  It's unfortunate, yes...but look at what we're getting!

The Ponyo DVD will be packaged with a plush Ponyo as a gift set.  This really looks terrific, and marks the first time any Ghibli merchandise was made available in the US.  Hayao Miyazaki has always been very strict on this matter, refusing to grant merchandising rights to Disney.

I have no idea if this means Ghibli and Disney have come to a new arrangement.  I remember that My Neighbor Totoro is expected to be reissued on DVD soon...a stuffed Totoro or Cat Bus would be terrific.  It would also sell like hotcakes, and be a great boon for Ghibli in the States.  It's all about Merchandising! Merchandising! in the movie business.

Frank Marshall suggests that Blu-Ray Ponyo could be packaged with a plush if the DVD gift set proves successful.  I'm sure we'll all be crossing our fingers.

The American Ponyo and BD will also include a "World of Ghibli" feature, which I'm guessing is one of those standard retrospectives on the studio.  If the edited documentary on the Nausicaa DVD is any indication, then I'd expect Disney to blot out any mention of movies not being released on their label.  But I would hope that all of Ghibli's films would be mentioned and respected.

2009-10-28

ABC Sucks! Booo!!

The Great Pumpkin is on tonight on ABC, and those jerks at ABC chopped it up! Booo!! They cut the cartoon short so they could pack in more stupid commercials. Why does television even bother with programs, anyway? Why not just broadcast wall-to-wall commercials?

The funny thing is that I remember back in the 1980s when ABC started censoring the violence out of the Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons. Have you ever seen the Road Runner without violence? Predictably, this marked the decline and fall of Saturday morning cartoons....imagine that.

Seriously, broadcast tv can't die fast enough. I'm going to Youtube.

Update: Here's what ABC chopped out of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown":

Lucy and the Football - This is one of the classic Peanuts bits. They cut this out to make way for an SUV commercial?! This scene is removed, and we go straight to Linus writing his letter to the Great Pumpkin.

Shroeder at the Piano - I love this part, when Snoopy dances along to Shroeder's piano tunes. Shroeder, of course, starts screwing around with poor Snoopy's emotions by playing really sad songs. Heh heh.

Did I miss anything? I feel like quick shots were cut here and there, but maybe my memory is playing tricks with me. I think some shots of Snoopy sneaking around were cut, particularly the climax when he rises out of the pumpkin patch. There's also the short bit of Lucy putting Linus in his bed.

Feel free to add in your own two cents to this post. Thank God for Youtube, I say. I'm not paying for a DVD - Charlie Brown cartoons should be free.

2009-10-26

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

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

It's time for one of the great holiday traditions, the Charlie Brown Special!  Yaayy!!  It really isn't a major holiday unless there's a Peanuts cartoon attached.  Now all that's needed are some Dolly Madisons and we're ready to go.

Great Pumpkin, in my humble opinion, is the greatest of all the animated Charlie Brown films.  The artwork, color and animation are a step above A Charlie Brown Christmas (my close #2), the story is more filled-out and lively, and any number of episodes will dance in your head for days.  There's Snoopy as the World War I flying ace, there's pumpkin carving, there's Charlie Brown's ghost costume, hehe hehe...and Charlie Brown with a bag full of rocks.  Hah hah hah!

The heart of Great Pumpkin, of course, is Linus and his unshakable belief among the skeptics.  Modern hipsters might see this as a criticism of religion, but we must remember that Charles Shultz was a devout Christian (the love and equality kind, not the neocon warmonger and swindler televangelist kind).  He usually treats Charlie Brown as his avatar, but I think he's speaking through Linus in this cartoon.  It's an honest, heartfelt portrayal, never hiding from disappointment or unanswered prayers.  Sparky Shultz did not fear "God's Silence" and the creeping doubt.  He embraced it, accepted it, an humbly understood his place in the world.

I shouldn't have to point out how today's animated films are formulaic or openly pandering.  We all have the ticket stubs and empty wallets and the disappointments.  But that's to be expected from product created by conglomerates.  Got to maximize the bottom line.  Got to protect the franchise.  And that means taking no risks.  It's so very unfortunate, because the Peanuts cartoons demonstrate, time and time again, how you can create a classic with little money.  There should be avenues available for similar storytellers today.  The audiences are out there.

Of course, when I was a kid, poisoning the Halloween candy was a serious scare, so rocks wouldn't be the worst thing to get.  I would have prefered rocks to, say, apples or money.  What kind of cheapskate hands out quarters to kids on Halloween?  Don't give me money!  Use that money to buy me candy!

Halloween is the one great children's holiday.  Despite its medieval gothic roots, which have always freaked out the fundamentalist Christians, this night is about one thing only - kids dressing up in costumes and scoring six weeks worth of free candy.  It's a moment of pure innocence and wonder.  The dark skies and bare trees are not scary at all; they're enchanting, inviting.  The ghosts have those Twix candies, and the owls are handing out candy pumpkins.  Yaayy!!

It really isn't the same thing when you're an adult, and can just buy candy at the store whenever you want.  It's never the same.  But I can still watch The Great Pumpkin, and for half an hour, be eight years old once more.

2009-10-19

"Ponyo DVD Will Be Out in March"

So says Ponyo's American producer Frank Marshall.  He doesn't mention the Blu-Ray, but I would have to assume the BD will be released alongside the DVD in the States.

At least we finally have a release date.  Great news, everybody!

Ponyo in France - December 23 For Blu-Ray and DVD


Good news for all Ghibli Freaks in France: Ponyo will see its release on DVD and Blu-Ray this December 23.  There are four releases in all: standard DVD, deluxe DVD (which includes storyboards), Blu-Ray (includes storyboards), and Blu-Ray + DVD combo.

The prices range from 19.99-29.99 Euros.  Bonus materials include tv spots, press conferences, and numerous interviews with the production staff: Hayao Miyazaki (writer/director), Toshio Suzuki (producer), Katsuya Kondo (animation director), Noboru Yoshida (art director), Michiyo Yasuda (in her final film as color designer), Shuji Inoue (sound designer), and Joe Hisaishi (composer).

It will be interesting to see which of these features will appear on the eventual North American Ponyo release, which has been delayed until next year.  Needless to say, we're all extremely jealous.  This is like looking at presents that Santa took out of his sack and locked in the closet.  French kids get Ponyo.  We're getting socks.


2009-10-15

Ponyo Blu-Ray Screenshots

I posted these screenshots during the Labor Day holiday, and I'm not sure if everyone had a chance to see Ponyo on Blu-Ray.  So here we go, have at them again!  Remember to click on the photos to see them in full-size, and they're very big, so keep that in mind.  Let's see if we can get these circulating on the internet...good luck!












2009-10-14

Deep Thought (10/14)

I just realized something.  I am really terrible at making predictions.  Have any of my Ghibli-related predictions paid off, or have they all gone in the opposite direction?

Literally the only gamble I made this year that has paid off was meeting Marcee Arias Rubio.  That's got to be it!  God cashed in my lifetime supply of karma chips.  From here on out, I won't be able to hit the broad side of a barn.

2009-10-13

Ponyo, Ghibli DVD's Pushed Back to January?

Uh-oh. Here we go again, kids.

Ultimate Disney is marking the upcoming Studio Ghibli DVDs for an "expected" January release. This is pushed back from early December, when the titles were expected to be released for the Christmas season.

Ponyo is planned for release on DVD and Blu-Ray; Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki's Delivery Service are planned for re-release on DVD. Those three titles are now out-of-print.

This is bad news. Obviously, I don't have to explain the details why. Missing the Holidays is an especially hard blow (guess it's back to dreidels for me!), and, frankly, I'd like to hear a good explanation for the delay.

The problem is that "expected in January" isn't a definite date, and an official announcement has yet to arrive. These movies could be delayed endlessly. It seems bizarre that the biggest shopping season of the year is deliberately avoided. If Disney isn't waiting for December, just what are they waiting for?

So now are we back to the old Disney games, where the Ghibli films are trapped in limbo indefinitely? I was hoping the thawing relations earlier this year would continue, but it appears that Ponyo's theatrical performance has changed things. Of course, that's just my guess at the moment, but it's the best guess I have right now.

Really, if the Disney suits are unhappy with Ponyo's box-office totals, they have no one but themselves to blame. I honestly don't know if Ponyo could have earned more than $14 million, but I think if we look at the larger picture - the performance of foreign films and Japanese anime films - Ponyo was a great success.

Studio Ghibli will never be more than a solid niche in America, but that's not a bad thing. We're living in a Long Tail world. Besides, have you seen what "mainstream success" looks like today? Fake Barbie Doll pop, American Idol, Michael Bay summer blockbusters....yuck. Take the road less traveled on, and it will make all the difference.

2009-10-10

The Simpson's Movie: A Review...or, My Eyes, The Goggles Do Nothing!



Good Lord, this movie sucks!

I had high hopes for The Simpson's Movie, and, indeed, it begins on a high note, with a great Itchy & Scratchy sequence that ends with Scratchy eating hundreds of nuclear warheads.  Hah hah!  Then the camera pans back to reveal we're watching a movie, and Homer stands up and berates the audience for paying money to see a show they're getting on tv for free.  Hah hah...more funny.

Homer wasn't kidding.  The jokes were good for about, oh...20 minutes.  Then everything went south and became unbearably dull.  20 minutes, or, really, one decent tv episode.  The rest of the picture is such a slave to Hollywood formula that I was looking behind my couch for a paperback copy of "Screenwriting 101."  Yuck.

Do I really have to write more?  I don't feel like it.  You've had more than enough time to see this movie if you're so inclined.  I'm really the last one to the party.  I think the problem here is the same as the tv show - The Simpson's has run out of gas.  After 20 years on the air, every conceivable joke, story, and scenario has been played out at least half a dozen times.  It's just a gag show now, and it's been that way for at least a decade.

Ugh, what a letdown of a picture.  I could imagine a wacky comedy like one of Mel Brooks' classics - Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Spaceballs - or any number of classic screwball farces.  No such luck.  What's here is just a standard-issue formula picture that has been used on about a billion summer blockbusters.

About the only good thing to come out of this movie is the animation, which is much fuller than tv.  The production team definitely put a priority on animating the Simpsons as they never could on the small screen.  For the most part, it works.  They didn't turn The Simpson's into an overdrawn Disney cartoon, but augment whenever necessary.  It's a very nice looking movie, if still a bit bland, but that's because of the art design of The Simpson's, and it's far too late to do anything about that now.

Yuck...what a lousy movie.  The second half barely had any good jokes, aside from one punch line here or there.  I just didn't care.  Why should I care about some serious plot, especially when these "plots" have been played out a dozen times on the tv.  Why am I supposed to care?  Homer is impulsive and dumb?  He's an inattentive father and husband?  Springfield is going to be destroyed?  What, again?

Other bad choices: why is Bart suddenly drinking hard alcohol in the middle of the picture?  When did he start doing that?  And why did he suddenly stop five minutes later?  What's the deal with that?  And why the need to show "adult" content that couldn't get past the censors?  Homer shouldn't flip the bird, and Marge shouldn't swear.  It doesn't fit their characters.  The part where Bart is buck naked is well-known, but the writers forgot that what makes those kind of scenes funny (remember Austin Powers?) is NOT showing the nudity.  That's the whole gag.  Flash the audience and you ruin the joke.

This movie ruins a lot of jokes.  Most everything else is just one simple throwaway line after another, all subservient to that damned stupid plot.  Spider Pig was funny, yes.  Hearing the Spider Pig song the third time...not funny.

Seriously, people.  Lose the Screenwriter's Handbook, please?  I was always skeptical of the idea of a Simpson's Movie, but I still wanted to discover a good movie.  This is a major disappointment.

Toy Story 3 Trailer



Here it is, folks - the main trailer for Pixar's upcoming Toy Story 3. Looks very good, and it's definitely grabbed my interest. It promises more pathos this time around, as the boy grows up and leaves for college, leaving all the childhood toys behind. This is going to be an interesting challenge for Pixar - this is a subject with a definite end date (the end of childhood), but it's countered by the public's need (and Disney's need) for endless sequels.

Toy Story 3 was originally used as Disney's bargaining chip against Pixar when it appeared the studio would leave and become fully independent. Disney threatened to flood the market with Pixar spin-offs, since they owned the rights to the characters. This move essentially forced Pixar back into the fold...which ended with Steve Jobs spectacular jujitsu of a takeover. I'm still amazed he pulled it off.

Anyway, Toy Story 3 is looking great. It's definitely a showcase for the technology and graphics skill of the Pixar artists. Compare the clean, sparse design of the original movie with the 2009-2010 installment. The studio is eager to show off their considerable skills, and remind everyone why they remain America's best animation studio.

Will this actually be the final Toy Story? Will childhood truly end, as it must in real life? Or will the pressure to keep Buzz and Woody alive and wisecracking for sequel after sequel? This is a very real dilemma for Pixar right now, as we can see from the slate of upcoming sequels to Cars and Monsters, Inc. and possibly more. This is an interesting new chapter in their careers, so let's hope they manage to find the right balance between satisfying the market and taking creative risks.

Update (8:25 pm): It appears that this trailer was meant for movie theaters only. Disney has shut the Youtube video down. D'oh!

2009-10-05

Toy Story 3-D Double Feature in Theaters

I see that the Toy Story "double feature" has opened in theaters this weekend, where it will have a short two week run.  I'm looking forward to seeing them on the big screen.  The two Toy Story movies are probably my favorite Pixar movies, so I can't pass this up.  They are also being presented in 3-D, and I'm hoping that they keep the cheap gimmicks to a minimum.  Whenever I think of 3D movies, I think of "Doctor Tongue's 3D House of Pancakes" on Monster Horror Chiller Theater on SCTV.  Heh heh...the skit it literally John Candy waving a plate of pancakes at the camera...heh heh.

So "3-D" is an ancient gimmick.  Ah, well.  Hollywood is desperate to fight internet piracy, and they see the handwriting is on the wall.  When your iPod can store as many high-definition movies as it currently does songs...well, I don't want to see movies go extinct, but this is going to be a very serious problem.  I really don't know how Hollywood tackles it.

Anyway, go see Toy Story 1 & 2 while you can.

2009-09-30

Two New Miyazaki Productions in 2011, 2013?

Studio Ghibli's official blog has also reported yesterday that Hayao Miyazaki is in the planning stages for the next two films, which will follow Takahata in 2011 and 2013.  There is no word yet on details, so I feel no need to gossip or speculate.  It's common for the studio to plan several years in advance, even though they are notoriously secretive and play their cards close to their chest.

Currently, Studio Ghibli is devoted to two main projects: Isao Takahata's newest movie, and the Nintendo DS fantasy game Another World.  Usually once a feature film is completed, the pre-production work on the next has begun, and everyone switches gears to the new project after a short break.  I'd expect Miyazaki to be working and sketching out ideas right now, and be ready to go by summer.

The interesting news is that Miyazaki is attached to the next two features.  Ghibli has always rotated directors, and this is important because of the tight production schedules.  This hasn't always been the case - Kiki's Delivery Service followed My Neighbor Totoro by one year - so anything is possible.

One possibility is that Miyazaki will direct the next two features.  Another possibility is that he will direct one, and produce the other, handing the second movie to the younger staff and another director.  This has been the case with I Can Hear the Sea and The Cat Returns and Ghiblies Episode 2.  So that's a possibility.

The third option, as always, is Goro Miyazaki, and he remains the studio's wildcard.  I have the impression that he is being properly groomed and educated; that despite any public declarations, the son is the studio's heir apparant.  It is critical that he establish himself if Ghibli is to secure a long-term future.  And Goro-san has burnt many bridges with his controversial Gedo Senki.

His recent work at the studio shows me that he's being taken through film school, that he's learning the crucial skills and developing his own voice.  Father Miyazaki briefly mentioned his son while in California in July, and insisted that Goro-san's responsibilities are now as a father to his growing family.  I had the impression of the father taking control of the situation, regardless of their personal differences.  I trust Hayao Miyazaki to know what to do, and he understands what is at stake.  Goro-san gets one more crack at the bat; if he loses the public on his sophmore effort, he won't earn another.

But this is how great art is born.  It's how Nausicaa was brought to the big screen, and it transformed Father Miyazaki's career and brought us here.  Every great artist must be tested by fire.

Anyway, I'm only thinking out loud.  Nobody knows any specific insights into Ghibli's future plans for the next three years.  The only thing that is certain is that Hayao Miyazaki will continue to be the studio's driving force.  He will be working and painting and scheming until the day he dies.

Taketori Monogatari - Isao Takahata Is Back!

Studio Ghibli has now made it official - Isao Takahata is Back!

The news was revealed on the studio's official blog yesterday, September 29.  Takahata's newest movie, as widely expected, is titled "Taketori Monogatari," or "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter."  This is an adaptation of Japan's oldest surviving folk tale, Kaguya Hime no Monogatari, from the 10th Century.

This folk tale was actually quoted in My Neighbors the Yamadas, in the scene depicting Nonoko's birth inside a bamboo stalk.  Takahata has become a master scholar of Japan's rich cultural heritage, with his works becoming ever more densely layered over time.  The Story of Yanagawa Waterways, Pom Poko, and My Neighbors the Yamadas are excellent examples.

Another brilliant example is Takahata's short in the 2003 anthology film Winter Days, in which teams of animators around the world realize an epic Basho poem.  Winter Days was his last work as director; I certainly don't need to remind everyone how loud we've been shouting for the grand master of anime to make his return.

What sort of movie will Taketori Monogatari become?  We can expect a stunning attention to detail and documentary realism, emotionally-charged human drama, and Takahata's patented style of logic and precision.  His adaptations are more logical and calculated than Miyazaki's instinctive, almost impulsive style.  He doesn't scrap the original source material as Miyazaki-san always does (Conan, Kiki, Howl).  Instead, Takahata gets to the core of the story, fleshing it out, adding depth and color and bringing them to life.  As always, the World Masterpiece Theater trilogy of the 1970s stands tall - Heidi Marco Anne.

It's important to remember that Pom Poko remains his one original screenplay.  All of his other works have been adaptations, from Horus, Prince of the Sun to Yamada-kun and Winter Days.  This is the realm he is most comfortable navigating.

I expect that we will see the first trailers by the end of the year, at least the teaser trailers.  These will be eagerly awaited, and rest assured that I'll have my hands on them as quickly as possible.

There is one major question on the horizon, however, and that's the question of box office.  Yamada-kun rather famously bombed at the box office in 1999, as Japanese audiences thought Jar Jar Binks and Pokeman was a better way to spend their time.  No doubt many moviegoers would like to have that moment back.  But there's no question that this will be a concern for Ghibli.  It's a foregone conclusion that Isao Takahata will not have a blockbuster success on the level of Hayao Miyazaki, who continues to be staggeringly successful.  Yet Takahata remains beloved, the Grand Master of Anime who gave the world Horus and Heidi and Grave of the Fireflies.

I would expect Taketori Monogatari to become a success at the box office, enough to ensure Studio Ghibli's place as the top domestic grosser of 2010.  How successful it will be remains a question.  And how successful it will be around the world remains a question, too.  It should do well in Europe, especially France.  The United States?  Would Disney and John Lasseter consider a US theatrical run, like Ponyo?  What are the odds of that?  Slim?  None?  I honestly don't know, but at this point I wouldn't expect more than a token presence at the art-film circuit, with eventual release on DVD and Blu-Ray.

In any event, we are guaranteed a masterful experience by the world's greatest living film director.  We won't have many more opportunities like this, so enjoy the moment while you can.

2009-09-27

The Ponyo Boat in Action



This is a terrific video, courtesy of one of our readers.  It shows a toy boat that's based on the one seen in Ponyo, it runs on candle power, and the pot makes a pop-pop-pop sound, just like in the movie.  This is terrific!  Why can't we ever get cool toys like this?

No doubt the price would be steep for most import shops, but it would be worth it for the bragging rights. If my play money wasn't already devoted to scoring the new Beatles CDs, I'd grab this toy boat in a heartbeat. Now we need a larger version that we can actually use on the lakes, heh heh.

2009-09-23

Ghibli Announces Details on R2 Ponyo Blu-Ray

...And it appears that the US Disney dub will appear on the Region-2 Ponyo Blu-Ray after all.  You can see details on all the Ponyo home versions in Japan here.

Ponyo will appear on 2-disc Blu-Ray, and a 3-disc box set that includes the making-of documentary.  That looks very nice, and I would really, really hope that we could get that doc on our US release.

According to GhibliWiki, here are the features on the Japanese Ponyo BD.  The Disney dub appears on the second disc:

North American edition (English Dub, Japanese Sub)


Trailer: 2 versions

TV spots: 11 versions

Collaboration TV spots: 3 versions

NTV TV spots: 2 versions

Credit-less ending: 5 minutes

Theme song announcement press conference: 11 minutes

Voice recording: 25min

The first day opening greeting: 10 minutes

Hayao Miyazaki interview: 15 minutes

A talk between Toshio Suzuki and Toshio Tsuchiya: 30 minutes

NTV's program NEWS ZERO spin-off "Five genius craftsmen": 49 minutes

A collection of document film "Hayao Miyazaki wise remarks": 40 minutes

A collection of document film "Venice International Film Festival": 13min

Theme song music video: 4min

Theme song music video (Korean edition) : 3 minutes

No US Dub on Japanese Ponyo Blu-Ray?

There's a bit of controversy on whether the US dubbed soundtrack will appear on the Japanese Region-2 Ponyo Blu-Ray this December.  GhibliWiki says no, while AsianBluRayGuide says yes.  Unfortunately, no official press releases are available to read, so we're left with guesses and reading tea leaves.

For most of us, this is a moot point.  Ponyo on BD should be released in the US this December, and both the US and Japanese soundtracks will be included.  We will do perfectly fine no matter what happens.  But I would still be very surprised to see the R2 Ponyo so stripped-down.  Multiple languages are typically standard on Ghibli's DVDs; the Mononoke 3-DVD set included eight soundtracks on the second disc, including the Miramax dub.

It's an interesting topic for discussion, but pretty minor stuff, really.  We'll just get the American Blu-Ray for Hannukah.

2009-09-19

Today is Pirate Day!






Yaarrgh!  Today be International Pirate Day!  We´re going to be watching Animal Treasure Island, drinking lots of beer, and causing mayhem whenever possible.  I suggest you better do the same.

2009-09-17

Happy Vacation Blogging

¡Hola!  If you´re wondering why I haven´t been blogging this week, it´s becuse I´m out on vacation with Marcee.  I won´t be headed back home until Sunday, so blogging will be extremely light for the rest of the week.  However, I do hope to get some writing in, even though I won´t have my army of photos and art assets to rely on.

On the upside, I have brought a number of movies with me to watch with Marcee.  Let´s see...we have Puss in Boots, Animal Treasure Island, Gauche the Cellist, Castle of Cagliostro, Castle in the Sky, and Howl´s Moving Castle.  The idea was to go through all of them during the week...but you know how these things go.  I don´t get nearly enough face time with the beloved girlfriend, so walking and hiking and dining and smooching take precedence.

You might have noticed that posting comments now requires one of those trippy passwords, instead of waiting for my approval.  This is the reason for that change.  As such, I have been unable to keep track of all the comments since Saturday.  I do hope everybody is staying on their best behavior.  The Ghibli Blog has always been a home for thoughtful and intelligent discussions, and we all know how truly rare that can be.  I want to thank each and every one of you for your kindness and thoughtfulness.  This is as much your blog as mine, and you should take pride.

Okay, we´ve got to get Marcee fueled up.  She´s been battling a sore neck all day, thanks to a mattress and pillow that might as well be stone.  So I´ve got to get her some food and drink.  We´ll be back later to watch some DVDs.

Oh, and a quick reminder for everybody - Saturday is International Pirate Day, so do your best to play along.  I´m saving Animal Treasure Island for this special occasion, heh heh.

2009-09-10

John, Paul, George & Lupin


Since I devoted my big Wednesday post to The Beatles, here's a clever way to work myself back to the main course.  I want you to take a look at this screenshot from Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro.  Am I the only one who sees this as a direct homage to the 1969 Beatles LP, Hey Jude?  Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but if that's the truth, then I'm overreaching on most topics on this blog.

I say the hat on the statue is a tribute to The Beatles.  Who's with me?

P.S. Is there any specific reason why Hey Jude was not accepted into Beatles canon?  Did it seem too close to the Capitol records which reshuffled the UK albums with other singles?  Or was it the double punch of the Red & Blue and Past Masters albums?

The Greatest CDs Ever Made


I made mention of the new Beatles CD remasters in the comments today, so I thought I might as well make a formal post here on the blog.  A bit off-topic?  Ehh, whatever.  The Beatles are my absolute favorites, and these new CDs are spectacular.  Absolutely spectacular.  I haven't been this excited over digital music since the '90s, and that means a lot when coming from a turntable junkie.  These are the greatest CDs ever made.  Period.

Now you may be surprised, but it's pretty difficult to find good Beatles records on vinyl.  The biggest problem is that the American Capitol pressings are almost uniformly bad.  Perhaps "bad" is a bit harsh, but they are all too often flat, muddy, and somewhat dull.  The "Apple labels" are the best, and I have an early-press of Abbey Road that I adore, so there are exceptions to the rule.  But I would personally rank the Capitol versions of Rubber Soul, Revolver, and The White Album poorly.

The UK Parlephone albums are spectacular, the Gold Standard (especially the "yellow and black" label pressings from the 1960s).  You've never heard The Beatles until you've heard them on the UK records, and I think it's worth the investment of a solid turntable, phono cartridge, and stereo receiver just for these albums.  The Japanese reissue pressings are also fantastic (I've been lucky enough to score a Japan White Album...wow!), and they have the added benefit of being more affordable.

However, for the average person on the street, you're not going to hear your favorite Beatles albums on those records.  New Beatles vinyl LP's are scheduled for release, but the expectation is that they will be pressed from the new digital masters, sadly.  The UK and Japanese analog masterpieces will forever remain a holy grail for collectors and die-hard fans.  If that describes your situation, these new CDs are the perfect substitute.

Oh, and Capitol chopped up The Beatles' albums with shamefully padded out records like Something New, Beatles VI, Beatles '65, and Yesterday and Today.  I actually enjoy their version of Rubber Soul, which swaps in a pair of folk songs at the start of each side - "I've Just Seen a Face" and "It's Only Love," respectively.  But Revolver had its heart and soul ripped out for no good reason.  Yuck!

Hmm...I only meant to write a few words on this subject, so I'll be wise to stop now before this turns into a 1,000-word manifesto.  Feel free to talk about these albums on this thread all you want.  We'll be back to our regularly-scheduled Ghibli blogging when the sun rises.  I'm off to sleep.

2009-09-09

10 Years Old Today

Today marks a special anniversary.  No, it's not just the long-awaited arrival of the Beatles CD remasters.  Today is the tenth anniversary of the American launch of the Sega Dreamcast.

Maybe it's just a function of age, but Dreamcast was the last great videogame console in my eyes.  It was the last time that games were being made - fast, exciting, competitive, original games.  Not reenactments of Hollywood blockbusters, not cynical ploys for computer geeks to break into the movie business, but video games.  There are so precious few examples of classic games today.

Dreamcast was just about the best game system for multiplayer games.  A decade ago, I was working as a waiter at one of the sports bars at the University of Minnesota campus, and every Friday and Saturday night, after closing time, we'd pull out the DC, hook it up to the tv sets, and play until dawn.  NFL2K1 was the undisputed champion - ah, another lost classic! - as were endless drunken rounds of Soul Calibur, Crazy Taxi, Chu Chu Rocket, Virtua Tennis, and San Francisco Rush 2049.

Ah, great times.  You can score a DC and a large pile of great games for next to nothing these days.  I'd still rank it higher than what's available now.  Add in the console's ability to play emulators (4-player M.U.L.E.!) and you really have something of value.

2009-09-08

Photos - Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro (Blu-Ray 720p)


Finally got around to downloading the fansub copy of the Cagliostro Blu-Ray fansub, which uses the exact same subtitles from the Manga DVD.  The movie looks terrific, much better than the DVD releases.  So I'm sharing screenshots from the magnificent title sequence (uncut, of course).

This is a favorite sequence of mine, as it brilliantly establishes the mood of the film, while also showing a glimpse of these action heroes on their off-hours.  I've written about this before, when discussing the 2006 Manga DVD reissue.  I'm still cranky about the title scene being chopped up on that release, and I've never really touched it since.  The picture quality may have been a great improvement over the original Manga DVD, but I just couldn't accept the cuts.  I only hope that Manga and Telecom can figure this out whenever they decide to release the Blu-Ray in North America.

I think my favorite element in this scene is the theme song.  It's so wonderfully sung and flows so nicely.  It has the feel of a Leonard Cohen song, doesn't it?  All of the music in Castle of Cagliostro is excellent.  Definitely dated to the late '70s, yes.  But that's what makes it great.

Roger Ebert & Miyazaki At the Movies

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

Here is a trio of video clips from Siskel & Ebert, and then later, Ebert & Roeper, featuring reviews of Hayao Miyazaki's movies.  I think this is a great opportunity to witness how these films were first received when they were new, and the director's name was largely unknown.

The first is a classic Siskel & Ebert showdown over My Neighbor Totoro (famously mispronounced as "to-TO-ro" the first couple of times).  I'm sure fans will feel somewhat critical of Gene Siskel's opinion on the movie (he was bored), but that was the majority opinion at the time.  Totoro was a puzzle to Americans and especially most movie critics.  Animated movies were expected to be full of action and adventure and simple melodrama and fast movements.  My Neighbor Totoro has none of the qualities, and stubbornly moves in an opposite direction.  Roger Ebert, a lover of animation as well as the films of Yasujiro Ozu, was an early convert, and he became Hayao Miyazaki's first champion among US film critics.  This show was most likely from 1993 or 1994.

The second clip shows Ain't It Cool News' Harry Knowles with Ebert discussing Princess Mononoke.  Two strong thumbs up at this point, and the name Miyazaki is now commonly spoken.  Harry Knowles also name-drops Kiki's Delivery Service and Porco Rosso, which would be major cool points for 1998.

The third clip, now on Ebert & Roeper, gives enthusiastic praise for Spirited Away in 2002.  Now the word "masterpiece" is easily banded about, and there's no need to persuade anyone that this is a great movie.

Finally, we have Howl's Moving Castle, earning a surprising split decision between Richard Roeper and Roger Ebert.  Ebert is dramatically thinner by this point in 2005, thanks to some serious weight loss.  We can also notice the effects of surgery on his jaw, which was never fully successful; his scratchy voice was also a harbinger of the cancer that took his voice, much of his jaw, and almost his life.

I feel a sense of sadness watching this final clip.  Ebert, thankfully, is alive and well, and his writing has never been better.  But just knowing that the voice is silenced forever, to know that Siskel & Ebert is truly gone, that's what saddens me.

I was very surprised, and I think Ebert was, too, that he didn't enjoy Howl's Moving Castle.  He had been Miyazaki's strongest supporter for many years and carried the torch, but the film's many complexities left him lost.  But that's fine by me; I freely admit that Howl is dependent on a lot of "inside pool."  You have to be familiar with Miyazaki's career, and, more importantly, his storytelling style, which is decidedly non-linear and non-Western.

2009-09-07

Trailer - Howl's Moving Castle



I love how this trailer works.  We hear no dialog, only Joe Hisaishi's wonderfully romantic musical score.  We see no thrilling action scenes or breathtaking visual effects, only a seemingly ordinary scene of an old woman cleaning a rustic house.  The text describes the setup and nothing more.  We are invited to immerse ourselves in the moment.

Of course, when Hayao Miyazaki is the most successful filmmaker in this history of Japanese cinema, you can forgo those old conventions.  There's no need to sell anything.  The theaters are already packed.

Photos - Howl's Moving Castle


I wanted to compare my newly-acquired series of hi-res photos from Howl's Moving Castle (the theatrical release), and I wanted to compare them against the DVD, and wouldn't ya know it, I stay up all night to watch the movie.

I only watch Howl on rare occasions.  I think it's a spectacular movie, and I don't to spoil it by becoming too familiar with it.  You never want to lose your sense of wonder and awe.  You especially don't want to feel numb to the emotionally-charged scenes between Sophie and Howl.  I never want to lose my sense of outrage against useless wars waged for no useful reason.  And I never want to lose the impact of that climactic flashback at the end, a masterstroke of personal filmmaking.

I absolutely love this movie because it is so densely packed; how many storylines are woven into one another?  This is the one film that captures the sprawling epic scale Miyazaki brought to his Nausicaa manga.  There are so many moments of brilliance that I almost always lose count.  Joe Hisaishi's superb Staussian Waltzes certainly help; his musical score reminds me of Stanley Kubrick more than anything.  And the lush, boundless colors are breathtaking.  I could probably write essays on every scene in the movie.

Howl is surely the least-accessable of Miyazaki's Ghibli movies.  You have to know about the man, and his work.  You have to have seen most everything.  You have to have read the Nausicaa books.  It might even help if you're familiar with Kubrick and Fellini.  Major bonus points if you recognize the name Akemi Ota.  How else would you discover that she's the heroine of this film?  She's always been the Heroine, in a certain sense.

Anyway, I'm rambling on and it's getting late.  Enjoy the screenshots from the Howl's Moving Castle DVD.  Someone mentioned to me recently that the colors on the Ghibli DVDs are a little faded when compared to the films, and I have to agree.  But that's a consequence of compressing a feature-length movie onto such a tiny disc.  I am hopeful that the Blu-Ray will retain the spectacular color saturation.  If the upcoming Ponyo Blu-Ray is any indication, I'd say that's very doable.

2009-09-06

Photos - The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro


Okayyy....slow weekend.  I'm guessing everybody is off for Labor Day.  I was given a slate of high-resolution screenshots from the theatrical releases for Miyazaki's last three features - Spirited Away, Howl and Ponyo.

I think I'm going to stick with the Japanese title, translated, of course.  I just like the way it sounds.  Ghibli's movies are given such flowery titles.  American movies have always been very short and functional, really just a grunt or two to let you know what you're getting.  Explosions!  Slasher Flick!  Rom-Com!  More Explosions!  Ahem.

I haven't watched this movie in a long time.  I know it's beloved in the West, regarded as Miyazaki's masterpiece and all, which is a bit strange considering this was just about the only one they've ever seen.  Oh, well.  I think you can enjoy this picture as pure escapism, without paying much attention to the cultural details.  The Japanese elements are smoothly integrated into the background, so it's not necessary to notice.  It's not as explicit as Pom Poko, which was a visual encyclopedia of Japan's rich heritage.  Miyazaki evokes the archetypes without calling them by name.

This movie really stands apart from the rest of the Miyazaki canon.  It feels like a clean break from his past, as close to a true original as anything he's done.  Perhaps he really wanted to get away from his more serious side, and felt purged at last after Mononoke's enormous success.  But then again, we find ourselves hurled right back into the thick of things again, in Howl's Moving Castle, which felt like a fusion of Horus, Heidi and Nausicaa, reforged as one of Fellini's great surreal circuses.

So Spirited Away managed to achieve a universal appeal, and that's a good thing.  It was never created as such, but these sort of things just happen.  And this really is a spectacular film.  I remember watching it on the big screen, reading stories on the intertubes about this movie that's "even better than Princess Mononoke."  Could such a thing be possible?  I left the movie theater completely awestruck.

Enjoy these photos.  They're very large, so be patient when clicking on the full-size.