Michiyo Yasuda Retires

This week marked a very special event, the retirement party for Michiyo Yasuda at Studio Ghibli. Her formal retirement was at the end of 2008, and her party was on Friday, January 30. Everyone was available with gifts and well wishes, as another member of the old Toei gang steps away from the spotlight.

I've often written about Michiyo Yasuda, and although you may or may not be familiar with her name, you know her work. As the head of Ghibli's Ink and Paint Dept, she was the master of color behind every one of the studio's feature films. Her color style is very much her own, and very unique in the worlds on animation and anime. It's very vivid and expressionistic, reminding me in some way of Kandinsky's brilliant color designs. I think she would have fit in perfectly with the great color artists of the turn of the last century, competing with the Impressionists, the Expressionists, the Futurists, and so on.

Yasuda-san was very often involved in the careers of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, going of course back to Toei Doga. I think in many respects she carried the flame for Toei's visual style. The strong hues and rich tones are a signature of her style and theory. It really is impossible to imagine Studio Ghibli without her color.

And so, it seems fitting that her final production is with her lifelong friend Miyazaki for Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea. Ponyo continues to break box office records in Japan, and seems headed for that golden $200 million mark, where Miyazaki alone reigns. I wonder now where he will go for his muse. No doubt he will continue to ask her for advice on future productions. But for as long as he continues to write and direct movies, Miyazaki will be missing a crucial ally.

This is a very interesting period for the old masters. Most of their peers have retired, or died. Much of the support that they have depended on is no longer there. Instead, younger and younger faces, removed by a generation or two or three. That old world - the world of the 1960s - sails in the distant past. Perhaps this will signal a change in style, perhaps not. I personally believe that Yoshifumi Kondo's sudden death was greatly responsible for the distinctly different visual style Miyazaki brought to Spirited Away. I don't think Kondo would have indulged Miyazaki's surrealist, Fellini-esque turn as much. Who knows? Maybe things would have stayed the same, all things considering.

I think the retirement of Michiyo Yasuda will hit Miyazaki harder than Takahata (despite Takahata's semi-retirement). They were best friends, after all. There's a certain chemistry that results from being that familiar with someone. You just know the right notes to play. You don't even have to speak it. That bond will be gone now, and the gruff old master will no doubt feel the burden to take those tasks upon himself. After all, you can't expect these young kids to know what they're doing. They're all green. What do they know about color theory?

Momose's Latest

Hmm...perusing the GhibliWiki reveals that Yoshiyki Momose has just directed his latest short. According to Studio Ghibli's diary, he finished work on a music video. The artist remains unnamed at this time, but I'm sure we'll discover in due time. No doubt it's someone I've never heard of before.

Personally, I've been itching to see more of Momose's work, especially something like his three Capsule music videos. Those were just spectacular, vivid, lively, and very fresh and new. You would guess that this was the work of a young director, not a 50-something veteran. We never get to see enough of him. I wonder why he hasn't considered feature films yet? Other than Ghiblies Episode 2, his director work consists of commercials and music videos.

And, of course, I remain hopeful that we'll one day see a Ghiblies Episode 3 one of these years.

Happy Birthday!

It appears that Pixar turned 23 years old yesterday. Happy birthday and extra cake for all of the mad visionaries who worked their tails off back in the 1980's. Extra kudos and good karma to Steve Jobs, who, sadly, will not be with us for much longer.

It goes without saying that I'm really looking forward to Up. I'm surprised by the divided reactions to Wall-E, so I'll hope this latest feature brings everyone together.


A Couple Thoughts on Gedo Senki

Longtime Ghibli Freak Chris has some compelling arguments in favor of Goro Miyazaki's Gedo Senki in the comments to an earlier post. Wow, you really are a defender of this movie. I say bring it on! These discussions always become boring when everyone agrees on everything. Needless to say, this started me writing, and I decided to post my thoughts here instead of the comments section.

I do agree with Chris that Gedo Senki is a lovely movie. The artwork is superb, with very heavy saturation of color and light. And it seems to be more colorful - or at least less restrained - than typical Ghibli productions of the past. And it remains a beacon for defenders of classical hand-drawn animation. There really is nothing to compare this, or any Ghibli production, to in America. Hollywood has completely thrown its weight behind 3D computer animation.

We have to remember that Ghibli is a studio full of skilled artists. The famous directors get so much of the credit, but these are obviously not the creations of one man. Many of Ghibli's great artists have been working for the studio since its founding, and many others - I'm thinking of the great Michiyo Yasuda, head of the Color and Ink Dept, whose career spans back to the glory days at Toei Animation. You are always guaranteed to see something remarkable from these men and women.

I am not a reader of Ursula le Guinn's books, so I cannot comment on the movie's portrayal of the original work. I don't believe that a movie must be a copy of a book. Movies like this tend to feel somewhat lifeless and leave me feeling cynical. The Harry Potter franchise is a good example. The key word here is "adaptation." We are not seeing the original work, but an interpretation by the director, who infuses whatever new elements are deemed necessary.
It seemed to me that Hayao Miyazaki almost threw everything away from Howl's Moving Castle, beyond the description on the back of the paperback. Just the barest threads of the main characters, really. But he used that skeletal frame to tell his own story, weaving threads of his longstanding themes. I think the result is a spectacular film, even if it's somewhat insular (casual viewers are going to miss out).

So I don't think Goro Miyazaki should be judged solely on how his Tales From Earthsea matches up to the books. He needs to find his own voice. And, that, really, is where my problems and criticisms lie. But we'll get to that one of these days. Promise. I really, really mean it.


Video Clip - Hayao Miyazaki and the Ghibli Museum

Looks like YouTube delivers the goods once again.  I didn't see any other segments from the Ghibli Museum DVD, but this one runs six minutes.  Enjoy, kids.

Lupin III Series One in Theatres

This is interesting. Studio Ghibli is promoting Lupin III Series One on their Japanese website. The episodes are actually going to be shown in theatres during March and April. Very interesting. The site includes info about the series, as well as a trailer.

These sort of things always grab my interest, because it gives me hope that I could see an official Lupin release someday in the West. Of course, Series One was just released on Blu-Ray by a different publisher, so the chances of seeing the original 1971 series under the Ghibli banner anytime soon are slight. But it does appear to be in their sights.

Strange, given the success of Takahata, Miyazaki, and Lupin III, that the original series that started it all remains almost completely unknown to the rest of the world. What's really strange is that this remains the best collection of episodes in the Lupin canon, by far. Let's hope that soon changes.

Super Bowl Commercials in 3-D

I was lucky enough to score some 3-D glasses for the Super Bowl last night, and Dreamworks new commercial for their upcoming Aliens Versus Monsters movie. I don't know what your experience was watching that, so hopefully you had more fun with the 3D gimmicks. Perhaps rear-projection tv screens won't allow for it to work. All I know is that I had my glasses on, and I didn't see a damn thing. What a letdown.

Well, that's not entirely untrue. I could see the shots that were intended to be "3-D," but it was so depressingly cliche, a shot of a space monster bouncing a ball at the screen. Oy, froinlayvin! It's the year 2009, and suddenly we're sent hurling back to the world of Count Floyd. Tonight's scary movie! Doctor Tongue's 3-D...House of Pancakes! Wooooooo! That was reaaaly scary, kids!

So there's the new Hollywood gimmick. Same as the old Hollywood gimmick.

I was disappointed that Disney didn't seize this moment to make the case for the American theatrical release of Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea. With such endless hype hype hype for 3-D movies as the end-all and be-all of our lives, here comes the latest masterpiece from one of cinema's true giants. An animated film entirely created by hand, and entirely in glorious 2-D. If there was a better chance to promote Ponyo, I honestly can't think of it.

The cynical side of me expects Disney to bury the latest Miyazaki film, just as they have all the others. It's just the nature of the movie business. Besides, you could see the real agenda on the tv ad that followed the Aliens Versus Monsters trailer - the first of an endless stream of corporate tie-ins. This, truly, is what the movie business is about. Merchandizing! Merchandizing! Where the REAL money from the movie is made!

You can't fault Disney, or any of the handful of corporate conglomerates who control our entertainment realm, to not promote a foreign movie like Ponyo. There's nothing in it for them. No Happy Meals. No stuffed dolls. No t-shirts, no pajamas, no Halloween costumes. No tie-ins at all, in fact. Studio Ghibli demands complete control over their properties. And they guard their creations like works of art, not to be pimped out mercilessly for the sake of capitalist greed. Funny, that. It's almost like they think of themselves as artists with some higher calling.

Anyway, these are the rambling thoughts that spun in my mind during the Dreamworks commercial. It's their fault for not delivering the goods on 3-D. Probably my thought for thinking too much. I do that. It's what happens when I read books or spin records on my Sony PS-X turntables instead of watching teevee. Dagnabbit.

Oh, I should also say some happy words for Pixar's Up trailer, which was also shown at the Super Bowl. Once again, they seem to exist on a different plane than the rest of Hollywood. Up promises to be a genuinely entertaining, funny, and inventive picture. Meanwhile, Dreamworks offers yet another helping of burps, farts, and lazy pop culture riffs to reward the lazy.

It's like all the "A" students at Cal Arts graduated to Pixar, and the "C" students slacked off to Dreamworks. What's the deal with that? I would kill to see some serious competition in American animation. I could only imagine how good Pixar's movies would become if they felt some real competition sniping at their heels. As such, Hollywood is still stuck in a simplistic race to the bottom, to who can throw up the most explosions, the most fart jokes, and the most tie-ins.

Skip it. If this isn't enough on an inspiration to stand in line for Ponyo, then you really have no business going out to movies anymore.

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