Cels - Omohide Poro Poro

Cels - Omohide Poro Poro
A wonderful production cel from Omohide Poro Poro. This comes from my favorite scenes in the film, Taeko's picking safflowers at dawn. As she is collecting the flowers, she explains its history in Japan, its use in the making of cosmetics, and she marvels at the thought of poor farm girls laboring away for the benefit of rich girls in the city. The hard struggles of traditional rural life is depicted honestly, not airbrushed or turned into some romantic fantasy.

This, I think, is one of Isao Takahata's great strengths, as it gets to the heart of his traditionalist views. He makes many of the same observations in his 1987 live-action documentary, The Story of Yanagawa Waterways, appealing to Japan's rural past, yet also embracing the hardship of that existence. No doubt he appreciates and benefits from our modern conveniences, and I'm sure he doesn't wish for people to return purely to a medieval existence. But Takahata is a firm critic of the modern, post-industrial world, and in Yanagawa and Omohide Poro Poro, he asks us to question these modern values.

Is Jello Biafra right? Is our national motto, "Give me convenience or give me death"? Perhaps we should examine that notion, and question just what it was human beings were chasing after modernity. And perhaps we should contemplate just what we have lost. This is probably the central theme of all of the Studio Ghibli films.

Oh, and if you're curious, this production cell from Omohide Poro Poro would set you back $500 easy. Ouch!

Deep Thought

What happened to all the panda love? I thought everybody loved pandas.

Cels - Kiki's Delivery Service

Cels - Kiki's Delivery Service
For any true Ghibli Freak, the holy grail is collecting animation cells from the movies. Production cells are not easy to come by, but they can be found, thanks to Ebay and the internet. But these are very expensive, costing hundreds of dollars apiece, and I have no doubt the costs will only rise as demand rises and the supply goes down.

Studio Ghibli moved entirely to computers a decade ago, during the production of My Neighbors the Yamadas, so traditional hand-painted cels are a thing of the past. That makes these works of art all the more valuable. They're a piece of animation history. They're also a direct connection to the artists who created them. It's remarkable, awe inspiring, really, to look upon an original animation production cel and realize, hey, so-and-so made this!

In a perfect world, all the animation cels would be preserved for history and displayed in the world's museums. If only life were that easy.

Here is one of the best Ghibli cels I've discovered online, from Kiki's Delivery Service. In all fairness, this is more of a composite shot, which includes the backgrounds. Ghibli has sold prints like these; I'm sure more informed folks to give us all the finer details. Such prints appear to be even more rare than the production cels, which no doubt receive all the attention.

I'll be posting more animation production cels as I find them online. I'd also appreciate your help in finding any links to sites or auctions. We'll share anything and everything here on the blog.


Photos - Panda Kopanda and the Rainy Day Circus

Someone asked me for some large-sized pics from Panda Kopanda, so I figured I'd oblige with some of these from Rainy Day Circus.

I especially love the shot of the baby panda being chased by the hands. It reminds me a lot of a similar shot in the Nausicaa flashback scene. Very stylish. This is the better Panda movie, I think. The rainstorm that floods the whole town feels so wonderfully inspired. Instead of becoming threatening, it's just an excuse for an impromptu picnic. This is a benevelent world, one you want to explore in. It's very peaceful and free of cheesy melodrama.

I've often wondered why Panda Kopanda was never spun off into a growing franchise, or why nobody else has taken a swing at another short film. No doubt the shadow of Takahata and Miyazaki and their peers is daunting, perhaps too daunting for anyone else to give it a go.

How about someone from the West? Or are we too trapped by convention and cliche to do justice to this peaceful little world? I think it would be a good challenge for an American studio to tackle, provided they could free themselves to many of the worst Disney cartoon cliches. If someone could deliver the right touch, that storybook feel, they'd really have something special on their hands.

Oh, and do I have to make a formal request for Disney to release Panda Kopanda on DVD and Blu-Ray? Or does Pioneer still have the rights?

Panda Kopanda Rama

Here's something I'm sure you'll enjoy: Panda Kopanda screenshots. Lots of 'em. Lots and lots of 'em. It's a Panda Kopanda-Rama! This is a very large collection of pics, so click on that pic above for the full-size view.

This collection of photos are from both Panda movies. I bought Ghibli's Japanese DVD a few years ago, and I see they have already updated with a newer version. I don't know if it's any better than the disc I already have, so I might just hold out for the inevitable Blu-Ray release.

Pioneer has the rights to Panda Kopanda in the West, but the North American DVD has been out of print for some time. Worse yet, they chopped up the movie's opening sequence, replacing some English text over still photos, and stitched the two short films together. In other words, Panda was turned into a Saturday morning cartoon. Oh, and the dub is just hideously bad. At least I think so.

So, in any event, you're better off importing your DVD from elsewhere.

So, that large enough for ya?

Peter Sohn Talks Partly Cloudy

Pixar's newest director, Peter Sohn, talks to Animation World Magazine about his short film, Partly Cloudy, which will be playing with Up in theaters next month. Pixar, (we need a catchy name for you guys, something like "Ghibli Freaks") will recognize Sohn as the voice of Remy's brother, Emile, in Ratatouille. He has also worked as an animator and storyboard artist on Ratatouille, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and The Iron Giant.

Here's a short clip for you:

The original pitch was just as I explained: There's the world of storks that deliver babies, but where do they get these babies from? And my answer was obviously the clouds. And I had done some drawings of these cloud characters -- taking some photos and Photoshopping eyes and a nose in and then having some birds all flocking up to the skies. I pitched this story of a smaller gray cloud that [lived below and] made some of the dangerous babies. And I showed John [Lasseter] these images and he touched on one of them and said let's start developing this one. And that was close to a year-and-a-half ago and it's been a really interesting learning experience for me. Obviously, this is my first [short]. It really is like raising a baby. I felt very much like Gus during this thing -- making something and wanting people to like it.

Posters: Up (From Pixar's Wrap Party)

Posters: Up (From Pixar's Wrap Party)
Posters: Up (From Pixar's Wrap Party)
Posters: Up (From Pixar's Wrap Party)
Posters: Up (From Pixar's Wrap Party)
These are some full-size posters that were present at the Up wrap party. I thought they were really quite clever, wrapped in loving nostalgia, so I thought I'd share them here with you. Kudos to the artists and designers who created these - where can we buy 'em?

Of these four, the red "Natural Wonders" poster is my favorite. I really love the color saturation and the heavy white outlines. And, I'm terribly sorry, but I can't look at the bird poster without thinking of Guiness. I swear I don't have a drinking problem, hah hah.

Pixar's Up Wrap Party

Pixar's Up Wrap Party
Pixar's Up Wrap Party
Pixar's Up Wrap Party
Pixar held their wrap party for their latest movie, Up, this weekend. It seems everybody had a fabulous time, and they love the new movie to pieces. A number of Pixar artists posted their pictures on Flikr, so feel free to scan through and enjoy the evening with them.

I always get the sense that the phrase "bad day at work" simply doesn't exist for these people. They're having the time of their lives doing what they love, and you can see that vitality in every one of Pixar's films.

Congratulations to everyone at Pixar for their latest creation. Does anybody have any good stories to share from the wrap party? If you do, I'm more than happy to publish them here on the blog.

Howl's Moving Castle: Background Paintings

Howl's Moving Castle: Background Paintings

Here are a couple of magnificent background paintings from Howl's Moving Castle. These are high-resolution photos, like all of the recent photos on the blog, so click on them to see the larger view. Enjoy!

Howl's Moving Castle - Minneapolis Uptown Theater May 2

Good news for Minneapolis Ghibli Freaks! Howl's Moving Castle will be shown at the Uptown Theater this Saturday at midnight.

As reported two weeks ago, Landmark Theaters is showing Howl's Moving Castle on their Saturday midnight matinees, and the film will be rotated around the US for the next several weeks. If you live in a city where Landmark has a movie house, chances are you'll be able to see Howl on the big screen.

So who is going to be at the Uptown this Saturday? It would be great if the Twin Cities anime community turns out in full force. A strong turnout will enable more anime screenings at Uptown, so everybody come out and do your part!

Howl's Moving Castle and the Long Talk

Am I the only who saw this shot in Howl's Moving Castle and immediately thought of Isao Takahata's film Grave of the Fireflies?

I don't think the war footage is meant to quote or riff Fireflies directly, but it does evoke those memories of Japan's destruction in World War II. These are very specific warnings to his native country, from an artist who witnessed the devestation of war himself. Miyazaki grew up among the rubble and the long struggle of the post-war years, and it's these formative years of his childhood that haunt his heavier, more adult films.

Miyazaki's "serious" work - Horus; Future Boy Conan; Nausicaa; Mononoke; Howl - is his longest-running commentary with his audience. It's that lifetime discussion that gives Howl's Moving Castle much of its depth. And this largely explains why newcomers unfamiliar with the director's long career, especially movie critics, felt lost in the plot. If you're expecting another Walt Disney fairy tale, then you're going to be very quickly overwhelmed.

What is war's impact on a nation? What is the cost of mindless "patriotism?" What ultimate cost will the soldier pay? The question of war, and what it does to us, haunts this film. Miyazaki points one hand toward WWII, the other toward Iraq, and bluntly asks if mankind has learned anything.

Ghibli Riffs - Howl's Moving Castle

Now here is an interesting question. Howl's Moving Castle features a couple of riffs that point back to Horus, Prince of the Sun. Why is that? Why did Miyazaki make reference to the revolutionary 1968 film he famously worked on? What are the parallels between these two movies, Horus and Howl? How does our awareness of Horus influence our understanding of Howl?

These are always crucial questions to ask, especially from highly intelligent filmmakers like Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Their works are not simple escapism. They've always had an agenda. And that agenda has been there since the very beginning, 40 years ago.

It was Miyazaki who conceived of the rock creature from Horus; legend has it that he created the character as a college student, when he harbored dreams of becoming a manga writer. Interesting, then, that he recreates this particular shot in Howl's Moving Castle, a massive object that is a character in itself.

To be honest, there's probably a better shot of Howl's castle in another scene, a nighttime scene that more closely quotes that shot from Horus. I just haven't been able to find a good screenshot anywhere, and my computer is no longer cooperating, so I can't snap pics from my DVD. But I think this works just as well.


Photos - Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea (Hi-Rez)

Thanks to one dedicated Ghibli Freak, I've managed to find many screen shots of the Studio Ghibli films in high in high resolution. These really look spectacular, certainly far larger and more detailed than what's available on the traditional DVD format. This should really give you an idea what to expect from future Blu-Ray discs. Click on the photos to see them in their full size, and you'll see what I mean.

Naturally, I thought the best candidate would be Ponyo, since that's the movie we're all looking forward to. For a movie set at an ocean location, there is a terrific variety of colors and textures on display. Kazuo Oga's background paintings are simply spectacular, almost a watercolor stencil look. He and the Ghibli artists have really outdone themselves this time; I'm almost at a loss to wonder how they will top this. But Miyazaki is already planning his next feature film, so we shall soon see.

Ponyo in EW

I saw on Monday that Entertainment Weekly mentions Ponyo in their summer movie roundup. I don't have time for a direct link, but you can check it out for yourselves. It's a short paragraph for the upcoming Ghibli movie, and also includes John Lasseter's latest cheerful pleas for its success in the US. Let's hope this time the Disney suits finally agree with him, and help make Ponyo a hit.

Keep your fingers crossed.


Video - Kiki's Delivery Service (subtitled)

One of my weekend projects was to post all the latest videos that I found on YouTube. This happens to include four feature films...ouch! That's a lot of movie watching! So, for the sake of those of you without the fastest internet connections, I'll hold myself to one Ghibli movie a day.

Tonight's movie is a favorite of mine, and it's likely a favorite of yours, too - Kiki's Delivery Service. I've wondered if this is the one Miyazaki film most likely to fall beneath the cracks, coming just after My Neighbor Totoro, and before Porco Rosso and Princess Mononoke. Like the teenage protagonist, Kiki doesn't quite fit into either world. But I think that's part of its charm. It captures that awkward stage so brilliantly, so honestly, all while presented in a romanticized European world. It's the kind of place you'd love to visit but can never find on a map.

It's interesting that Hayao Miyazaki wasn't this film's original director. That role fell to an outside director that Studio Ghibli brought in. Unfortunately, Miyazaki became frustrated with the project, and after some disputes, the original director left the project. This left the famous workaholic to take the reins and assume the director's chair himself. He then proceeds to make Kiki's story his own, weaving his own lessons on work and inspiration and identity.

I'm hoping that Kiki will be released on Blu-Ray soon. It was among the first wave of DVDs to arrive in the States, alongside Spirited Away and Castle in the Sky, and that release is getting a little long in the tooth. If nothing else, a better dub would be in order. But, then again, I'm not a fan of movie dubs in general, and I understand anything that helps gain Ghibli more fans is a good thing. Thank goodness DVD allows for switching of language tracks. I am so glad the lousy days of VHS are long past.

Anyway, enjoy the movie!

German Totoro DVD

Now this is what a real Totoro DVD looks like. In an ideal world, this is the sort of treatment Studio Ghibli would receive in the US. I'd gladly pay extra for a "premium" version, wouldn't you?


Poster: Mind Game

Poster: Mind Game

Masaaki Yuasa's virtuoso powerhouse, Mind Game. If you haven't yet seen this movie, you're missing out on the best animation film of this decade. Probably better suited to artists and day-trippers and the occasional Fellini fan than the typical anime geek, it nontheless remains a must-see for all lovers of the medium.

The Japanese DVD, if I'm not mistaken, includes English subtitles, not that it matters much. You'll be far to distracted by the fantastic imagery to even notice. Mind Game pushes the limits of animation for its own sake, like a Yellow Submarine for the Hip Hop Generation.

Porco Rosso: The Video Game Demo

Porco Rosso: The Video Game Demo
Porco Rosso: The Video Game Demo
Porco Rosso: The Video Game Demo
Porco Rosso: The Video Game Demo
Porco Rosso: The Video Game Demo
Now this is just amazingly cool.

Owen Shepherd and Eli Curtz, from legendary UK games developer Traveller's Tales (Sonic R), created this little marvel in 2006, in which players reenact arial dogfights with the planes from Porco Rosso. This was done purely as a labor of love, and was never intended for commercial release, but you can see how fully fleshed out the game appears. They recreated the movie's planes in brilliant detail, and included scenery from the movie, including Gina's hotel.

I took these photos from Owen's page here, where he goes into finer detail on the Porco Rosso DS project. It reminds me vividly of a pair of great arial combat games on the Atari Lynx, Blue Lightning and Warbirds. I've long wondered why these type of videogames are no longer being made. Don't you miss those classic arcade-style games?

Animerica, Miyazaki, and Crimson Pig

(Click on each photo for full-size)

Now here is an excellent find. Animerica Magazine's July 1993 interview with Hayao Miyazaki, where they discuss his then-newest movie, Porco Rosso (notice they use the English translation, "Crimson Pig"). It's a superb read and a great bit of history to boot. At this time, the name Miyazaki was unknown beyond the walls of the anime community, which was considerably smaller than it is today. The word "anime" had yet to reach the public consciousness in the US; the slightly rediculous word, "Japanimation" was still being used, and the only major crossover hit was, of course, Akira.

It is insightful, I think, to observe that Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli wouldn't become better known in the States for another decade. The Tokuma-Disney deal was still several years away, and Steve Jobs' small animation studio, known for cranking out clever, experimental computer-rendered cartoons, was in the process of creating its first full-length feature. The Simpson's was still a new and novel idea, Animaniacs was the second coming of the Marx Brothers...heck, Saint Cobain was still alive.

Meanwhile, across the Pacific, Studio Ghibli was hitting its stride. Porco Rosso would be the studio's third hit movie in a row, after 1989's Kiki's Delivery Service and 1991's Omohide Poro Poro. Miyazaki and Takahata were now producing Japan's biggest box-office hits, but it would still be four years before the collosal blockbuster success of Mononoke Hime in 1997, ushering in Ghibli's era of global dominance.

In other words, 1993 was about a million years ago. It's in that context that we read Miyazaki's insights about his career, and his latest film about a cynical, middle-aged fighter pilot who also happens to be a pig. How much of a thrill was this magazine to American anime fans at the time? I could imagine the kids huddling around their copies, guarding it with their lives. They would obsess over every detail, pore over every photograph, marvel at scenes from Porco Rosso, all the while realizing that this movie, too, was a million years away.

It's so easy to take today's internet for granted. We have an almost instant global access, thanks to Google and YouTube, Blogger and message boards, DVDs, Blu-Rays, and fansubs. If you want it, you'll have it, usually in the time it takes to cook that latest frozen pizza.

1993 doesn't seem that far to me, since those were my coming-of-age years. But technology has transformed the world since then, to the point where those days almost feel primitive. Could you live without the internet, or tiny cell phones? Would you really be satisfied with your Sega Genesis or 8-bit Nintendo?

On the other hand, the music was a hell of a lot better back then, Seattle rock was the center of the universe, Kurt Cobain was still alive, and MTV played something we called "music videos." Strange days, indeed.

Anyway, here's Animerica's July 1993 interview with Miyazaki. Throw "In Utero" into the tape deck and enjoy.

Photos - Kiki's Delivery Service

Whenever I see quality artwork from any of the Ghibli films, that makes me more eager for the eventual Blu-Ray releases. Animation films are especially brilliant on the high-definition format, and I'm frankly surprised at how quickly traditional DVD begins to look fuzzy and unfocused to my eyes.

Kiki's Delivery Service tends to get thrown in the back of the pack of Ghibli's films, and that's really unfair, because it's such a wonderful and entertaining movie. I expect once it's released on Blu-Ray, Kiki will win over new audiences. Just imagine all these details and vivid colors leaping out of your HDTV. I can't wait.

Deep Thought

I'm old enough to remember when the only anime you could find on teevee was "Superbook."


Tom Hanks Talks Toy Story 3

From Empire Magazine, with deepest thanks to Lee Unkrich.  Here is Tom Hanks discussing his ongoing work with Pixar's Toy Story 3:

"I have been in and done three big complete recording sessions and will probably have at least one more to do, possibly in about eight months," said Hanks of his Toy Story 3 work. "Then eight months after that I'll do a mop-up and have three more sessions after that. Those movies are beasts.
"They did an interesting thing on this one. They did not send us a script. They showed us a complete story reel of the entire movie, with storyboards moving from one to the next, and the people up at Pixar recorded some voices with some music and sound effects. Tim Allen and John Ratzenberger and I went in a movie theatre, watched the reel and said, 'This is great, let's get to work!'"

Photos - Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea

Because we've gone too long without our Ponyo fix.

Photos - Heisei Tanuki Gassan Pom Poko

Isao Takahata's 1994 Heisei Tanuki Gassan Pom Poko, one of Studio Ghibli's deepest and most complex films. It is also undoubtedly the most difficult for Westerners to fully grasp; I can't think of another movie that celebrates the sheer alienness of Japan's rich culture. Its social, environmental, and political themes stretch the span of Takahata's career, from 1968's Horus, Prince of the Sun to 1987's Yanagawa Horiwari Monagatari, to Hayao Miyazaki's 1997 Princess Mononoke and 2001's Spirited Away.

More Ghibli Blog Posts To Discover