2009-06-30

Ponyo DVD, Blu-Rays Delayed in Japan

Courtesy of GhibliWiki (the Nausicaa.net crew), the Japanese DVD and Blu-Ray release of the making-of documentary, "How Ponyo Was Born," is being delayed until December. The deluxe edition, "Ponyo Special DVD Box" is being delayed as well. "Circumstances in production" is the official reason given, which suggests a need to shore up supplies for the busy holiday season.

As far as I am aware, the standard DVD of Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea will still be released in July (next week, in fact), and the Blu-Ray will appear in December.

These, of course, are all the Japanese releases. There is no official word on North American DVD or Blu-Ray for Ponyo. I would certainly hope to see something in time for Christmas; in fact, I am expecting it. The short theater-to-home window fits this perfectly, and was likely a factor in the movie's August release.

Howl and "Adaptations"


What's interesting about Miyazaki's "adaptations" is how freely he discards all but the skeletal frame. Like the plot of any Road Runner cartoon, he uses the original work to setup the action, and then takes off from there. Add in his complex, roaming, episodic directoral style, and you end up with movies that are unorthodox, non-linear, and very Asian. This is not a commercial for the corporate cash cow. This is a wandering, epic journey.

We're used to movie spinoffs that are carbon copies of the books (Harry Potter comes to mind), but Miyazaki clearly doesn't have any lucrative franchises to protect. He's interested purely in telling his own stories. With Howl's Moving Castle, you get a sense of what elements resonated with him, which parts he stored away in his memories for years. Then he uses that framework to tell a greater story, one far more personal, using all his familiar icons and archetypes.

This, I'm sure, is what threw a lot of people of with Howl. They thought they were getting a movie version of the book. They weren't expecting Juliet of the Spirits instead. And you pretty much need the knowledge of his whole career, stretching back to Horus, Prince of the Sun, to understand and appreciate it. But that's what I love about Miyazaki's Howl. It's a collosus, an abstract collage of elements that should never fit, but do. Just like that walking castle.

2009-06-29

Deep Thought - Poll Edition

"Is this better than a piece of pie?" should be the yardstick for movie ratings.

Also, this is the most competitive poll race yet. France will easily win, but there's a three-way tie for second place. Anybody could pull an upset. Go Pie Go!

Also, I've already got the next poll planned. Be sure to bone up on your Miyazaki movies.

2009-06-28

Pixar Movie Poll Resuls, And Where They Go From Here?

Which is Your Favorite Pixar Movie?

Toy Story - 3
A Bug's Life - 0
Toy Story 2 - 2
Monsters, Inc. - 9
Finding Nemo - 4
The Incredibles - 12
Cars - 1
Ratatouille - 6
Wall-E - 5
Up - 9
Pixar Shorts - 0
I Like Pie - 4

Total votes: 55

Okay, this poll has been closed for some time now, so I'm long overdue on posting the results for posterity. Let's see how it all turned out. Maybe I'll put this one up for another vote in another six months. We'll see if the voting is overly in favor of the more recent movies, or whether everyone honestly thinks Pixar's movies are getting better.

I always stay out of these polls, because I don't want my opinions to influence the results. That said, I have a soft spot for the original Toy Story, and Monsters, Inc. Of the third-wave Pixar movies (Cars forward), I think Ratatouille is the best. There's a lot to like from Pixar's "Rubber Soul" phase, but it's clearly been an adolescent phase, lots of growth, lots of struggling, very uneven but still very entertaining.

Sometimes, I find myself really enjoying Pixar's short film experiments before Toy Story. There's a spirit of discovery in those works that the later, more formulaic features lack. This is why I included the shorts in the poll. The recent forays into silent film in Wall-E and Up call back to these roots, and they also happen to be among the finest moments in the studio's canon.

The Rubber Soul era has ended; next on the lineup are sequels to Toy Story, Cars, and Monsters, Inc. The next original Pixar feature, three years away, is the first directed by a woman, which is an important step forward. But it's going to be a Disney fairy tale. A step backward.

Pixar still needs its revolutionary breakthrough, their Horus, their Heidi. Ratatouille came the closest, the latter movies seem to be holding back. This break in the production schedule should give the brain trust an opportunity to step back and determine where, exactly, they want to go. For they are now at a crossroads. One direction is the safe path, towards predictable formulas, safe routines, easy profits, and the warm embrace of the Disney brand. The other direction is far riskier, less safe, less reliable to make money. But through that path lies the salvation of American animation.

To put it easier, it's like this. The hard path takes us towards the husband-and-wife story in Up's first act. The easy path takes us towards the loud Star Wars-fueled chase scenes of acts two and three. Wall-E had grappled with the same dilemma, and wasn't able to resolve it. You either liked the first half or the second, but not both, and certainly not equally. There's a real and definite pecking order.

Where will Pixar go? Nobody knows. They could go either way at this point. And there's no question that the public would love more and more sequels. They've been conditioned to it. But for a studio that imagines itself the American Ghibli, playing it safe isn't good enough. They must continue to push forward. They must create their own Horus, their own Heidi. But it will not be easy. If creating art instead of commerce is truly the goal, they will have to risk failure. Nobody ever truly asks to be ahead of their time, but art demands it. The artform must evolve. Animation must finally break free from its babysitter ghetto.

Marc Davis Celebration of Animation: Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki will appear in person at an AMPAS sold-out event, July 28 at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater. The event is sponsored by the Marc Davis lecture series. John Lasseter will host the evening's events, which should include movie clips and a conversation with Miyazaki himself.

In connection to the event, there will be a screening of Spirited Away on July 17. This will be John Lasseter's US dub. You can find more info and buy tickets here. Good luck.

Kiki's Delivery Service - Japanese Trailers







It's always a thrill to watch the original movie trailers to the Ghibli movies, especially the earlier ones, before the iconic blue title screen with Totoro. Miyazaki and Takahata's studio was still one among many, albeit one fronted by two anime legends.

Kiki's Delivery Service became the first money-maker for Ghibli. Their previous features - 1986's Castle in the Sky, 1987's (tv) Story of Yanagawa Waterways, 1988's Grave of the Fireflies and My Neighbor Totoro - had failed to turn a profit. No doubt this was because these works all fit outside the acceptable anime norm. They are much more quirky and personal, and very European in tone and style. And they were completely original works, which was still almost unheard of in anime (most films were spinoffs from other media).

In truth, Ghibli always had a dedicated following, one that would build almost by word of mouth. With Kiki, that support would finally spill forth, and from that point forward, a Studio Ghibli film would be the top domestic grosser of that year. This record was broken only once since 1989, with Takahata's My Neighbors the Yamadas in 1999 (Pokemon and Jar Jar Binks proved too irresistable, yuck).

Enjoy these trailers. I'll post the full feature film later today, and hopefully Youtubt won't shut it down for a while.

Photos - Howl's Moving Castle






How can I possibly choose which screenshots to use from Howl's Moving Castle? The movie is so lush, so beautiful, its story so deep and complex. This is one film that requires multiple viewings to truly appreciate. It also requires you have a great knowledge of Miyazaki's long career, which is probably why so many American movie critics were left puzzled. They were expecting another Disney fairy tale. But this is not a Disney movie; it's a Fellini movie. This is Miyazaki's Juliet of the Spirits.

Why Westerners continue to see Hayao Miyazaki through the Walt Disney prism is a bit puzzling to me. Observe how his movies are always described as Japanese versions of Western fairy tales. Howl becomes "Beauty and the Beast." Spirited Away becomes "Alice in Wonderland." Ponyo becomes "The Little Mermaid." Very strange. These movies share only the most superficial connections, and this says far more about American stereotypes of animation than anything else. If the medium is ever to expand beyond its current infantile ghetto, this mindset will have to change.

2009-06-27

Frank Marshall on Ponyo "Tweaks"

Frank Marshall relays the following message via his Twitter feed:

By "tweak" I just mean a few changes in the literal translation of the dialogue, so it makes sense in English...

This should help to alleviate some fears that the Disney soundtrack to Ponyo will be significantly altered or censored. As always, the proof is in the final film, which is only a few weeks away.

2009-06-26

Photos - Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea





This has been a long, dark, violent week. I think we all need a pick-me-up. So here are a short collection of screenshots from Ponyo.

This is a beautiful work of art. I always have to pinch myself, and repeat the mantra in my mind: Everything is drawn by hand. No computers. It's difficult to take your eyes away from the painterly backdrops. Notice the evident brushtrokes in that sky, the textures of the clouds. While Hollywood CGI is obsessed with something called "realism," here is an animated movie that celebrates the artform. Here is a work by painters who love to paint.

The textures in the trees, the furniture, it all aims at a painterly approach. This is an Impressionist film, if not directly expressionist. You can imagine Monet or Van Gogh working on movies, and creating something very much like this. The art book is going to be spectacular. I only hope I'll be able to hold out until after August 14.

Clearly, Ponyo is a movie where Miyazaki and his team at Studio Ghibli feel the need to assert themselves. Miyazaki aims to prove his skills as an master filmmaker well in his 60s. Ghibli aims to demonstrate why they're the finest art studio in the world. Color designer extrordinaire Michiyo Yasuda aims to finish her long career with tremendous splashes of color. The color design in this movie is magnificent. I can't image Ghibli without her; I only hope her students have done their homework.

I don't know if Ponyo will connect with American audiences. I hope it does, but I've said that about every Ghibli movie to appear on movie screens and DVD. It still hasn't happened. Animation in the US is strictly in the realm of digital babysitters, and parents don't expect much, only something that will shut up the little tykes for a while and calm them down. Shuffle in, shuffle out, chew on some grass. Moo. I hope this movie will enable the audiences to open their eyes as well, and maybe, just maybe, everyone young and old can experience Miyazaki's opus together, as equals.

This is why I have confidence in Ponyo's US producers. They are after the same goals. And they have the means to make it happen. For once, a Ghibli film is going to have a fighting chance in the United States. Wear some green and cross your fingers.

2009-06-25

Ponyo "Tweaked" - Didn't That Movie Use to Have a War in It?

Oh, boy. This is going to cause controversy among the Ghibli Freaks:

Marshall and Kennedy are working with Toho and Walt Disney Pictures to release a "tweaked," A-list-voiced version of Ponyo in the United States on Aug. 14.

"We have a fantastic cast, ... from Tina Fey to Liam Neeson to Cloris Leachman to Matt Damon," Marshall said. "There will be a subtitled version on the DVD, but we are trying to say this is a new animated movie. It's not Japanese. It's just a fantastic story, so go see it so that we can try and expand it out of the specialized film world."

Marshall also revealed that the changes are in conjunction with the master animator to ensure his blessing. "We worked closely with Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki-san and [Toshio] Suzuki-san, who is the producer. We speak daily, and they have been very involved in everything. It's not a direct translation. We have tweaked the story so it is an understandable story for our audience. Melissa Matheson, who wrote E.T., came in and helped us shape the story. We are bringing all our resources and friends into this who have responded, as we have, to how wonderful these movies are."


I've been trying to find something to say about this subject all day, and I've personally gone back and forth on the issue. So it's definitely something that I'm still undecided about.

First of all, as longtime readers of this blog know, I am a fierce defender of protecting the original artists' work. I have no respect or patience for anything that smacks of censorship. And I am very often critical with script changes made to Miyazaki and Takahata's movies.

While Disney is forbidden by contract to edit a single frame of any Studio Ghibli film, they have much greater latitude with the English-language dubs. The offenses are great and small, ranging from simplifying words or phrases, to flattening out more complex themes, eliminating uncomfortable subjects or themes, altering the soundtrack, introducing new dialog, to even changing the ending of the movies.

To its credit, Disney's performance has been much better with later waves of DVD releases. Just watch the Disney dub for Castle in the Sky to see interference at its worst. They were much more respectful of Ghibli on the later DVDs. My Neighbor Totoro, thank heavens, was left practically untouched from its original Japanese soundtrack.

The last two Miyazaki features, Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle, are the most faithful dubs of all. These were produced under the close supervision of Pixar (UP director Pete Doctor was in charge of Howl's US dub). It's no surprise, then, that these are the finest animation dubs I've ever heard. There might be a line added here, a line there, but the script translators respected Miyazaki's vision and did not attempt to impose their own worldview. They didn't try to turn Sen and Howl into faceless, repressed Disney characters.

On the DVD front, Totoro is the most faithful by far, and it's a very enjoyable dub. The Japanese soundtrack is still superior, but that's because of the neorealist tradition of using non-actors for parts. The two sisters also sound very different, which is in keeping with their characters (each child takes after a different parent). I loved the chemistry the Fanning sisters brought to the US Totoro soundtrack, and having them share the recording booth results in more natural, honest performances.

The other Disney dubs range from acceptable to scandalous, depending on how far back you go. I really don't have time to go into details here, and I must admit some reluctance to go into depth on this topic. I don't want to get into a tear on subtitles vs. dubbing, just as I don't wish to bash Disney unfairly. My goal is to see Studio Ghibli find the widest possible audience, and as long as DVD and Blu-Ray allows for multiple audio soundtracks, we will all be happy.

Please, for the love of Elvis, don't get me on a tear about the Disney dubs. I still won't forgive them for kneecapping Porco Rosso. Ugh.

Which brings us to Ponyo. I think the issue at this point is that we don't know exactly what "tweaked" means. Are we talking about minor alterations for the sake of translating into American English? Are we talking about smoothing over purely cultural references that Western viewers wouldn't understand? Or are we talking about editing and censoring the original script?

I'm reminded of that episode of The Simpsons where Bart and Lisa spent time at Grampa's retirement home. A censored version of "Gone With the Wind" is playing: "Frankly, my dear.....(I love you! Let's get married!)" And then a title card appears, saying the film was sanitized for old people. Didn't there use to be a war in this picture?

As an artist, I'm a fierce defender of the artist's vision. This can be a problem when dealing with the realities of the market, and Hollywood even more so. The struggle between art and commerce has broken even the greatest of filmmakers (see: Orson Welles), and it often appears that cynicism, schlock, and recycled trash pours out of our movie screens year after year. Who keeps giving Michael Bay money to make Transformers movies? How many times can you repackage the same stale romantic comedy? Why is everything riddled with loud explosions? Would it kill the suits to let a documentary play in the multiplex, in front of 2,000 screens?

This is where I must step back, and be sympathetic to Hollywood and their producers. This is a business, and despite the righteous fury of the artists, one simple fact remains supreme: Hollywood makes these movies because that's what sells. The public is far more willing to see a movie about giant transforming robots than, oh, Herner Wertzog's latest documentary on Antarctica and global warming. Them's the facts, kids.

Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, the American producers for Ponyo, have been brought in for one reason only: to help sell the Miyazaki movie and make it a hit. These are skilled veterans of the movie industry, having worked for many years with Steven Spielberg, the director who has tightroped the line between art and commerce better than anyone.

Marhsall and Kennedy were picked by Studio Ghibli specifically to break into the US market. There is a community of dedicated Ghibli Freaks here (helloooo!!), but it remains small. The greater public has yet to hear of Hayao Miyazaki, despite our best wishes, and that's due to...well, um...okay, I'll just say it. Most people are cattle. They won't touch anything that's new, different, unknown, or unique. They are easily conditioned to respond to the same stimuli again and again. C'mon, be honest: nearly every big-budget movie can be fit into a small handful of genres. You don't even need titles. Rom-Com! Gun movie! Fart jokes! Kiddie cartoon!

So this is our dilemma. We have a great movie by one of the world's great film artists, beloved around the world, but untouchable by the great masses who tend to vote for Presidents they wanted to have a beer with. These are not smart creatures, and until somebody writes a law putting LSD into the drinking water, they're gonna stay that way.  Ugh, how terrible of me. Bad Toad, Bad Toad!  I'll try to behave, honest.

Anyway, here is the dilemma. We have a great Miyazaki film that should be widely seen, but it's unconventional and different enough to perhaps scare the public away. What to do? How to sell it? How to present it? Studio Ghibli's movies are openly, gleefully Japanese, and are a product of that culture. How to present that to an isolated culture? How do you create a new market from ground zero?

These are the questions that inform the US Ponyo trailer. This is why it's a different trailer, very different, from the previews from Japan, France, and around the world. We are still introducing Hayao Miyazaki to the American moviegoer. And if we're going to make an honest stab at breaking out of the art-house niche, we need to make that greeting stick.

Marshall and Kennedy admit as such. They are fans themselves, and have their own experiences with introducing the quirky Japanese movies to friends and family. Now they have to use their considerable skills to fill 800 theaters with new fans, and hope those numbers can continue to rise in subsequent weeks.

This is why I am willing to give them some slack on Ponyo. I'm not happy that this isn't a "direct translation," but I do not yet know how indirect it is. If we're talking something on par with Mononoke (Eboshi's false "confession" at the end still rankles me) or Castle in the Sky (easily the worst offender) then I'll start complaining. But not a moment before. Until then, I rest my trust in these people to do the best job they can.

I am looking forward to watching Ponyo in a packed theater. That and a democratic Iran. I'm hoping at least one wish gets fulfilled.

2009-06-24

New Poll - Rate the Ponyo Trailers

Now that the Disney US trailer for Ponyo is available online, I thought I'd go back and revisit the movie trailers from Japan and France again. That means it's time for the newest weekly poll. Which of these Ponyo trailers did you like the best?

I won't skewer the voting with my own opinions here, so I'll just post the three trailers here. I will say that the US Ponyo trailer really looks terrific in 1080p. It's definitely growing on me, too, but that's because I had the sound down. Maybe it's that announcer I don't like. He'll never fill Ed McMahon's shoes, God rest his soul.

First, the Japanese preview:



Second, the French preview:



Third, the US preview (1080p):



And Fourth, as always, the pie.

Ponyo US Trailer



Here is Disney's US trailer for Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea. Enjoy.

My thoughts? Loud and stupid, typical of most American movie trailers. I come away feeling agitated and frustrated. But that was to be expected. Hollywood has an extremely low opinion of the public's intelligence. It doesn't matter. The important thing is that Hayao Miyazaki's lastest feature film will soon be available on US screens.

But this trailer does speak volumes about what is considered "acceptable" for animation in this country, and what the studios are afraid to portray. This trailer makes Ponyo seem like another series of Star Wars chase scenes. Audiences may be surprised to discover it's a far quieter film than they were sold.

Hopefully, Ghibli's charm will shine through to even the most stubbornly repressive suburbanite parents. Hopefully, I'll see people of all ages in the theater. At one viewing of Howl's Moving Castle (I saw it four times at the Uptown Theater), I sat next to a young girl and her grandmother. That's when you know you're seeing a great movie.

I'm really hoping the voices won't be too cloying or syrupy. That's always a weakness in Western animation (Maybe it's a California accent thing? I can't say.). My only serious beef is with script tampering. Disney has a nasty habit of hacking and flattening Ghibli scripts, or adding dialog, or just making stuff up. LEt's all cross our fingers and hope someone from Pixar was in charge of this dub.

I should also say that I'd love to see Ponyo subtitled, and there usually are a few subtitled prints available for the art-house circuit, but those prints never make their way to Minneapolis. Ah, well, I'll be watching this movie as many times as possible, anyway, and I'll have the DVD in my library soon enough. And then, it's the long countdown to December's Japanese Blu-Ray release. Wheee!

2009-06-23

Ponyo US Trailer at Apple

I got the word from Disney earlier today that the US Ponyo trailer is now up on Apple's site. It seems everyone pretty much knows about it already, but I figured I should post the notice here anyway. As soon as a YouTube clip is available for embedding, I'll post it here on the Ghibli Blog.

For those who have seen the new trailer, what are your thoughts? Your impressions of the voice cast? How does this trailer compare to others around the world? Dive right in, kids.

2009-06-22

UP - Short, Short Review (no spoilers)

Time for me is short, of course, but I thought I should churn out a very quick and short impression of Pixar's latest movie. I'll compile one of those extra-long essays as soon as I am able. Anyway, we're gonna take no more chances. We're gonna do the short, short version:

UP - Short, Short Review

The first 10 minutes were wonderful, brilliant. Loved it. The rest of the movie, not so much. I didn't like all the chase scenes. I did like the dog. I didn't care about that bird. I liked that kid, the boy scout. I didn't need to know his family history. I thought Kirk Douglas and Spencer Tracy looked nice. Did somebody pump them full of steroids? By the end, I could care less. I didn't want Star Wars. I wanted the husband and wife. Very uneven movie. Too cliched and formulaic. Not one of Pixar's best. The end of an era? Sniffle. Next up for Pixar: sequels and fairy tales. Sob.

2009-06-21

Ghibli Blog Open Thread

The Ghibli Blog is never about me, but each and every one of you. Your contributions and insights are what make this site a success. Now I'm asking for your help. As you know, I'm very busy working to help the revolution in Iran (and that is exactly what it has become). I just don't have much time to write here as well. So I'm starting some open threads so that each and every one of you can contribute.

This is an OPEN THREAD where you can discuss anything and everything. Ghibli, pre-Ghibli, Pixar, whatever. If you are new to this site, take advantage of the extensive archives, as well as any videos that are still available. If this idea is successful, we'll start adding open threads on a regular basis.

My deepest thanks to everyone once again. Now let's kick out the jams, $#@%&!!!

2009-06-18

The Pixar Poll - Last Day to Vote

We're down to the last day to vote for your favorite Pixar movie, so be sure to join in and make your voice known. I promise you that Ahmedinijad won't steal this election.

I should also note that I haven't voted yet myself. These polls are often to fulfill my own curiosity about my readers more than anything. I'm a bit surprised to see The Incredibles run away with the thing. In fact, the recent movies are getting all of the votes. Does this mean that the newer Pixar films are really better? Or have you just not seen the earlier ones in a while?

If I had to pick a favorite, I'd probably go with the first Toy Story, although I've long had a soft spot for Monsters, Inc. And there are some things about the early pre-Toy Story shorts that I really love. But who am I kidding, really? I'd go for the pie.

Again, my apologies for not writing regularly for the Ghibli Blog. The ongoing crisis in Iran has swallowed all of my attention. This is a crucial moment in history, and I have to make whatever difference I can. You can follow my latest comical exploits by checking my Twitter page or my sister blog, Videogames of the Damned. Please visit there and show your support.

2009-06-15

Dispatches From the Green Revolution

I have been extremely busy all day covering the events from Iran's revolution on my sister blog, Videogames of the Damned. My apologies for not being able to write anything fun over here at the Ghibli Blog. But this is the most important event in the world today, perhaps even this decade. The implications for an Iranian revolution affect everyone in the world. And I have to do my part to help.

Please visit Videogames of the Damned to keep up with my latest writings. You can also follow on the Ghibli Blog's Twitter page. Thank you for all your patience. And keep wearing your green!

Wear Green for the People of Iran - My Big Preachy Speech


(This was first posted on my sister blog, Videogames of the Damned. The woman in this photo is Marcee, aka Marcela Arias Rubio, from Bogota, Colombia. She is my girlfriend and future wife. Steal this photo if you want.)

Listen, everybody. I've been blogging the Iranian crisis all weekend long, and believe me, the people are literally begging for our help. They are asking for the help of the world. And we are living in a global, internet-connected world. There is no here nor there. We are all together.

And don't give in to apathy for a single second! This is your greatest enemy. What happens in Iran affects you NOW. Where do you think your oil comes from? What does your car run on, grape juice? And let us not forget that the Tehran regime may be pursuing a nuclear bomb. Such an event would be catastrophic for the middle east and the world.

It might seem like all you can do are tiny gestures. But tiny gestures are all that is necessary. Thousands and millions of other people, joining together with you, will change the world. In fact, the tiny gestures are precisely what has changed the world. Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat. Mahatma Ghandi turning the other cheek. Martin Luther King marching in the streets and professing his dream.

I have lived long enough to see the Berlin Wall fall, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even when that was happening 20 years ago, it seemed impossible. Nobody in the adult world believed such a thing was possible. But it took the younger generation to strike blows against that wall, stand on top, and topple it to rubble. The rest is history.

How many revolutions have we seen these past 20 years? Good heavens. South Africa, Eastern Europe, Russia...even Kurt Cobain and hip-hop caused a music revolution in 1991. These things are not only possible, they are inevitable. All that is needed is for you to play your part.

And the very first thing you can do is wear green. You're going to wear clothes anyway. So what's the problem? Wear some green. Then snap some photos. Then shoot some video and post it onto YouTube. Post everything on Facebook. You're doing this everyday already. So what's the deal? What are you changing? Nothing. Nothing, except this time there is a larger goal. And it will work.

If Keyboard Cat and Dancing Hamsters can catch on, so can this. Please play your part. And do it now. Thanks to everyone for their help, and good luck!

2009-06-14

Photos - Omohide Poro Poro







Time once again for a series of photos from Isao Takahata's Studio Ghibli masterpiece, 1991, Omohide Poro Poro. The DVD continues to be censored from the North American market, but it has become available in most regions across the world. My Japanese Region-2 copy is a prized possession in my library; the rest of you here in the States can download the fansub copy (which has slightly better subtitles).

Most of these shots come from the flashback segments of Taeko-chan's childhood. I tried to post these in chronological order, but ended up doing the exact reverse. Ah, it's just as well. The juxtoposition between the present day and childhood give the movie a non-linear feel. Its structure is not unlike Citizen Kane, a movie whose influence Takahata acknowledged in Heidi and Anne.

The third screenshot, of the family dining room inside the barn, is a direct homage to Igmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries. Bergman's film dealt with similar issues of memory the role our past plays in our present lives, and I'm sure it was a great influence to Takahata.

For Americans who demand something more from their animation - stronger roles for women, less violence and explosions, less cynical commercialism, more complex and emotionally honest storytelling - Omohide Poro Poro is the answer to their prayers. I have no doubt it could become a success and find a broad fanbase, given the proper time and exposure. But first it must be allowed to be seen at all. Disney's studio bosses must lose their squeamishness and their fear of retribution from the fundamentalist right.

I continue to insist that this is the greatest animation movie ever made. And it is your responsibility to discover that for yourself.

Panda Go Panda UK DVD


Manga UK has released Panda Kopanda recently, under the Western title, Panda Go Panda. The impressive cover design was first seen on the Australian release, and it also happens to be my favorite (certainly much better than the Pioneer disc that was released here in the US).

I haven't had time to contact Manga US to see if they plan on releasing the DVD here Stateside, but somebody should. They are the most likely candidate now that Pioneer's license has expired. Hopefully, the Panda films will remain uncut; the US version chopped out the opening sequence, replacing them with tepid still shots, ala Saturday morning cartoons. And let us not forget Manga US' similar mangling of the title sequence for Castle of Cagliostro (read about it here and here). Let's hope Panda Kopanda fares better.

Your Evening Looney Tunes Fix

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

I haven't shown any Looney Tunes cartoons for a while, so it's time to watch some more. And, of course, it has to be Bugs Bunny. This is another cartoon with Marvin the Martian, who is always so much fun. Why is he always trying to blow up the Earth? What's the story on that? Heh heh, not like it matters in these cartoons. The plots are merely setting up the jokes, which is how it should be with comedy. You didn't come to the Fred Astaire picture for the plot - you came to see Fred and Ginger dance.

Hopefully, WB won't have this pulled for a while. Haven't they learned that it's smarter to share everything on YouTube? Where else can I watch cartoons for free? Saturday mornings no longer show 'em. Aren't free Bugs Bunny cartoons written into the Constitution? I'm pretty sure it is. Why else would my grandparents have fought World War II?

You can keep your cheap consumer goods and your plastic and your pollutants. Just give me my free Bugs Bunny cartoons.

Trailer - Animal Treasure Island





Animal Treasure Island is one of my absolute Miyazaki favorites, much like Puss in Boots, and it's a terrific thrill ride from start to finish. Discotek has also released this movie on DVD a few years ago, and it deserves to belong in everyone's collection.

Here are the two Japanese movie trailers, they're both really very good. Hmm...maybe I should watch this now? The television in the apartment isn't getting any use now that analog has switched to digital. Ahh, silence! Can you imagine life without tv? Well, I'm living it, people! And it's a wonderful life to lead.

So, anyway, get your hands on Animal Treasure Island. One of the great Toei movies and an early achievement for Hayao Miyazaki. Enjoy!

2009-06-13

Photos - Future Boy Conan






Conan is wearing green today - are you?

Miyazaki fans will notice that Conan occasionally does the handstands just like Mimiko does in Panda Kopanda. It's one of the more common riffs from the '70s. It also appeared on episodes of Heidi and 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother.

Oh, and that first shot of the giant tree is also a riff from a latter Heidi episode. If I could take screenshots, I'd post them and show you.

Crisis in Iran Liveblogging Mothership

The "Crisis in Iran Liveblogging Mothership" is up and running over at Daily Kos. They have all the necessary links to websites and blogs that are following the developments in Tehran. If you need to bookmark one page, make it this one. Then you can follow all the links and share photos and video.

Also, you gotta love anything that makes reference to P-Funk. Uncle Jam Wants You!

Oh, and I've been cross-posting these on my sister blog, Videogames of the Damned. That is my stomping ground for political commentary, but because of these events, I wanted to share the news with everyone. I'll try to squeeze in some Ghibli content as best I can.

Show Your Green


Marcee is wearing green today in support of the people of Iran. Doesn't she look terrific? Yaayyy! She says hi to everybody, and hopes you show your support, too.

Photos - Talkin' About Green Revolution



Here's an idea for you to help out. It's a minor thing, yes, but changing history very often involves small, minor gestures. Wear something in green today, snap some pics or shoot some video, and then post them online. Share them on your Twitter or Facebook pages, post some videos on YouTube. Get a couple friends to join you.

Here are some photos of me from a couple months ago. I'm wearing the green scarf Marcee gave me. It's the new hip fashion among all the kids these days!

Ghibli Blog Twitter Goes to Iran

I hope nobody minds that I've been devoting the Ghibli Blog's Twitter page. Normally, I keep my political leanings there to a minimum - this is an animation and movie website, after all - but the seriousness of the events in Iran need our full attention.

By all means, I encourage every single one of you to help spread the word about what is happening in Iran today. The Millenial Generation has the internet and the world at your fingertips. Use these tools to make a difference. Use your cell phones and your laptops. Use YouTube and DailyMotion. Use Twitter and Flikr. Use Facebook and MySpace.

Even if all you can do is help spread the word and share some videos, you will have helped bring about change. These moments happen only rarely, kids. You need to take advantage and do something now.

Peace and love, everyone!

2009-06-12

Deep Thought

I think all of my regular posters went away on vacation. Or maybe I just haven't come up with debatable material this week.

New Poll: Your Favorite Pixar Movie

I saw this question asked on DisneyPixar's Twitter page, and it seemed perfect for this week's poll. As usual, everything is on the right-hand column, just below the pictures. You can vote for any of Pixar's feature films, or you can choose their shorts if you enjoy those the most. And, as always, you can cast you vote in support of pie.

The poll runs for a week, as usual. These longer polls give everyone a chance to chime in.

For posterity, here are the results of last week's poll. Thanks to everyone who participated:

Question: Which Miyazaki film at Berkeley to you want to see most?

Laputa: Castle in the Sky - 8
My Neighbor Totoro - 9
Porco Rosso - 12
Princess Mononoke - 6
I Like Pie - 5

Photos - Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea






We are only weeks away from the American premier of Miyazaki's Ponyo. Are you getting excited yet? On the July 4 weekend, the trailer will appear in theatres, and the rollout should begin shortly after. Here are a few excellent photos to admire and enjoy.

Every time I see screenshots from Ponyo, I have to pinch myself and remember: everything is hand-drawn. Many shots are extremely complex and detailed and could easily be achieved by CGI. But Miyazaki is on a mission to defend traditional animation. Like John Henry, he's going to beat that machine even if it kills him.

This movie deserves to be a hit. And if anyone can upset Pixar's annual Oscar appointment, it's Miyazaki.

Photos - My Neighbors the Yamadas






I am very often a champion of the underdogs, so much that I almost reflexively defend any I see. Perhaps my mind is just skewered a little left of the dial, or perhaps it's still my youthful rebellion that forces me to find and discover art that lies off the beaten path. Whatever the reason, I'm a great champion of Isao Takahata's last feature film, 1999's My Neighbors the Yamadas.

I don't know if this movie has a following, or if it becomes overlooked by the flashier Miyazaki films. It's very interesting that Yamadas directly followed the blockbuster Mononoke Hime; they're almost complete opposites, as though Miyazaki and Takahata encamped themselves firmly as successors to Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu. And no doubt that shocking difference had an effect on the Japanese box office.

But I believe this is a great movie, and it has proven itself to be a visionary one as well. This was the first film created entirely on computers, as Ghibli painstakingly moved away from animation cels for good. The watercolor look was a revelation, and truly unlike any other anime. Interesting, then, that this more painterly approach, this storybook design, continued to grow and flourish for many years on Ghibli's short films, including the works intended for the Ghibli Museum. With Ponyo, that unique "hand-painted" style returned to feature film with breathtaking results.

The narrative structure of My Neighbors the Yamadas may be another sticking point for some, but I found it to be a revelation. Far too many movies are shackled to a conventional three-act script, when many movies - comedies especially - would be better served by a shorter structure. This is really an anthology, like the stacks of Calvin and Hobbes or Peanuts books sitting on your shelf. Various themes are approached and assembled, and Takahata changes the tempo every once in a while to hold your interest. And the two spectacular full-color sequences that bookend the film have a wondrous, careful lyricism. These are the most musical of Takahata scenes.

The final lesson at the end - "Don't Overdue It" - is not only ironic, because it comes during the lavish musical song number, it's also Takahata's quiet rebuttal against Miyazaki's frenetic epic. Mononoke's tagline was desperate, passionate..live! Live, dammit, live! You've never given up on anything in your life before, don't give up on me now!!

Hm.....don't overdue it. And with a wink and a nod, Isao Takahata retires from filmmaking, ceding the director's chair exclusively to Hayao Miyazaki, who then ushered in his grand epic period (Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl) and spectacular worldwide success for Ghibli. There's an interesting story about what went down during the long production of Yamadas. Sooner or later, someone will have to tell it.

Until then...more fantastic screenshots from My Neighbors the Yamadas.

Porco Rosso Wins!





The latest poll is closed, and Porco Rosso won out. It was a very tight race, as you'd expect it to be, but Miyazaki's 1992 Studio Ghibli movie is the one you most want to see at University of California-Berkeley. As I've written before, I've already seen Totoro and Mononoke on the big screen, albeit the dubbed versions. If I could only afford to go to one movie, it would be to one I haven't seen in a theatre before, which would probably wind up being Porco Rosso.

Since we're in a festive mood, here are some screenshots from the movie. They come from the excellent Ghibli website Buta Connection, which proves itself invaluable time and time again. Too bad I'm not fluent in French, eh?

If you want to introduce someone to Studio Ghibli and the films of Hayao Miyazaki, Porco Rosso is the perfect choice. Be sure to watch it in the Japanese- or French-language versions.

Ponyo at ComicCon

Frank Marshall reveals on his Twitter page that Ponyo will have a "big presence" at this year's ComicCon in July. He hasn't revealed any more details as of yet, but he is enthusiastic about Hayao Miyazaki's latest movie, and I expect that we will be hearing more in the weeks ahead.

I do hope that some promotional event is planned for the Mall of America, just so I could attend. How do I get seated at some panel discussions? Who do I talk to?

2009-06-11

Trailer - Puss in Boots (1969)



I started this Ghibli Blog back when I first saw Toei's 1969 movie, Puss in Boots, and absolutely loved it to pieces. It's one of my favorite anime films, and its zany castle chase is one of the most iconic sequences in Hayao Miyazaki's (and Yasuo Otsuka's) career.

I've also begged and pleaded my readers on occasion to buy this DVD. It's available in the US courtesy of Discotek, and includes English subtitles on the Japanese soundtrack, as well as an ancient dubbed soundtrack if you're watching with the younger kids. So if you're a Studio Ghibli fan looking for more of Miyazaki's vast career to explore, begin here.

Enjoy the movie trailer, kids!

Photos - Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves






Can you believe I forgot that I downloaded this movie? Fortunately, I snapped a lot of screenshots to share, since it's such a rare movie. It's really wonderfully funny and goofy, and Miyazaki fans everywhere should watch it at least once or twice. And, of course, it's impossible to look at this big pink Genie without thinking of Dr, Suess.

I don't really have any agenda or method for these shots. I'm just showing a variety from across the movie. Don't forget that you can download it ("Ali Baba's Revenge," the old dubbed version) from the Download section.

Trailer - Gulliver's Space Travels

I'm sitting around, trying to find something interesting to write for the blog, when I remembered that I mentioned Toei Animation's 1963 movie, Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon. It's place in Miyazaki lore is well known, even though it remains somewhat unknown. While a dubbed version appeared in the US in the 1960s (like most of the classic Toei films), a proper DVD release has never made its way beyond Japan. Strange.

In any event, here is the trailer for your enjoyment (embedding was disabled...jerks). I'm still hoping I could find a copy of the full movie on YouTube. Does anybody have a link?

Gulliver's Space Travels Trailer

2009-06-05

Your Evening Looney Tunes Fix

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

Time for another great Bugs Bunny cartoon. This time it's "Haredevil Hare" with Marvin the Martian. I really, really love this one. I'm a great fan of the Chuck Jones cartoons, and this one is so wonderfully funny and so visually creative. Enjoy!

Posters - Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind


Now this is my favorite! I saw a wide version of this poster on a Japanese website of dubious quality (the site claimed to sell movie posters, but was extremely sketchy on details), which I've completely lost. But I absolutely loved this poster and it's easily my favorite of all the Nausicaa posters.

The reason I love this one is because it seems more closely tied to the Nausicaa graphic novel. The image of Nausicaa on Kai (the Horseclaw) reminds me of the epic 40-page battle from Volume 3. It's a tremendously exciting and emotionally exhausting read, and requires just as much buildup as the actual battle itself. And the ending is sudden, shocking, tragic, brilliant.

Oh, and the movie is terrific, too. I'm sure you know that already, so no more preaching from me.

Up Poll is Closed

The Up poll is closed, and everybody here seems to love it. I haven't seen it yet, but I'm going to this weekend. I may just see it tonight when the light rail drops me off at the Mall of America after work.

One interesting note about Pixar's newest feature is that critical reviews are coming almost exlusively from animation websites like Michael Sporn, Michael Barrier, and Mark Mayerson. Theirs was not merely negative, but a more nuanced, balanced criticism, and that's something I honestly prefer to the heaping praises from most of the press.

Mind you, I still haven't seen Up, and, as always, I'm hoping Pixar's newest movie is their best to date. And there's no question the studio leads the animation pack in Hollywood. But I don't think we're being served when movie critics behave like Die Hard Gamefan. These are not newborn babies. These are movies, and as Pauline Kael loved to say, great movies are rarely perfect movies.

Anyway, thanks to everyone for participating. Oh, and kudos for whoever voted for the pie. Heh heh.

Posters - My Neighbors the Yamadas


Here is the French movie poster for My Neighbors the Yamadas. This is really, really terrific. It might be the best of all the Yamadas posters, thanks to its warm, saturated color tones and dynamic action. This scene depicted is from that brilliant wedding sequence at the beginning of the film. It is so wonderfully lyrical and playful, imaginative with language, but in a purely visual fashion, and without the taint of cynicism or hipster satire. This is an earnest movie, not a mockery.
My Neighbors the Yamadas deserves a larger following in the West. Perhaps the fact that it was released in the US under the Disney label threw people off. The English dub certainly didn't help, as Disney tried to shoehorn Takahata's movie into an American sitcom. Bleh. Just stick to the original Japanese soundtrack and a book of zen poems and you'll be fine.

Photos - Heidi, Girl of the Alps




I haven't written anything about Heidi in a while, so here are a few screenshots from the fantastic series. Whenever I'm asked to consider Isao Takahata's or Hayao Miyazaki's greatest work, I very quickly respond with three names - "Heidi Marco Anne." The three World Masterpiece Theater television dramas remain their masterworks, their great novel epics. This takes nothing away from the brilliance of the Studio Ghibli films; these series are just that much better.

It continues to puzzle me as to why Heidi was never broadcast in the United States. When I was in Bogota in March, anime series were on the tv stations all the time. A generation of kids all around the world grew up on Heidi Marco Anne. And yet, for some unknown reason, those of us in the States completely missed out.

I remain hopeful that something could happen on the Blu-Ray format. Heidi sports some wonderful scenery and color which is watered down on the DVD release. Animation suffers greatly from the compression to digital, as you can see from these photos. There's that speckled pattern on every surface, and it's always been a nuisance for me. Blu-Ray offers such a dramatic improvement in picture quality that it always leaves me astounded. One of the retailers at the Mall of America once played a clip from Mamoru Oshii's Innocence, and it was astonishing.

So somebody, somewhere, needs to get on the ball and bring Heidi Marco Anne to the hi-def format. No doubt the Japanese will get there first, but subtitles are almost never included. Which means waiting X number of years for computers to introduce Blu-Ray burners, and then the fansub community would get to work. How long would that take? Nobody knows.