The Borrower Arrietty Blu-Ray and Ghibli's Future

How fast is this?  The Borrower Arrietty is coming to DVD and Blu-Ray in France this coming July.  I still haven't heard a word about any theatrical release.  Hmm...this is unexpected.  On the upside, this announcement means the Japanese DVD/BD will likely arrive in the summer.  On the downside, it may just skip theaters in the West altogether and head straight to home video.

I am concerned that Disney or Pixar have made no announcements about Arrietty in the USA.  Usually, we would have early press by now.  We would know the names of cast members, and have a general idea of a late summer release.  So far, only silence.  This doesn't sound good.  Studio Ghibli is moving firmly into its post-Miyazaki era, and we need to know if Disney intends to continue their relationship.

Ultimately, the Disney suits may decide that their relationship was with Hayao Miyazaki, not his movie studio.  They were only really intersted in Totoro and Kiki and maybe anything created in the future that fit into their market.  But Ghibli was in a very strong position, being courted by all the major Hollywood studios, and they could afford to dictate terms.  But Miyazaki is now in the process of passing the torch to the next generation, and the terms of the old agreement may no longer apply.

Of course, I don't know the answers one way or another.  And readers will gently needle me for being impatient and cranky with Disney.  That may be true.  This will be a period of uncertaintly, and no firm committments will be made by any parties.  Heck, Ghibli has yet to decide whether to continue after Miyazaki, or shut down completely.  Thank God Arrietty was a blockbuster smash hit in Japan.  The studio needs a couple home runs to secure its future...and now Goro is up next.

This is where the business side of things start to become real interesting.  Ghibli's fate may be decided in these next 12 months.  And we're going to get another Ghibli Blu-Ray in six months.

Nausicaa Blu-Ray Arriving in USA on March 8

Yes, I know, ancient news, and I get an "incomplete" for the semester.  Ah, well, pass the egg nog.

Disney will be releasing Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind on Blu-Ray this coming March 8, and as you can see, the cover design is similar to this year's Ghibli releases.  It looks excellent, stands out, and Disney should be congratulated.  If history is any judge, the picture quality will be pretty much identical to the Japanese disc, which is outstanding.

Extras on the Nausicaa BD are thin, however, and this is where Disney deserves a good scolding.  The Japanese release includes a small art book, postcards and trailers for The Borrower Arrietty, a 40-minute discussion involving Evangelion director Hideaki Anno (he worked as a key animator on Nausicaa), and the audio commentary track from the 2006 region-2 DVD.  The UK version, released earlier this year, does include the audio commentary and the interview, both with English subtitles, so there's no excuse for its omission in the States.

The US Nausicaa release will include the interactive "World of Ghibli" feature that is also available on the films released earlier this year, and that is nice to see.  The sprawling map is covered with characters from the Ghibli movies, which suggests that Disney will release the entire catalog (sans Omohide Poro Poro and Umi ga Kikoeru) eventually.  Heck, even Mononoke is represented, so that gives me hope.

The Behind the Studio documentary could be interesting.  These sort of things are usually just filler, but there is a great story to tell...please please please let somebody at Pixar put it together.  Nausicaa is the defining work of Hayao Miyazaki's later career - literally the difference between becoming the biggest film director in the world, and being an obscure, forgotten manga artist.

One thing Disney has done that I really love are the postcards, featuring the Japanese movie posters.  I can't thank them enough for including those.  The paper stock is thick, durable; the colors and details are vibrant and sharp.  I fully expect Nausicaa to include this as well.

In any case, the extras are all nice, but the only thing that really matters is the feature film itself, and the Nausicaa Blu-Ray promises to be spectacular.    I still remember watching a blackened, bleached-out VHS bootleg of Nausicaa a decade ago. Heck, I still remember Warriors of the Wind! Carly Simon was right; these are the good 'ol days.


New Years Resolutions for 2011

In the new year, could Disney please, kindly, sorta, maybe, finally release Omohide Poro Poro and Umi ga Kikoeru in North America?  It's been how long by now?  Heck, give those movies to Criterion if you're afraid of a backlash from the fundamentalist set.

I've said it a thousand times, and I'll probably say it a tousand times more, but Isao Takahata's Omohide Poro Poro is the greatest animation film ever created.  It is poetry painted in watercolors.  And you won't get your Ghibli Freak merit badge until you've watched it twice.

And Umi ga Kikoeru/I Can Hear the Sea remains criminally underrated.  The fact that it was the work of the studio's younger staff shouldn't deter you.  There is far more to Studio Ghibli than Miyazaki, and sooner or later, everybody is going to have to realize that.

Ghibli GIFs

Now this is interesting: a website dedicated solely to Studio Ghibli-themed animated GIFs.  Looks like a new site, so let's give some support and pay the new kid a visit.

Ghibli GIFs

Photos - Laputa: Castle in the Sky (Blu-Ray #2)

There are so many fantastic screenshots from the new Castle in the Sky Blu-Ray that I had to add in a second blog post.  As always, my thanks go out to High Def Digest and their dedicated forum crew for sharing.

I know the price of the disc is outrageously expensive ($80!), but we have no idea when we'll see the Western releases.  My guess is that everyone but the good 'ole USA will have it by next Christmas.  But that's a very long time to wait.  I'd rather have four Studio Ghibli films on Blu-Ray now than only one (Ponyo).  Besides, true anime fans and Ghibli Freaks want the extra bragging rights.

As always, everyone is free to steal whatever they need.  Share and pass along the screenshots and spread the word.  Then we'll hang out at my house for Ghibli Blog Movie Nights.*

(Ya know, I seriously ought to do that.  "Ghibli Blog Movie Night" has a nice ring to it. Any anime clubbers from the Twin Cities?)

Photos - Laputa: Castle in the Sky (Blu-Ray #1)

I am SO looking forward to seeing this movie on Blu-Ray.  The standard DVD looks terrific to my eyes.  Imagine how good this will look on your big screen.  Castle in the Sky probably steals a bit too much from Future Boy Conan, and there is a certain "kitchen sink" quality in the way Hayao Miyazaki threw in bits and scraps of ideas from earlier projects, but so what?  This is an exhilarating movie, full of humor, romance, revealing layer after layer of depth.  Here is a movie that is far smarter than it first appears.

The picture quality in these screenshots is stunning.  You just want to get lost in these deep colors and finely-crafted textures. paycheck won't be direct-deposited into my bank account until midnight.  I don't know if I can hold out that long.

Photos - My Neighbors the Yamadas (Blu-Ray)

My Neighbors the Yamadas and Laputa: Castle in the Sky arrived on Blu-Ray in Japan last week, selling for about $80 (ouch) in a stylish cardboard package design similar to the Nausicaa Blu-Ray released earlier this year.  Here are the screenshots.  Click on them to see the full size, as they're quite large.

There are currently no announcements as to when these BDs will be released in the West.  I would hope Disney moves quickly.  Heck, why not release this in March along with Nausicaa?  I certainly hope we won't have to wait until Christmas 2011 or Spring 2012.  Needless to say, I'm grabbing the import.

We Want a Better Mononoke DVD!

C'mon, Disney!  Get with the program and give us a better Princess Mononoke DVD, already!

My big Christmas present this year is a Sony Trinitron HDTV, a 36" CRT model that looks absolutely terrific (it's as big as an elephant and just as heavy), so now I'll be working on rebuilding my DVD collection.  Naturally, this includes Studio Ghibli, especially the newly-released Blu-Rays in Japan, but it also includes a few region-1 discs that I'm trying to hunt down, like Grave of the Fireflies, Puss in Boots, and Animal Treasure Island.

Which brings me to Princess Mononoke.  I have the region-2 DVD from Japan, and the picture quality is terrific.  Color tones are richly painted in green and brown, light and shadows are nicely balanced, and the screen is always popping with detail.  If you want the best home version of Miyazaki's 1997 blockbuster, this is the one to get.

Meanwhile, we in the States are still stuck with the crummy Miramax DVD that was released a decade ago.  For reasons I have never understood, the picture quality is terrible, just bloody awful.  Contrasts have been boosted to maximum, colors are bleached out, and the overall picture has been overly smoothed out.  One could almost mistake it for a late-generation VHS.

I've probably touched upon this subject before in the past, but it bears repeating again, as we patiently needle and encourage Disney to import more Ghibli DVDs.  Mononoke remains the first Ghibli film to be released to disc here in the States, and fans have waited long enough.  It's time for a proper re-release.  Take a look at the above screenshots and see for yourself.  The first photo comes from the Japanese region-2 DVD; the second photo is the region-1 Miramax disc.

I am aware of the challenges of reissuing the very adult Mononoke Hime on the Flanders-family Disney label (and I mean that in a kind way).  I still remember seeing this movie at the Oak Stree Cinema some years ago, and marveled at all the parents who arrived with very small children in tow.  It was pretty obvious they signed up for another children's film like My Neighbor Totoro...and were handed a bloody, violent Kirosawa epic.  Odds are those children are now among the 25% of American kids hooked on prescription drugs.

This is precisely why I believe the wisest decision is to place the Studio Ghibli films under their own label, as a subset of Disney.  "The Complete Studio Ghibli Collection" is the label used for these DVDs and Blu-Rays around the world, and I think it offers a degree of separation from the Disney moniker.  This would make it possible for the more adult-oriented Ghibli films - Grave of the Fireflies, Omohide Poro Poro, I Can Hear the Sea, and Princess Mononoke - to see a commercial release without fear of backlash.  Unfortunately, the more fundamentalist elements of American society will always make business difficult.  And we don't want to see Disney become an easy target for cynical politics.

I would also love to see Disney release the Ghibli ga Ippai Collection, which includes films crafted before Ghibli's founding (Panda Kopanda, Jarinko Chie, Gauche the Cellist), as well as the studio's other films, like the Short Short DVD, Ghiblies Episode 2 (package it with The Cat Returns!), the Yasuo Otsuka documentary, or Isao Takahata's masterful 1987 documentary, The Story of Yanagawa Waterways.  I'm very fortunate that I've been able to see these movies, and your family should enjoy them, too.

Bottom line: there's a whole side of Studio Ghibli that Americans have yet to discover.  Oh, and get with the program, Disney.


The Next Studio Ghibli Feature Film: Kokuriko Zaka-Kara (From Up on Poppy Hill)

Kokuriko Zaka-Kara (From Up on Poppy Hill)

Goro Miyazaki is back!

Time is short for me right now, so I'll write my longer impressions on my next post. But I had to share the news of Studio Ghibli's next feature film. It's Kokuriko Zaka-Kara, an adaptation of a 1980 shojo manga (girl's comic) about a teenage girl inYokohama, Japan.

Goro Miyazaki will be directing, after a long period of properly paying his dues at the studio. You will be reassured to know that Hayao Miyazaki is in charge of the movie's planning and its script/storyboards. This is very similar to this year's Ghibli movie, The Borrower Arrietty, which was a blockbuster success.

Few details are available as of now, only the preliminary movie poster. The movie trailers will arrive later in the spring, in anticipation for a summer 2011 release, as is the Ghibli tradition. Again, I'll write my impressions when I have some time later tonight. But I will leave these notes:

1) Goro's career rests in the balance. This movie will seal his future as a director, as well as Studio Ghibli.

2) We are now firmly moving into the post-Hayao Miyazaki era. We are entering the next generation of Ghibli.

3) Hayao Miyazaki's and Isao Takahata's next features might possibly be their last. I hope I'm wrong about that last point.


Buy These DVDs Already!

I always make it a personal habit to pitch for the Discotek DVDs once per year, and since the topic came up, here we go again, kids.  Buy these DVDs for Puss in Boots and Animal Treasure Island!  These are excellent discs, containing the full movies with Japanese language, as well as long-lost English language dubs, trailers, and very nice packaging.

Of course, I would wish the image quality was better, but this is the fault of Toei, who only released their classic animation movies in single-layer DVD format in the year 2000.  That's right, they haven't touched their "Golden Age" films in a decade.  Amazing, isn't it?  Well, let's show some support and prove the demand is out there.

Oh, and lest I forget, Discotek also released Toei's excellent 1979 anime Taro the Dragon Boy.  It's a rare return to form for the company, whose fortunes had long since faded by that time.  It's very much in the style of the lavish production and Disney-esque visuals from Toei Doga's golden era (1958-1972).  Be sure to grab this one while you can.  If Puss in Boots and Animal Treasure Island have only sold a few copies in the USA, than Taro probably sold in the single digits.  Again, anime fans need to support their history.


Downloads Updated and Expanded!

Hello, everyone!  I just spent the morning and early afternoon revising and expanding the Downloads section on Ghibli Blog.  The number of fansub downloads have steadily increased over the years, and I wanted to keep everything simple and easily accessible.  Now the downloads are separated into four categories: Toei Animation, Television, Pre-Ghibli & Misc., and Studio Ghibli.

In doing so, I've also searched around and found more movies and television series for you to enjoy.  I'm especially happy to find new fansubs for two Toei Doga classics, 1963's Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon, and 1972's Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.  I've also added the downloads for Puss in Boots and Animal Treasure Island because, frankly, the DVDs may no longer be commercially available.  I certainly can't find them anywhere, and I've been looking around ever since I lost my discs on a plane trip last year.

Our goal should be to translate and release all of the movies from Toei Animation's "classic" era, 1958-1972.  There are still a number of movies we need, all of them from the pre-Horus years.  I'm hopeful that this crucial era of anime history will be preserved.  All Ghibli Freaks owe it to themselves to become immersed in the classic Toei films.

As always, my deepest thanks and gratitude to all those individuals who bring us these translated fansubs.  None of these works would ever be seen in the West otherwise, as there simply isn't enough commercial demand.  That's really too bad, because these are the defining classics of Japanese anime.  And you cannot consider yourself a true anime fan unless you've been exposed to the classics.

(EDIT:  I removed Puss in Boots and Animal Treasure Island from the Download links since they are still readily available on Amazon.  Of course, I'm sure every one of you already own these DVDs, right?  Right.)


Anime Director Umanosuke Iida Dies: Assistant Director on Castle in the Sky

On November 26, anime director Umanosuke Iida died from undisclosed complications.  He was 49 years old.  He is best remembered as director of Hellsing and Devilman (shout-out to White Zombie).  Ghibli fans will remember him as Hayao Miyazaki's assistant director on Laputa: Castle in the Sky.  To the best of my knowledge, he was never involved in any other Studio Ghibli production.

According to GhibliWiki, Hayao Miyazaki and Nagai Go organized the funeral.

Thanks to Anime News Network for sharing the news.


New Studio Ghibli Blu-Ray - Castle in the Sky, My Neighbors the Yamadas

Excellent news!  The next round of Studio Ghibli Blu-Ray discs have been announced - Laputa, Castle in the Sky and My Neighbors the Yamadas.  Both are scheduled to be released in Japan this December 22.

I'm very pleasantly surprised to see that Nausicaa's BD design has been retained for future Ghibli releases.  It's very stylish and abstract in the tradition of The Criterion Collection.  No doubt the same bonus materials, like the miniature book, will be included once again.  In fact, I can see these becoming prized collector's items among the Ghibli faithful.

Bonus materials appear to be the same as the DVDs, with trailers, commercials, and storyboards.  A wealth of soundtracks and subtitles will be included, which is a very welcome feature.  Is Ghibli counting on import sales for these movies?  That would be an interesting prospect.  Obviously, these films will find their way around the globe, but you know how cool it would be to have Castle in the Sky and My Neighbors the Yamadas playing on your big-screen television on Christmas and New Years'.

There is no word yet on when Disney will release these BD's in North America, but they will be coming, I assure you.  It would be super cool if the American versions came in these packages, too.


Blu-Ray and DVD - Anne of Green Gables: Road to Green Gables

Good news, fellow Ghibli Freaks!  Anne of Green Gables: Road to Green Gables, this summer's theatrical release of the first six episodes of the 1979 World Masterpiece Theater series, will be released on Blu-Ray and DVD on November 17 in Japan, as part of the Ghibli Museum label.

Bonus materials include director Isao Takahata's recent appearance at the Canadian Embassy, and a collection of Ioka Masahiro's background paintings.  According to GhibliWiki, there will be no English subtitles, but we'll keep our eyes open and see if that's true.

As always, a big thanks to the crew at GhibliWiki for the scoop.  One guy pretty much runs that site now, which is unfortunate, but just like me, he has the help of dedicated fans to keep everyone informed.  Gracias!

Video - Mei and the Kittenbus - A Youtube Reconstrucion

Now this is something special.  It is a reconstruction, made entirely from existing print media in the public sphere, of Studio Ghibli's short film Mei and the Kittenbus.  As this film was intended solely for the Ghibli Museum in Japan, it has never been shown to the outside world, outside one or two special occasions.

This reconstruction uses photos, postcards, and calendars to reconstruct the story.  It's a very novel idea, and for those of us who are unable to travel across the ocean to Japan, it's the next best thing.  Personally, I would enjoy the opportunity to see the Ghibli Museum shorts in person - I'm completely sympathetic to Hayao Miyazaki's desire to shield children from the iron grip of consumer capitalism - but this is the next best thing.

Let us know what you think.  I'm curious to hear your impressions.


Posters: Tokyo Godfathers

Posters: Tokyo Godfathers

Posters: Tokyo Godfathers

Posters: Tokyo Godfathers

Here are a look at movie posters for Satoshi Kon's 2004 movie, Tokyo Godfathers.  I recognize the American version because it appears on the DVD (which I hope is still available).  The Japanese poster is very impressive, as usual.  If Japanese cinema can do anything, it's make fantastic movie posters.  The third poster is new to me.  I'm not sure where it comes from, but I do like it.  It's just slightly abstract, focusing on the orphaned baby who is the MacGuffin for the story.

I think this would be a good time to track down Kon's movies and watch them again.  It's so tragic that his career was cut so short.

Satoshi Kon Dead at 46 After Battle With Pancreatic Cancer

Satoshi Kon

Satoshi Kon suddenly died yesterday from pancreatic cancer.  Holy.....Wow.  This is a sudden and terrible shock.  Satoshi Kon was one of my favorite anime directors from the past decade.  He only directed four feature films, but each one was better than the last.  I especially enjoyed the way he confronted imagination and illusion, often in the form of popular culture, challenging our assertions of reality.  Millenium Actress and Paprika were brilliant in this regard.

I think my favorite Satoshi Kon movie is Tokyo Godfathers, thanks to the wonderfully touching and funny characters, the unique flair given to a John Ford/John Wayne classic, and the sharp willingness to peel back the illusions of modern Tokyo, to reveal the hidden suffering of the underclass.  I was lucky enough to see it on 35mm film at the University of Minnesota.  It played only for one weekend, and there were only a handful of attendees at the screening (where were all those anime fans?!), but I had a wonderful time and laughed myself silly.

I'm also a great fan of Kon's drawing style.  His characters have more rounded faces than standard anime fare, slightly more fleshy and weighted.  They feel more solid to my eyes, more natural and less caricatured.  It may be a surprise to you, but I'm really not a fan of most Japanese anime.  Too much character design is given over to huge saucer eyes and scrawny, spindly bodies that always seem fragile and lifeless.  I'm thinking of Ninja Scroll for some reason (ugh), but there are plenty of other examples.

Kon's skills are far more evident, and his realism reminds me greatly of Isao Takahata.  I've often wondered what would happen if the two collaborated together; indeed, Takahata appears lost without his right-hand man, Yoshifumi Kondo.  Wouldn't that have been fantastic?  A meeting of the minds - Tokyo Godfathers meets Taeko-chan, Paprika meets Anne Shirley.

This is such a terrible loss.  Who else in the anime world are we looking forward to?  I think Ben Ettinger is absolutely right: the man is irreplaceable.  No one else among the younger generation possesses his skills as an animator, a storyteller, a director.  No one else can match his razor sharp intellect.  In lesser hands, a film like Paprika would fly apart at the seams and turn into a hallucinatory mess.  Satoshi Kon always felt completely in control, and had a purpose, an agenda.  Here was an educated adult making movies for other educated adults, who just also happened to be an illustrator.

If Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata have any peers in Japan, it's most definitely Satoshi Kon.  Now his voice and his mind are forever silenced.  He has fallen into what Terence McKenna called "the black hole of biology."  This is a devestating loss for the animation and film world.


Photos - Future Boy Conan (PC Engine CD-ROM)

Here are some cool screenshots from the little-known Future Boy Conan video game.  It appeared in Japan on the PC Engine CD-ROM, which was known in the West as the Turbografx-16 and TurboDuo.

I still find it a bit strange that Hayao Miyazaki's 1978 television series remains unknown to so many anime fans.  In many ways, you could say this is the definitive Miyazaki, the perfect bridge between his earlier, swashbuckling adventures like Animal Treasure Island and Lupin III, and the later Studio Ghibli era.  Fortunately, fansubs are easily available for those willing to look (cough, Download These Fansubs, cough), so every visitor to this website should have Conan in their collection.

As for the game, it's pretty bland.  Nothing much to write home about, and you're not missing much.  It's a standard side-scrolling platformer which is just like about a dozen other sidescrollers on the PC Engine/Turbo.  You play through all the scenes of the television show, and fans will easily spot the locations, so that's nice.  I suppose there's a Youtube video or two floating around somewhere, in case you were curious to see Conan in action.

And, no, Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli were not involved in any with the production of the Future Boy Conan videogame.  This PCE title was designed by Telenet, which was one of the more prolific software studios during the 16-bit era.  They created such classics as the Valis series and Gaiares on the Sega Genesis.  Sunsoft has recently acquired their entire library, so there is hope that some games will soon appear on Nintendo's Virtual Console.  I wouldn't hold out much hope for Conan, though.  Victor Ireland may be a fan of the cultish and obscure, but this game might be a bit too obscure even for him.

Tales From Earthsea Box Office Total - $41,200

Only $41,200.  Ouch.  To be sure, Tales From Earthsea played only in a handful of cities, with no advertising and little to no press.  I doubt most American Ghibli Freaks even know the movie was playing at all.  Heck, I'm still surprised Minneapolis-St. Paul didn't get a screening.  We always seem to get every anime movie that comes to the States.

This was a "contractual obligation" release, and largely for the sake of qualifying for awards.  I would expect a nod in the Best Animation Feature category at next year's Oscars, if only because this is Studio Ghibli, and 2010 is a very slow year for animation.  Toy Story 3, of course, will walk away with the Oscar, to no one's surprise.

Fortunately, I think we shall see Goro Miyazaki's Earthsea movie on DVD soon, alongside Nausicaa and at least one other title from the catalog.


Tales From Earthsea - Do I Really Have to Review This Movie?

Review: Tales From Earthsea

My take on Tales From Earths? Toshio Suzuki panicked.

This had more to do with Ghibli's line of succession than anything else. Goro Miyazaki was picked in a flash, in hopes that he could be molded into his father's career, but without ever properly paying his dues. This was proven to be a mistake, a very rare one for Suzuki-san. His instincts have nearly always been impeccable. Oh, well, they managed to rebound nicely.

What I hated about this movie was how Goro wasted so much time airing the family's dirty laundry in public. I found that offensive. I also found it offensive that he was dropped into the director's chair, and presumably the throne of the empire itself, like a spoiled prince. How that must have angered the lapsed socialist father!

Then, after piling on the family melodrama in public, Goro arrives with a movie that shamefully steals from his father. WTF?! He rips off the castle chase from Puss in Boots. He rips off the 1982 manga The Journey of Shuna. He rips off Nausicaa and Heidi. He rips off the battle with the wolves from Horus, Prince of the Sun (don't dare call it "little norse prince"!) - a spectacular opening from the most important anime movie ever made. Ugh!

What original idea does Goro have? Oh, yes - the opening scene where the hero kills his father. Good grief. Jim Morrison called, and he wants his shtick back. What an embarrassment.

Over time, however, I've grown to be more sympathetic to Goro. It appears that Father Miyazaki has taken the reins, and essentially put him through film school, with various minor film projects for Ghibli and the Ghibli Museum. Goro's two shorts were very well made, in fact.

And Ghibli may have found their next-generation director with Yonebayashi-san, and the recent release of The Borrowers. This would take some pressure off the studio. Personally, I'm rooting for him.  Now if we could only get Takahata to finally get cracking on his long-awaited Ghibli film, we'd really be cookin'.

Goro will have a second crack at the bat. No pressures on him, but that next movie will essentially make or break his career as a film director. The Japanese public has lost their good will (badmouthing mommy and daddy will do that). So everything will come down to Goro, and how badly he wants his success. He will have to earn his father's throne.

So there's no pressure at all. But it's okay. Hayao Miyazaki was in the same place before. Maybe it's the family tradition.

Anyway, that's my sort-of official Ghibli Blog take on this topic. You'll notice I haven't talked much about Tales From Earthsea. There's a reason for that. It's not a very good or memorable movie. It's grim, preachy, dull and witless. I watched it four years ago, and I still can't push myself to find anything good to say about it.  The family drama is the real show, and everybody knows it.

Poster - Puss in Boots 3: Around the World in 80 Days (1976)

Puss in Boots 3: Around the World in 80 Days

Here is another addition to the always-impressive lineup of Toei Animation movie posters: Puss in Boots 3: Around the World in 80 Days, from 1976.

I'm a great fan of the original 1969 Puss in Boots.  In fact, I think it's an anime masterpiece and one of Toei Doga's crowning achievements.  It benefited greatly from the immense talent at the studio, including Hayao Miyazaki, Yasuo Otsuka, Yoichi Kotabe, Reiko Okuyama, and Yasuji Mori.  Within a couple years, however, they would begin the migration away to other studios and projects like Lupin III and Heidi, and the quality of Toei's movies deteriorated as a result.

Puss in Boots 2, made in 1972, was a weaker sequel, but it still had some charms, thanks to Mori and Okuyama.  At least, the Wild West theme was a bold change of pace.  Most sequels aim to repeat the exact formula, so you have to admire the willingness to take risks.  I think it's an alright movie and is worth watching at least once.

Puss in Boots 3, however, is a disaster.  If there was ever an example of Toei's decimation as a great movie studio, it's this picture.  It's amazing that this was even considered a feature release at all.  It has the look and feel of crude television, some low-budget mess that was probably green-lighted as a result of some executive losing a poker match.

I will say this in the movie's defense: I really like the setting.  "Around the World in 80 Days" is a terrific idea for a movie; in fact, it happens to be a terrific movie.  That's a movie you watch with the grandparents at holiday gatherings.  So it makes sense to give it a try with Pero the Cat.  It's a pity the whole thing is such an unimaginative mess.

I found it a bit weird that Puss in Boots 3 completely rips off the 1968 anime masterpiece Horus, Prince of the Sun.  How did that come about?  Was Toei finally feeling remorse over letting the movie tank at the box office, sacking the director, Isao Takahata, only to see him steal the studio's best talent and revolutionize anime with Heidi and Marco?  Strange.  Personally, I chalk it up to a lack of ideas.  The filmmakers who made this picture couldn't find a decent idea if it bit 'em on the....ehh, whatever.  You get the point.

I also wonder if Hayao Miyazaki had seen this movie?  How strange is it that a movie that steals from Horus features a climactic chase through a clock tower, one that Miyazaki seems to steal for Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro?  Yes, it's true that the clock tower motif first appeared in an episode of Lupin III: Series One, but, still.  I came away with the impression that Miyazaki ripped this scene out.  You can't blame him for being cranky, in any event.

Let's see, what else is there?  The animation is stiff and crude, barely television quality, as I've mentioned before.  Pero is certainly likable, but dull and witless.  You can tell this isn't the same whipsmart anti-hero from the original 1969 classic.  The villains are likewise boring.  Just why are we seeing that fox character yet again?  He was first a character on the television show Hustle Punch, and then a pirate in Animal Treasure Island (another of my all-time favorites).  Why is he in this lousy picture?  And why can't he get to do anything interesting or fun?

An animated movie version of Around the World in 80 Days should be wildly funny, colorful, full of life.  This should be a movie for Pixar, not the creatively bankrupt Toei.  This is an absolute clunker.  I can't think of any redeeming qualities for this movie....except for the movie poster.  That's a really terrific poster.

Nausicaa Blu-Ray in Australia October 18, UK in November

Optimum has announced that the Nausicaa Blu-Ray will arrive in Australia this October 18.  Meanwhile, Madman has tweeted that Miyazaki's 1984 masterpiece will come to the UK this November.

This leaves me feeling very hopeful for a 2010 holiday release here in the US.  Heck, a few more Studio Ghibli movies on Blu-Ray, and I might be tempted to finally get an HDTV.  Now if the studio could only get on board with digital distribution, we wouldn't be seeing them wait until the last minute to support a media format.

I'm so totally looking forward to this.  Nintendo and the airlines might get all my Christmas money, but I'll save room for Nausicaa.

Garry Rydstrom and Tales From Earthsea

Pixar employee and director of the canceled "Newt" project Garry Rydstrom spoke to the San Francisco Chronicle about his work as US dub director for Tales From Earthsea.  It's a short interview, but worth a read.  I personally wish they would have gone into more depth about the film, and more of the specifics of working with Studio Ghibli, but that's alright.

Tales From Earthsea has opened in a very limited release in the US this weekend.  Sadly, it didn't play here in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and it's very unlikely that it ever will.  This was a "contractual obligation" release and little more.  It's alright.  Don't feel bad if you've missed it.  You didn't miss much.

My best guess - and my guess is as good as yours - is that Goro Miyazaki's Earthsea movie will be released on DVD alongside the next batch of Ghibli reissues, and the Nausicaa Blu-Ray.  Would that happen in time for Christmas, or early next year?  Nobody knows and nobody's talking.

Miyazaki Comics - A Middle Aged Man Runs Toward the Wasteland (1993)

Here is a real discovery, and one that was shared by a dedicated Hayao Miyazaki fan.  This very short comic, only three pages, appeared in the September, 1993 issue of Navi Magazine in Japan.  Titled, "A Middle Aged Man Runs Toward the Wasteland," is details the story of Miyazaki taking a long trek in a very unusual car, a British three-wheeler.

This story is rendered beautifully in watercolor, which is always a special treat.  I'm a great fan of Miyazaki's watercolors for their rich textures and luminous detail.  I'm especially a fan of his many comics, and we always manage to discover yet another one around the corner.  One day, the complete manga works will have to be properly cataloged for history.

The arrangements and compositions are fantastic, as always.  You can see why Miyazaki is a master action director - even still drawings have such dynamic power.  I also enjoy the energy and tension of densely packing so many panels together on one page.  These pages are crowded even by Western standards.  You can imagine how this is received by the more sedate manga-reading public of Japan.

Oh, and triple bonus points if you could spot Yasuo Otsuka and his jeep.  There's a surprise that's worth a laugh.

You'll have to click on these photos to see them in their full size.  These pages are in their original Japanese form, which means they're untranslated, but I think we can still enjoy the artwork without following the details of the story.  Time for the fan-translators to get to work!  We've got plenty more where this came from!


Today is Marcee's Birthday

Today is Marcee's birthday.  I just wanted to share that with everyone, so if you'd like to share your thanks and wishes and very expensive presents.  Hooray for Marcee!  Isn't she wonderful?  My wish is that we'll be able to celebrate her next birthday here in the United States.


Photos - Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (Blu-Ray)

Here are some hi-resolution screenshots of the newly released Nausicaa Blu-Ray.  It's looking quite excellent.  I can't wait to see how this plays on a giant television.  I lost my Japanese DVD some months ago on one of my flights to Bogota, so I've been stuck without ever since.

I did check the YesAsia page for the extras, and, yes, Hideaki Anno of Evangelion fame does appear on the commentary track.  He also appears in a video appearance with Toshio Suzuki from 2009, which is a new extra for the Blu-Ray.  Anno worked as a key animator on Nausicaa, and famously animated the climactic scene at the end where the God Warrior emerges to repel an Ohmu stampede.

Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind - Now on Blu-Ray

The Nausicaa Blu-Ray is now on the streets!  I can't wait to get my hands on this one.  It's going to be expensive to import, yes, but check out all the cool extras you get, including the very stylish package.  I really like this design, and I'm hoping Studio Ghibli will continue this for future releases.  English subtitles for the movie are included, but not for any of the extras.  The DVD commentary track, the only one recorded for a Studio Ghibli film, should also be included.

According to one news report, Toshio Suzuki was unsatisfied with a cover design offered by Disney, so he turned to a friend who was a graphic designer, which resulted in this killer design.  I love it - it's just like something Criterion Collection would do.  Another interesting demand was one made by Hayao Miyazaki: no digital editing would be allowed.  This means Nausicaa would look like the 35mm film; sharper and cleaner than ever before, but untouched.  Compare this to Disney's approach to digitally restoring their classics, which aim to recreate the look of the original animation cels, instead of the film.

As you can see, the Nausicaa Blu-Ray includes a small book, packed with photos from the movie, sketches from the production, and long essays about Hayao Miyazaki.  There's even a photo of him from his much younger days.  It's striking how much different he looked back then.  We're very lucky to still have him alive and working today.

YesAsia has the best price on Nausicaa - only $78.25, with free international shipping.  Yeehh booy!

I honestly have no idea when Nausicaa will be released here in the States.  I'd hope it would be sometime before Christmas, but that's just wishful thinking.  Perhaps Disney will reissue more Ghibli films on DVD, as they had done earlier this year.  We'll see what happens; until then, let's import this Blu-Ray and get all the cool extras while we still can.  This is one of the best movie releases of the year.

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