Marcee's Engagement Ring

Last night, Marcee and I spent a terrific evening at a small French restaurant in Bogota.  And Marcee now has her engagement ring.  It's now official!  If the USCIS is cooperative, she'll be on a plane to the United States in May, 2012, with the wedding in June or July.

Just for the record, I was sweating bullets when I proposed.  Short of breath, arms shaking, the whole works.  Thank goodness for the steaks and wine.  It really was a terrific restaurant.

To celebrate our engagement, there's free pie for everyone!  Enjoy!*

*You actually have to score your own pie.

Update (12/14): Reader Phil White from Cambridge, UK, very kindly brightened up the first photo.  What a wonderful gesture!  We are both humbled and moved by everyone's kindness.  And, look!  We can actually see what the French restaurant looks like now!  This was a wonderful place, perfect atmosphere, and was discovered entirely by chance (my first choice for a restaurant had closed down).  Our entire relationship has been defined by such moments of improvisation.

Thanks again to everyone for your kind support.

Future Boy Conan - Blu-Ray Screenshots

Alright, let's take a look at how the new Future Boy Conan Blu-Ray Memorial Box compares to the standard DVD release.  The new high-definition transfer is taken from the original 35mm camera negative, and Bandai have spared no expense in restoring Conan to its original glory.  Hayao Miyazaki's 1978 masterpiece has never looked so good.

As always, colors are richer and more luminous in Blu-Ray.  Details are sharp and clear, and you can appreciate the artists' brushstrokes (now there's something I sorely miss in animation).  What's most striking is how much brighter everything now appears.  I hadn't realized how needlessly dark Conan appeared on DVD. I don't think most anime fans realize just how good these classic series truly look.  It's going to be a revelation for everyone, and if you're in charge of your local anime club, I highly recommending pooling your money together for the Conan set.

More screenshots will appear after the jump.  Update: All six photos are now available.  Connection speeds are a little better today, nice!  Enjoy the Conan shots!

Future Boy Conan Arrives on Blu-Ray

On November 25, Future Boy Conan made its long-awaited arrival on Blu-Ray in Japan.  The box set uses a high-definition transfer of the original 35mm camera negative, resulting in a picture quality that is stunning.  I daresay that Conan has never looked this good, even in its original 1978 TV run.

The box features embossed graphics and text, which looks wonderful.  Included are two discs, one for the series, and the second for extras.  A number of booklets are also included, which is very, very nice.  I'm not certain if storyboards are included, either in print or on the extras disc, but I'm sure one of us will eventually save up the money for this package and share all the secrets.

The Conan BD set includes the original 4:3 screen ratio, as well as a 16:9 widescreen mode that slightly crops the picture.  In my next post, I'll include some screenshots so that you can see for yourselves.

Sadly, it appears that no English subtitles are included.  That stinks.  In a perfect world, publishers in the West would pick up this BD box set.  Until then, we shall continue to download our fansub releases on the internet. you think Hollywood has ever figure this one out?  We want access to the movies.  If they're not going to be available in our region, or not available in the current format (1080p, digital downloads), we'll just take 'em.  As always, the lesson is that we must support those publishers and distributors who support the scene.  Show the business suits that there is a demand for these series.  I'm more than willing to pay a premium price for this excellent BD box set.

Kudos to Bandai for their excellent release.  My hopes are now extremely high for the Heidi BD box set, which will be released just in time for Christmas.  It appears that Bandai holds the rights to the entire World Masterpiece Theater series - does this mean we will soon see 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother and Anne of Green Gables on Blu-Ray?  Onegai shimasu!  Gimme Gimmie!

P.S. Yes, I know that I totally have to get back to work and write the second half of the Future Boy Conan blogathon.  We are totally going to finish this thing, kids.

Discotek Acquires Panda Kopanda DVD in 2012

Hot on the heels of scoring the original 1971-72 Lupin III television series, indie publisher Discotek has scored the DVD rights to Panda Kopanda.  The disc will be released sometime in 2012.  I don't know what extras, if any, are planned for inclusion, but I'd be more than happy to help out on the project.

As always, I highly recommend anime scholar Ben Ettinger for a commentary track.  If anyone at Discotek manages to read this, feel free to contact me and we'll get to work.


Tales From Earthsea (Gedo Senki) - Blu-Ray Screenshots

The internet connection here at The Cranky Croc hostel in Bogota is on the slow side, but I'm still determined to upload and share all the important news and photos from the newest Blu-Ray releases.  Yesterday, we had a look at Howl's Moving Castle, and today we have Tales From Earthsea (Gedo Senki), which was also released in Japan last month.

This movie has many spectacular landscape artwork, and fans are sure to be amazed with this BD release.  There's a vitality to the color that's striking, and it's a clear improvement over the standard DVD.  I've found that animated movies in general appear a little washed-out in 480 resolution, and improve dramatically in 1080p.  If you want some movies to really show off your home theater system, these movies are a must.

The rest of the screenshots appear after the jump.  Update: All eight screenshots are now available.  Thanks again to Asian Blu-Ray for snapping the photos.  Enjoy!


Howl's Moving Castle - Blu-Ray Screenshots

Studio Ghibli's newest Blu-Ray releases are available now in Japan, for the slightly horrifying price of $80USD.  Fortunately, most of you will be able to buy these discs when they're released in your country sometime next year.  We Americans, however, will remain at the mercy of Disney's whims.  In any event, region-free discs and online merchants make it easier than ever to build up your Ghibli movie collection, even without paying the $80 ransom the Japanese are subjected to.

Let's take a look at these wonderful screenshots from the Howl's Blu-Ray.  It looks terrific, as you would expect.  I've noticed that a lot of Ghibli movies struggled on the standard DVD format; Howl's Moving Castle was a marvel to see on a big screen, projected on 35mm film.  480p resolution just doesn't come close.  1080p is a very welcome improvement, indeed.  And, no doubt, we'll be saying the same thing once these movies start arriving on the next media format, 4K resolution.  For now, we'll be more than happy.

The rest of the screenshots lie after the jump.  My thanks, as always, to Asian Blu-Ray Guide for providing these photos.  I'm eternally grateful for all their hard work.


Downloads Update - Late, Late Edition

I've been working late tonight updating the Downloads page.  Yawwn!  The following anime links are now available:

1) Shonen Sarutobe Sasuke (Toei, 1959) - English subtitles are finally available, nice!  The English audio ("Magic Boy") is also available.

2) Saiyuki (Toei, 1960) - The video is taken from the German DVD release, with the US dubbed soundtrack ("Alakazam the Great").  We're still waiting for proper English subtitles from the original Japanese release.

3) Anju to Zushio Maru (Toei, 1961) - Toei's fourth animated feature, this is the US dubbed release, "The Littlest Warrior."  Picture is cropped to 4:3 ratio, and the running time is 13 minutes shorter than the Japanese release.

4) Arabian Night: The Adventures of Sinbad (Toei, 1962) - Toei's fifth animated feature is now available in Japanese with English subtitles.  I haven't seen this one yet, so I'm looking forward to watching it.

5) Farewell, Beloved Lupin (Telecom, 1980) - The finale to Lupin III: Series Two, directed by Hayao Miyazaki.  This is a fantastic episode, featuring Sumi Shimamoto as Miyazaki's Heroine in Blue, and the first appearance of the "Superman Robot," which appears in Castle in the Sky and the Ghibli Museum.  Japanese audio with English subtitles.

Tenguri, Boy of the Plains Available on Downloads

 Tenguri, Boy of the Plains (Sougen no Ko Tenguri), the 1977 short film directed by Yasuo Otsuka, with key animation by Hayao Miyazaki and Yoshifumi Kondo, is now available at the Downloads page.  This 22-minute film was produced by Snow Brand Dairy Products, and it's essentially a commercial for Japan's dairy industry.  That said, this is Yasuo Otsuka's only directorial work, and the quality is very high.  Its style and presentation owe a lot to Heidi, and it's an enjoyable little romp.

No doubt Tenguri will score you some cred points among your fellow anime and Ghibli fans.  Big thanks to AnimeCouncil for translating this film in between their bigger projects.

The Anime Production Line

Have you ever wanted to learn about the various elements of Japanese anime production?  Are you scratching your head over terms like settrei, e-konte, and image board?  Ben Ettinger, anime scholar par excellence, explains everything in fine detail at his Anipages blog.  Enjoy.

Ettinger has really been on a tear lately.  I have always credited him as the resident scholar on all things anime, especially its long and storied history.  Be sure to bookmark his site and visit often.


Don Rickles Roasts John Lasseter

As you may have heard, Pixar's John Lasseter was recently honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  The ceremony was met with the press, the fans, and many of Lasseter-san's friends and coworkers.  And, best of all, Don Rickles was present to roast the man of the hour.  Fantastic!

On a side note, I showed my brother some Don Rickles routines from the Dean Martin Roasts, so that's probably what my wedding reception next year (June/July 2012, hopefully) will look like.


Panda Kopanda Gets a Video Game, Sorta

We can always count on the videogames industry for innovation and original ideas.  Right?  Here's a shameless ripoff of Carnival Games (Nintendo Wii) for Sony's failed Move platform.  And starring the Papa Panda from Panda Kopanda, heh.

Speaking of which, the North American rights to Isao Takahata's two Panda Kopanda films have long since expired. Will any distributors pick up the rights and bring back the DVD?  These were great movies, and not just in that "I am Totoro's grandfather" sense.


Disney Releases US Arrietty Trailer *Spoiler Alert*

Yes, Disney has released their trailer for the upcoming February, 2012 theatrical release of Arrietty.  No, I can't believe I actually have to put a Spoiler tag on the title.  Most, if not all, of the plot is given away in this trailer, including the ending.  God Bless the American Cinema.  In any case, enjoy if you dare.


Poster - The Secret World of Arrietty (US)

Hey, I like this poster.  I like it a lot.

As you can see, Disney has released the movie poster for Karigurashi no Arrietty, in anticipation if its February 17, 2012 theatrical release.  They've stayed quiet on the subject for many months, and as the US continues to fall further and further behind on Studio Ghibli's Blu-Ray releases, the fans have remained hopeful, if a little worried. 

When I look at the poster, I'm struck by the rich color tones and dynamic composition.  With an iconic simplicity, you understand what this movie is about and why you should care.  It seems to fit into the Disney universe, even though, of course, it comes from Studio Ghibli.  Indeed, I suspect that most families who see this poster will conclude that it's Disney's latest animation feature.  Notice how little attention is paid to Ghibli; no mention of its director, or even the name Hayao Miyazaki (who, after all, delivered the script and image boards).  Fascinating!

This is a welcome surprise for me, personally, and I think it's a smart move.  As we all know, it's damn near impossible to get Americans to attend a foreign film, and doubly so for animation.  Ponyo fought with tooth and claw just to earn $10 million at the box office, and that was a record.  The sad truth is that, unless you're associated with one of the major "brand names" (Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks), your animation movie won't go anywhere.

This, to me, reflects the design decisions on Disney's Arrietty poster.  The title itself neatly evokes memories of "The Wonderful World of Disney," the fonts have that nice, magical quality, even the colors appear more saturated in the American style.  This does not appear to be an anime film at all.

Now notice the use of lighting and color on the boy's face and the objects in the frame. Doesn't this almost appear to look like...CGI?  All of the objects - the sugar cube, the jars, the books - look like computer models and not drawn by hand.  Arrietty, of course, is 100% hand-drawn and in 2D, now that Miyazaki has scuttled Ghibli's computer graphics department.

Animation lovers loathe to hear it, but the numbers are undeniable: traditional 2D animation doesn't sell in the United States.  It's the computer-animated look of Pixar and Dreamworks that sells today, to studio bosses and audiences alike.  Even Disney's The Princess and the Frog failed to meet expectations (don't worry, they'll make gobs of money on that franchise).  If you want to sell an animated movie these days, especially one without a merchandising empire to build a fan base, then this is the challenge you must face.  This tells me that Disney is committed to bring Arrietty to the mainstream.

Arrietty is an important Studio Ghibli movie because it marks the beginning of the post-Hayao Miyazaki era.  How will Ghibli fare without its legendary founder?  Can the new generation of directors carry the torch?  What will become of Ghibli's relations with Western distributors?  And, most of all, what about Disney?  Will Disney continue to support the studio, a Ghibli without Miyazaki, or would they conclude that they really only wanted Totoro and Kiki, and it's time to move on?

I think Disney is showing their commitment to the studio, not the man, and that's a very welcome sign.  It bodes well for the future.  I think Arrietty has the potential to become a hit in the States, a goal that remains frustratingly elusive.  Studio Ghibli deserves more than a cult following in the US.  It deserves top tier, blockbuster status.  Disney appears to agree, and they're going to try once again to reach that goal.  All of these elements point in this direction.  Good jaerb!



A shocking and devastating loss for the world, one of the true geniuses of the Computer Revolution.  I'm speechless.  I have no words.

I searched Youtube, and felt this tribute video was the most appropriate.  It fits the mood of the hour and honors Jobs' life.  It's a very touching video, and was created barely over a month ago.  Thank you.


Ni no Kuni - More Gameplay Videos from TGS

I promised to show more gameplay videos of Ni no Kuni from the Tokyo Game Show, and these two videos are absolutely perfect, and quite lengthy, too.  I'm interested in hearing your impressions.

The game follows the old school RPG formula, with a few interesting wrinkles like day/night.  When I see that, I'm obviously thinking of Minecraft.  Will players have to battle monsters at night?  That would be cool.  I wonder if I could chop down those trees and build a house?  Yeah, then I could build a train station and lay down some tracks, so I can get to....ah, whoops, wrong game.

The combat looks very interesting.  This is an area where RPG game mechanics haven't changed in 25 years.  It appears that instead of directly fighting, your characters can send pets who will do the fighting for you.  Shades of Pokemon, but also the great Phantasy Star Online, and it does raise a lot of possibilities.  Will you have to train your pet?  Can they be bred and grown?  Can they evolve into new forms?  I think this could be the key element that could enable Ni no Kuni to break out from a very old and tired genre.

Yes, I know that Ni no Kuni has already been released for the Nintendo DS in Japan, but I haven't seen it, so I'm choosing to follow the PS3 version as a new video game.  I'm looking forward to the surprises.  Until then, I have Saturn, Dreamcast and Minecraft to keep me happy. But, hey, that's me. Enjoy the videos!


Ni no Kuni (PS3) Gameplay Trailer

Alright, now I'm interested.  Ni no Kuni (Another World) on Playstation 3 is looking very impressive, indeed.  I think this system is a better venue for a game of this caliber than a portable, where larger TV screens can really bring this world to life.  This latest footage suggests that the gameplay will be deeply integrated with Studio Ghibli's animated scenes, and the heavily-populated environments and cel-shaded graphics are very promising.  I've recently been playing Phantasy Star Online for Sega Dreamcast, so I'm in a suitably receptive mood.

When it comes to upcoming video games, I am, by nature, skeptical.  It does you no good to become part of the hype machine.  If the final game is good and we're having fun, that's all that counts.  Until then, we should do no more than cross our fingers and hope for the best.  Just knowing that we're actually getting a brand new video game is an event, instead of Cinematic Gun Sequel #2459 and Yearly Franchise Rehash #3196.  Please please please don't let this become yet another generic, formulaic clone.  Surprise us.  Show us something new.

Ni no Kuni is headed to the US just in time for Christmas and New Year's, which is welcome news.  Now if the fine folks at Level 5 would only be so kind as bring Ni no Kuni to the Dreamcast, then we'll really be rolling.


BOMBSHELL: GKids Acquires Theatrical Rights to Studio Ghibli Catalog

GKids, best known as the "Home of the New York Int'l Childrens Film Festival," has announced that they have acquired the North American distribution rights to 13 Studio Ghibli films.  This deal covers theatrical rights, and Disney will continue to hold the home video rights.  "Non-theatrical rights" are mentioned but unspecified.

As soon as I heard of this deal, the first movie that came to my mind, naturally, is Isao Takahata's 1991 masterpiece, Omohide Poro Poro.  Will this movie be included in the distribution deal?  Well...this is where things get interesting.  According to GKids, 13 studio films, 1984-2002, are included in the deal.  However, when you count up the movies from Nausicaa to The Cat Returns, you find...14 films.  One movie is being left out of the deal.  Which one?  I don't yet know.  I'll have to investigate, and lobby hard for all of Ghibli's work to be shown.

GKids has done an excellent job in distributing animated films from around the world.  Such films include The Secret of Kells, Sita Sings the Blues, Summer Wars,Asmur and Asmar, A Cat in Paris, Mia and the Migoo, and Eleanor's Secret.

Variety has more details on this new deal:

Eric Beckman, GKids founder and prexy, told Variety that the distrib is "excited and deeply honored to be working with Studio Ghibli." Beckman said "Nausicaa," "Castle in the Sky," "Spirited Away" and "Totoro" are among his favorite movies, "and they played an early role in my decision to launch GKids.

GKids will kick off the distribution with 10- and 25-year anni screenings of "Spirited Away" and "Castle in the Sky" respectively at the New York Film Fest. New York's IFC Center will also feature a Studio Ghibli retrospective Dec. 16-Jan. 12, with additional retrospectives to be held in the U.S. and Canada during the first half of 2012. Finally, GKids is planning limited releases of select Ghibli pics, some of which have never before seen U.S. theatrical distribution, beginning in late 2012.


Ni no Kuni (Another World) Trailer for PS3

As Ghibli Freaks everywhere are well aware, Studio Ghibli is working in tandem with videogame studio Level 5 to create the adventure/RPG title, Ni no Kuni, or Another World.  The game first emerged in Japan for the Nintendo DS, and now is being ported to the Playstation 3.  I'm sure you'll agree that this is the better platform, as we'll be able to enjoy the vivid artwork and skillful animation on our television screens.

To be honest, I haven't really spent any time on Ni no Kuni because it doesn't appear very inspiring.  Yes, it's always great to see something new from Ghibli, and it's especially nice to see the younger staff involved in side projects.  But there's something rather predictable in the character designs and art direction.  It feels a bit formulaic, almost stereotypically "Miyazaki-esque."  I'm reminded of the Disney movies that followed after Walt Disney's death: competent, skilled, yes, but uninspiring and lacking that creative gusto that made the original classics, well...classics.  Fantasia was an act of courage, a work of mad genius.  Direct-to-DVD sequels are just cynical cash-ins.

I feel the same way towards Ni no Kuni.  Richly colored fantasy worlds, tending towards the surreal, cutesy animal sidekick, elements that could have been swept off the cutting room floor from Howl's Moving Castle.  But Howl was a great movie by a great artist, one who knows how to transcend the banalities of children's fantasy.  Miyazaki is a deeply personal storyteller with a strong Kurosawa and Fellini bent, and he is willing to take creative risks when necessary.  And he honestly doesn't care if he alienates everybody in the process; he's lost money on movies before, he's survived.

Ni no Kuni is a work-for-hire, one that deliberately cashes in on the Ghibli name, without really adding to its legacy in any meaningful way.  It's an interesting experiment, and perhaps a template for future video game projects; I can see the studio expanding its output considerably in the post-Miyazaki era.  At this point, anything is possible, so this is a valuable learning experience, if nothing else.

Anyway, these are only my fleeting opinions on the matter.  If you enjoy this video game, by all means,  buy it for the DS or PS3 and have fun.  If Level 5 releases a Sega Saturn or Dreamcast version, I would be interested.  Hey, stranger things have happened, kids.


Madhouse Shuts Down Production on Satoshi Kon's Final Movie

Satoshi Don's The Dreaming Machine

This is very sad news.  Satoshi Kon died last year while working on his latest film, "The Dreaming Machine."  After his passing, members of the production staff bravely promised to continue work, and insisted that Kon's final work would be realized according to his wishes.  Unfortunately, Madhouse has recently announced that they are scuttling production of The Dreaming Machine, with no future plans of what will become of the film project.

According to Twitch and J-Film Pow-Wow, the movie was much further to completion than initially realized, and this may have been the deciding factor:

Despite character designer Yoshimi Itazu taking detailed instructions left for him by Kon to helm the project production on "The Dreaming Machine" has been halted. As revealed by Madhouse president Masao Maruyama recently, this decision was made after the animation studio faced hard financial times. While 600 completed shots for the film have been completed that is still less than half of the 1,500 that is needed to see the film finished.

At this point, the fate of The Dreaming Machine is unclear.  Personally, I doubt that it will become lost forever.  Sooner or later, someone will come along and attempt to complete the production.  All of this depends on the status of Satoshi Kon's pre-production work, the image boards and the script and whatever instructions he had left.  Such an undertaking, however, would almost certainly be a labor of love, and would probably require a benefactor who doesn't expect to get their investment money back.  Kon may be a cult hero to movie lovers and anime fans, but in the movie marketplace, 3D CGI cartoons-slash-toy-commercials rule the roost.

I hope somebody steps up and finishes Dreaming Machine.  I'm a great fan of Kon's movies, and he had a wonderfully singular vision, futuristic and surreal, skeptical when needed, but never grim nor cynical, and wonderfully humane at the core.  He really was unique, and when I see the formulaic schlock playing at the multiplex, and read of Ridley Scott's plans for a Blade Runner sequel - Play the Happy Meal!  Eat the Video Game! - my heart sinks with despair.  We need true artists to emerge in these times.

Poppy Hill to Premier at Toronto International Film Festival

The Toronto International Film Festival has announced that Studio Ghibli's latest film, From Up On Poppy Hill, will make its debut on the international stage.  This is a surprising coup, as Ghibli's international premiers have occured at the Venice Film Festival.  Excellent news for Toronto!

The 38th Annual Toronto International Film Festival runs September 8-18.  Passes are currently available, and individual tickets will be available on September 3.


Howl, Earthsea and Ponyo: Studio Ghibli's Next Blu-Ray Discs

Studio Ghibli has announced their next pair of Blu-Ray discs: Howl's Moving Castle, and Tales From Earthsea.  Both titles will be released on November 16, and include all the standard features we've come to expect.  And, yes, that means English subtitles and Disney's English-language soundtrack.

In addition, Ponyo will be reissued with a new packaging, in keeping with Ghibli's BD library.  This is, in fact, the same package design as the German BD release, so it's really no surprise at all.  This new release will finally include the US Disney soundtrack, something that was missing from the original Japanese release.

Below the fold are the official specs and features of Ghibli's upcoming Blu-Ray films.  Thanks to Anime Maki and muhootsaver for providing these specs:


Fantasia at Minneapolis Uptown Theater Tonite!

Minneapolis' Uptown Theater is showing Disney's classic Fantasia for this weekend's "midnight movie" showcase.  This is a rare opportunity to see this animated masterpiece on the big screen.  If you live in the Twin Cities, be sure to head to Uptown and catch the movie.

Oh, and to whoever's in charge of scheduling at the Uptown Theater: Enough with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, already!  Show a different movie for a change!  And, for that matter, why are you playing Fantasia at midnight instead of the early afternoon?  Don't you think families would want to attend?  Think, McFly, think!


"Hayao Miyazaki: The World's Greatest Animator"

CNN has a terrific news feature on Hayao Miyazaki, and it's a rare appearance on US media. I've noticed that whenever Miyazaki-san travels to the US in support of his films, he is very polite and cautious, almost shy.  In his native Japan, however, the fierce warrior emerges, and you see the artist's strong-willed side.  This is a terrific interview and I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

I'd be happy if more Westerners saw Miyazaki's stronger, Shogun-like side; it would go a great distance to retire that tired cliche, "Walt Disney of Japan."  I'm not saying this as a criticism of Walt Disney, of course (even Disney himself wasn't quite the "Disney" archetype we imagine).  But these two great visionary filmmakers, while sharing a profession, are quite different in temperament and style.  By forcing everything into the Disney paradigm, we are losing much of what makes Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli great.

Anyway, click on the link to CNN's site to read the article (essentially a transcript of the video).


Photos: From Up on Poppy Hill

Photos: From Up on Poppy Hill

Photos: From Up on Poppy Hill

Photos: From Up on Poppy Hill

Photos: From Up on Poppy Hill

A series of excellent photos of Kokuriko/From Up on Poppy Hill were posted alongside Leonardo Flores' enthusiastic review.  He notes the film's strong parallels with Mimi wo Sumaseba and Omohide Poro Poro, and it does appear to hew closer to Isao Takahata's everyday realism than Father Miyazaki's surrealist escapism.  This is the direction that Ghibli wishes to explore for now, fueled in large part by the shock of this year's massive earthquake and nuclear crisis.

While Kokuriko has very stiff competition at the Japanese box office - the "final" Harry Potter movie, and the latest Pokemon commercial - I expect it to be very successful, and Goro Miyazaki's reputation will be, to a great extent, redeemed.  People will give him a second look, and they may become comfortable with the idea of his inheriting his father's famous movie studio.  He has grown tremendously these last four years, and he is now emerging as a confident filmmaker in his own right.  Let's cross our fingers and hope for the best.


Future Boy Conan and Heidi Coming to Blu-Ray

Excellent news for Miyazaki and Takahata fans in Japan!  Heidi, Girl of the Alps and Future Boy Conan are coming to Blu-Ray disc this holiday season.  Both series have been expected to make the leap to the high definition format, and there were reports that new 35mm prints have been struck for the BD box sets.  I have no doubt that people are going to be stunned at the picture quality.

The Heidi and Conan BD box sets are outrageously expensive - 36,000 Yen ($451.86) for Heidi, 32,000 Yen ($401.66) for Conan - and there are no English subtitles.  This is purely for the Japanese market.  That said, I would hope that other parties emerge to release these series for release in the West.  Heidi became an international sensation, after all, so there definitely is a global market.

Future Boy Conan will be released on November 25, 2011, and Heidi, Girl of the Alps will be released on December 22, 2011.  Yeah, I know, two weeks from now, the economy will have collapsed and we'll all be eating rats by tire fire under a bridge, but it's still nice to dream about the future.

Much thanks to reader Joel Gutheil, who send me an email about the Conan box set.


Whisper of the Heart Blu-Ray - Here are the Screenshots

This week saw Studio Ghibli's latest Blu-Ray movie - 1995's Mimi wo Sumaseba ("If You Listen Closely"), aka Whisper of the Heart.  I'm really looking forward to this one; Mimi is just about my all-time favorite Ghibli film, which means it's just about my favorite animated film.  This is one of the great joys of the movies.

The new high-definition transfer looks spectacular, as we've come to expect from Ghibli.  Color and detail is a big improvement over the DVD, and I just love the saturation in every corner of the screen.  For some reason, much of the color was drained out of these movies in earlier formats, and as each movie is released to Blu-Ray, it's like discovering them for the first time.

Of course, we'll all be going through this kabuki dance in 10 years when 4K becomes the next "high definition" standard.  But I think we can be confidently satisfied with this Blu-Ray in our libraries, and enjoy Mimi/Whisper for many years.

C'mon, Pixar, make a movie like this!  Pretty please?

A Totoro Tattoo

Reader Joel Gutheil pointed me to this cool photo of a highly detailed Totoro tattoo. Very, very cool, but I don't believe there's enough alcohol in the world to make me do that.  I came close to getting a tattoo back in the 90s, when that sort of thing was in vogue, but never went through with it.  This young woman is a hardcore Totoro fan; she's got real guts.


Lupin III 1971-72 TV is Coming to America!

Fantastic news, everybody!  Lupin the 3rd is finally coming to America!  Discotek has announced that they have secured the rights to the original 1971-72 TV series, and will be releasing the DVD box set Spring 2012.  All 23 episodes of Series One will be included.

No word yet on extras, like interviews or commentary tracks.  Hmm...I really need to get on the horn to Discotek.  DVD commentary tracks would be fantastic, especially if we could get anime scholar Ben Ettinger on board.  The original Lupin III is an anime landmark, and yet it's largely unknown in the West.  Hopefully, this will soon change.  If I were at Discotek, I'd be pushing hard for Cartoon Network to pick up the series.

Edit: Did I write down "Cartoon Central?"  Oy.  My brain was thinking of Comedy Central because I have the entire series run of MST3K on my computer (greatest show ever, btw).  I think my brain is finally running of space.


Porco Rosso: The Last Sortie - Hayao Miyazaki's Next Movie?

Is "Porco Rosso: The Last Sortie" the title of Hayao Miyazaki's next directorial feature film?  Rumors have been flying for a number of months, and I'm very reluctant to give much attention to them (especially when the gossip comes from Westerners).  However, three recent developments give rise to this new theory on a possible Porco Rosso sequel:

1) Toshio Suzuki mentioned a few months ago that Miyazaki-san was considering the idea of revisiting the Porco Rosso world, if not a direct sequel, then a spiritual cousin of sorts.  This story would revolve around the Adriadic air pilots between the two World Wars, or perhaps would take place before the original movie.  It wasn't determined if this story idea would become an animated film or short-form comic.

2)  In their recent interview with Arrietty director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the Guardian UK stated that the young director is now involved in Hayao Miyazaki's next film, a sequel to Porco Rosso.  I send an email asking for clarification and sources, but I haven't received a reply (perhaps they're busy with that Murdoch affair?).

3)  The IMdB has "Porco Rosso: The Last Sortie" listed as a 2012 release.

Studio Ghibli is famously tight-lipped about their projects, and we really only discover what's happening when they show us.  And right now, their major focus is Kokuriko.  Notice how Father Miyazaki is very often the public face of the studio's rollout.  They want Japan's goodwill to transfer to son Goro's new movie, especially in the shadow of the earthquake and nuclear disasters.  Even the Blu-Ray release of Mimi/Whisper is timed to coincide with Kokuriko's release.  I don't think we'll be hearing about Ghibli's next feature for a while.

Right now, I honestly don't know any more about "The Last Sortie" than any of you.  But I find the idea intriguing, particularly that subtitle, if for only this reason: Miyazaki-san has long used the pig character as his avatar, mostly in his color comics, and Marco the pilot was very much a self-portrait.  The Last Sortie for 70-year-old Miyazaki...hmm, interesting.

Heck, I'll just jump right out and say it: I think this next movie will be Hayao Miyazaki's final directorial feature film.  I've got a lot of reasons for this, and I'll have to explain myself in a future post.  But I'll just let you discuss the topic for now.


Yasuo Otsuka Turns 80

A big Happy Birthday to the great Yasuo Otsuka, who turned 80 on Monday.  The animation legend is one of the giants of anime, both as an animator and teacher.  We may remember him as the older mentor to Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, but Otsuka-san has a magnificent career and legacy all his own.  Every anime lover should be deeply familiar with his work.

I'd like to take this time to plug, once again, the fantastic 2004 Studio Ghibli documentary DVD, Yasuo Otsuka's Joy in Motion.  It's the best movie about the craft of animation that I've ever seen, and it's a valuable insight into one of the most pivotal figures in Japan's postwar anime era.  If there's ever a movie to import and add to your DVD collection, it's this one.  Add in Takahata's The Story of Yanagawa Waterways while you're at it, and you'll have two essential documentary films.  The above screenshot comes from Joy in Motion, showing a young Otsuka-san in the 1960s, during the production of Horus, Prince of the Sun.

Reader Christian Heymans writes about Yasuo Otsuka, and he shared his insights in an email to me.  I wanted to share it with everyone here:

I have been interested in Ghibli (and pre Ghibli) for many years.  It probably started when I had seen Mirai Shonen Conan on an Italian TV channel during the Eighties.

Some years ago, I had the chance to meet the master Yasuo Otsuka at the festival of Annecy in France, one afternoon after he finished to arranged an exhibition in the main hall.  The guy was really kind, we started to talk and ended up going for a drink where we of course mainly talked about animation (I have to add that Otsuka is one of the few japanese animators who is fluent in english-he can also speak Chinese!).  So there I was, a young belgian animation student, talking a drink with anime legend Yasuo Otsuka.  I asked him what was his main advice to a young animator and he answered me that animation, it's all about details.   Otsuka was very down to earth, kind, open and you could understand why he is considered a 'natural teacher'. 

Well, I noticed that Mister Otsuka is turning 80 tomorrow,  since he was born on July the 11th 1931.  I thought that maybe it would be nice to send him a Happy Birthday message through the Ghibli Blog, and maybe you were already planning on doing that!  Anyway, I 'm just telling you : )


Arrietty's Optimum UK Trailer (Possible Spoilers!)

Optimum UK has released this terrific trailer for the British release of Arrietty.  What's most surprising to all is that they have produced a unique English-language dub for this version.  It is not the Disney soundtrack.  That's very interesting.  I really hope this movie is successful when it arrives in theatres.  You may not have Studio Ghibli to enjoy forever.  You should enjoy these movies while you can.

Given that Mary Norton's novels are the basis for Ghibli's adaptation, it sounds better with a British voice cast.  It adds a sense of authenticity to the movie, which is transposed to modern suburban Japan.  The Disney voice cast will no doubt have that Southern California, Disney Channel vibe.  That's not necessarily better or worse, just different.  It's going to be very interesting to compare the two different soundtracks next year.

Right now, I'm guessing the Optimum UK dub won't be included when Disney publishes Arrietty on Blu-Ray here in the States, and vice versa.  I wouldn't guess the issue would become a deal-breaker for Ghibli fans on either side of the pond; as long as the dubs are written and performed well and hew to the original Japanese script, we'll be happy.  And the die-hard collectors among us always enjoy any excuse to justify buying yet another version.  We'll end up owning three or four different versions of Arrietty before all is said and done!


Omohide Poro Poro Manga Available on iTunes

From the Studio Ghibli Weblog in Spain, we discover that Omohide Poro Poro, the original manga series masterfully adapted to animation by Isao Takahata, is now available on iTunes.  It does not appear that the text has been translated from Japanese, however.  It would be nice if original and translated editions were made available.  But in any case, it's great that this comic can now be seen by a wider audience.

Omohide Poro Poro, the manga, was written by Hotaru Okamoto and drawn by Yuuko Tone.  It was a largely auto-biographical story of the author's childhood in 1960s Japan.  Takahata expanded the original story to include the character as an adult, coming to grips with her identity and her place in the world.  Also, there's music by Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute. Remember that guy?  I'll bet that's the real reason Disney won't allow this movie to be seen in the US.  They're jealous of the Zamfir.

Omohide Poro Poro (manga) - Vol 1
Omohide Poro Poro (manga) - Vol 2

From Up on Poppy Hill: The Official Art Book

From Up on Poppy Hill: The Official Art Book

In keeping with tradition, Studio Ghibli will be publishing an official art book of their latest feature, Kokuriko-Zaka Kara.  It has been christened with the movie's official international title - From Up On Poppy Hill.  I've always enjoyed the litarary quality to Ghibli's titles, their flowery prose.  I like this title, it flows.

The Ghibli completest will want to have the art book in their collection, particularly if you're not willing to wait another year or two for Kokuriko to arrive in your country.  I'm sure we'll see a Western publication at some point (Viz is the American publisher of the Ghibli books).

I'm honestly not certain if these screenshots come from the art book, or from another source.  These were sent to me by a Korean blogger, and he didn't give any additional information.  In any case, we're grateful to have every scrap of new information about Goro Miyazaki's latest film.  It looks terrific, very similar to Mimi wo Sumaseba.  I continue to marvel at the idea of animation that's devoted to daily life, not fantasy.  It's a uniquely Japanese anime concept.

Animated feature films aimed at girls...what a unique concept.  When is Hollywood going to try that over here?  All we get at the multiplex is 1950s housewives, toy commercials, and Star Wars.  And it's all pitched at boys.  A few more options would be desirable.

From Up on Poppy Hill: The Official Art Book

From Up on Poppy Hill: The Official Art Book


Hayao Miyazaki Sticks It to The Man

On June 16, Hayao Miyazaki had this banner placed on the roof of Studio Ghibli to protest nuclear power, in wake of the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.  Ghibli's banner declares, "Studio Ghibli wants to create animated films with non-nuclear electricity."

I'm guessing there was an expectation that Miyazaki, as Japan's most beloved figure, would publicly endorse Japan's nuclear power, in an effort to calm public fears ever since the earthquake and tsunami.  Instead, this sudden and very public protest - ah, hell yeah!

I just love that Miyazaki-san is 70 years old, and he's still sticking it to The Man, just like the glory days of the Toei labor union in the '60s.  Passive Americans could learn a thing or two.

From Up on Poppy Hill (Kokuriko-Zaka Kara): Preview and First Impressions

From Up on Poppy Hill (Kokuriko-Zaka Kara)

On June 23, Studio Ghibli held its first production staff preview of their upcoming film, Kokuriko-Zaka Kara.  It appears that the earthquake and subsequent nuclear meltdown couldn't hold Ghibli down for long.  Everything appears to be on schedule, and the media promotions should begin shortly.

After the preview screening, a number of Ghibli staff shared their impressions on Twitter.  The following are translated from the original Japanese, courtesy of T. Ishikawa:

Kokuriko-zaka first preview was held today. It was a really wonderful work.
I almost cried several times. I really thought that the youth is wonderful.
I want all of you to watch it early.

Kokuriko-zaka is probably far more interesting film than many of you think.
Personally, it is far more better than Tales from Earthsea and Arrietty
and better than Whisper of the Heart (as same genre).
I recommend it to you.

Yesterday was Kokuriko-zaka first preview day.
The stage of the story is Yokohama city of 1960s.
The straight look of chief characters pierced me from nostalgia scenery of the screen.

I went Ghibli's latest film Kokuriko-zaka Kara first preview yesterday.
The figure of the boy and girl who faced difficulty but confront straight it was impressive.
The theme that Hayao Miyazaki-san aimed at was expressed properly.

The decadent beauty was impressive in Arrietty, but beauty of positive power
is expressed straight in Kokurikoo-zaka. I don't like chorus scene of Japanese movie,
but the chorus scene of this movie is splendid.

Joe Hisaishi in Budokan DVD and Blu-Ray

One of the readers asked about the concert DVD and Blu-Ray, Joe Hisaishi in Budokan.  I can't remember if I've actually posted a photo of the cover, so here it is.  The concert took place in August, 2008 and aired on Japan's NHK network.  The home discs were released in Japan in 2009, and is currently available at retailers like YesAsia, CD Japan, and

The cover sketch was drawn by Hayao Miyazaki, and used as the poster for the 2009 concert.  It pretty much tells you everything you need to know - Joe Hisaishi performing selections from his movie scores (all of Miyazaki's Ghibli feature films) with a full orchestra.  The content should be identical on DVD and BD, so either purchase will be a welcome addition to your movie library.

Joe Hisashi in Paris

Joe Hisaishi is taking his orchestral performances of his Studio Ghibli scores on tour through Europe.  Here's a terrific video of his recent appearance in Paris.  It's interesting to see him on tour, and it would be nice to imagine a visit to the US.  The odds of that happening are pretty slim, however.  Studio Ghibli very much remains an unknown entity to most of the country.

Dedicated Hisaishi fans will want to pick up his concert DVD/Blu-Ray, which is available in Japan on the Ghibli ga Ippai label.  I'm sure your money is being saved up for the feature films, but it's nice to know there's always another addition to your library.


Photos - Karigurashi no Arrietty (The Borrower Arrietty)

At long last, we poor Westerners are finally able to see Karigurashi no Arrietty, thanks to the newly-released Blu-Ray disc in Japan.  The picture quality is outstanding, as we would expect.  I'm always amazed at the artistry of Studio Ghibli's movies, the painterly quality to their work  It's really wonderful to watch, and I have to admit, I'm really becoming tired of the same rubbery, plastic look of Hollywood CGI cartoons.  I miss the authenticity of the paintbrush.

Mind you, I also have a Sony direct-drive turntable from the late 1970s, and a Sega Genesis connected to my (hd) CRT television.  And my hair is turning silver.  I'm at that point where everything was better two decades ago.  Younger readers should respond with the necessary skepticism.

That said, c'mon, be honest.  You'd rather watch an animated movie with glorious hand-painted artwork.  You'd crawl through sewers if another Miyazaki or Takahata movie was on the other side.


Young(er) Miyazaki Discusses Nausicaa

Video footage of the younger Hayao Miyazaki is somewhat rare, so I'm glad to see this lengthy interview on Japanese television.  I'm guessing it took place in 1984, after the release of Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind.  Miyazaki is in his early 40s in this video, and looks very young.  It's during moments like this when I feel like pinching myself; this was a very long time ago.

I do wish English subtitles were included, but perhaps this is something the fansub community could tackle.  I'd like to see a collection of Miyazaki videos with subtitles sometime.  As the complete Miyazaki-Takahata canon is made available, there will still be a need for more discoveries, and Ghibli fans in the West are always eager to learn more about their hero.

It's interesting to read Miyazaki's career highlights on the text crawl.  It's a fascinating look into how he was perceived at that time, and which works were considered the peaks, and which were more obscure.  Horus, Prince of the Sun (1968), Puss in Boots (1969), Heidi, Girl of the Alps (1974) and Future Boy Conan (1978) are the cited works.  Hmm, Castle of the time, that movie was remembered as a box office failure, not the swashbuckling adventure classic we recognize today.

To the Japanese public in 1984, Hayao Miyazaki was probably still seen as Isao Takahata's student.  The great second half of his career had only just begun.  The Topcraft offices, where this TV interview took place, became the first home of Studio Ghibli in 1985.  In 1989, Ghibli finally had its first breakout hit with Kiki's Delivery Service, and in 1997 and 2001, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away would turn Miyazaki into an international legend.  All of this lies in the future as the director sits and contemplates his work.

Karigurashi no Arrietty Blu-Ray is Here!

The long-awaited Arrietty Blu-Ray is available today in Japan.  The package uses the same thick cardboard as used for the previous releases, with a plastic hairclip as a bonus.  The picture quality will be spectacular, and this will be another wonderful addition to our movie libraries.

Just to clear up the issue of soundtracks and subtitles.  Ghibli's Arrietty BD does include English subtitles, but no English-language dub.  Disney is recording a soundtrack in preparation for next year's theatrical release in the US, so we'll have to wait for that version.  As always, the bonus features are in Japanese only, with no subs.

All of this can be yours for the low, low price of 7,100 Japanese Yen, or roughly $80USD.  Ouch.  Personally, I would already have ordered my copy, but instead I have to spend my money on the fiancee visa to bring Marcee to the United States.  Now that's expensive, folks.  The Studio Ghibli Blu-Rays are a drop in the bucket compared to that.  Fortunately, we'll have a few weeks to save up for the Mimi/Whisper Blu-Ray, which will also be amazingly spectacular.

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