Arrietty in France, Week #4 - Climbing the Charts

Arrietty the Borrower continues its strong run in theatres across France.  According to Box Office Mojo, week #4 saw Ghibli's latest climbing two spaces on the charts.  For the period of February 2-6, Arrietty takes fifth place with $799,226, a drop of 27.4% from the previous week (the slowest decline on the charts).  One movie screen has been added to the total of 270 screens.  The per-screen average of $2,960 is the fourth-highest total on the charts.

The grand total now stands at $5,935,421 - we are now within striking distance of Ponyo's $6.9 million gross in France.  That barrier will be easily smashed to pieces.  This is an amazing achievement for a Studio Ghibli movie not directed by Hayao Miyazaki.  This speaks volumes about the word-of-mouth support for Arrietty, as well as the support for Ghibli across France.  Yonebayashi-san has successfully jumped his latest hurdle, and this gives us hope for Arrietty's success in the UK and Australia later this year.

Disney's $10 Coupon For Nausicaa Blu-Ray

Disney $10 Coupon For Nausicaa Blu-Ray

This is a very welcomd development, and kudos to Disney for their efforts.  In anticipation of next month's release of Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind on Blu-Ray, Disney is offering a $10 discount for everyone who has purchased any of the Studio Ghibli films.  Simply log on and enter your barcode from your existing DVD.

Speaking as someone who currently owns the Castle in the Sky Japan BD, let me assure you that the Studio Ghibli films looks fantastic on Blu-Ray.  It's unfortunate that Disney isn't including the Hideaki Anno commentary track or the lengthy panel discussion featuring Anno-san and Toshio Suzuki, but the feature film is what matters most, and Ghibli's 6K transfer is astonishing to see.

As always, the movie business is a business.  If you want Disney to support Studio Ghibli in the future, then you need to show up with the Benjammins on Day One.  I can't wait!


Heidi 2011 Fansub Project is Here!

Yes, at long last, a new Heidi fansub project is underway!

Heidi, Girl of the Alps is arguably the crowning achievements in the careers of Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe.  It's certainly the archetype for the Studio Ghibli films, and it did as much to bring Japanese anime to the outside world as anything.  Indeed, Americans are only now catching up to what the rest of the world has known about for the last 35 years.  Every major region of the world has broadcast Heidi on television...every region except the United States.

Now, at long last, I hope we can resolve this problem, at least among the faithful.  The perfect news would be Heidi on American TV, with an official release on Blu-Ray and DVD.  Unfortunately, that is most likely never going to happen.  It's just too expensive to import a 52 episode series, then translate and dub the scripts into English.  You would need the backing of a major Hollywood studio like Disney, and they're not about to invest money in an anime from 1974.  So, once again, we turn to the fansub community to bring one of the greatest anime masterpieces to a receptive audience.

As for specifics on the 2011 Heidi Fansub Project, I'm afraid I have little news to report.  I can tell you that all 52 episodes have been translated into English, and this was completed late last year.  The translator handed the scripts to a fansub group, which has made Heidi their top priority.  As to what this means for dates, and when we can expect the series to be finished, this is still a mystery.  I will investigate and follow up on this, and hopefully we will have more good news to report.

I've been spending much of my weekend trying to chop up and upload the first episode of Heidi to Youtube.  I have copies of episodes 1-4 from a 2007 fansub project.  That project has since stalled and it appears to have disappeared completely.  The same fate befell another fansub group who was working to translate 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (aka Marco); they quit after a half-dozen episodes.  I'm pointing this out as a reminder and a caution: this is very long and hard work.  And this is the work of dedicated volunteers.

I think 2011 will be different.  We have the English-language scripts, and this is always the biggest hurdle in any fansub project.  The rest is just coding.  Because of this, I am confident that we will finally see Heidi this year.  This will be the final major work from the Takahata/Miyazaki canon to be translated into English.  All of their directorial work dating back to Horus, Prince of the Sun (1968) to today will be available to an English-speaking audience.  That is an achievement!  I can't wait.

Pixar Image Computer 1987 Demo Reel

While everyone knows Pixar for their computer animated films, the company's first venture was an advanced computer aimed at scientific applications.  The Pixar Image Computer was intended to compete against the powerful and uber-expensive super computers of its time, at a fraction of the cost.

This demonstration reel from 1987 shows a number of uses and applications by the Pixar computer in action.  It's vitally important to understand that computers were moving out of the labs and into the greater world in the 1980s.  The "Computer Age" was very new, and very unknown, to the great masses.  The very idea of computer graphics and animation, and graphics as icons (think of the original Macintosh), these are new and novel concepts that must be won over in the market.  It seems so obvious and simple now, but hindsight is always 20/20, as they say.

It's fascinating to contemplate the twin paths of attack taken by Pixar at this time.  In 1986, John Lasseter created Luxo, Jr. and was busy bridging the gap between computer graphics and traditional animation theory.  And Pixar was likewise pushing the limits of computer graphics technology for more serious applications.  It's easy to see how they are building the foundations for their eventual global domination.  There's a reason why these guys and gals are always three steps ahead of everyone else in Hollywood.

I think this is they key reason why Pixar's work remains sincere and honest, while rival CGI studios like Dreamworks and Blue Sky appear so brazenly cynical.  They're all trying to be Poochie - loud, brash, false, "hip."  It's the difference between the student who slacks off and skips half his classes, and the dedicated undergrad who does his homework.  Is there any surprise who's on top?


Pixar Turns 25 Years Old

February 3, 2011 marked the 25th birthday to our very beloved Pixar; on this date in 1986, Steve Jobs purchased Lucasfilm's computer graphics division, which was formed by George Lucas in 1979, and set out to create an independent computer graphics company.  The Pixar Image Computer was their first product, aimed at the commercial and scientific markets; this powerful computer also gave the company its name.  Pixar would quickly emerge as pioneers in the emerging field of computer animation, which was red-hot in the 1980s.

I think these guys made a couple of short movies, or something.  I really don't know whatever happened to them.  I mean, who's ever heard of an obscure '80s computer graphics firm called Pixar?  There might be something on the internet if you dig deep enough. (/lol)

The wonderful folks at Cartoon Brew posted Pixar's February 10, 1986 press release, announcing the creating of the new company.  I hope they won't mind too terribly if I re-post the photos here.  I'd also like to find some early Pixar videos on Youtube (ya know, with the original square logo); maybe this weekend I'll post some videos of early CGI animation.


Arrietty in France, Week 3: Holding Steady

Courtesy of Box Office Mojo
, Arrietty le Petit Monde des Chapardeurs has finished its third weekend in French cinema, and continues to hold steady at the box office.  The weekend of January 26-30 places Arrietty in 7th place with $1,100,224, a 13.3% decline from the previous week.  Per-screen average stands at $4,090, the third highest on the charts.  The number of movie screens showing the film continues to rise, adding 17 screens for a total of 269; this is still roughly half the number of big Hollywood movies like Hereafter, Season of the Witch, and Tangled.

If Arrietty can keep up this pace, it may match Ponyo's box office performance in France, $6,901,818.  It should be close, and this can only be counted as a victory for Studio Ghibli and Arrietty's young director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi.  Now if only the rest of the world could get to watch this movie on the big screen.  Australia and the UK are still planning a 2011 theatrical release, while Disney has kicked the North American release to next February (if at all).

Oh, and don't forget that the Blu-Ray will be arriving in France (and presumably Japan) this summer.  One way or another, we'll be able to see Arrietty this year.

(Edit: Okay, I can't remember which year I'm in.  That's always helpful.)

Studio Ghibli Paper Collage Art

Now this is clever.  DeviantART member Botjira has amassed a gallery of paper collage art, which also includes a number of works devoted to Studio Ghibli.  These impressive artworks involve paper, glue, acrylic, pastels, and a good pair of scissors.  Scenes are evoked from a number of Miyazaki films - My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle.

I'm posting my personal favorites here on the blog.  You can peruse Botjira's collection at his DeviantART page.  I love the abstractration of these collage works; this visual style evokes Japan's inherent iconic quality (I'm using Scott McCloud's terms), from anime to manga to video games.  Color and texture are especially strong, and compositions are well-framed.

I'd like to see these works rendered in animation, frankly.  If I were creating short films at, say, Pixar, I'd push heavily for a paper cutout look just like this.  The American quest for "realism" in animation is following the wrong direction (and it's still largely wrapped around caricature); abstraction and symbolism can be a far more potent tool of storytellers.  And, besides, aren't you getting tired of every cartoon looking exactly the same?  Animators need to mix things up just to keep us interested.


Photos - Animal Treasure Island

Good Lord, yet another massive Storm of the Century is roaring across the American heartland.  Time to hibernate indoors and watch Animal Treasure Island and spin some records.  So I'm throwing up another batch of killer screenshots, just because I can.  This is clearly the most "Miyazaki" of all the Toei Doga films, and certainly the zaniest, thanks to the teamwork of the entire Toei crew as well as old friends Yoichi Kotabe, Reiko Okuyama, Akemi Ota, yadda yadda.

Is this movie sitting in your DVD collection?  If so, terrific, I hope you're showing off for everyone in sight.  If not, why not?  What are ya waiting for?

Miyazaki Comics - Tree (1989)

Here is an addition to Hayao Miyazaki's comics collection that I'm certain you've never seen before, and maybe only barely heard about.  This is Tree, a book written by C. W, Nichols and published by Tokuma Shoten in 1989.  Miyazaki provided a number of illustrations in black-and-white, and they are as richly detailed and visually complex as anything seen in his Nausicaa manga.

I'm quite impressed by the diversity and depth of the environmental themes Miyazaki presents in his illustrations.  Riffs and homages to Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind abound, and this makes a great deal of sense when you consider that he was waist-deep in his epic manga.  The sprawling pace of industrialization and urbanization is compared to the mold spores of the Daikaishou; civilization is once again depicted in almost apocalyptic terms, and it's quite clear on which side Miyazaki-san stands.

One panel shows Miyazaki's ever-present Heroine walking through a forest, and her imagination marvels at the majesty and mystery of the forest, the wonder of the trees, and dreams of dancing Totoros.  A young urban boy, meanwhile, is a clueless, dimwitted fool, lost in his distractions and toys and symbols of media consumption.  He tries to make the mental connection between the Kanji character for "tree," pronounced "ki," but he's completely lost.  He'd rather watch anime videos and play his Walkman.

The mystical, mythical connection to nature is a Miyazaki trademark, as we all know so well.  Perhaps this is a quality that owes more to Japan's rural past, and their lost Shinto beliefs of an animated world.  As an American, I can just as easily point to the great poets of nature, men like John Muir and Walt Whitman.  Heck, in Northern Minnesota, you practically spend your whole childhood outdoors, and you're never more than a few hundred yards away from untouched wilderness.  I think this is my point of connection, and why I relate to Miyazaki-san's work.

Nearly all American animation is created in Southern California, and I do believe that has an influence on the style of the work seen in film and television.  Pixar's movies don't really celebrate the wildness of nature, because that sort of world really doesn't exist there.  Instead, it's a modern world of concrete, pavement, chrome and steel.  It's the world of flashy cars and bright, suburban homes, tall skyscrapers.  Whenever I see movies like The Incredibles or Cars or much of Dreamworks' output, I feel like I'm seeing the optimism of the Kennedy '60s.  I feel like playing some Beach Boys records.

It's a different world for me.  I'd much prefer the trees and the rivers and the grass.  I'd prefer Miyazaki's animated forest, a world where everything is thrilling, exciting, alive.  You are not separate from nature, no matter how many virtual realities you construct with your industrial civilizations.  You are bound to the earth and its fate shall be yours.  Sooner or later, humanity is going to learn this lesson, as this world is being poisoned and polluted to the brink of total collapse.  When agriculture is being destroyed by runaway climate change, when food and water become scarcities, people will learn.  Let's hope it won't be too late.

Enjoy Miyazaki's illustrations for Tree.  Here is some terrific, inspiring artwork.

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