Ghibli Short Films at Carnegie Hall - A Report

Reader and Ghibli Freak Otto chimes attended the screenings of two Ghibli Museum short films at Carnegie Hall on March 26.  Many thanks to him for writing a detailed report on the experience.  His report from New York continues after the jump:

Riffs: For My Sister, Panda Kopanda

Riffs: For My Sister, Panda Kopanda

Riffs: For My Sister, Panda Kopanda

Hayao Miyazaki's 1983 picture book, For My Sister (Imoto He) is a short story, but does feature a couple of riffs on other works.  In this early panel, we see a stuffed panda in the sister's room - a nice reference to the two Panda Kopanda films from the early '70s.  Nice.

Speaking of which, now that I've finally figured out how jump breaks work, I'll be adding more Miyazaki comics to the blog.  That should be fun.


The History on Miyazaki's Mononoke Book

We've been getting a ton of traffic lately because somebody discovered Hayao Miyazaki's Mononoke Hime image boards from 1980 (thanks, everybody!), and there has been a bit of confusion about this story and what it has to do with the 1997 Studio Ghibli movie of the same name. So I'd like to explain it all as best I can.

The period of 1979-1983 marks the bleakest days of Hayao Miyazaki's career. Future Boy Conan, his 1978 TV series at Nippon Animation, is today considered a classic, but at the time was not a great success. In 1979, he directed his first feature film, Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro, at TMS, or Telecom. Like Conan, Cagliostro is today widely regarded as a classic, but the movie was a failure at the box office. With Yasuo Otsuka, Miyazaki-san oversaw the final dozen or so episodes of the second Lupin television series, and directed two episodes himself, but under a pen name - very telling. In 1981, he worked on the Meitantai Holmes (Famous Detective Holmes, which is what Arthur Conan Doyle's stories are called in Japan), series at Telecom. Sherlock Hound, as it's known in the west, was scrubbed with only six episodes in the can. This would be Miyazaki-san's last work in animation for three years.


Happy 5th Birthday, Ghibli Blog!

Ghibli Blog 5th Birthday

Happy birthday!  The Ghibli Blog turns five years old today!  March 29, 2006 was my first post on this humble blog, and it's been a long and wild roller coaster ever since.  I am very thankful and humbled for your support and dedication.  The level of success I've achieved would never be possible without you.  This project has been a learning experience for us all, as we explore this unique slice of movie history and the visual arts.  The beautiful part is that we have only scratched the surface of all the possible topics to discuss and share, all the movies to watch, and all the comics to read.  Carly Simon was right - these are the good old days.  Cake for everyone!

And since I'm a child of the '70s, here's a classic Sesame Street tribute to the number 5.  I was probably five years old when I saw this:


Hayao Miyazaki Discusses His Next Feature Film

At Monday's press conference for Kokuriko-Zaka Kara, Hayao Miyazaki discussed the movie's theme song, Sayonara no Natsu, and reveals details into the pre-production of his next feature film.  If Ghibli is still following their "Five-Year Plan," then Miyazaki-san's following movie will be in production for two years, and be released in 2013.

I'm going to let T. Ishikawa describe what Miyazaki-san had to say.  Take it away:

According to Hayao Miyazaki, when he listened to Ryoko Moriyama's CD by chance.
he thought "Oh, the theme song was completed."

Miyazaki says "Because my script was two months late behind a plan, the production is the severe situation."

Yukiko Marimura(the song lyricist) says "I saw the trailer. My heart is filled with emotion." (kokuriko-zaka trailer seems to be released soon.)

Miyazaki says "In fact, I have alredy begun the next (feature film) preparations.
I think I can stick out my chest 'The plan does not have to change it at all'(by this disaster) I intend to push forward this plan."  Miyazaki talks about the fantasy, game, and The Hobbit. but I cannot translate it.

Anyway, according to Miyazaki, his next film is not a fantasy, but draws a life-sized human.

And Suzuki revailed that Studio Ghibli put Miyazaki's next film main staff member into Kokuriko-zaka production because now is emergency. Ghibli puts computers to the cafe for breaks of the first floor, and gathers the staff from the outside.

From Up on Poppy Hill (Kokuriko-Zaka Kara) Press Conference

From Up on Poppy Hill (Kokuriko-Zaka Kara) Press Conference

Studio Ghibli's Kokuriko-Zaka Kara press conference was held in Japan today.  In attendance was Goro Miyazaki, the director, Toshio Suzuki, the producer, and Hayao Miyazaki, among others.  Much of the focus of the day was on the recent earthquake, which has severely impacted Japan and Kara's production.  However, despite the recent tragedy, Ghibli insists they will meet their July 16 release date.

In a telling sign of the times, Ghibli's press conference was held without microphones in order to save electricity.

Toshio Suzuki revealed that Kara is currently 50% complete and is "considerably late." He explains: "Because all of the data of the server may vanish by a blackout, we do the computer work at night, but it does not progress at all. The influence of the earthquake is serious. But it's our duty to release the film on July 16. We will do it somehow!"

Hayao Miyazaki delivered a moving speech to the people of Japan, of their resolve, and the need to continue to create art.  This is his first official statement since the earthquake struck Japan.  You can read his complete remarks (in Japanese) here.  Some translated notes of his remarks are as follows:

"In this country which have many people who are not yet buried and is losing the part of the country, we continue working with awareness making an animation."

"Now is not the time talk careless about civilization from the high place. Hundreds of thousands of people shake with starvation and cold, and I feel thanks and boastfulness for much sacrifice of the people still working by nuclear power plant and other place." (Miyazaki wipes tears)

"Our island has been attacked many times by an earthquake, a volcano, a typhoon and a tsunami. I think that this land is worth making an effort to do in the beautiful island where a human being lives in once again even if there is much difficulty."

"Now is not the time to make a fantasy. Must be drawn life-size human now."

"I'm thinking now that this project (Kokuriko-Zaka Kara) was not a mistake. A wish of Umi (heroine) is necessary in times from now on."

"It is the pride of Ghibli not to make popular things. The person of the mail carrier continues sending mail, and a busman continues running in a traffic jam (under this disaster). Therefore we make a movie."

The highlight of today's press conference was the debut of the movie's theme song, "Sayonara no Natsu: Kokuriko-zaka Kara (Summer of Good-bye: From Kokuriko Hill)."  The song, originally written in 1976, will be released on June 1, and the soundtrack CD, "Kokuriko-zaka Kara Song Collection," will be released on July 1.  The song is now available for mobile phones.

The song was performed live by singer Aoi Teshima.  Also in attendance were the songwriters, Koichi Sakata (music) and Yukiko Marimura (words). Ms. Teshima's performance visibly moved the audience - reporters, staff, and Miyazaki-san - to tears.  It was a touching moment of beauty in light of the tragedy.

One extra note: Koichi Sakata was the music composer for 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, the 1976 TV series of the World Masterpiece Theater.  I can testify that the rich music, spanning from Italy to Argentina, is one of the show's highlights.  This is a gifted songwriter.

Diana Wynne Jones Has Died

Diana Wynne Jones died on March 26 after a two-year battle with lung cancer.  She was 76 years old.  A successful author of fantasy novels in the vein of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein, her novel Howl's Moving Castle was adapted to the screen by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli in 2004.  Our condolences to her surviving family and friends, and all her many fans around the world.

The 1980 Mononoke Hime Book Meets Spirited Away

Well, thanks to io9, for sending a boatload of traffic to this site to read Hayao Miyazaki's 1980 Mononoke Hime book.  Now that I've got your attention - well, the few of you who chose to stick around - I'd like to show you something you may have noticed.

First, the quick backstory on Mononoke.  In 1980, Miyazaki published a book of image boards he drew for a story project that never got off the ground.  Titled Mononoke Hime, it told the story of a giant cat, named Mononoke, who kidnaps a girl and demands that she become his wife.  The girl's father is possessed by the spirit of a demon who turns him into a bloodthirsty warrior and a brutal tyrant.  She convinces Mononoke to take her home and save her father.  By the end of the story, the girl discovers that Mononoke was actually a young boy who was wild and greedy.  He behaved like an animal and was cursed to live like one - echoes of Beauty and the Beast.

This unfinished Mononoke Hime bears no real relation to Studio Ghibli's 1997 movie of the same name (the title was Toshio Suzuki's idea).  But the story's climactic sequence is echoed again, interestingly, in 2001's The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro.  I'll assume that you've seen Spirited Away a few times, so you'll spot these shots right away.

In this scene, the unnamed girl confronts her father in his castle.  Notice the patterns on the walls, which is a useful bit of foreshadowing as well as an impressive piece of Japanese art.  Alone in the chamber, she succeeds in freeing her father from the demon, who then inhabits a suit of samurai armor.  Mononoke (that's the giant Totoro-ish cat) rushes in to block a wall of flame, and charges out of the room and down the hallway at the monster.

This just also happens to be one of my favorite scenes in Spirited Away.  It's the sequence where Sen confronts the bloated and greedy No-Face creature.  Sen offers something which begins a chain reaction, causing No-Face to regurgitate and bellow and smash down the hallways in a violent rage.  It's a smashing bit of directing, perfectly tense, masterfully timed, and climaxes in an explosive rush.  It's one of my favorite Miyazaki action scenes.

Take a look at these Mononoke Hime image boards and see for yourself.


Poster - Shonen Sarutobe Sasuke

Toei Doga's sophomore feature, Shonen Sarutobe Sasuke, was the first Japanese anime to be shown in the United States.  MGM picked up the rights to this and many other Toei pictures, providing faithful English-language dubs, new titles, and sometimes new songs.  Here are a pair of posters to the MGM version, Magic Boy, for the US and Latin American markets.  These are really enjoyable posters, and the US poster sells for a princely sum these days.  It may not have the pedigree of a Walt Disney, but its place in animation history is secure.  I can't remember who sang the Magic Boy song to save my life.  It was some popular crooner from the '50s...

My favorite poster, of course, remains the Japanese original.  There's something about the design of Japanese movie posters in the 1950s and 1960s, that crowding of image and text, the bold colors, the minor details that require you to examine closely.  Toei is clearly advertising Sasuke as a boys' adventure movie, but the animals are given equal attention on the page.  The adult characters are more to the side, even the villain.  This is really more about having fun and going on exciting adventures than anything.

And is it just me, or is that woman pointing at the kid's butt?  Maybe he should have worn pants.  At least Sasuke doesn't have that creepy Michael Jackson face that you see on the other posters.

Finding the Toei Doga poster is going to be a challenge.  Your best bet is Ebay, and even then, auctions are rare.  If you do find one, expect to pay a princely sum for your bragging rights.  If Toei was smart, they'd sell prints of their classic movie posters.  It's an idea that I always bring up from time to time, and I think it's a good one.  Everyone you went to school with had the same Pulp Fiction poster.  Why not try for something a little different for a change?


The Thousand Dollar Totoro

And now, in the spirit of commercialism and good cheer, here is a very large stuffed Totoro from Japan....selling for a thousand dollars.  Yes, that really is 92,000 Yen.

In all fairness, merchandising isn't always the epitome of pure evil.  Studio Ghibli's first three feature films - Castle in the Sky, Grave of the Fireflies, My Neighbor Totoro - did not turn a profit.  The first picture to do so was Kiki's Delivery Service in 1989.  What turned Totoro into a Japanese institution?  All of these wonderful little stuffed toys.

"It Didn't Have Enough Toys"

Genndy Tartakovsky’s Sym-Bionic Titan

Bad news for animation fans here in the States: Cartoon Network has canceled Genndy Tartakovsky’s Sym-Bionic Titan, not for low ratings, but because of merchandising:

“Genddy’s moved on to Sony Pictures Animation. Titan got competitive ratings with other action shows, but what shut it down was it didn’t have enough toys connected to it. If you don’t have the, the studios don’t want to renew for another season.”

This echoes a point I had made over a week ago, just around the time the Japan earthquake hit.  People are under the assumption that Hollywood is in the movie business.  It's not.  The corporate conglomerates who own the Hollywood studios aren't in the movie business, they're in the toy business.  And this is never more true than when you're dealing with animation.

Remember that Pixar's stock price took a hit because of UP, not because it was a box office disappointment or a failure with the critics, but because 8-14 year old boys weren't about to swarm the toy stores of America in search of Carl Frederickson dolls.

George Lucas is always the guy who gets blamed for Why Today's Movies All Stink, because Star Wars muscled out the complex, personal movies of the 1970s and ushered in a wave of popcorn escapism.  That's not really the case.  What really changed the business of making movies, the new paradigm shift, wasn't Star Wars itself, but the mountain of Star Wars toys and merchandise.  That's where Lucas made his billions.  And once Hollywood was gobbled up by conglomerates, the game was over.

This is why you get the same fake, formulaic junk out of movies and television today.  This is why you see the same five movies being made over and over.  This is why animation in this country, for the most part, stinks.  Pixar, as always, has been the exception to the rule, but have you noticed that even they have now succumed to the game?  Three sequels in rapid order?  Cars merchandising pulls in $2 billion a year for Disney.

How much money from merchandising does Studio Ghibli make in America.  Zero.  You can't put an Ohmu stampede on a Happy Meal box.


Studio Ghibli Production Diary Resumes

Studio Ghibli's production diary has finally resumed after the Japanese earthquake-tsunami. The entries reveal the studio's activities during the crucial days after the tragedy. The latest entries are as follows:

March 14 - An emergency meeting was held. It was decided that Ghibli would have a temporary holiday (as a result of the earthquake).

March 16 - A meeting was held again. The combination the working hours of the staff (to work in double shifts due to rolling blackouts) was decided.

March 17 - At 11:00 am, all staff members gathered in the first floor and gave a silent prayer of one minute. Hayao Miyazaki spoke a powerful message and all staff members promised to commit to Kokuriko-Zaka Kara's completion.

(March 18) No calls or e-mails from outside companies will be answered. (Miyazaki and Ghibli will make a statement at a future time.)

Thanks, as always, to T. Ishikawa for his tireless work. He's really hustling for that Hickory Farms gift package, isn't he? We'll be sure to send him something nice.

Castle in the Sky, My Neighbors the Yamadas - UK Blu-Ray Available May 9

As the Ghibli faithful across the pond are already well aware, Castle in the Sky and My Neighbors the Yamadas will be arriving in the UK on May 9.  Now the cover designs are available on their respective Amazon pages, so I wanted to post the images here on the blog.

The Japanese BDs look absolutely fantastic.  Picture quality and detail are stunning, color tones are rich, glowing, luminous.  I was always pretty satisfied with the DVDs, but these new discs just smash the old ones to pieces.  You're going to love these Blu-Rays, and once again the Americans will be the last ones to the party, left waiting until the Twelvth of Never to get their discs.


In Defense of Goro Miyazaki's Earthsea

I liked this comment from W.Eric so much that I decided to give it a post of its own.  It's a passionate defense of Goro Miyazaki, and his Tales From Earthsea, and debates like this are the very reason this blog is a success.  Welcome words for the Earthsea defenders out there:

Goro Miyazaki swung for the stands and he made it! His father had decades to develop his opinions and theories on direction and timing. Goro had maybe a year? Earthsea was a triumph in its own right. To take a totally green director with ungodly time constraints and throw a project at him based on beloved novels that have been around for generations is crazy. Of COURSE he’s going to break some rules, take some much needed shortcuts and step on some toes. Yes, it pays homage and takes inspiration from earlier works, yes it is missing some of the quiet moments and extra bits of animation familiar with the bigger studio works. However, it has a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack, the colors and details of the drawings are very unique – Goro even wrote Therru’s song! What a risk taker Goro was in scripting the prince to murder his father. Yes, it offended some, but he was making the story his own and THAT took TRUE LEADERSHIP.

I make less than 30k per year, but my wife and I were so taken by the footage of this new director’s project that we flew to Japan to watch it in the theater. We cried at how beautiful it was. So taken were we that two years later, we flew to Calcatta Italy, the town Goro researched for his architecture. None of Hayao’s works have had THAT much influence.

You and my wife and I are clearly all worship at the altar of Ghibli. You have an incredible site and wonderful information. But please, have some faith in Goro, I truly believe he’s going to bring the heat soon.

Ghibli Teases Kokuriko-Zaka Kara on Japanese TV

Ghibli Teases Kokuriko-Zaka Kara on Japanese TV

Ghibli Teases Kokuriko-Zaka Kara on Japanese TV

Ghibli Teases Kokuriko-Zaka Kara on Japanese TV

Ghibli Teases Kokuriko-Zaka Kara on Japanese TV

Studio Ghibli teased more footage from the upcoming Kokuriko-Zaka Kara this week on Japanese network NTV.  The program snuck a peek inside the studio, spying a few images of character designs and background paintings.  Everything looks terrific, very much in the Ghibli tradition.  Goro Miyazaki tried top copy his father's style with his first directoral feature, Tales From Earthsea.  Now, it seems he is following Isao Takahata's neo-realism.  We will no doubt see more at the Kara press conference on March 28.

T. Ishikawa just so happened to have a camera handy, and snapped these photos of the television set.  Yes, it's pretty old fashioned, but it works.

Earthsea, Horus, and Ghibli at the Crossroads

I wanted to include a few more posts about Goro Miyazaki's Tales From Earthsea for the sake of those of who who have bought the newly-released DVD and are fans.  I'd also like to go a little more in depth on some of the movie's influences and where Goro-san looked for inspiration.

When he was assigned to direct Gedo Senki, the first movie Goro looked towards was, interestingly, The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun.  There are a few sequences that steal from Horus outright, and while this was something that made me cranky years ago, I aim to feel more generous and understanding today.  When discussing Tales From Earthsea, it's always critical to observe that, in 2006, this was the only movie Goro Miyazaki was ever involved in.  Literally, his first movie in any capacity.  Anyone in his shoes, with no experience nor any developed artistic voice, would resort to stealing everything from the back of trucks.

Here's an example of what I'm thinking about - the fight scene with the wolves.  This is an early scene in Earthsea, just after the title credits roll.  Arren, the hero (of sorts), on the escape after his little Jim Morrison stunt of "killing his daddy" (ahem, cough), is being pursued by a pack of viscous wolves.  Arren is chased over the sands, he is knocked off his horse, he is surrounded and outnumbered.  Then, suddenly, an unknown agent intervenes.  The wolves scatter and disappear.

Any true anime fan knows where this scene comes from.  This is the opening scene in Horus.  It's just about the greatest action scene in anime history.  And it was key animated by Yasuo Otsuka....and Hayao Miyazaki.  Ding, ding, ding!

I've mentioned this scene more than a few times on this blog over the years; I don't think I've ever done a shot-by-shot analysis, but this is a sequence that demands to be studied shot-by-shot, almost drawing-by-drawing.  It's not just a fast, thrilling moment of action.  It's the fluid, three-dimensional lines of motion, the way Horus and the wolves run across the frame, into the background, charging the camera, rotating in circles, up hills, around boulders.  Isao Takahata, the revolutionary director, treats his camera as an object in physical space, and moves with an eerily 3D quality that seems almost impossible in a pre-CGI world.  Every time I watch, I'm astonished.

The Horus opening also carries a sound musical rhythm, like all great action sequences do.  You don't simply throw as much junk at the screen and blind the audience.  No, that's the cheap method, the fallback position of hacks and poseurs.  Action must have a musical quality, a fast beginning, a slow refrain, pauses to build tension, and then explosions of energy at the climax.

I don't think the wolf scene in Earthsea is nearly as well conceived or laid out.  The compositions are relatively simple, basic, functional.  Movement is purely one-dimensional, a pan, a point-of-view angle.  There's one shot where Arren is knocked off his horse, and he tumbles and spins to the ground, then skids to the ground below.  I think that's a terrific movement, but it's the only really thrilling part of the scene.  The wolves look scary, but they're never really menacing.  There's no real tension, no real sense of danger.  Arren shares none of Horus' wild recklessness, and that's a very odd omission, now that I think about it.  After all, here is a character with a murderous side, an obsessive side.  But Arren never brings those qualities out.  He just mopes about and feels sorry for himself.  If he had an iPod, I get the feeling it would contain nothing but Morrisey songs.

This scene only serves to highlight Earthsea's fatal flaw: the director has absolutely no experience.  He's a third-string quarterback suddenly thrown onto the field in the middle of the game.  The poor guy can barely hold onto the ball.  This is a desperation move by the coach, in this case, Toshio Suzuki - can't you see that?

Yes, I think both action scenes define, to a great extent, the character and nature of these two movies.  Perhaps it says something about the talent of the respective teams, and if that's the case, then Ghibli is in more trouble than we realize.  Look at the talent pool behind Horus - Isao Takahata, Yasuo Otsuka, Hayao Miyazaki, Yoichi Kotabe, Reiko Okuyama, Akemi Ota, Yasuji Mori.  True, Horus is Takahata's film, his vision, but he had group of peers possibly unequaled in anime history.

Studio Ghibli, on the other hand, is Miyazaki's house.  The staff is remarkably talented, but they're anonymous, they don't stand out.  There isn't an equivalent of an Otsuka or a Takahata or a Mori to seek inspiration and, yes, rivalry.  Miyazaki-san is the shogun of his castle.  I think this cuts to the very heart of the studio's crisis, as they have struggled for years to find a suitable successor.  It's a struggle of identity.  When Miyazaki is in charge, everything gels.  When he's absent, everything falls silent.  You can see it on the screen for yourself.

If Ghibli can become nothing more than Hayao Miyazaki's backing band, then what happens once he's gone?  The band has no reason to exist, because it has no voice of its own.  And now you know why the studio is standing at the crossroads.  The one man who will decide Ghibli's fate?  None other than Goro Miyazaki.


The House From Pixar's Up in Minecraft

The House From Pixar's Up in Minecraft

The House From Pixar's Up in Minecraft

This was too cool a sight to pass up.  Somebody created, in painstaking detail, Carl's house from Up in Minecraft.  I'd actually like to see an animation in this style, it would really work in a retro sort of way.  Is CG old enough now to have a retro scene?

In case you've never heard of Minecraft, it's the best video game to come along in ages, an indie sensation, and a colossal time sink.  Also, it's the scariest thing ever - I'm probably going to have a heart attack from all the monsters zapping me from out of nowhere.  Ah, good fun.


Omohide Poro Poro - The Musical?

First Grave of the Fireflies gets spun off into two live-action movies.  Now Isao Takahata's Omohide Poro Poro has been turned into a stage musical in Japan.  Uh....yeah.  Cueing up Troy McClure: "I hate every ape I see, from chim-pan-a to chim-pan-z..."*

It's interesting to see that people are finally making due on that old threat against Takahata's films: "These might as well be live-action!"  Unfortunately, when Grave of the Fireflies was filmed with live actors, the results were terrible.  Paku-san's belief that animation is the stronger medium was vindicated.  Will it be vindicated again with this stage adaptation?  It's a fun experiment, if nothing else.

Thanks to The Studio Ghibli Weblog (from Spain) for the news tip.

(*Note: Hey, since I brought up the Troy McClure "Planet of the Apes" spoof, doesn't that song steal a melody from the Castle in the Sky theme? "Oh, no, I was wrong, it was Earth all along..."  That part.)

Studio Ghibli's Plans For Kokuriko-Zaka Kara (From Up on Poppy Hill)

Kokuriko-Zaka Kara (From Up on Poppy Hill)

What is Studio Ghibli's present situation, and what are their future plans for their current production, Kokuriko-Zaka Kara, in the wake of last week's earthquake and tsunami?  Toshi Suzuki broke the silence yesterday on his radio show.  Defiant and confident, he declared, "We will do what we should do now."  According to Suzuki-san, both he and Hayao Miyazaki have decided on three major points:

1) Production of Kara will not be delayed or postponed.  They are still committed to their July 16 release date.

2) The computer work will now be around the clock, with a second team working from 8:00pm to 8:00am.  Rolling blackouts have stopped production on the computers this past week, prompting the studio to work doubly hard to meet their deadline.

3) Studio Ghibli will remain quiet until the current crisis has safely passed.

Suzuki-san also announced the date for the Kokuriko-Zaka Kara press conference - March 28.

T. Ishikawa, our Tokyo correspondant, elaborates on Suzuki's remarks during his radio program:

According to Suzuki, he was objected to by many people who say "It (Kara press conference) is inappropriate for this situation." But Suzuki says "I will carry it out. All Japanese motion pictures are damaged now. Probably many people want to know how Hayao Miyazaki thinks about the Japan earthquake. I asked Miya-san for attendance. Then Miya-san said 'I see, I will think what I say while working.'"


Riffs: The Wan Wan Chushingura and Ponyo Connection

Toei Doga's 1963 animated feature, Wan Wan Chushingura, is a terrific cartoon adaptation of the fabled Japanese tale of the 47 Ronin, told with dogs and cartoon animals and one really mean tiger. Sadly enough, this film is only known in the West as the first movie that Hayao Miyazaki worked on, after being hired to the studio in 1963.

Miyazaki began as an in-betweener, and at this point in his career, he's basically working in the mail room. He only gives Wan Wan Chushingura a passing mention in his memoirs, Starting Point, lamenting how his superiors would correct his drawings so much, that they were completely unrecognizable from what he drew. So while this is another entertaining classic from the Toei stable, it's more of a footnote for the Miyazaki biology.

Or, that's what I thought. I sat down to watch the film this evening, a terribly worn-out VHS copy of the Spanish-dubbed version, Rock el Valiente. One key scene managed to leap out at me, and it completely took me by surprise. I've snapped some screenshots as best I could - you can see how lousy the picture quality is on this old tape - so you can judge for yourself.

In this scene, the dog hero, Rocky, has been knocked into a barrel and thrown into the open sea. Caught in a storm, he struggles to hold onto the barrel as he approaches shore. As the waters strike the cliffs, Rocky's barrel is broken into smaller pieces, Rocky hangs on for dear life.

A young girl stands at the top of the cliff. She sees something in the water and carefully climbs down the rocks. She reaches the shoreline, and seeing the helpless puppy in the water, she tries to rescue him. Resisting the crashing waves, the girl successfully grabs the puppy and drags him onto the shore, and to safety. The scene ends in a warm embrace.

This scene just leapt out at me. Ponyo! This is almost identical to the early scene in Ponyo where Sosuke rescues Ponyo from the ocean, trapped in the glass jar. Even the cliffs look quite similar. It's not an exact shot-by-shot remake, so I don't know if I'd place it into the "riffs" category. But this does appear to me that Ponyo used the similar scene from Wan Wan Chuushingura as an inspiration. And when we remember this was also Miyazaki's first animation film all those years ago, the realization strikes. It makes a lot of sense.

I'll leave it for you to decide if these two "on a cliff by the sea" scenes match, or if I'm just reading into things. It would help tremendously if we had a DVD fansub to watch; this Rock el Valiente VHS was damned near impossible to find. And the picture quality is just dreadful...Ah, just like the good old days of anime fandom.

Riffs: The Wan Wan Chushingura and Ponyo Connection

Riffs: The Wan Wan Chushingura and Ponyo Connection

Riffs: The Wan Wan Chushingura and Ponyo Connection

Riffs: The Wan Wan Chushingura and Ponyo Connection

Riffs: The Wan Wan Chushingura and Ponyo Connection

Riffs: The Wan Wan Chushingura and Ponyo Connection

Riffs: The Wan Wan Chushingura and Ponyo Connection

Riffs: The Wan Wan Chushingura and Ponyo Connection

Italy Gets a Kick-Ass Ponyo DVD

Well, well, it appears that Italy is getting a kick-ass Ponyo DVD, too.  This package includes the two-disc DVD, along with the Ponyo plushie that we all know and love.  Disney dipped their toes in the Ghibli merchandising waters last year with the American DVD release, but it's been impossible to find ever since.  This might prove to be a compelling alternative.

One thing that really impresses me with this release is the packaging.  There's a considerable effort to use as little plastic as possible, and the cardboard box and disc booklet is very attractive.  It reminds me a lot of the early days of disc-based media like CD-ROM.  Cardboard covers were dismissed as cheap, low-grade junk, and the sturdier plasic cases were far more popular.  Today, however, I think we're well enough aware of the greater costs of adding mountains of indestructible plastics to this planet.  Frankly, I'm happy to see CD cases go extinct...those things were sooo incredibly fragile.

No doubt reducing costs is a primary concern for DVD and Blu-Ray publishers, and doubly so for anime publishers.  If they can cut costs where it counts, while still offering a compelling product - say hello to more merchandise, kids - I'm more than willing to sign up.  It will be interesting to see how this competes against the rise of non-physical digital media and platforms like the iPad.  I want to be able to watch movies on my TV, desktop computer, laptop, iPod, iPad...the consumer market is diversifying rapidly, and this is going to become the major challenge for physical media.

Here are some more photos of the Italian Ponyo DVD box from all sides. Enjoy:

Italy Gets a Kick-Ass Castle of Cagliostro DVD

Now this looks really cool.  Why can't we ever get something like this?  This is an upcoming Castle of Cagliostro DVD box in Italy, which includes a large sculpture of Lupin, Jigen, and Goemon.  The DVD case is also quite impressive and stylish, and limited to only 1,100 units.

Does Manga Entertainment still hold the rights to Castle of Cagliostro in the US?  If so, they really need to bring out a super-cool kick-ass package like this package.  Better yet, bring us the Cagliostro Blu-Ray, already!  And this time, don't screw up the title sequence!  I'm still cranky about the botched credit scene from the 2006 DVD.  Judging by the fact that the older DVD is still on store shelves, while the later reissue is gone, I would guess most fans agree with me.  Insist that TMS sends you the correct, uncut film.

No doubt online downloads have hurt the retail anime business in America and around the world, but this is not a new problem.  It's simply a question of value.  Publishers must offer a compelling package at a reasonable price to win customers.  This means offering bonus features like commentary tracks, or documentaries, or interviews with the filmmakers, and, yes, cool toys for the die-hard collectors.  Merchandising!  Merchandising!

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