New Ghibl Blu-Ray Discs in Australia

Studio Ghibli fans in Australia have a couple more reasons to feel happy these days.  Castle in the Sky and My Neighbors the Yamadas are now available on Blu-Ray in stores across the country.  We should see these discs released in the UK later this year, and in the US somewhere between now and the apocalypse.

If you've seen the Nausicaa BD, then you'll know what to expect in presentation, packaging and picture quality.  These releases should be excellent all around, and you'll be putting these movies into heavy rotation at your house.  Whenever I can actually get my Sony HDTV to work, I'm always watching Castle in the Sky and taking in all the rich, luminous colors.  Great fun!

Still Recovering From the Flu

Just a quick note for our readers.  I'm still recovering from a flu/throat infection, and I'm almost back to 100%.  Unfortunately, I've had to stay out of commission for most of the past week, and I was pretty much unconscious for the entire weekend.  I can't tell you how frustrating it's been, but I'm trying to get back to full strength and back to a regular publishing schedule here on the blog.

Thanks, as always, to everyone for their support.


Future Boy Conan #08 - The Underwater Scene

I enjoyed this photo montage (from reader hjg) of the underwater sequence in Future Boy Conan #08 so much, I just had to post it here on the blog.  This is one of my favorite Miyazaki scenes, ever.  I'm also discovering that I want to spend more time reflecting after each episode.  I want the scenes to marinate in my head for a little while longer, instead of rushing along as fast as possible.  The first time I watched Conan, I blazed through the entire series in less than a week.  Slower is much better, I think.

Also, this gives me more time to write endless Grampa Simpson essays about why today's video games are nowhere near as fun as they used to be.  Also, at some point I should probably think about doing my taxes.  Hah, hah.

I really wish Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli would just pony up the cash and buy the rights to Conan from Nippon Animation.  Then we would be guaranteed a fantastic Blu-Ray release, and probably a little extra attention from Westerners.  This anime series is ridiculously overlooked.


Poster: Madadayo (I'm Not Dead Yet!)

Poster: Madadayo

Today is my birthday.  Joy.  Whenever I think of birthdays, I think of Kurosawa's final movie, Madadayo from 1993.  In this movie, the main character, a beloved teacher, celebrates his birthday with a grand party among his many former students.  He takes a tall mug of beer, slams the whole thing down in one pass, then shouts out, "Madadayo!"  "I'm Not Dead Yet!"  It's a wonderful final movie by a master of cinema.

I always thought that was a clever way to celebrate one's birthday.  And it's impressive to see grampa slam down a pint of beer like he's 19 years old.  Which just happens to be my age.  Yeah, that's the ticket...Nineteen!

(times two, cough)

Shut up!  I can't hear you!  La la la la la!!


Ceramic Howl's Moving Castle Sculpture

Now this is supremely cool.  Portland, Oregon artist Liz Marek won first place at the Oregon State Fair Art Competition for her ceramic sculpture of Howl's Moving Castle, Miyazaki's 2004 Ghibli film.  This was always a terrific design, just perfect for artists of all stripes to sink their teeth into, and kudos to Liz for her dedication and painstaking skill in putting this together.

You can read about the entire creation process from Liz here, including photos.  She even uploaded this terrific Youtube video of the kilning process (utilizing the Japanese Roku Ware technique):

(Kudos to The Studio Ghibli Weblog in Spain for spotting this article.)

"26 Days" of Future Boy Conan - Episode 08

Episode 08 - Escape

Episode Summary: Lana hears Conan and uses a lifeboat to save Conan. The GunBoat boards the Barracuda and captures Dyce and his crew. Lana and Conan escape on the lifeboat. While trying to make it to the shore, the GunBoat blows up the lifeboat. Conan & Lana survive and make it to the nearby island. There they discover an old battlefield littered with tanks. Lana hears her grandfather by telepathy, and Conan and Lana set out to cross the desert. 

About a quarter of the way through tonight's episode, I thought to myself, "This is the best episode of Future Boy Conan, by far."  I know that's a phrase I might end up using a dozen times over, but this one is really special.  I think this is the best episode so far, and it may end of being the most poignant and emotionally resonant episode of the entire series.  At this point, I'm nudging the thought in my head that Conan really is Hayao Miyazaki's anime masterpiece.

Episode eight is the romantic's favorite, Conan and Lana forging a bond as lovers.  I'm not sure if this could work in anyone's hands but Miyazaki, but he's an old-fashioned romantic at his core.  His cliffhanger serials could probably be described as "romance adventures" - Castle in the Sky was actually advertised as such in 1986.  He's also what you'd call a "personal filmmaker," which means he pours his own emotions and life experiences into his characters.  The Hero and Heroine are really stand-ins for Miyazaki and Akemi Ota, and the greater themes the inner dialog of Miyazaki's complex worldview.  In this way, he reminds me of Fellini and his beloved Heroine, Juliette Messina, and this pairing is seen again and again and again.

This is also an immensely funny episode, and I found myself laughing out loud more often than ever before.  Maybe I'm just in the right mood tonight, maybe Jimsy and Dyce make a good comic pair.  They both get to really ham it up, and they manage to turn a tense showdown at sea into something out of The Three Stooges.  It's interesting that we get all the laughs in the first few minutes, right up front; you can see the emotional tone shift from thrills to comedy to suspense and finally romance, where most of the episode resides.  This is Conan and Lana's time, and from here on out, they exist in a space all to themselves, slightly separated from everyone else.  From here on out, they're an old married couple.

There are three scenes that I think are among the most touching moments Miyazaki has ever filmed.  The first is Lana's desperate escape and rescue of Conan (a terrific role reversal as Miyazaki's Heroine takes command), the second the climactic scene when Conan is trapped underwater, and the third is at the very end as Conan carries Lana through the desert.  I don't think these moments have ever been matched until the climactic flashback scene at the end of Howl's Moving Castle (a deeply personal confessional between Miya-san and his wife that's just about the greatest sequence of his career).  And, yes, we get the melodramatic music and violins playing.

I wonder where Miyazaki found the inspiration behind Lana's kiss?  It's a tender, intimate moment, as she gives Conan her very breath to keep him alive, as he lies trapped at the bottom of the sea.  When I first watched Future Boy Conan, it was this scene that resonated with me the most.  It towers in my mind above everything else.  I can't really explain why.  This scene is charged with a desperate, passionate intensity.  I think this is why I feel such an extra tension as the two are caught underwater, on the edge of drowning.  A thousand cliffhangers, and this one moment has me at the edge of my seat.

How wise of Miyazaki to devote the entire second half of episode eight to Conan and Lana, alone to care after one another.  They're already laughing about how they met like old grandparents.  This quiet pause allows for a new key change in the story, as a vast desert of abandoned tanks point to the sombre themes of humanity's destruction and nature's revenge.  These serious Miyazaki themes are going to become more prominent and we're going to understand these characters in the context of a post-apocalyptic world.  Until now, the war and destruction has only served as a backdrop for a lot of comedy action scenes.  Now, an emotional maturity and awakening.

The episode closes as Lana discovers the echo of her grandfather's voice in the distance, and Conan carries her joyously across the rolling sands.  She wants to assert her equality and run alongside, but Lana embraces Conan, squeezing him tight.  They love each other like two old souls, and it's a wonderful discovery.


Studio Ghibli's Next Blu-Ray - It's Whisper of the Heart July 20

Studio Ghibli has announced their next feature film to arrive on Blu-Ray disc - Yoshifumi Kondo's 1995 Mimi wo Sumaseba, aka Whisper of the Heart.  This film will be released on July 20, along with The Borrower Arrietty.  All the usual features we've come to expect will be present, including storyboards, trailers, English subtitles (of course!), and multiple language soundtracks, including Japanese, English, Cantonese and Mandarin.

Mimi is one of my favorite Ghibli movies.  I'm really looking forward to seeing this in high definition, and I'm also thrilled that we're getting two new Blu-Rays this summer.  You can see Ghibli's planning in that their upcoming feature, Kokuriko-Zaka Kara, is also a teen romance by a young director with a promising future.  Mimi was a big success in Japan, and let's hope that success continues once again.

The Whisper BD will retail for 7,140 Yen in Japan.  Expect it to arrive around the world either this Christmas or early next year.

(Thanks to AV Watch for the news)

"26 Days" of Future Boy Conan - Episode 07

Episode 07 - Chase

Episode Summary: Dyce escapes in the fog. Lepka gets permission to use the GunBoat and Falco to pursue Dyce. Conan escapes from jail and sneaks onto the Falco. Jimsy informs Lana that he is a companion of Conan. Dyce meets with Lana and when she gets angry that he left Conan he opens the window and threatens to throw her out. The Falco sees the light and follows the Barracuda. Conan escapes and attempts to board the Barracuda.

Alright, let's see if we can get back to our regular schedule on the Conan blogathon.  I think I'll have to put "26 Days" in quotes now, heh heh.  At this current rate, we'll have the entire series finished in time for Christmas.  Joy!  And if history is any guide, this blogathon will finally receive its deserved attention sometime around the year 2014...So all is well.  Cough.

Anyway....One question that's always on my mind when watching this episode, and a lot of Future Boy Conan episodes: How does Miyazaki get himself outta this jam?  How many times over the course of this series did he and his team find themselves completely, hopelessly stuck?  Conan begins and ends this episode stuck in a series of cliffhangers, each one tighter than the last, and all I can think is...How does he get outta this?!  Surely, being trapped in an ocean with magnetic braces tying his arms and legs together, as the Barracuda sails off in the distance, is an impossible fix.  This show must have been murder on ones nerves back in '78.  Imagine waiting a week to find out.

This is another thrilling episode, with the tempo staying high.  This is a high crescendo of the first act, and Miyazaki never wastes any time.  I never get a sense that the pacing is lagging or being rushed; plot details are dribbled out piece by piece as needed, quiet moments are allowed room to breathe, and bursts of action have purpose, meaning.  We could say this is a story that has been thought out and meticulously planned in advance...but this is Miyazaki.  We know from his Studio Ghibli films that this isn't the case.  He works extensively on the background of the characters, and the major plot points, and the overall themes he wants to address.  But this is more of a general strategy than a specific plan.  Once the first couple episodes are scripted, it's off to war and damn the torpedoes.

This is why I ask myself just how many times Miyazaki or Otsuka were honestly, genuinely stuck.  They had to have been caught at least once, given all the exciting chases and narrow escapes.  The lucky thing is that they manage to find a suitable solution without resorting to cheap gimmicks or deus ex machina.  Conan's escape from the prison cell, the Barracuda's stealth escape in the fog and ruins of Industria, Jimsy's attempts to break Lana out of her cell (again), and Conan's escape from the seaplane (again)...these are all so brilliantly timed and paced.  This series has the feel of a great jazz ensemble, and it's a joy to see them create almost moment-to-moment.

There are a lot of great bits in this episode.  That part where Jimsy finally meets Lana and is dumbstruck, almost shy, it's endearing.  He hands her a frog because, well, what else can he do?  That's his only trick to dealing with girls.  That was pretty much my entire repertoire with girls in college.  It's a miracle I ever got anywhere...and it's a miracle I never got myself stuck in a porthole.  Oh, and bonus points who spotted that gag of Jimsy in the porthole and remembered it's also in Castle in the Sky.

Also, Dyce has a really creepy side that we need to address at some point.  He still reminds me of Homer Simpson.  And did Monsely really talk about Conan as a pet to be tamed?  Lots of people in this show have issues, don't they?  We'll get to that later.  I need sleep.


I Dare Ya to Play this Snow White and the Seven Dwarves Song Before Going to Bed

I stumbled across this terrific Youtube video of Disney's Seven Dwarves "Hi Ho" played backwards, and it's just too trippy and too creepy to pass up.  I double-dare ya to play this video with all the lights out...and then go to bed!  Bwah hah hah hah hah hah.....Seriously, if you do this and then get nightmares, you have to spill the beans here on the blog.

Totoro and Friends T-Shirt Design

Here is a terrific t-shirt design by Minnesota native Ashley Hay, titled, "Totoro and Friends."  You can buy one of these shirts at Ript Apparel.  Ashley's website can be found here.  She should enquire about selling her designs as licenced products.  Goodness knows there is a drought of Totoro merchandise here in the States.

People of the Desert (Sabaku no Tami) - Hayao Miyazaki's 1969 Manga

(revised/edited: March 3, 2014)

I'd like to continue with our series on Hayao Miyazaki's manga comics with an early landmark, the 1969-70 adventure serial Sabaku no Tami, or People of the Desert.  It is the artist's first original manga, following closely in theme and style after the 1968 Toei Doga masterpiece, Horus, Prince of the Sun.  This serial appeared in Shonen Shoujo Shinbun (Boys and Girls Newspaper) in 26 monthly episodes, from September, 1969 to March, 1970.

You can see the evolution of the Miyazaki style to comics during this series.  The early episodes are in traditional Japanese comics tradition, with a few pictures illustrating a lot of text.  Over time, the panels would increase, and the pictures would crowd out the words, and eventually, we find ourselves with the frenetic, densely packed pages that uniquely define Miyazaki as a comics artist in Japan.  Much of Japanese manga comics are defined by a sparse, zen design, with a few wide, open panels on each page.  Miyazaki does the exact opposite; he packs in as much as he possibly can into every page.  The pages take upon a frantic, almost cubist tension, like Picasso and Jack Kirby smashed together.

I believe these printed works are a vital component to Hayao Miyazaki's vision and career; his comics are equally important as his television and film animations, and deserve to be known to the wider world.  While Nausicaa is his best-known printed work, there are many other classics for us to discover.  And I believe that People of the Desert is a crucial link in that chain.  From this serial, the "serious" side to Miyazaki that first emerged in Horus will continue in Future Boy Conan, then Nausicaa, Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle, and finally resting at The Wind Rises.

Elements of People of the Desert later appeared in Heidi, Girl of the Alps and Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro.  The design of this world, particularly costume design, would play a great influence on Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind.  Thematically, this manga continues the general themes of unity expressed in Horus, but the story is largely devoid of the deeper, more complex themes of Hayao Miyazaki's later career.  At its heart, People of the Desert is a romantic adventure serial in the finest Errol Flynn tradition.

Finally, Miyazaki wrote this serial under a pen-name, "Saburo Akitsu."  The reasons why remain unclear.  Years later, he would use the same name as the director of the two Lupin III Series Two episodes, Albatross: Wings of Death, and Farewell, Beloved Lupin.

Without further ado, here is Hayao Miyazkaki's 1969-70 comics serial, People of the Desert (Sabaku no Tami), in 26 Chapters.  Click on each panel for full-size view:

Title and Prologue:

Chapter 1:

Chapter 2:

Chapter 3:

Chapter 4:

Chapter 5:

Chapter 6:

Chapter 7:

Chapter 8:

Chapter 9:

Chapter 10:

Chapter 11:

Chapter 12:

Chapter 13:

Chapter 14:

Chapter 15:

Chapter 16:

Chapter 17:

Chapter 18:

Chapter 19:

Chapter 20:

Chapter 21:

Chapter 22:

Chapter 23:

Chapter 24:

Chapter 25:

Chapter 26, Final:

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