Studio Ghibli Blu-Rays (Japan) - 2012 Holiday Edition

This month in Japan, the two latest Studio Ghibli feature film Blu-Rays arrived on store shelves: Kiki's Delivery Service and Omohide Poro Poro.  This would be a good time to take stock at the total collection, what has been released, and what has yet to arrive.

First, here are the Ghibli movies available on Japanese Blu-Ray:

Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind
Laputa: Castle in the Sky
Grave of the Fireflies
My Neighbor Totoro
Kiki's Delivery Service
Omohide Poro Poro
Mimi wo Sumaseba
My Neighbors the Yamadas
Howl's Moving Castle
Gedo Senki (Tales From Earthsea)
Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea
The Borrower Arrietty
From Up on Poppy Hill

Next, here are the remaining films for Japanese BD:

Porco Rosso
Umi ga Kikoeru
Heisei Tanuki Gassan Pom Poko
Princess Mononoke
The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro
The Cat Returns the Favor (+ Ghiblies Episode 2)
Kaze Tachinu (theaters 2013)
Kaguya Hime no Monogatari (theaters 2013)

In Japan, three or four movies are released on BD every year, split between summer and winter.  At this rate, the feature film catalog will be completed by 2014.  Ghibli is also releasing its movies in chronological order, although their two biggest titles - Mononoke and Spirited Away - may be held for maximum impact.  In addition, summer 2013 will see the release of the new Miyazaki and Takahata films.  I'd expect to see one of their catalog titles arrive on BD.  My money says the next round of Studio Ghibli BDs will be Porco Rosso and Pom Poko.

There's still the question of releasing the larger titles in the Studio Ghibli catalog, like the 2006 Short Short DVD.  Will that be released on high-definition?  What about Isao Takahata's 1987 documentary movie, The Story of Yanagawa Canals?  Will we see the pre-Ghibli movies like Gauche the Cellist?  Panda Kopanda?  Will they ever get their hands on the Toei Doga classics?  Questions, questions.

Oh, and for everyone keeping score, here's the complete list of Studio Ghibli Blu-Rays released by Disney here in the USA:

Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind
Castle in the Sky
Whisper of the Heart (Mimi wo Sumaseba)
The Secret World of Arrietty

Five. Freakin'. Movies.  And Sentai Filmworks makes it six with Grave of the Fireflies.  Impressive....not.  The Disney people are just like my immigration attorney: do the absolute required minimum, and nothing else.  It's an embarrassment, and it's time to put up or shut up.  If Disney refuses to support Studio Ghibli, then let GKids handle the home video distribution rights.

Update: I added Howl's Moving Castle to the US Blu-Ray list by mistake.  It's still not available here.)


Kaze Tachinu, Kaguya Hime no Monogatari: The 2013 Miyazaki and Takahata Films

Today is the big day, everyone!  At long last, Studio Ghibli's newest productions have been formally announced at Toho's press conference in Japan.  Hayao Miyazaki's Kaze Tachinu ("The Wind Rises") and Isao Takahata's Kaguya Hime no Monogatari ("The Story of Princess Kaguya") will both be released in theaters across Japan this coming Summer 2013.  Let's take a quick look at each of the films.

Poster: The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu)

Hayao Miyazaki - Kaze Tachinu

First is Hayao Miyazaki's next feature film.  Kaze Tachinu originally appeared as a lengthy color comic (manga) in Model Graphix Magazine in 2009.  It was a biography (of sorts) of the Japanese engineer Jori Horikoshi, a designer of airplanes who was, tragically, instrumental in the building of the Zero Fighter used by the Japanese military in World War II.  The story is also an adaptation of a novel (of the same name) by Tatsuo Hori; I haven't read the novel, but I have scanned through the untranslated comic (I have a copy on one of my hard drives), and I'm well aware of Miyazaki's style of loose adaptations.

If history is any judge, Kaze Tachinu will be as much a personal statement by Miyazaki as a biography or literary adaptation.  One of the movie's key scenes will involve the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which is intended to be a parallel to Japan's recent earthquake-tsunami-nuclear crisis.  In the aftermath of the crisis, Miyazaki publicly declared that Studio Ghibli would eschew fantasy films, in favor of more realistic stories that speak to our times.  This may seem strange to Westerners who look to Miya-san as Japan's Walt Disney, but if you know the studio's output, and the careers of the old masters, this is in keeping with many of their greatest works.

Note the poster's tagline: "We must try to live."  It's taken from Hori's novel, but it also references the final lines from the Nausicaa manga.  Princess Mononoke also used the same line ("Ikiro!") back in 1997.  We have our first Ghibli Riff of 2013!

Kaze Tachinu promises to be Ghibli's grandest and most expensive spectacle to date.  Miya-san famously stated that he be "bet the studio" on his film.  It's his gung-ho, leave-nothing-behind gamble ever since Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind in 1984.  We'll make one grand movie, and if it's a hit, we'll make more; if it fails, we'll close up and go home.  And although he has never said so publicly, I do believe this movie may be Hayao Miyazaki's final directorial feature.  This may be his Abbey Road.  Stay tuned.

Poster: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Kaguya Hime no Monogatari)

Isao Takahata - Kaguya Hime no Monogatari

Isao "Paku-San" Takahata: visionary,, revoltionary, godfather of the modern anime era, the greatest animation director who ever lived.  None of these titles are mere hyperbole; he has earned his reputation as one of the world's greatest living filmmakers.  In my mind, he is without peer.  At the recent Studio Ghibli Film Festival in Minneapolis, I was fortunate enough to see Omohide Poro Poro and My Neighbors the Yamadas on the big screen.  It was a miraculous experience.

If any artist suffers from the West's obsession with equating all animation with Walt Disney, it's Paku-San.  His work bears no resemblance to Mickey or Donald, to Bambi or Pinocchio.  Maybe there's a connection to Fantasia, with the love of classical music and daring visual variety.  No, you'd best draw comparisons to the great live-action filmmakers like Yasujiro Ozu, Jean Renoir, Igmar Bergman, Orson Welles, to documentary neo-realism and the French New Wave.  And, yes, to the great French and Russian animators like Lev Atamanov (The Snow Queen), Paul Grimault (Le Roi et l'oiseau), and Yuri Norstein (Hedgehog in the Fog, Tale of Tales).

And now Paku-San has returned, from semi-retirement, from self-imposed exile, however you wish to call it.  My Neighbors the Yamadas was brilliantly funny, quiet and humane, but it was also a firm rebuke against the drive towards "blockbuster" status that Studio Ghibli was embracing, as Miyazaki's Mononoke became a global hit.  Japan's audiences wanted big, epic movies, the kind Hollywood makes, and Miyazaki was all too happy to oblige and indulge.  Takahata offered Yamada-kun as his counter-argument: "Don't overdo it."  His 1999 film was savaged at the box office at the hands of a Pokemon toy commercial and Jar Jar Binks.

After serving as director for a 2001 puppet theater production, "Where Spirits and Fairies Dwell," Takahata contributed one short (60 second) segment for the 2003 anthology film, Winter Days, and then spent his time giving lectures, traveling, and working to build the Ghibli Museum's international film library.  He worked on film projects, struggled to find funding (Miyazaki would no longer gamble the studio's money in the wake of Yamada-kun's collapse), searched for stories and worth collaborators.

I don't think it's ever been stated directly, but I think the death of Yoshifumi Kondo hurt Paku-San the most.  As a writer-director, and not an animator, Takahata has always been dependent on a right-hand artist who could realize his visions.  In the 1970s, his star student was Hayao Miyazaki.  After that, it was Kondo, who proved invaluable on Anne of Green Gables, Grave of the Fireflies, Omohide Poro Poro, and Pom Poko.  Now, with Kondo gone, and all his peers retired or deceased, finding skilled partners is Takahata's greatest challenge.

Kaguya-Hime no Monogatari is an adaptation (all of Takahata's works, other than Pom Poko, are adaptations) of the Japanese folk take, "Tale of the Bamboo Cutter."  The legend was referenced briefly in My Neighbors the Yamadas, the scene where daughter Nonoko is born from a bamboo stalk.  This 2013 movie will tell the larger story, presenting an historical, emotionally-charged family melodrama.  It's Paku-San, after all.

The poster's tagline is interesting: "A princesses' crime and punishment."  Is this a deliberate reference to Dostoyevski?  Perhaps.  I can see Takahata addressing the larger and deeper questions of humanity in his film.  At age 77, he may not have an opportunity to create another feature film.  I would expect another Abbey Road movie, a summary of a man's life and career, and a probing of what it all means.  Mind you, I am only speculating.  We shall discover soon enough.

I am happy to see the watercolor style of Yamada-kun return.  I love that visual art style, and Studio Ghibli used it in a number of TV commercials, and their 2002 short film, Ghiblies Episode 2.  I'm excited just to see something new, different in animation.  I'm tired of all the CGI plastic dolls and noisy formulas.  We're actually going to see something unique.  We can say that of both films, Miyazaki's and Takahata's.  After five decades in film and television, this may be their final triumph.  We should savor the moment, and hold it as long as possible.


Minneapolis Studio Ghibli Film Festival - Closing Days

The two-week Studio Ghibli Film Festival in Minneapolis closes out this Thursday, and we are playing the final four films: The Cat Returns and Mimi wo Sumaseba on Monday and Tuesday, Princess Mononoke and Omohide Poro Poro on Wednesday and Thursday.  It's a terrific lineup and we wish we could be there every day this week.  Sadly, we're down to our final two free passes, and we have to save our money for the move to a new apartment this weekend.

Marcee and I will be there on Thursday for the final showing of Omohide Poro Poro, Isao Takahata's 1991 masterpiece.  I thought it would be right for Ghibli Blog to be there at the very end.

Of the final four movies, The Cat Returns is the weakest of the bunch, and it's a good example of Ghibli's struggles to find new directors to follow Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.  It does have its charms, but when you can also watch Yoshifumi Kondo's Mimi, why bother?  One is a decent movie best served by home video (and best paired with the short film, Ghiblies Episode 2); the other is an animation masterpiece by a skilled veteran who built a long career with the Miya-san and Paku-san.  I really wish I had money hidden under my couch cushions!

Princess Mononoke was Miyazaki's blockbuster smash that toppled E.T. from the Japanese all-time box office and brought international acclaim to Studio Ghibli.  It also sparked a notorious battle between Miya-san and Disney, and especially the Weinsteins at Miramax.  Now Lionsgate owns the home video rights, and it's questionable that we'll see Mononoke on US home video again.  If you get a chance to see this movie in a  Don't walk, run.  You may not get another chance for a long time.

Omohide Poro Poro is the perfect closer, a style and genre of filmmaking that literally does not exist in the West.  Feature animation in the service of a weepy character melodrama?  With a pop culture nostalgia that rivals Quentin Tarantino?  And one that addresses contemporary Japan (ca.1991) as its vaunted bubble economy burst?  Somewhere in the mix lies a popular Japanese manga about a woman's childhood in the 1960s, and a modern quasi-documentary about organic farming and cultivation of safflowers for dyes and cosmetics.  Yes, this is a very deep movie.  Yasujiro Ozu would have been amazed.

Much thanks to everyone who attended GKids' Studio Ghibli Film Festival here in Minneapolis.  It's been terrific, and I really do wish it could have lasted longer.  I needed more time to save up more money!  Please come back!


Trailers - My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Porco Rosso

This weekend, the Studio Ghibli Film Festival at the Minneapolis Lagoon Cinema kicks off its second week with the Hayao Miyazaki's classics: My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Porco Rosso.  Totoro will appear in Japanese and English versions, while Kiki and Porco are both in Japanese, w/subtitles.

My Neighbor Totoro is easily the star of the show.  It's the iconic Studio Ghibli movie, and if you've only come to the festival for one or two movies, Totoro is likely on your list.  My advice?  Buy your tickets early, because they're going to sell out fast.  The English-language version will definitely be packed with the younger kids, but parents should feel fine bringing the family to the Japanese (English subtitled) version as well.  The subtitles are large enough that it's easy to read.  Besides, we've all seen Totoro a thousand times by now.

Kiki's Delivery Service gets less attention than Totoro, but I think it's an equally great movie, continuing its pastoral sense of daily life, and painted in wonderful shades of green.  It's the rare coming-of-age story that focuses equally on what is lost (childhood) on the path to adolescence.  Miyazaki is honest with his audience, and I really respect that.  I don't know if the subtitles are true subtitles, or the dreaded "dub-titles" that we've been stuck with for years.  The key will be whether there's a Hindenberg gag line ("Oh, the humanity").  That line's not in the Japanese script.

Porco Rosso is my personal favorite of the three; I've seen the others on the big screen before, so we'll probably see this one on Sunday.  For a long time, this was my "go-to" movie for introducing newcomers to Hayao Miyazaki.  Here is a film with action and adventure, romance and nostalgia, slapstick comedy and melodrama, and many peaceful, quiet moments.  This is far closer to an animated Casablanca than Star Wars, and I do respect the film for not assaulting me with endless fight scenes.  The characters and their internal dramas take center stage.  It's Miyazaki's Mid-Life Crisis movie.

As always, here are the trailers for you to watch, so you can decide which movies to attend.  Obviously, if you have the money, see them all, but remember that this week includes Princess Mononoke, Mimi wo Sumaseba and Omohide Poro Poro.  Could we play all these movies for another few weeks, please?


Trailers - Ponyo, Castle in the Sky

Wednesday and Thursday at the Minneapolis Studio Ghibli Film Festival is devoted to Hayao Miyazaki's 2008 movie, Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea, and his 1986 adventure classic, Castle in the Sky.  We're headed into the Thanksgiving holiday, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if Thursday's shows are packed.

I've written extensively about Ponyo when it arrived here in the States back in 2009, and there's not much left for me to say now.  It's a terrific picture that stands as a stubbornly defiant defense of hand-drawn animation.  After three years, I am willing to concede that the ending is a bit weak (Spirited Away was the last Miyazaki film to really score the landing), but it's such a terrific ride that it's worth every minute.

The Lagoon Cinema will be playing the Disney-dubbed version of Ponyo, which was pretty good.  I still could do without that crummy auto-tuned pop song at the closing credits...yuck.  Letting Disney try to cynically turn Ponyo into a star vehicle for yet another Jonas Brother didn't quite pan out, did it?  Ah, well, the kids and parents will be happy.

For me, Castle in the Sky is the one to see.  It's still the only Ghibli Blu-Ray from Japan in my collection, thanks to the horrific import price ($80 w/shipping).  It's going to look fantastic in 35mm, projected on the big screen.  Studio Ghibli's debut film has everything: adventure, romance, amazing action, dazzling visuals.  Miyazaki swung for the fences just as he did with Nausicaa, leaving nothing behind.  For many years, anime fans hailed Castle as a Miyazaki masterpiece.  Come to the show and see if you agree.

Oh, and can somebody smuggle some extra pumpkin pie into the theater for me, please?  Thanks in advance.


Photos - Grave of the Fireflies Blu-Ray (US vs Japan)

Grave of the Fireflies Blu-Ray arrives on US store shelves today, courtesy of Sentai Filmworks.  Copies are available for $15-$20, with (hopefully) some "Black Friday" deals to follow.  This is a perfect opportunity to add a Studio Ghibli BD to your movie collection (and once again wonder why Disney fell asleep at the switch).

Now for a little good and bad news.  The good news, obviously, is the low price, which is far more attractive than the $80 it costs to import Ghibli BDs from Japan (retailers either kill you on the price or the shipping).  The bad news is the bitrate, which on the Sentai disc is one-half the rate of Ghibli's Japanese release.  The picture seems to lose a little subtlety in the color and light, and although it's minor, the difference is there.  That said, the US Blu-Ray trumps the previous DVD versions with ease.

I've included some photo comparisons, courtesy of DVD Beaver's review, so you can judge for yourselves.  As expected, the many extras from Central Park Media's 2002 DVD is missing, but this was to be expected.  The Ghibli BDs in Japan have few extras, in order to fit as much movie, as high a bitrate, as possible.  So I think we'll survive, and collectors will have reason not to sell their older versions.

More photo comparisons after the jump; Sentai Filmworks (US) disc on top, Studio Ghibli (Japan) disc on bottom:


Trailers - Pom Poko, My Neighbors the Yamadas

Fresh off a triumphant opening weekend, the Studio Ghibli Film Festival in Minneapolis devotes Monday and Tuesday to Isao Takahata's Heisei Tanuki Gassan Pom Poko (1994) and My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999).  Both films are wildly different in subject matter, in tone, and in visual style.  They showcase an animation director's mastery of the form, his skilled sense of tragicomic melodrama, just as they showcase the remarkable artistic brilliance of Studio Ghibli.

It's easy to imagine these Ghibli films as the sole work of one man - that Hayao Miyazaki himself drew every picture, painted every cel.  This is only mythmaking, of course; the work of the studio's artists, painters and animators are critically important to bringing these movies to life.  And it's doubly true for Takahata, who himself is not an animator.  He depends upon his artists to realize his visions.  These films are a testament to their skills.

Pom Poko and Yamadas can easily be overlooked in the Ghibli canon, but once you sit down and watch, you are mesmerized, awed.  Why don't I watch this movie, or that movie, more often?  Why am I not writing more, sharing more?  You know the feeling.  We are blessed with a bounty of riches.  Every one of Takahata and Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli films (and I'll also include Yoshifumi Kondo's Mimi/Whisper) can be rightfully called a masterpiece.  These two men are the world's greatest living movie directors, and they've earned their title.

Poster - Gauche the Cellist

Continuing with another movie poster, here's one from Isao Takahata's 1982 classic, Gauche the Cellist.  It's one of two different poster designs for the film, and has a colorful, children's book quality.  It's very nice and focuses on the animals, while the other Gauche poster focuses on the orchestra.

To me, this movie is one of Takahata's triumphs.  I know, that sounds like easy praise coming from one who hails Paku-San as a cinematic genius.  I sound like a child with a free box of breakfast cereal.  So, as always, Caveat emptor.  That said, this is a masterful movie, one that weaves rural nostalgia with a love of nature, and the miraculous power of music - joining Beethoven's Pastorale to Kenji Miyazawa's famous children's story is a masterstroke.  I've never heard the 6th Symphony sound better.

Gauche the Cellist is a peaceful, thoughtful.  Takahata's Totoro?  That's what I've always believed.  That this film remains virtually unknown in the West (save a DVD release in France) is nothing short of criminal negligence.  This movie deserves to be seen by the world.

In Defense of Spirited Away

Reader Felix comes to the defense of Hayao Miyazaki's 2001 film, "The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro," which I omitted from my 50 Greatest Movies list back in August.  He makes many excellent points:

"Spirited Away is a terrific movie, visually spectacular and endlessly creative, but I don't believe it is Miyazaki's best film. It's an escapist picture at heart, one that lacks the more complex and serious themes of the director's work. A great movie, but a little light."

I can't agree with this, and it seems to be a disagreement about basic undercurrents of Miyazaki-movies. Nothing about this movie as far as I can see is escapist in any strict, negative sense of the word. Surely you can draw this logical conclusion, but it would be accidental, a mere "reservation" depending on the context of your viewing as far as I can see, but not a lasting judgement.

For one, the altering of Chihiro is certainly not the effect of an escape from her issues, but a "finding of herself". I think this is quintessential in judging the whole "positive" outlook of Miyazaki per se, or else it would be hard to distinguish him from any other "pretty" entertainment, or it becomes a pure intellectual argument of the ideology that his movies present.

Then, Chihiro is emotionally challenged throughout the movie, and it is mostly frightening and dangerous, and the ending is not "sweet" but kind of regretful, which is not a nod to the wish to escape again (as maybe could be seen in the Peter Pan "mythos"), but a major element of life - but Miyazaki would probably say (as I've seen him do) that she will come to deal with it.

Also there are aesthetic elements which I think make it unique among his movies. There is this almost overly lush bathing house, but also this Zen-like, minimalist trainride and water landscape.

The infinite imagination that some refer to, on the other hand, and that may be seen as one element of escapism, I do simply do not recognize. I don't think it is very inventive at all, if I would look only for this, I would be very bored and could point probably to an endless list of more "inventive" or "visually stunning" examples. The lush invention that I see serves merely to create a certain atmosphere of life and the overfilled environs, but not much to marvel at.

A couple more things could be said, but that should be the essence of my view.

Poster - Jarinko Chie

Isao Takahata's 1981 comedy Jarinko Chie is a favorite of mine, and every once in a while, I post the entire movie if I can find it on YouTube.  It's a terrific picture, full of wit and humor and that emotional family melodrama that is Paku-San's trademark.

For our new Ghibli Blog readers in the Twin Cities, Jarinko Chie is very similar in style to Takahata's 1999 Studio Ghibli movie, My Neighbors the Yamadas.  Both are adaptations of popular Japanese comics, both follow an episodic structure with various overarching themes, both are wonderfully funny and goofy.  If you're lucky enough to see one picture, you'll be sure to enjoy the other.

Chie was successful enough to spawn a popular TV series, which ran for two seasons.  Takahata served as "General Director," which meant he oversaw everything, but without directing specific episodes.  I'd love to see the anime fansub community tackle that series, but it's probably too obscure for most of them to notice.  I would imagine, however, that there'd be greater interest in Chie, now that we have all those Seth MacFarlane shows.  Ah, well, probably isn't likely to happen.  We're still waiting for someone to take up that Heidi fansub project.

This rare movie poster is currently selling on eBay for a princely sum ($75, give or take).  That's a little rich for my blood, but I'd be thrilled to have one in my personal collection.  Studio Ghibli movie posters are fairly easy to buy these days; if you want to really impress your family and friends, you'll need to dig deeper.

Please, Discotek, pick up the rights to the Chie Blu-Ray!  I'll do commentary!  I'll write more essays!  I'll buy everyone coffee and doughnuts!


MPR Discusses Studio Ghibli Film Festival in Minneapolis

On Friday, Minnesota Public Radio devoted a portion of their weekly radio movie hour to the Studio Ghibli Film Festival, now playing at the Lagoon Theater in Minneapolis.  Stephanie Curtis, known on MPR as "The Movie Maven," has been on my must-contact list for years, and one of these days, I'm going to send her a box of discs and movie files from the entire Takahata/Miyazaki canon.

You can play MPRs Friday program here.  In addition to Studio Ghibli, Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" opens this week, and it promises to be a sensational picture.  Daniel Day-Lewis is the greatest actor of our time, isn't he?  He should be a lock for the Best Actor Oscar, if there's any justice in the world.


Warriors of the Wind - Cinematic Nutcase Reviews

Today marks the beginning of GKids' Studio Ghibli Film Retrospective here in Minneapolis, which launches with Hayao Miyazaki's 1984 landmark feature, Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind.  I thought this would be a perfect time to revisit the first time Nausicaa was released in the United States, as the notorious hack-job, Warriors of the Wind.

For those not aware, Warriors of the Wind was the US theatrical and home video release of Nauscaa, with a poorly-acted dub, extensive script rewrites, and 30 minutes excised from the running time.  This was a common practice at the time for foreign animation in the West, which the suits would deride as "cheap kiddie cartoons."  That Nausicaa was created as a serious, and richly complex, adult animated movie was completely lost on the American producers.  It was impossible to imagine animation beyond the shadow of Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse.  It remains a challenge even today, although great strides have been made.

The cuts and changes made to Warriors of the Wind were made without Miyazaki's consent or knowledge; when he discovered what had happened, he all but renounced the American market for the next decade, only tentatively granting distribution rights for movies like My Neighbor Totoro (during this period, Streamline carried the Miyazaki flame).  It wouldn't be until 2006 that Americans finally saw Nausicaa in its original, uncut form, with all its complex, probing, challenging themes restored.

I haven't watched this Cinematic Nutcase video review yet, so I'll be enjoying it along with you for the first time.  I'm curious to hear what younger anime fans think of the Warriors debacle.  I will agree on one point: the US movie poster is rediculously awesome.  It absolutely begs for parody or Family Guy cameo.

I believe Warriors of the Wind stands as a historical document, an example of the struggles of Japanese animation to crack the American consciousness and work its way into our culture.  It's also a solid example of the fracture in 1980s popular culture between "mainstream" and "underground," which would explode in the 1990s alternative revolution.  Of course, I'm an aging Gen-Xer, so everything in my mind is filtered through the punk & hiphop revolution.  I'm just goofy that way.


Studio Ghibli Film Festival at Minneapolis Lagoon Cinema

Studio Ghibli Film Festival

The Studio Ghibli Film Festival arrives at the Minneapolis Lagoon Cinema this Friday for a two-week run.  A total of 14 films will be screened, in Japanese and English languages, all from newly-struck 35mm film prints.  This is going to be sensational, and for every true fan, the chance of a lifetime.

The Ghibli Blog - Marcee and I - will be attending the festival as much as possible.  We won't be seeing all of the films, but we'll check in whenever we can.  The fine folks at the Lagoon Cinema were kind enough to give us some free passes, and we're hoping to bring our families along for the ride.  We'll also continue to cover the festival during its two-week run, with related news items and reviews/essays.

Here's the complete schedule for the Ghibli Film Retrospective.  We'll be waiting for you!

Fri 11/16 - Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind - 2:00, 4:30, 7:00, and 9:30pm
Sat 11/17 - Spirited Away, 12:00, 2:30, and 7:30pm
Sat 11/17 - (English) - Howl's Moving Castle, 5:00, and 10:00pm
Sun 11/18 - Spirited Away, 2:30, and 7:30pm
Sun 11/18 - (English) - Howl's Moving Castle, 12:00 and 10:00pm
Sun 11/18 - Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, 5:00pm
Mon 11/19 & Tue 11/20 - Pom Poko, 2:00 and 7:00pm
Mon 11/19 & Tue 11/20 - My Neighbors the Yamadas, 4:30 and 9:30pm
Wed 11/21 & Thu 11/22 - (English) - Ponyo, 2:00 and 7:00pm
Wed 11/21 & Thu 11/22 - Castle in the Sky, 4:15 and 9:15pm
Fri 11/23 - Porco Rosso, 4:30 and 9:15pm
Fri 11/ 23 & Sat 11/24 - My Neighbor Totoro, 7:00pm
Fri, 11/23 - (English) - My Neighbor Totoro, 12:00 and 2:30pm
Sat 11/24 & Sun 11/25 - (English) - My Neighbor Totoro, 2:30pm
Sat 11/ 24 & Sun 11/25 - Kiki's Delivery Service, 12:00 and 7:00pm
Sun 11/25 - My Neighbor Totoro, 9:15pm
Sun 11/25 - Porco Rosso, 4:30pm
Mon 11/26 & Tue 11/27 - (English) - The Cat Returns, 2:30 and 7:00pm
Mon 11/26 & Tue 11/ 27 - Whisper of the Heart, 4:30 and 9:00pm
Wed 11/28 & Thu 11/29 - Princess Mononoke, 1:45 and 7:00pm
Wed 11/ 28 & Thu 11/29 - Only Yesterday (Omohide Poro Poro), 4:30 and 9:45pm

(Update 11/17, 6:50pm:  The second paragraph was revised and updated.  I won't be giving any lectures or Q&A, but if you see Marcee and me, feel free to chat with us.)

Daniel Bait, Ghibli Film Festival Edition

"The debut film from Hayao Miyazaki, NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind is considered by many to be his masterwork—and there are few films, animated or otherwise, of such sweeping scope and grandeur."

- Landmark Theaters, Lagoon Cinema (bold added)

They're off by twenty years.  D'oh!  This is why I need to score press passes to the Studio Ghibli Film Festival here in Minneapolis.  I've also volunteered to give free lectures to the audiences, and share some insights and history.  It's become my destiny to replay that Woody Allen-Marshal MacLuhan scene from Annie Hall, isn't it?  Ah, well.

Isao Takahata Turns 77

Happy Birthday to Isao Takahata, 77 years old, born on October 29, 1935.  A little belated, but there's still plenty of cake and ice cream for everyone.  We're all looking forward to seeing Paku-san's triumphant return to the director's chair in 2013.  He's been away for far too long.

In case you're curious, this photograph of the young Takahata dates from the 1965-68 production of Horus, Prince of the Sun.  It appears on the excellent 2004 Studio Ghibli DVD, "Yasuo Otsuka's Joy in Motion."  Every animation lover should add that documentary to their movie library.

New Miyazaki and Takahata Films Titled

Toho, the film distributor of Studio Ghibli's movies in Japan, has acquired domain names for Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata's upcoming films - "Kaze Tachinu" (The Wind Rises) and "Kaguya-Hime no Monogatari" (Princess Kaguya Story).  The official announcements on these films are expected in the coming days and weeks.

Kaze Tachinu is adapted from Miyazaki's most recent color comic, about the man who designed the Zero Fighter which was used in World War II.  Princess Kaguya Story is an adaptation of the Japanese folk tale, "Tale of the Bamboo Cutter."  This fable was referenced in Takahata's 1999 feature film, My Neighbors the Yamadas.

Thanks to GhibliWiki for the original news scoop.

Panda Go Panda US Discotek DVD

Earlier this year, Discotek reissued Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki's two Panda Kopanda short films on DVD, under the common Western title, "Panda Go Panda."  The previous home video release was handled by Geneon, which featured a butchered title sequence and no extras.  This 2012 version is much better by all counts.

The two short films - Panda Kopanda (1972), Panda Kopanda and the Rainy Day Circus (1973) - are included complete and uncut, which is nice if you're a fan of Animal Treasure Island and My Neighbor Totoro and enjoy their opening credit sequences.  For picture quality, I cannot speak from first-hand experience, but it does appear that Japan's Studio Ghibli DVD has a higher bitrate, which means a sharper, cleaner picture.  The US disc trades a lower bitrate in exchange for a 40-minute interview with director Takahata, and a 13-minute bonus feature.  All of these extras include English language subtitles.

Panda Go Panda deserves to be a part of your movie library.  For every fan of My Neighbor Totoro, it's an obvious must-have.  For everyone else, young and old alike, these two short animated films are a delight, free of cynicism or insincerity or shameless marketing.  These are the sort of cartoons I grew up watching, and I would very much like to see that tradition continue.

Discotek has been on an absolute tear this year.  Panda Go Panda and Lupin III: The Complete First TV Series are only the tip of the iceberg.  It's easy for anime fans to bemoan the state of the industry, but these gentlemen are working their tails off, day and night.  They deserve your support.

Grave of the Fireflies US Blu-Ray Arrives November 20

Like many of you, I'm greatly looking forward to seeing Grave of the Fireflies on Blu-Ray.  The US Blu-Ray will be released on November 20, just in time for the holiday season...oh, and the Studio Ghibli Film Retrospective here in Minneapolis.  Good timing.

Sentai Filmworks will not only deliver Isao Takahata's 1988 masterpiece directly from Japan (Fireflies and My Neighbor Totoro was released in Japan earlier this year), they have also created a new English-language dubbed soundtrack.  The previous dub dates back to Central Park Media's home video releases from the 1990s, so this will be an event to watch.  As always, the play Japanese and English soundtracks is available.

However, when it comes to extras, you might wish to keep your existing DVD release.  Storyboards, deleted scenes, and original trailers are the only extras on the Blu-Ray.  That's slim pickings compared to CPM's excellent 2002 "Special Edition," which included an interview with Roger Ebert and a compelling discussion on the firebombing campaign in World War II.

Obviously, I strongly recommend buying the new Fireflies BD.  The picture quality will be spectacular, and the audio quality will be a clear improvement over the (lossy) DVD.  We Americans are falling far behind the rest of the world on Studio Ghibli Blu-Rays - here's a rare chance to catch up.  Please do what you can to support Sentai Filmworks, and encourage them to support the scene in the future.

Waga's Big Scare by Sam Hiti

Minneapolis-based artist and illustrator Sam Hiti has recently published his first children's book, and it's a terrific little gem.  Titled "Waga's New Scare," it tells a story of a gruesome, scary monster who has suddenly "lost his scare."  With the evening hours running short, Waga must scramble to find his voice and return to his true calling - scaring all of us kids every night.

I really enjoy Sam's illustrations, which follow a fluid, almost surrealist comic-book style.  There are many brilliantly designed monsters and scary creatures, skillful compositions, and an impressive variety of layouts.  I really enjoy watching the pages, closely examining them.  At one point, Waga stretches and squirms through an impossible maze of house pipes, and it just flows, like a great jazz solo.  I'm a sucker for things like this.

Oh, and those Larry Bird and Darth Vader posters on the wall?  Nice touch.  I wish there was an Atari 2600 or Sega Genesis buried away somewhere.

There's going to be more children's books, right?  There's going to be more Waga books?  There should be more.  We should all do our part and buy Sam's book.  Here's a sample of some pages to inspire your money to escape from your wallet.  You'll probably hear them whistling the theme from "The Great Escape" while you're sleeping at night.

(P.S. Marcee, my newlywed, snapped these photos.  I promised her that I'd give her credit on the blog.  She's quite skilled with the iPhone camera, and I keep threatening to release art books as iOS apps.)


Photos - The Running Man (LaserDisc)

I only saw The Running Man once on VHS back in the '80s, and while I can barely remember any of it, I do remember that it was well liked by friends, and it was one of Arnold Schwartzenegger's more popular pictures.  It's a goofy comic-book action movie with enough brains and wit to keep me smiling.

Marcee and I are currently working through our stack of laserdiscs, and I really only threw this movie into the player because I wanted to save Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for later.  I didn't expect much, probably a cheaper, lower-budget version of Total Recall, with the usual array of guns and explosions and cheesy one-liners.  I was very pleasantly surprised.  I enjoyed The Running Man's '80s cyberpunk vibe, which clearly rips off Blade Runner and The Road Warrior, and anticipates Akira, but thankfully loses the despair or nihilism.  Richard Dawson easily stole the show as the corrupt game show host; he was a joy to watch from beginning to end, and this was probably his best role (he was essentially playing a satire of himself).  I know I'm in the minority here, but I'll rank this movie above Predator in the pantheon of Arnold films (I'm a sci-fi kid at heart).

The laserdisc, a 1995 letterbox release, looks terrific, very vivid and colorful and good use of light and shadow.  Have I finally calibrated my stupid Sony CRT, I hope?  The picture is sharp and detailed, close enough to DVD, and retaining that magical "film-like" quality that makes LD shine.  And there isn't a pixel or digital compression artifact anywhere in sight.  Yay!  Oh, and please don't remind me that Running Man is available on Blu-Ray...I can't hear you, la la la!

When I was writing my Top 50 Movies list, I realized how much I was missing the simple joy of a fun movie.  Not everything has to be revolutionary, or inspiring, or challenging.  Right now, I'd much rather watch a popcorn thriller like Last Crusade than, say, nearly anything by Bergman.  I'm not about to embrace modern Hollywood schlock like, oh...The Hunger Games...ugh, that was the worst movie I've seen all year.  It's absolutely useless, like staring at a Pepsi bottle or a pair of shoes for two hours.  Do I really have to point out that The Hunger Games is a soulless, global conglomerate assembly-line franchise pitched to desperately insecure children who look to American Idol for inspiration?  Heck, the plot is nearly identical to The Running Man, a point that Marcee pointed out a couple times.  She's much rather watch Arnold in his Bruce Lee jumpsuit, too.

More screenshots are after the jump.  I'm using a Panasonic LX-600 with composite cables directly fed into the Sony CRT, for those keeping score.  Next up: I really have to hunt down that Criterion Collection version of Akira.


Photos - Total Recall (LaserDisc)

My adventures in LaserDisc continue, as well as my struggles to properly calibrate the light and color settings on my Sony CRT.  Why those jokers deliberately wrecked the factory settings on their televisions baffles me.  Have I finally succeeded in getting the right settings?  I hope so, because I'm getting tired of constantly hacking around.  I just want to watch some movies!

Here's the latest batch of screenshots - the THX "widescreen" edition of Total Recall.  I think it's looking pretty good, and the color appears more balanced.  Previously, everything on LD had an over-saturated, almost Technicolor look, and way too heavy on the reds (this is common with Sony TVs).  The picture is much more balanced now, with fine contrasts, not too bright or hazy, and colors appear more natural.  Now we're beginning to see LD look its best, instead of watered-down and low-rez.
I'm definitely planning to hunt down some Studio Ghibli discs, including the old Fox version of My Neighbor Totoro (for its older dub).  Thank goodness Japanese LDs are so cheap these days; unfortunately, there are no subtitles, which is a drag, but it's not the end of the world.  I definitely need more Looney Tunes.

More Total Recall screenshots after the jump.  What do ya think?


What's Opera Doc? (LaserDisc)

Last week, I purchased a Panasonic LX-600 LaserDisc player for Marcee's birthday, and one of the first titles I bought at the Cheapo Uptown was Looney Tunes: Curtain Calls, a single-disc collection of 15 classic cartoons.  It's a terrific set that includes "Rabbit of Seville" and "One Froggy Evening," and closes out with Chuck Jones' greatest triumph, "What's Opera, Doc?"

Obviously, if you want to watch Looney Tunes, you can buy the DVD or even Blu-Ray sets.  The Curtain Calls LD won't be seen by many people today, which is unfortunate.  With a quality SDTV and a quality player, LaserDiscs can shine.  And animation remains the format's greatest strength.

There are precious few examples of LD in action on the internet.  The most common approach is to connect a player directly to a PC.  This, however, results in a watered-down, washed look to the picture.  Optimising for the NTSC standard (7.5 IRE) is absolutely necessary for laserdiscs to look their best.  I snapped my photos with an iPhone directly in front of the Sony television, and even here, my photos darken the picture just a little.  This is an elusive, finicky format to capture in the digital age, but that's part of its charm.

Anyway, back to Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd performing their opera.  I snapped a large number of photos, which appear just after the jump.


Photos - Batman Returns (LaserDisc)

I wanted to share a couple photos from Marcee's birthday present - a Panasonic LX-600 LaserDisc player and stack of movies.  Included in the mix were the two Tim Burton Batman movies (yay), and the two Joel Schumacher Batman movies (boo).

I'm still trying to find the optimal video settings on our 24" Sony KV-24FS100, a solid standard-def CRT from 2002.  Sony completely fubar'd the color and bright/contrast settings on their sets, which makes calibration a real pain.  We had the set dialed nicely for broadcast and DVD/Blu-Ray, and now we'll have to calibrate again for LaserDisc.  Right now, my main concerns are the lighting (too harsh at times) and the color (too washed out and brownish).  Without a Video Essentials disc, I pretty much have to use the Schwartz to get the video settings right.

When Marcee and I watched Batman '89, the picture looked terrific by the end of side two.  The fiery destruction of the Axis Chemical factory was especially glorious and colorful, with not a pixel or digital artifact in sight.  And the climactic battle in the belltower felt magical; it somehow felt analog, like film.  I can't quite explain why or how, but I did perceive a difference in the way Jack Nicholson's Joker danced around.  Skipping around Elizabeth ('98) also yielded excellent results, and Looney Tunes: Curtain Calls was a revelation for animation.  Ace Ventura 2 and Robin Hood: Men in Tights looked very washed out and flat, however.  So the LD experiments continue.

Update (8-27): Changed photos to reflect more balanced TV calibration.  I also snapped the photos in motion, instead of using the CAV freeze-frame option.  This enables a cleaner picture and better represents the LD as it looks on my Sony CRT television.


The Next Studio Ghibli Blu-Rays - Kiki's Delivery Service, Omohide Poro Poro

The next Studio Ghibli Blu-Ray movies have been announced - Kiki's Delivery Service and Omohide Poro Poro.  Both films will be released on December 5, 2012 in Japan.

Omohide Poro Poro, as you know, is my favorite animation film, ranked #11 on my 50 Greatest Movies list.  The HD format is going to do wonders for Isao Takahata's masterpiece; its rich colors and visual splendor will be a sight to behold.  This is a visually spectacular movie, endlessly varied and nuanced, perfectly weaving Tarantino-pop with Ozu melodrama.

Kiki's Delivery Service is a sweet and charming movie, a perfect follow-up to My Neighbor Totoro, and Ghibli's first box-office hit.  Miyazaki doesn't get nearly enough credit for this film, but it's a wonderful story about the end of childhood and the transition into adulthood, and it's very funny.  I do hope we finally get true subtitles at last, instead of the now-ancient "dub-titles."  That would be a very welcome change.

Poro Poro, of course, will never be released here in North America, unless someone like Sentai Filmworks or Criterion steps up, but it should be released in all other territories.  Disney will happily pick up Kiki, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if they released it alongside Totoro sometime next year.  Those were the movies Disney wanted when they first courted Miyazaki, which is good news for us.


Ghibli Blog Rankings - The 50 Greatest Movies

Ghibli Blog: 50 Greatest Movies

Yes, Citizen Kane is still number one in this house!

The Sight & Sound 2012 poll of greatest films has been unveiled, which means it's time for everybody to pull out their long lists of favorite movies.  And now, after many days of hard work and endless revisions, I present my rankings of the best movies ever made.  Short comments follow after the rankings.

Ghibli Blog Rankings - The 50 Greatest Movies

1. Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles)
2. Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz)
3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)
4. Lawrence of Arabia (1962, David Lean)
5. Seven Samurai (1954, Akira Kurosawa)
6. Star Wars (1977, George Lucas)
7. Duck Soup (1933, Leo McCarey)
8. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, Carl Th. Dryer)
9. The Third Man (1949, Carol Reed)
10. Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchkock)

11. Omohide Poro Poro (1991, Isao Takahata)
12. Mimi wo Sumaseba (1995, Yoshifumi Kondo)
13. City Lights (1931, Charlie Chaplin)
14. Ran (1986, Akira Kurosawa)
15. Apocalypse Now (1979, Francis Ford Coppola)
16. The Fog of War (2003, Errol Morris)
17. Paths of Glory (1957, Stanley Kubrick)
18. Annie Hall (1977, Woody Allen)
19. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)
20. (tie) Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg)
20. (tie) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989, Steven Spielberg)

21. The Godfather Parts I & II (1972, 74, Francis Ford Coppola)
22. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, Ang Lee)
23. Rules of the Game (1939, Jean Renoir)
24. Floating Weeds (1959, Yasujiro Ozu)
25. The Big Sleep (1946, Howard Hawks)
26. Nights of Cabiria (1957, Frederico Fellini)
27. Princess Mononoke (1997, Hayao Miyazaki)
28. Porco Rosso (1992, Hayao Miyazaki)
29. The Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming)
30. Elizabeth (1998, Shekhar Kapur)

31. Metropolis (1926, Fritz Lang)
32. The Searchers (1956, John Ford)
33. Throne of Blood (1957, Akira Kurosawa)
34. Modern Times (1936, Charlie Chaplin)
35. Young Frankenstein (1974, Mel Brooks)
36. Blazing Saddles (1974, Mel Brooks)
37. Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino)
38. Yojimbo(1961, Akira Kurosawa)
39. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1968, Sergio Leone)
40. Fantasia (1940, Walt Disney)

41. Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (1996, Jim Mallon)
42. Ben-Hur (1959, William Wyler)
43. The Seventh Seal (1957, Ingmar Bergman)
44. Network (1976, Sydney Lumet)
45. Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Leaned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963, Stanley Kubrick)
46. Gauche the Cellist (1982, Isao Takahata)
47. Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985, Gisaburo Suugi)
48. The Red Shoes (1948, Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger)
49. Beetlejuice (1988, Tim Burton)
50. (tie) Clue (1985, Johnathon Lynn)
50. (tie) Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986, John Hughes) 

And now for a few quick thoughts.  You fine readers have no idea how many times I've shuffled movies around this list, adding this, dropping that, desperately finding a place to squeeze in The Royal Tenenbaums and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, trying to remember whether I loved or merely liked The Seventh Seal.  My mind constantly pulls out wonderful memories, reflective laughs and meditations.

I believe the key was writing a Top 50 list of movies, instead of the standard "Top 10."  With a shorter list, one stays careful and overly cautious, wary of giving up a cherished classic.  I won't cede Citizen Kane or Casablanca to anyone.  However, if I expand my palette to fifty films, a far richer landscape emerges.  Now I can embrace the vast history of cinema, honor the earliest classics, and raise the banner for modern pictures that deserve to be honored.  I could easily add another fifty movies without blinking an eye.  The Shining!  La Dolce Vita!  F For Fake!  Ivan the Terrible! Waking Life!  This could go on forever, which is an exhausting thought.

I'm thinking that I should write essays on each individual film on this list, make it a running series.  That would give me more time to explore each film in better detail than I can here.  Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions.  Enjoy.

Update 8/8/12, 1:11pm - Raiders or Last Crusade?  Last Crusade or Raiders??  Which movie Indiana Jones movie takes the #20 spot?  This dilemma has consumed me all week, and I cannot pick one film over another.  Raiders is grittier, pulpier, has scarier villians, and Karen Allen.  Last Crusade has more and better action scenes, is way funnier, and has Sean Connery.  Both are, essentially, the same movie, and equally great.

So I'm going to cheat and declare a second mulligan (the first one being the two Godfathers joined together at #21).  Raiders and Last Crusade will share the 20th slot, and you can just pick your favorite.  Now I'm going to walk away before I really get carried away.  This project is finished!

Update #2: 8/9/12 8:40am - More cheating.  Marcee and I watched Chaplin's City Lights last night, and I immediately realized my mistake in ranking it so low.  It deserves a Top 10 spot, but I can't fit it in, and I want to promote the two Studio Ghibli films, so we'll take 13th Place.  This is the final edit, I swear(chuckling)!  Thanks for your patience, feel free to hurl wisecracks.

Update #3: 8/9/12 10:20am - Great, I can't read and I can't count.  I really should pay Reed Nelson to be my editor.  There were two movies at #34, so I've shuffled things around...and we end with yet another mulligan.  But it's fitting that a "Top 50 Movies" list would really have 53, in a Calvinball sort of way.


Photos - My Neighbor Totoro (Japan BD)

Of course, I couldn't post photos from Grave of the Fireflies without giving Totoro his due.  This BD really looks terrific.  The painterly quality of this movie shines as never before.  Observe the rust in the bucket, which looks ragged, or the lush background paintings, or the clean lines on the characters.

I think what makes My Neighbor Totoro work is that it's not really about the magical forest creatures.  It's really a movie about a child's sense of wonder, that special way in which the natural world sparks youthful imaginations.  Adults tend to take everything literally, and the value of myth and symbolism becomes lost.  Children have not yet been conditioned to this way of thinking, and so they view a world full of mystery and discovery, a world where a giant cat-bus makes the wind blow, and a single seed can grow into a mighty tree in a single moment.

Japanese masters like Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata understand the inherently symbolic nature of animation.  "All animation," Paku-san once described, "is a lie."  These are not real people and places, but drawings and icons of people and places.  To a skilled artist, this offers limitless freedom and possibility.  To an unskilled hack, well...have you seen Dreamworks' version of The Lorax?  Ack!  Truly, that movie is the anti-Totoro.

More My Neighbor Totoro Blu-Ray screenshots after the jump:

Photos - Grave of the Fireflies (Japan BD)

Some screenshots from the newly-released Japanese Blu-Ray of Isao Takahata's 1988 movie, Grave of the Fireflies.  As always, the high-def version easily trounces the earlier DVD versions.  Details are far sharper, more detailed, with a far richer color palette.  A poetic, tragic movie that remains, frustratingly, overlooked.  If you haven't watched Fireflies, then you need to do so.

Grave of the Fireflies Blu-Ray - Coming November 12

Update: Grave of the Fireflies Blu-Ray will be released in the US on November 12.

Sentai Filmworks revealed this morning at Otakon 2012 that they have acquired the rights to Grave of the Fireflies Blu-Ray.  They have not yet revealed the release date, or which extras from Studio Ghibli's Japanese release will be included, but those details will be coming soon.

Grave of the Fireflies is going to look spectacular.  I can't wait.  Hurry up and take my money!

Oh, BTW, how much money you wanna bet that Fireflies BD arrives on American store shelves before Disney releases Totoro? We'll start an office pool right away. (/grin)


Anime on Laserdisc

And now for something completely different...a look at anime on LaserDisc!

This month, I finally succeeded in getting rid of my 26" Sony HD-CRT, a super-massive battle tank that weighed 230lbs.  It was an interesting compromise between traditional picture tubes and 21st Century HDTV, and while it had its strengths, the compromises were too much to bear.  And did I mention the weight thing?  So having sold it, I a traditional 24" Sony Trinitron.  Ya know, standard def.

This new situation gave me an opportunity to explore a form of media for the first time - Laserdisc.  The original optical storage media, the ancestor to CD, DVD and Blu-Ray, the humble Laserdisc only succeeded among the hard-core cinephiles and home theater buffs of the 1980s and 1990s.  In Japan, however, the format was much more popular, and it proved to be the destination of choice for anime lovers.

Yes, I'm getting old and nostalgic for outdated media.  I accept that.  It's why I collect vinyl records, cassette tapes, and classic video game systems.  These are pieces of my youth.  But there's something more, a dissatisfaction with modern digital media.  I'm not that fond of CDs, and I'm not that fond of DVDs, either.  Blu-Ray?  Well, strange as it sounds...I'm really not that big on it.  I can't quite explain why, after owning an HDTV and BD player for two years, I have only a handful of movies to show for it.  2001 and The Searchers look fantastic.  So why haven't built a large BD movie library?

I've noticed that curiosity about Laserdiscs have risen in recent years.  It might just be that, curiosity, and nothing else.  It might also be a yearning for alternatives in this ultra-slick digital world.  I can't say just yet.  But there is something to the LD format, the way it delivers the complete experience.  The Experience - there's that phrase I used in an earlier post. Hmm.

Have a look at this YouTube video, which shows off a number of anime LDs and looks quite good.  SD quality animation that rivals DVD, but without the pixelation, digital artifacts, or compressed audio?  More to the package than a plastic case, or worse yet, nothing but a digital file?  This could be interesting. Share your thoughts and memories if you're so inclined.

From Up on Poppy Hill: France Deluxe Blu-Ray

From Up on Poppy Hill Blu-Ray

See, folks, this is how you handle a Blu-Ray movie.  This is the French deluxe Blu-Ray package for Goro Miyazaki's 2010 film, From Up on Poppy Hill.  This massive set includes the movie, postcards, a collection of playing cards, a poster, stickers, and a 50-page mini-magazine.

I think this is the future of physical media.  When digital distribution becomes easier and easier, and the visual difference between disc and download erases, publishers will need to employ more creative means of attracting customers, of offering something tangible that downloads can't match.

Personally, I think this is also necessary for video games, especially for classic and retro games from years past.  Why isn't there a Criterion Collection for video games?  Why couldn't there be one?  There should be one for animation, especially anime.  Our recently-released Lupin III Series One DVD set is a good example of this (ahem, cough).  Don't just offer the game, the television show, the movie - Offer the complete experience.  And offer it at a reasonable price.

More photos after the jump:

Grave of the Fireflies DVD - Sentai vs CPM

Ah, now this is interesting.  I hadn't paid much attention when Sentai Filmworks reissued Grave of the Fireflies on DVD.  The film was shortly obtained by ADV Films when Central Park Media went bankrupt, and it was essentially the exact same disc.  I had assumed Sentai's release would be the same.  I was wrong.

Sentai's Fireflies DVD may be bare-bones, but the picture quality is far clearer and more balanced than the CPM disc.  Was Studio Ghibli's DVD used as the source?  I can't make a direct comparison to be sure, but on first glance, it appears so.  Let's take a look at a couple comparison screenshots so you can judge for yourselves.

The Sentai photos are far more balanced with color and contrast, and I'm reminded of the strangely "bleached" look to Miramax's Princess Mononoke DVD, which didn't hold a candle to the Japanese version.  The slight black border is typical of Ghibli's Region-2 Japanese DVDs, which strongly suggests they are the Sentai's source.  That's certainly good news for any potention Blu-Ray release in the US, although my vote remains "Not Likely" until we hear otherwise.  I'll keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best.

Until that happens, we have a most excellent DVD to enjoy.  Kudos to Sentai...maybe you guys could spend a little more on marketing next time, please?  If you have a better DVD, tell somebody about it!

Grave of the Fireflies Blu-Ray Screenshots

In 1988, Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies took the top billing on a double feature with Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro, and this week both movies made their long-awaited debut on Blu-Ray disc.  The previous post showed off the Totoro disc, and now we'll look at Fireflies.

This movie looks absolutely stunning.  I hadn't before realized that the Central Park Media DVD had the colors completely wrong.  They were using a master sent by Warner Bros in Japan, who had the home video rights for a time.  For some reason, they decided to give the colors a warmer, NTSC balance.  Fortunately, Ghibli recaptured the home video rights, and released Fireflies on DVD a couple years ago, no doubt based on the same 6K master (!!) used on this new Blu-Ray release.  Here is the Ghibli BD, followed by the CPM DVD.  This is a revelation:

Notice the cooler and more balanced color tones, and the lack of contrast or edge enhancement.  We can see the interior of the cave more easily, and details are far sharper (this will be obvious on larger screens).  It's like watching this movie for the first time.

The big question for Western anime fans is, "Will Grave of the Fireflies BD be released here?"  It should be released in France, the UK, and Australia, but the US is far less likely.  Disney does not have domestic rights to the movie, and it's clearly not one they would want on their hands.  The home video rights have changed hands many times over the years, from US Manga Corps to Central Park Media, to ADV Films, and now Sentai Entertainment.  Sentai's DVD is a bare-bones affair, a clear step below CPM's excellent release.  They clearly don't have the resources for Studio Ghibli's Blu-Ray disc.

Sadly, we must conclude that the chances of Fireflies BD arriving in the United States are slim.  The US anime market has struggled with the Blu-Ray format; the 1988 anime masterpiece Akira - Akira! - is out-of-print.  You can blame economics, you can blame online streaming, you can blame piracy (ironic, since "piracy" is what created anime fandom in this country), it doesn't matter.  Without a major benefactor, a Disney or a Criterion, Fireflies BD has little chance of seeing release on American shores.

Sorry to bring everyone down.  But Grave of the Fireflies is a "downer" movie, after all.  What did you expect at an opera, a happy ending?

Here are some more excellent screenshots from Grave of the Fireflies Blu-Ray, after the fold.  Much thanks to DVD Beaver for their excellent comparison page.  Enjoy the photos:

My Neighbor Totoro Blu-Ray Screenshots

Studio Ghibli's latest Blu-Ray discs, My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies, has been released this week in Japan.  Each movie is available in a separate package, or joined together in a deluxe set (mirroring the films' double billing in 1988).  The retail prices are, unfortunately, slightly horrifying, at over $80 apiece, but worth it to diehard collectors who want the very best Ghibli BDs.

The cases continue Ghibli's cover design, with thick cardboard with magnet lock.  A small booklet is included which includes short notes and the Japanese movie posters.  The striking green looks wonderful; I really enjoy the rainbow style of these Blu-Ray covers, much nicer than the standard blue plastic casing.

Now to the screenshots/  Let's take a look and see how Totoro BD compares to its DVD cousin.  I think you'll be impressed by the results:

As you can see, My Neighbor Totoro looks stunning on BD.  It's a significant improvement on the DVD release.  After years of study, I don't think DVD was a very good medium for animation.  The digital artifacts, pixelation, over-use of edge enhancement, and MPEG-2 colors are all notable distractions.  All of these compromises are thankfully no longer necessary, as Blu-Ray delivers stunning clarity, detail and smoothness.  The painterly quality of the artwork shines as never before.  Now if I could only get my hands on the LaserDisc... :P

Much thanks to Hayao Miyazaki for insisting on the preservation of film grain for these movies.  I'm really not a fan of Disney's style of hyper-smooth digital look to their animated films on DVD and BD.  I know it's largely a matter of personal taste and differing goals (Disney aims to recapture the look of the animation cels, while Ghibli aims for the look of 35mm film), so I don't expect everyone to share my love of film grain.  I'm happily retro-tech these days.

In any case, My Neighbor Totoro on Blu-Ray looks stunning.  I'll leave more DVD/Blu-Ray comparisons below the fold:


Lupin III First Series - Cover and Features

Have a look at the cover for the upcoming Lupin III: The Complete First TV Series DVD box!  Click on the photo to see the full size.

This really looks fantastic, and I'm not just saying that because I contributed to the project.  Many wonderfully talented people came together to share their knowledge and love for Lupin III, and the result is, in my humble opinion, the best anime release of the year.  As many of you are aware, the anime retail market is taking a beating from digital distribution and streaming.  The future of physical media is uncertain (I personally believe rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated), but if we can offer a quality product, with stylish packaging and quality extras, for a fair price, customers will come.  This is my hope.

Here is the feature list for Lupin III: First Series:

Both Widescreen and 4:3 versions of the Lupin the Third Pilot Film

Liner notes for each episode, including newly translated credits, trivia, references, jokes, and other miscellaneous information.

Audio Commentaries on select episodes:
-- Episode 3 by Reed Nelson
-- Episode 4 by guest commentators Ryan Gilbert and Mike Lepore
-- Episode 10 by Reed Nelson
-- Episode 13 by guest commentators Ryan Gilbert and Mike Lepore
-- Episode 23 by Reed Nelson

Essays by Daniel Thomas MacInnes of The Ghibli Blog:
-- Trains and Scalps: a two-part essay discussing Yasuo Ohtsuka and Isao Takahata's background
-- The Big Note: An Introduction to Anime Riffs: Daniel explores his concept of anime "riffs," or self-referential callbacks
-- La Dolce Vita and Lupin at Abbey Road: An analysis of the intro sequence of The Castle of Cagliostro

Song Lyrics

Weapons of Lupin the Third (a list)

Vehicles of Lupin the Third (a list)

Credits for the Lupin the Third Pilot Film

A Filmography of Lupin the Third

Marcee and I are eagerly awaiting our copy to arrive in the mail (just in time for our June 23 wedding, crossing fingers).  We'll put it right next to the eggshell white Japanese Sega Saturn, our pixel-art wedding invitation booklet, and whatever presents we receive from the family.

Thanks once again to Reed Nelson ( for inviting me to join this memorable project.  It was a lot of hard work and a lot of fun, and I'm ready and available for any future projects.  Now everyone must do their part and pre-order the DVD set.  Support Discotek so we can continue to provide quality movies and anime series like Lupin III.

Amazon Pre-Order - Lupin III: The Complete First Series DVD


Lupin III: The Complete First Series DVD on June 26

Discotek's DVD box set of Lupin III: The Complete First Series is nearing completion, and will be released on June 26.  All 23 episodes of the original 1971-72 television series are included, in the original Japanese language, with new English subtitles.

I am very happy to report that The Ghibli Blog has contributed three essays to the Lupin III DVD.  I covered a number of topics, from the history of the series, the involvement of Yasuo Otsuka, Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, the connections to The Castle of Cagliostro, and the use of "riffs" in the series.  I worked my tail off, and sweated blood for many weeks to write these essays, and I hope you enjoy them.  Here are the titles to my Lupin essays:

La Dolce Vita and Lupin at Abbey Road
"The Big Note" - An Introduction to Anime Riffs
Trains and Scalps (pt 1: The Boy Who Loved to Draw Trains; pt 2: Pioneers Who Got Scalped)

I managed to make all the major points I was aiming for, hitting all the right notes in my crazy jazz solos.  I also managed to work in a few "riffs" of my own, to Devo and Drak Pack and Frank Zappa and Fellini.  If nothing else, these essays are fun to read, and I hope they spark discussions and debate among the fans.

In addition to my contributions, the Lupin DVD set will also include audio commentaries by several different anime pros.  I'm greatly looking forward to hearing what everyone has to share.

Reed Nelson from was the point-man on the extras for this project, and has done an excellent job.  Thanks to his dedication and passion, the upcoming Lupin set will be Discotek's best anime release yet.  He's also a very skilled writer and editor, and if I had any money, I'd hire him for The Ghibli Blog instantly.

Discotek is a very small, two-man operation.  They work tirelessly to bring you obscure and lesser-known Japanese films and anime that would otherwise not find a home on our shores.  As the retail anime business crumbles into ruin, Discotek continues to support the fans with such classics as Puss in Boots, Animal Treasure Island, Project A-Ko, Galaxy Express 999, Golgo 13, and Lupin III.  Show them your support, and buy your copy of Lupin III: The Complete First Series DVD.  It's an essential release for Studio Ghibli fans, anime and animation fans, and anyone who likes a good, rollicking adventure.

I'll be available for any promotional work, including interviews and podcasts.  I'm also available for children's parties, bar mitvahs, and lodge meetings.

Edit:  Someone pointed out to me that the phrase "fly-by-night" means something bad.  Ack!  News to me.  I only know the phrase from two things: the band Rush, and Disney's Talespin.  Man, that was a great cartoon...Talespin, Rescue Rangers, Ducktales...Heck, Ducktales on the NES was a great video game.  Sigh.  I'm really getting old, aren't I?


Cecile Corbel - Arrietty's Song

Cecile Corbel is the french musician who composed the music for Arrietty.  She sent a CD to Studio Ghibli in 2009, and they were so impressed that she was brought on board for their adaptation of Mary Norton's "The Borrowers."  Her wonderful celtic music is one of my favorite things about this film.

If you're wondering why this song is being sung in Japanese, well, welcome to America.  This is the song that plays during the closing credits in the Japanese version.  Instead of that quiet, peaceful coda, Disney decided to Rick-Roll the movie with an unnecessary narration, followed by a wretched, Auto-Tuned mess.  It's much more important to ruin another person's movie if it means advancing the careers of your fake plastic Barbie dolls, right?

And despite Disney's claims that this - to Rick-Roll Studio Ghibli - is what will make Arrietty a hit at the box office...The Secret World of Arrietty will finish with $20-25 million at the box office, only a little more than Ponyo.  The Lorax will blaze past that on its first show.  Mission: Failed.

On that happy note, enjoy Cecile Corbel, a real musician who sings and plays actual musical instruments - for real!  No special effects required at all!  Hard to believe in the age of American Idol and the Disney Channel, but such persons actually exist.  Imagine that.


2013 "Summer of Ghibli" - Takahata and Miyazaki's Final Bow?

Recently on his radio show, Toshio Suzuki hinted at an "incredible plan" for Studio Ghibli in the summer of 2013.  This "Summer of Ghibli" remains a mystery of yet, but Isao Takahata's long-awaited feature film ("The Story of the Bamboo Cutter") currently scheduled for release next summer.  In addition, Hayao Miyazaki's next feature (almost certainly based on his 2009 Kaze Tachinu comic) is also planned for a summer release.  Does this mean 2013 will see a double-feature release by Ghibli's founders?

Perhaps, perhaps not.  It's best not to speculate on these things, as Westerners are notoriously terrible at guessing Ghibli's intentions.  Every Ghibli movie of the last 15 years is heralded as "Miyazaki's retirement," for example.  But next summer will be a critical milestone for the studio, as it completes its "Five Year Plan."  This plan introduced the next generation of feature film directors, while Miyazaki prepares to move to a more background role.  Can Studio Ghibli survive in a post-Miyazaki era?  Would the public accept the new directors?  Fortunately, The Borrower Arrietty and From Up on Poppy Hill became hits, and Goro Miyazaki is already in the planning stages of his next film (a samurai period piece).

Although no official word has been made, it's entirely reasonable to me that "Bamboo Cutter" and "Kaze Tachinu" will be the final directorial feature films by Takahata (75) and Miyazaki (71).  Advancing age and the long production times necessary for feature animation almost requires it.  The time may be coming for Studio Ghibli's legendary founders to take the stage one final time.

Mind you, this is only my speculation at this point, so don't quote anything as the Written Gospel.  But I think this is where Ghibli is headed, and I wouldn't at all be surprised if Toshio Suzuki's plans involve this in some fashion.

Here is the translation from Suzuki-san's radio show, provided by T. Ishikawa and posted on GhibliWiki:

One of the guests asked Suzuki a question near the end of the radio show.

Guest: When is Takahata-san's film released?

Suzuki: Well, Miyazaki... (narration is inserted on top of Suzuki's voice)

Narration: Sorry, we cannot yet broadcast this talk, but, actually Suzuki-san seems to have an incredible plan which is not swept irresistibly by the current of the times.

Guests: Wooooow! (Guests are astonished by Suzuki's plan)

Suzuki: I'm so sorry, but we make all of next summer into Studio Ghibli.

(Laughter and the applause by guests)

Narration: Probably, Calcifer's flame begins to blaze like a brick from now on.

Dracula Burger - Hippos

Yeah, I'm bringing Drac back.  Why?  Because I can.  And also because I need to pad out my publishing so I look productive.  But mostly it's because these comics make me laugh.  Here's a quick single-panel comic that's destined to become a holiday classic.

(Shakes tip jar, cough)

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