Photos - The Story of the Yanagawa Canals


The Story of the Yanagawa Canals is the 1987 live-action documentary directed by Isao Takahata and produced by Hayao Miyazaki (the first project under his production company, Nibariki). It aired on Japan's NHK network and has appeared on VHS, LaserDisc, DVD and Blu-Ray, the latter as part of the excellent Isao Takahata Blu-Ray Box package. This is a lesser known work in the directors' canon, but no less brilliant or compelling.

Yanagawa features a number of short animation clips, describing details of the vast and complex system of waterways, sluices, gates and canals that developed and evolved over centuries. Some segments show moments of daily farming life, and there are even a couple comical bits like frogs swimming about. All of these were animated at Studio Ghibli, although the studio wasn't technically credited for the production, which began in 1984.

Earlier this year, Toshio Suzuki revealed a fascinating story about the early days of Studio Ghibli. After the box office success of Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Hayao Miyazaki's fortunes (which suffered through the difficult years of 1977-83) dramatically turned around, and he found himself with real money for the first time in his career. Suzuki suggested that Miyazaki-san serve as producer of Takahata's Yanagawa documentary project, and so Nibariki was founded.

Unfortunately, as nearly always happens, Paku-san found himself behind schedule and over budget. Miyazaki became exasperated as his money steadily drained away. In a panic, he turned to Suzuki-san, who offered some sly advice: Why not direct another feature film? With the financial backing of publisher Tokuma Shoten (the publishers of Animage Magazine, of which Suzuki was in charge), the decision was made to found a new animation studio.

Hayao Miyazaki would dub this new home Studio Ghibli, based on the Italian word for a hot wind. He, Takahata and Suzuki would be its founding fathers. Miyazaki set to work on Ghibli's inaugural movie, Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Paku-san would serve as producer, as he did on Nausicaa. Suzuki would serve as the Svengali, the power behind the throne. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Story of the Yanagawa Canals was finally completed in 1987, after a very long three-year production schedule. Miyazaki finally hit the brakes and cut off Paku-san's budget. "That's it! End of story! Go to bed!"

These screenshots come courtesy of Generacion Ghibli, everyone's favorite Studio Ghibli website from Spain. Be sure to visit them and follow them on Twitter. And don't forget to purchase the new book, Antes De Mi Vecino Miyazaki.


When Marnie Was There Deluxe Edition Blu-Ray/DVD (UK)

On October 3, UK animation publisher StudioCanal released a new deluxe edition Blu-Ray/DVD package for Studio Ghibli's latest studio feature, When Marnie Was There. This new version features a slipcase cover, an impressive foldout case to hold the discs, and a set of five full-color postcards from the movie.

StudioCanal has always delivered impressive home videos of the Ghibli catalog, and this latest release will be embraced by fans. There appears to be some glitches with the initial print run, but I would expect these to be resolved.

The future of Studio Ghibli remains mysterious and murky. It remains unlikely that Hayao Miyazaki will return for another feature film, as Toshio Suzuki remains squarely against the idea. Isao Takahata has spoken of at least one film project which could materialize into a fully fledged production, but his famously long preparation times (to say nothing of securing financing) make this questionable.

Fortunately, there is still good news to report. Hayao Miyazaki is working on his newest CGI short film, and the US localization for Goro Miyazaki's Ronja the Robber's Daughter has recently wrapped up. The Red Turtle debuted at Cannes to great acclaim and will soon arrive in theaters around the world, and may pave the way for similar projects in the future. And the studio continues to work hard on their catalog titles and merchandising around the world.

The most important announcement will be Hiromasa Yonebayashi's next feature film, which he is busily writing and preparing. He has a long and fruitful relationship with Ghibli, and if their finances are secure (traditional Japanese animation has become ruinously expensive), I would fully expect the successor to Marnie to be produced at Ghibli. At least, that's my own personal wish.

In any case, this new Marnie release is very impressive and always welcome. This is a great movie that deserves to find an audience. If you're getting tired of the formulaic animated movies coming from Hollywood (especially studios not named Disney/Pixar), then you need to give Yonebayashi's coming-of-age ghost story a chance.


Update Roundup: Social Media, DT Media, New Books Coming Soon

I wanted to pass along a few quick notes to everyone who visits Ghibli Blog. Activity on this main site has been quiet for much of this year, but I am working to change that and publish on a more or less regular schedule.

In addition to this site, Ghibli Blog Twitter is very active, with new content available every day. I have been working hard to build our community, with over 1,060 followers. We (meaning Marcee and myself) are also working hard to build up our Ghibli Blog Facebook page.  Content from the Twitter page will also be posted here, in addition to any special messages we wish to send out to our readers.

Most importantly, we have been working hard to create a new indie publishing company, DT Media. Three new books will be published, all written by me (and this is why I've been so busy this year). We will make formal announcements when everything is ready (translation: once we've saved up the money for the books and website). Our Twitter and FB pages will shift to reflect this, combining DT Media and Ghibli Blog.

The first book, Zen Arcade, is a collection of 140 classic videogame reviews for NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, NEC Turbografx-16 and SNK Neo-Geo. The titles have all been released on Nintendo's Virtual Console and all the major digital platforms such as Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network, Steam, iOS and Android. This book will be an essential and entertaining resource for all fans and collectors of retro video games.

The second book, Pop Life, is a collection of reviews and essays collected from Ghibli Blog, as well as my other online sites, Daniel Thomas Vol. 4 and Readers will find reviews and essays on movies, animation, music, home audio, videogames, politics and daily life. Many new essays have also been written and the older material has been edited and revised to stay up-to-date. This book is a grand celebration of popular culture and life, and is full of keen insights, smart humor and biting satire. If you're a fan of Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael and Hunter S. Thompson, you'll love this book.

The third book, Greatest Hits, is an anthology of essays taken from four books: Zen Arcade and Pop Life, mentioned previously, as well as two new books which are still in production, Videogame Classics and Masters of Reality. This digital edition (e-book) of this book will be available for FREE to everyone who subscribes to our mailing list. I like to think of this as a welcome to our fans and readers, our way of saying thanks. It is also an opportunity to show you just what we are planning in the future, and share those stories with you now.

Videogame Classics features review essays on the greatest videogames ever made, from the earliest days of Atari to the current hits. We are working hard to dig deep and share with you many beloved classics that may have fallen through the cracks of time, or may have been forgotten. For all lovers of video games, this volume will be a touchstone and reference for the vast history of this great medium.

Finally, Masters of Reality is the Studio Ghibli project that I have been promising for ages. It is a very ambitious project, and is still in the early stages of production. Our goal is to present reviews and essays on the great works of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, careers spanning across five decades. We will discuss television, film, comics, books, and more, with writing that is insightful and inspiring. There may be more than one book in the series, but that has yet to be determined. For Greatest Hits, I have assembled a large number of essays for your enjoyment.

All of our books will be available on e-book and paperback. The complete details will be announced soon. We still need to assemble the books (cover and formatting), build the website, and begin growing the mailing list. And I will continue to work on providing content here on Ghibli Blog as best I can.

Anyway, that's the roundup. Please join our community at Twitter and Facebook, if you have not yet done so. As always, thanks to your continuing support of this website and all that I do.

P.S. One last thing. In September, I was involved on an upcoming Blu-Ray movie project. I shouldn't make any public announcements yet, but you're going to love it. Let's just say that an all-new audio commentary track is involved. Stay tuned.

Poster: Miss Hokusai

Poster: Miss Hokusai

Miss Hokusai, the latest anime masterwork by esteemed veteran director Keiichi Hara (Doraemon, Crayon Shin-Chan, Colorful) and animation studio Production I.G. (Ghost in the Shell), is currently enjoying a theatrical run across the US, courtesy of GKids Films.

This movie tells the story of O-Ei, a fiercely independent-minded artist who creates portraits under the name of her famous father, the Japanese painter Hokusai. This family melodrama promises comparisons to the great films of Yasujiro Ozu, as well as the emotional dramas of our favorite director, Isao Takahata. The art and visual design looks fantastic, filled with the many details, great and small, that make anime so uniquely inspired.

This film will open in Minneapolis next week, October 28. Marcee and I are planning to see it and expect to have a terrific time. I'm greatly looking forward to this movie, and strongly urge all anime fans and Ghibli Freaks to attend if it is playing in your city. Let's show our support for hand-drawn animation!

Ronja the Robber's Daughter Coming to Amazon Prime

Ronja the Robber's Daughter will be coming soon to online streaming service Amazon Prime. Studio Ghibli made the announcement via their Twitter page, as recording wraps up for the 26-episode TV series.

Ronja was directed by Goro Miyazaki and jointly produced by Studio Ghibli and Polygon Pictures (Transformers Prime). The art design combines traditional hand-painted 2D backgrounds with 3D CG characters. It's a fascinating combination of old and new, and even if it lacks the lush animation of classics like Heidi, Girl of the Alps (which is clearly a major influence upon this series), I am greatly impressed at what the younger Miyazaki and his teams have created. This is a series that is worth watching, and may point to the future of Japanese animation in the CG-era.

A release date for Ronja has yet to be announced, but it is widely believed to happen before the end of this year. Likewise, a Blu-Ray and DVD release is also widely expected sometime next year, but is yet to be announced.


My Neighbor Totoro Lunchbox Cooler

This is cute. It's a My Neighbor Totoro lunchbox cooler, available here in the States at Hot Topic for $12.99. Marcee uses a small cooler similar to this, and it does a very good job of carrying your food on the go.

I posted a photo of this earlier on the Ghibli Blog Twitter page, and I wanted to share it again here on the main website.

Antes De Mi Vicino Miyazaki

This June 7, a new Studio Ghibli book was published in Spain by the authors of Mi Vecino Miyazaki. This prequel volume, titled "Antes De Mi Vecino Miyazaki," covers the early careers of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, and their works from the 1960s and 1970s. Authors Alvaro Lopez Martin and Marta Garcia Villar have assembled a terrific book that is an absolute must for all Ghibli Freaks.

Martin and Villar are the brains behind Generacion Ghibli, the terrific Studio Ghibli website in Spain. They have been big supporters of Ghibli Blog for a long time, and I am always happy to return the favor. I contributed a paragraph to their first book, and for the second, I was asked to write the introduction. I was thrilled to work with such fine people and help share the love of these great animated works, and assembled a lengthy essay detailing the first half of the Takahata/Miyazaki canon.

At present, Antes De Mi Vecino Miyazaki is available only in Spain, and the book is written exclusively in Spanish. I understand that the publisher is interested in an American release in English. That would require a bit of work, but is certainly an achievable goal. I would love to see Viz Media pick up the US distribution rights. Heck, I'd love to pick up the book for my upcoming publishing label. Unfortunately, copyrights issues are more strict in the States than the EU, where these images fall within the boundaries of Public Domain.

Please don't let the language barrier discourage you. This book is packed with full color pictures from such classics as Horus, Prince of the Sun, Lupin the 3rd, Heidi, Girl of the Alps, 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, and Anne of Green Gables. The cover and layout designs are terrific, very professional in every respect.

Every Ghibli Freak owes it to themselves to add their book to their collections. It raises the standard for the rest of us, no question about that. I know that I will have to work twice as hard with my own (ongoing) Ghibli book project. You can order your copy from the Amazon link above. Pick up your copy today!

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