Masaski Yuasa Returns to Feature Film: Night is Short, Walk On Girl

Masaaki Yuasa is, in my humble opinion, the most exciting talent in Japanese animation today. He first grabbed my attention with his wildly inventive (and decidedly Fellini-esque) 2004 anime film Mind Game. In the years since, he has worked relentlessly on television, including Kemonozume in 2006, Kaiba in 2008, The Tatami Galaxy in 2010, Kick-Heart in 2013, and Ping Pong in 2014. Now he has returned at last to feature animated movies, and I couldn't be happier.

Night is Short, Walk on Girl is a fantasy romance adapted from a 2006 novel by Tomihiko Morimi, who also wrote The Tatami Galaxy (a number of key staff from that series has also returned for this film). The teaser trailer demonstrates Yuasa's obsessions with pushing the limits of animation, with cartoon surrealism, and with romantic obsessions. I was definitely reminded of the setup behind Mind Game, where a frustrated young comics artist tried to woo a beautiful woman he's known for years.

As always, I expect the unexpected. I love the elasticity and freewheeling spirit Yuasa brings to his work. He continues to push anime into uncharted territory, exploding and exploiting pop culture cliches, unleashing the limitless possibilities of the cartoon form. He doesn't seem like the type who would be offended by the word "cartoon," as though it were a lesser expression to remind us of Tex Avery and Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones and the Fleischers. I love the cinematic seriousness of anime as much as anyone, but I wouldn't become Puritanical about it. Just look at The Castle of Cagliostro for a perfect illustration of pulp realism mashed perfectly into Road Runner routines.

Night is Short, Walk On Girl will be released in Japan on April 7, 2017. Let's hope a US distributor picks up this movie (I'm still waiting for Mind Game, which popped up on Netflix some months ago). GKIDS, I'm looking in your direction! Don't let us down!

And tell somebody to wake up Ben Ettinger. He's a huge Masaaki Yuasa fan, and he's been in hiding since last summer.

Fun Fact: According to Wikipedia, Yuasa worked as a key animator on Isao Takahata's 1999 Studio Ghibli classic My Neighbors the Yamadas. That's very impressive if true, but it also adds to the great talent to slip through Ghibli's fingers. If only Miyazaki could have held onto Yuasa and Mamoru Hosoda. Heck, open the door to the occasional collaboration with Hideaki Anno and Mamoru Oshii. Then add in the studio's home-grown talent like Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Goro Miyazaki, Yoshiyuki Momose and Osamu Tanabe. Imagine that possible future!

Much thanks to Cartoon Brew for breaking the story. Great job as always, everyone!


Poster: Mary and the Witch's Flower

Here are the first movie posters to Hiromasa Yonebayashi's upcoming feature film, Mary and the Witch's Flower. Its design is pure Ghibli, which is no doubt the filmmakers' intention. They seek to continue the legacy of the world's greatest animation studio, to continue the rich legacy of Miyazaki and Takahata into the new century. And I'm sure there will be many surprises along the way. I can't wait!

Much thanks to Buta Connection for the poster photos.

The Son of Ghibli: Hiromasa Yonebayashi's "Mary and the Witch's Flower"

Today marks a major announcement from Japan. Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the Studio Ghibli director behind Arrietty the Borrower and When Marnie Was There, has announced his third feature film. It is titled "Mary and the Witch's Flower," and is an adaptation of Mary Stewart's book The Little Broomstick. Two trailers have been posted online, one for Japan, which promises a Summer 2017 release date; the second for the West, which promises an unspecified 2017 release.

And now for the bombshell news: Mary and the Witch's Flower will not be created by Studio Ghibli. Instead, Studio Ponoc will have the honor. This is a new animation studio founded in 2015 by former Ghibli producer (and Toshio Suzuki successor) Yoshiaki Nishimura. Several Ghibli alumni, including Yoshiyuki Momose, who directed several Ghibli short films, including Ghiblies Episode 2 and the Capsule music video trilogy (seen on the 2005 DVD Ghibli Ga Ippai Special: Short Short). Yonebashi has now joined their ranks.

Nishimura previously served as the producer on Isao Takahata's The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, which earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature (and clearly deserved to win, ahem). That trial by fire will no doubt serve him well with his new studio. Having a number of key Ghibli animators at the helm will also prove extremely helpful, not only for the shared filmmaking experience, but also in appealing to the movie-going public. Studio Ponoc will position themselves as the "Son of Ghibli," in hopes of winning over all those Hayao Miyazaki fans.

This teaser trailer looks absolutely spectacular, as vivid and lush and imaginative as any of the Studio Ghibli classics. This movie appears to be like a mash-up of Kiki's Delivery Service and Spirited Away, which could be an excellent combination. The animation and art design look sumptuous, wildly colorful. Yonebayashi has grown by leaps and bounds as a filmmaker. He promises that this feature will be very different from Marnie, which is the smart move. It's best not to become pigeonholed into one style.

I must admit, I was quietly hoping that Yonebayashi would return to Studio Ghibli for his next feature film, and the studio would hire its production staff on a contract basis, just as they had done in their early years. This will not be happening, unfortunately, but the artists and their craft will continue. Thank God this movie is being created in hand-drawn animation, and not CG! Given the enormous costs now involved in traditional animation, as well as its limited global appeal compared to 3D computers, this is a very bold move, and a welcome one. Let us hope for its success.

A few questions now emerge. One, what involvement does Studio Ghibli have in this production? Are they providing any financial assistance, or taking on a producer's role ala The Red Turtle? Will Suzuki or Miyazaki provide personal support to Nishimura and Yonebayashi?

And the final, most haunting question to ask: what will become of Studio Ghibli? It now appears unlikely that unless Miyazaki or Takahata return with a new feature film, the studio's days of feature animated movies have ended. There may be new short films created for the Ghibli Museum, and there may be more productions like The Red Turtle, but we should not expect anything else. The studio is now evolving into that of a holding company, a protector of legacies past. The final wild card, as always, is Goro Miyazaki. Nobody knows what he is planning, or if he even wants to continue making anime films. He could continue his father's legacy, move to another studio, or even return to landscape architecture. Anything could happen.

It's hard to face hard truths, but The Wind Rises and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya were farewell albums, just like Abbey Road. It now appears that The Beatles have truly disbanded. A reunion is not likely to happen. But we can look forward to the coming solo albums, which will plant the seeds for future greatness, a new Miyazaki, a new Takahata.

Thanks to Genercion Ghibli and Anime News Network for breaking the news.


Poster - Ocean Waves (Umi ga Kikoeru)

Here is the newly-released movie poster for GKIDS' theatrical release of Studio Ghibli's 1993 film, Ocean Waves (Umi ga Kikoeru). Looks great, very restrained and tasteful and clean. I do hope we will be able to purchase one of these. When is Ghibli going to start selling their movie posters? I always ask this question. One of these days, it's going to happen, trust me.

A big thanks to GKIDS for their support of Studio Ghibli, as always. Next item on the menu: the Studio Ghibli short films, including Hayao Miyazaki's On Your Mark and Yoshiyuki Momose's Ghiblies Episode 2. Stay tuned.

Umi ga Kikoeru (Ocean Waves) Coming to US Theaters

It has taken many years of begging and pleading, and now it has finally paid off: Studio Ghibli's 1993 TV movie Umi Ga Kikoeru (I Can Hear the Sea) is coming to North American theaters! With this release, all of the Studio Ghibli feature films will have been released on our shores.

GKIDS, who hold the theatrical distribution rights to the Ghibli film catalog (in addition to several home video releases), will release the film under its "Western" title, Ocean Waves, on December 28 at the IFC Center in New York City. An expanded theatrical release will then commence in January and continue through March. Cities and dates will continue to be added in the coming weeks, so stay tuned to find out if Ocean Waves is coming to a city near you.

Umi ga Kikoeru/Ocean Waves was a project for Ghibli's younger animators, and the first time Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata was not directly involved in a studio production. It is a romance melodrama involving several young adults who join together for their high school reunion, which sparks memories of old friendships, rivalries and romances. It fits squarely within Ghibli's "neo-realist" style, akin to Grave of the Fireflies and Omohide Poro Poro. This is a style of animation that Japan excels at, and is virtually nonexistent in the West. I would hope this movie helps to inspire artists and filmmakers to create new films in this style.

I'm a great fan of Umi/Ocean. It's a quiet story, understated and subtle and emotionally honest. The art design is restrained and natural, yet full of small details of modern Japanese life. And the final scene makes a dramatic homage to Yasujiro Ozu that never fails to amaze and inspire. I bought the Japanese DVD a decade ago, which also features a 40-minute documentary with the filmmakers, which I do hope will appear on the inevitable GKIDS release, which should arrive sometime next year.

Looking at the official website, I do not see any mention of an English-language dub, nor have I heard anything about any American voice actors cast for the film. We must assume that this movie will be presented only in its original Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles. This is probably for the best; this is a Japanese movie that doesn't try to sell itself to Americans. Hearing a cast of California actors would just be too jarring (this was an issue I had with GKIDS' dub soundtrack for Omohide Poro Poro). The Ghibli Freaks will buy movie tickets and will probably prefer the original film untouched. The mainstream public will not be interested in an animated youth drama. They'll be much happier watching Finding Dory again.

That's fine. Not everything has to become wildly popular or hugely successful. The most interesting things in life always lie off the beaten path. You have to search out and discover the true hidden gems. Umi ga Kikoeru is a true hidden gem. You should seek it out and treasure it always.


Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind: The Graphic Novel

Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind will always stand as Hayao Miyazaki's magnum opus, a true masterpiece of epic storytelling, thrilling action and brilliant art design. As the holiday season is upon us, this is the perfect time to purchase a copy of this graphic novel.  Fortunately, Viz Media offers two excellent versions: a deluxe box set containing all seven volumes in two large books, bound together in a hardcover case; and the individual seven volumes available separately.

Many years ago, Nausicaa was first released in the United States in a four-book series. That was the version I first purchased, and it's now long out-of-print, making it a prized collector's item. The newer versions, however, are superior in every respect, from page side to quality of translation. Die-hard Miyazaki fans, of course, will want to collect literally everything. They should begin here with these two different presentations.

The only improvement I would offer for any future release of Nausicaa would be to include Miyazaki's original publishing schedule for the monthly serial. It helps a lot to know just where he took his many breaks, usually to work on his feature animated films. These long breaks, ranging anywhere from one to three years, allowed Miyazaki to return with fresh insights and new ideas, resulting in a constant evolution of the story and its characters.

Many Miyazaki fans and Ghibli Freaks have yet to discover the man's many works in manga comics. If you've never read them, you're missing out on a third of his career, just as if you've never discovered the many pre-Ghibli films and television series. If you are among them, you owe it to yourself to have the Nausicaa books in your library. Ask Santa or Hannukah Harry to leave a set under your tree this year.

Visit Ghibli Blog on Twitter and Facebook

As Ghibli Blog passed its tenth anniversary this year, we* have been doubling our efforts to grow our brand on Twitter and Facebook. Both "franchises" feature unique content, as I scour the internets for Studio Ghibli swag, merchandise, news clips, and the occasional piece of fan art.

My goal for Ghibli Blog has always been to foster discussions and examinations of these great animated movies, and the longer articles will continue to appear on the main website. For shorter snippets and quick bites of Ghibli goodness, we post on Twitter and Facebook.

As we are planning our expansion into DT Media, our social media sites also cover movies, music and videogames. But I am always very mindful to keep Studio Ghibli in the center spotlight, so I don't want anyone worrying about a lack of focus. And this main Ghibli Blog website will always remain focused solely on "Ghibli, Animation and The Movies."

As always, our Twitter feed is available here on the main website in the middle column. Please join our social media community at Twitter and Facebook. We're very glad to have your support.

(*"We," of course, refers to myself and wife Marcee, who manages our Facebook page.)

Ghibli Blog on Feedspot's Top 100 Animation Blogs

Recently, RSS feed website Feedspot was kind enough to award Ghibli Blog as one of the "Top 100 Animation Blogs" on the internet. We're very honored and thankful for the recognition.

I promised Feedspot founder Anuj Agarwal to acknowledge with a shout-out not only on Ghibli Blog Twitter and Ghibli Blog Facebook, but also on the main website. And, hey, they even gave us a shiny medal. How cool is that?

Thank you very much for the appreciation, and, as always, much thanks to everyone who supports Ghibli Blog in all our franchise locations. We work hard every day to inform and entertain Ghibli Freaks everywhere.

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