Totoro is Still Not the "God of Death"

My Neighbor Totoro (not a "god of death")

It's embarrassing that we even have to discuss this matter ten years after already debunking it, but some conspiracy theories just won't go away. I'm talking about the idea that My Neighbor Totoro is actually based on a grisly murder known as the Sayama Incident in 1963 Japan, and that the friendly Totoro is actually a gruesome "God of Death" who functions like a fuzzy Grim Reaper who carries children to their graves.

The whole idea is patently rediculous and is based on mis-translations and over-reading minor details in the movie (such as the disappearance of shadows under Satsuki and Mei near the end). The gossip grew so loud that Studio Ghibli was forced to issue a public statement denying the conspiracy theory. No doubt this resulted in Hayao Miyazaki hitting his head against his desk, grumbling loudly at the gullibility of people. What sort of monster do you think he is, anyway, imagining that he smuggles horrible themes into his family pictures? What sort of sadist would do such a thing?

Why do such conspiracies persist? Many people today seem to look at movies as secret jigsaw puzzles, where hidden messages and themes are revealed only to those who piece together the arcane clues. Consider the endless speculation over Stanley Kubrick's The Shining as one key example. Depending on who's telling the tale, that movie is either about the Apollo 11 moon landing, the Holocaust, the Native American genocide, the Federal Reserve, the Illuminati, or any combination of the above. It's never enough to enjoy a movie on its own terms. Everything has to be a plot.

There is also this tendency to ruin anything that is innocent and pure. It's very fashionable to tear down one's childhood heroes, to make everything sinister and twisted and dark. It's sometimes funny for a cheap laugh, and goodness knows Family Guy has made a thousand gags mining that vein. For an immature "Peter Pan" generation, tearing down one's childhood idols can stand as a badge of maturity. "Look at how hip and clever I am," says the unemployed 30-year-old who still lives with his parents.

Much of this also stems from a greater ignorance of film history and theory. Many people don't know how to read a movie, or translate its visual language. They may have never seen any movies made before they were born, or almost certainly anything made before Star Wars. They know little of silent film, or Film Noir, Italian Neorealism, French New Wave, or any major periods. They search for patters that do not exist, find messages in continuity errors, and imagine vast plots out of misunderstood visual cues or lines of dialog. Movies are not jigsaw puzzles.

When I was a child, I was told that "Hotel California" was a song about how The Eagles became members of the Church of Satan, and that the hotel in question was a haunted house. None of this was even remotely true, but why let facts get in the way of things?

So, kids, let's take this from the top once again. Totoro is not a "God of Death." Spirited Away isn't about child prostitution. Toy Story 3 is not about the Holocaust. The Smurfs are not Nazis, Communists or Satanists. The Care Bears are not gay voodoo devil worshippers. Garfield is not hallucinating. Charlie Brown is not dying from cancer. Kubrick didn't fake the moon landing. There are no backwards-masked Satanic messages. Vaccines don't cause autism. Global Warming is real. The Earth is round.

It's like the 1980s never ended. I need an Advil.

Here's a recent YouTube video I found that discusses the Totoro "God of Death" conspiracy theory. It pretty much recites from the script, so if you haven't heard about this before, well, enjoy.

Mary and the Witch's Flower: Early US/UK Reviews

Mary and the Witch's Flower

Although it won't arrive in US theaters until late this year, Mary and the Witch's Flower has received a couple of early reviews from online critics. Tasha Robinson at The Verge praises the movie highly, saying that it "feels like a complete continuation of [Studio Ghibli's] work. It is a welcome relief for every animation fan who thought that particular era of Japanese animation had, after 30 years, quietly come to a close."

Across the pond, Germain Lossier at Gizmodo UK promises Mary is "destined to become one of your favorite animated films. He continues: "The movie may look bold and weird, but Mary's story is such a sprawling adventure, the juxtaposition of the two keeps the whole movie fresh. Just when you think it's going one way, it goes another, and that only adds to the whimsical feeling that pervades throughout the movie."

American animation distributor GKIDS has secured the US distribution rights, and will give the movie a limited theatrical release in time for Oscar season at the end of the year. Similar releases in the UK and other territories are also expected in the coming months.


Artist Spotlight: Mononoke Hime by Michael Tunk

Mononoke Hime by Michael Tunk

This absolutely fantastic collage piece titled "Mononoke Hime" was created by California-based artist Michael Tunk. His paintings employ classical surrealism with a pop art sensibility that is also reminiscent of underground punk zine culture.

According to his website bio, "Michael Tunk takes photographs and magazines from the 1800's-1980's and re-contextualizes them into something beautiful. He takes refused detritus and spins a yarn of gold. He takes the weight from a hoarders home and fixes it into aesthetic candy. His pieces are never photoshopped, he uses only Xacto blades and what’s left of the bones in his wrists."

I enjoy the way this collage invokes a sense of mystery about this world, and a slight sense of dread as well. We are not walking into another one of Walt Disney's enchanted forests, but a strange and mysterious land where discovery and danger lie around every turn. Everything is wildly colorful, more than a little psychedelic, invoking all its dreamlike implications. Dali and Warhol would be proud.

Please visit Tunk's website to see samples of his work, and send him a note with your thanks.

Film School Rejects Ranks the Studio Ghibli Movies

In 2015, pop culture website Film School Rejects devoted a long article to the feature films of Studio Ghibli, ranking all of the titles from Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (1984) to When Marnie Was There (2014).

Here are their rankings in numerical order:

22. Tales From Earthsea (2006, Goro Miyazaki)
21. Umi ga Kikoeru (Ocean Waves) (1993, Tomomoi Mochizuki)
20. The Secret World of Arrietty (2010, Hiromasa Yonebayashi)
19. When Marnie Was There (2014, Hiromasa Yonebayashi)
18. Howl's Moving Castle (2004, Hayao Miyazaki)
17. From Up on Poppy Hill (2011, Goto Miyazaki)
16. Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea (2008, Hayao Miyazaki)
15. Grave of the Fireflies (1988, Isao Takahata)
14. The Wind Rises (2013, Hayao Miyazaki)
13. Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (1984, Hayao Miyazaki)
12. The Cat Returns the Favor (2002, Hiroyuki Morita)
11. My Neighbors the Yamada (1999, Isao Takahata)
10. Spirited Away (2001, Hayao Miyazaki)
09. Omohide Poro Poro (Only Yesterday) (1991, Isao Takahata)
08. Porco Rosso (1992, Hayao Miyazaki)
07. Pom Poko (1994, Isao Takahata)
06. Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986, Hayao Miyazaki)
05. My Neighbor Totoro (1988, Hayao Miyazaki)
04. Kiki's Delivery Service (1989, Hayao Miyazaki)
03. Mimi wo Sumaseba (Whisper of the Heart) (1995, Yoshifumi Kondo)
02. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013, Isao Takahata)
01. Princess Mononoke (1997, Hayao Miyazaki)

Overall, I am fairly impressed with this list. As I've stated in the past, most "best-of" Studio Ghibli polls tend to revolve exclusively around Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, usually ignoring every movie not directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Film School Rejects does a very good job balancing the studio library, recognizing the works of Isao Takahata, as well as other directors such as Hiroyuki Morita, Yoshifumi Kondo and Hiromasa Yonebayashi.

As always, we have our differences, maybe this movie should be higher, maybe that movie should be lower. Overall, however, I am impressed. This is much better than Anime News Network's recent article, in which the editorial staff openly confessed to never having seen most Ghibli films.

My own personal Ghibli list? Well, I'm the publisher of Ghibli Blog, so I'll cop out and say I like everything. Omohide Poro Poro and Mimi wo Sumaseba are my favorites. Tales From Earths and The Cat Returns are my least favorites. Everything else is just one massive clump, all terrific, all brilliant.


Photos: Laputa: Castle in the Sky

Obviously, since today is Pirate Day, we can't forget Dora and her clan of bumbling air pirates, can we? Here are some new screenshots from the always-excellent Blu-Ray release.

Castle in the Sky is one of those movies one can easily take for granted. As a swashbuckling action-adventure, it is virtually flawless. The action set pieces are masterfully designed and executed. The comedy bits are masterfully timed. The classic Hollywood romance is endlessly endearing. There's really nothing to compare to Miyazaki's 1986 classic, except for Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade.

Fascinating that after all these years, I still think of this movie as "Spielberg movie." Maybe it's just me.

Animal Treasure Island: International Pirate Day

Today is International Pirate Day (or, to be more specific, International Talk Like a Pirate Day), which means it's time to pull out our favorite pirate-themed anime film featuring Hayao Miyazaki...Animal Treasure Island!

The Discotek DVD has been out-of-print for several years, but copies are still widely available online. When I last checked this morning, I found several sellers on Ebay. The Japanese LaserDisc release is still available, so if you're a diehard fan, you're really in luck.

I've always had great affection for this movie. Its blend of classic cartoon slapstick and heroic adventure never grows old. Perhaps it's because Japanese animation steered away from this very Western style of cartoons that flourished so widely in the 1960s. Anime in the 1970s and 1980s would  embrace pulp violence, sci-fi soap operas with giant robots, or Neorealist literary adaptations.

The centerpiece of the movie, as always, is the fantastic pirate battle that was conceived and animated entirely by Hayao Miyazaki. It's one of the all-time great cartoon comedy bits, with endless waves of pig pirates, thrilling escapades from tall heights, and lots of little sight gags in the corners of the frame.

The heroine Cathy is a direct descendent to Nausicaa, the pirate Captain is a direct descendent to Porco Rosso, and the movie's climax, where a treasure ship is revealed underneath a lake, is a direct descendent to The Castle of Cagliostro. Miyazaki's creative fingerprints are all over this movie, even with the presence of beloved Toei Doga veterans like Yoichi Kotabe, Reiko Okuyama and Yasuji Mori.

Released in 1971, Animal Treasure Island failed to become a success at the Japanese box office, which is just baffling when you consider that its previous movie, the 1969 Puss in Boots, was a grand success. Perhaps kids were just turning away to watch cartoons on TV. Perhaps the weather was just lousy that summer. Who knows? In any case, this movie remains criminally underrated and deserves to be widely known. Here is an anime film that Disney could use! Where's Pixar when ya need 'em?

Oh, well. Get Animal Treasure Island by any means necessary. It's well worth the effort.


Artist Spotlight: Spirited Away by Holly C Brown

Spirited Away

Today's artist spotlight is a terrific Spirited Away illustration, drawn in the style of woodcut carvings. We find highlights from many of our favorite scenes and characters from the movie.

This is very fresh and inventive. I enjoy the comic book designs and the flow of the motions on the page. I'd like to see more of the Studio Ghibli films included as part of a series.

You can find more artwork on the artist's website.

Future Boy Conan in 1990 Animage Article

Here's another excellent find from the archives: an extensive eight-page Future Boy Conan article from Animage magazine's July 1990 issue. Hayao Miyazaki drew the cover illustration and delivered a short interview.

This is a terrific article, filled with color and b/w artwork from the series. A short overview of Miyazaki's career is included at the start. By 1990, he is already a familiar name among anime fans, thanks to Studio Ghibli's hit movies. Conan, however, was not a ratings hit when it aired in 1978, and maintained cult status. Much like Horus, Prince of the Sun, its stature would grow over time.

The remaining five pages appear below the break. Note the photo of a pre-beard Miyazaki; he would have been 49 years old at the time of this article, already a veteran of three decades, yet his greatest successes still lie ahead.

1995 Animage Interview with Hayao Miyazaki and Yoshifumi Kondo

In their September 1995 issue, Japan's Animage magazine featured an article on Studio Ghibli's then-newest picture, Mimi wo Sumaseba (Whisper of the Heart), which was released to theaters the previous July. Two lengthy interviews with director Yoshifumi Kondo and producer (and screenwriter) Hayao Miyazaki follow.

As we all are aware, Animage was published by Tokuma Shoten, who were also the financiers of Studio Ghibli in those days. The magazine was always present to provide free coverage of all things Ghibli, and build hype for their animated feature films. You don't really read these articles and reviews for any serious movie criticism, but to enjoy the inside coverage of your favorite movies. It's not unlike Nintendo Power in that regard.

If there are any translators who would like to transcribe these interviews, feel free to go ahead. Any help is greatly appreciated.

Thanks to Anim'Archive for the vintage magazine scans.


Animage Article on Horus, Prince of the Sun

In July of 1978, Animage magazine published an article celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Great Adventures of Horus, Prince of the Sun. The film had achieved cult legend status by that time, as the careers of Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki and the legendary Toei Doga crew unleashed a decade's worth of anime classics of film and television.

This article features a number of production drawings, several published books you can still find online with a little effort. One item of interest are the official lobby cards on the second and third pages. Most of these are today found scattered around the internet, and Toei has provided a number of illustrations for use in various home video releases. We have never seen the complete set, however.

Toei really ought to release a complete set of Horus lobby cards. We could either sell them separately or as part of a deluxe Blu-Ray package. I remain confident that with enough brand building, Horus could build an audience. It's a fantastic movie with great characters and a rich universe worth exploring.

Thanks to Anim'Archive for these magazine scans.

Photos: Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea

I haven't posted anything about Ponyo in a very long time, so we're long overdue to revisit this great movie. I absolutely loved this movie when it was released in American theaters, saw it three times and had a blast each and every time. It's a wonderfully lush and loving tribute to hand-drawn animation, a defiant middle finger to the age of computer-graphics animation. Every frame bursts with color and wonder, like a great children's book brought to life.

This is probably my favorite Hayao Miyazaki movie post-Spirited Away, and it's probably the most visually dazzling and inspiring. Ponyo is an artist's movie, an animator's movie. It celebrates the craft itself. You can practically smell the pencils and watercolor paints.

When you think about how much money mainstream dreck like The Emoji Movie or The Angry Birds Movie earns at the box office, and then reflect on the fact that Ponyo barely struggled to make $15 million, even with the full backing of the Disney empire...ugh. The mind reels.

Once again, to quote John Lennon: "War is over...if you want it." Stop wasting good money on cartoon poop emojis. Spend that money on Ponyo.

Artist Spotlight: Kiki and Ursula by Madi Hodges

Today's artist spotlight is an amazingly talented artist and animator at Wild Canary Animation named Madi Hodges. I really love the bold colors in the trees and the cabin. Kiki and Ursula are both cheerful with their bird friends, and brushwork shows a great variety throughout the frame. You can tell an animation professional created this piece. Terrific!

You can follow Madi Hodges' Pinterest page for more examples of her excellent work. Ask her to create more Ghibli paintings!

Jarinko Chie 1981 Magazine Scans

Here is a terrific find: a highly detailed Japanese magazine article on Isao Takahata's then-new movie, Jarinko Chie. This comes from the May, 1981 issue of My Anime magazine. We have some excellent layouts (you have no idea how difficult that was to achieve before desktop computers were invented), a quick rundown of the main characters, and a brief interview with director Takahata and his animation director, the ever-reliable Yasuo Otsuka (Yoichi Kotabe was also brought on board as co-animation director, creating Chie and her mother).

One special note of interest is the voice cast, who were members of a famous comedy troupe, much like Second City, SCTV or SNL. All of the dialog was recorded before animation began, which is a rare thing in Japanese animation, but something that Takahata has often employed. Most anime films dub the dialog after animation has been completed, and this has always been a curiosity to American animators.

Jainko Chie is a really fantastic movie, full of slapstick comedy and depictions of daily life in Kobe, Japan. Compared to Paku-san's other films, it is probably closest to My Neighbors the Yamada, but perhaps with a touch more of a Simpsons style. Chie's father always reminds me of Homer Simpson. It really needs to be released here in the West, and please don't use those lame titles "Chie the Brat" or "Downtown Story." Just stick with the original title, okay?

Anyone out there who is fluent in Japanese is welcome to help translate this article. Much thanks to Anim'Archive for providing the magazine scans.

Isao Takahata Talks to Variety

In February of 2016, Variety sat down to speak with Isao Takahata to discuss his long, illustrious career, and his thoughts on animation. Naturally, this is the sort of discussion that could become enormously long and detailed, but the interview was kept fairly brief.

One interesting note that was news to me: the surviving staff members of Horus, Prince of the Sun met together for a celebration in 2015, marking the film's 38th anniversary. As everybody knows from watching the Blu-Ray (hint, hint), the movie had a very turbulent production that lasted nearly three years and was pulled from Japanese theaters after less than two weeks, yet in time grew in stature, and today is widely regarded as a groundbreaking classic. It was nice to have the old production team back together again. I wonder if there are any photos or videos from this event?

The interview discusses advances in computer technology and Paku-san's evolving visual style, which first emerged in Omohide Poro Poro and continued to My Neighbors the Yamada and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.

Your acclaimed film, “Omohide Poro Poro,” was released in Japan in 1991, but it’s only just now coming to English-speaking audiences in the U.S. as “Only Yesterday.” How do you think your style changed since the film first came out?

If I understand correctly what you mean by style, the pictorial style in my works has gone through many changes. I consider myself to have taken advantage of the fact that I cannot draw. For many years I have wanted to improve on the simplistic flat-plane image of cel animation. But I didn’t want to solve this by going into the 3D-CG method of three-dimensionality and substantiality. I wanted to solve this by a method of “reduction” of not drawing everything on the screen, in order to stimulate people’s imagination and raise the level of artistry. My assertion was that this method is what can and should be applied in Japan, following on our long painting tradition from the 12th century Scrolls of Frolicking Animals, ink paintings, and ukiyo-e woodblock prints all the way to manga. This was realized later in “My Neighbors the Yamadas” (1999) and “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” (2013), but actually, I had taken to putting this into practice somewhat by leaving areas of the frames blank in the recollection scenes in Only Yesterday.

Read the rest of the interview. Now if we could only find producers out there who are willing (and patient enough) to finance one more Takahata film. Any takers out there? Bueller?


Warriors of the Wind: Tales From the Overlook Hotel

Since we're talking about Nausicaa today, I thought it would be a good time to pull out everybody's favorite chestnut of cartoon cheese: Warriors of the Wind. This is the 1985 US release of Hayao Miyazaki's classic movie, famously butchered and chopped into little pieces, like murder victims at the Overlook Hotel. It was despised by its creators, hated by anime aficionados, and widely derided for decades to come. Yet, despite all of this, it did build a small cult following of fans who would one day grow up to become diehard Ghibli Freaks.

Warriors of the Wind isn't merely a bad Nausicaa dub with a few edits. Almost one quarter of the movie was removed, including crucial story elements and plot points. Characters names were badly changed ("Princess Sandra"). The title of the movie was completely changed. Most famously, the movie poster featured a roster of heroes from various sci-fi and fantasy movies, none of whom actually appear in the movie. The poor heroine is stuck in the background, wearing a Star Trek miniskirt and looking very confused.

How could such a thing happen? It's important to understand just how different the movie landscape all those years ago. In 1985, Japanese animation was widely disrespected in the US, relegated to the status of, ugh, "Saturday Morning Cartoons." They were regarded as vastly inferior to the classic animated features of Walt Disney "Japanimation" was looked down upon as junk, at a time when "Made in Japan" was still a punchline.

In those days, our exposure to anime was extremely limited. Astro Boy, Speed Racer, Star Blazers. We had access to a small handful of TV cartoon shows that were very strange and very different, more like comic books than the Bugs Bunny and Hanna-Barbara cartoons that filled our screens. Most kids shrugged and changed the channel. A few lucky ones would sit down and watch and become fans. Most parents couldn't be bothered, unless they somehow stumbled onto the violent anime features, at which time they completely freaked out.

In this environment, with this understanding, it makes a good deal of sense why New World Pictures, the US distributor, would take an axe to the Nausicaa film. There was no constituency for the title, no mainstream audience, no homegrown anime community to draw upon. The only market for animation were small children who wanted to see Saturday cartoons on the big screen, and their parents who couldn't understand why they just couldn't be happy watching Road Runner at home for free.

Who else would want to see a movie such as this? What about the sci-fi and fantasy fans? They skew a little bit older, usually teenagers or early college students. Maybe they'll show up if we convince them this movie fits into their scene. And so we'll add characters from Dune and Clash of the Titans and maybe some robots with lightsabers. Who cares? They'll likely just be stoned, anyway. Just hurry up and take their money before they sober up.

It's funny how nobody cops to being involved in this movie project. June Foray was rumored to have played the lead, Princess Zandra (ugh), but she flatly denied it when asked. There's another character who sounds just like Bullwinkle. Another character sounds like one of the Ninja Turtles. It was probably one of those jobs where you walk into the booth and record everything on the first take during lunch break. "Hey, hey, this is talking Krusty." That sort of thing.

It's 1985. What did you think would happen? It would be several years before Akira would be unleashed on the Americans, marking the first real sea change in how "Japanimation" was accepted. It would take many more years of hard work and struggle to achieve any kind of acceptance. Even today, anime remains very much a niche genre. The Studio Ghibli movies have only barely registered on US movie screens -- Hayao Miyazaki's last movie, The Wind Rises, barely earned five million dollars, and the man has won two Academy Awards.

Thankfully, anime is given enough respect today that an atrocity like Warriors of the Wind would never happen again. But it's still a struggle for acceptance.

Have you ever seen the 1985 TV commercial for Warriors of the Wind? Here it is...brace yourselves:

Studio Ghibli Fest 2017: Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind in September

GKIDS' Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 continues its series of theatrical screenings of select Ghibli movies with Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind on September 24, 25 and 27.

The movie will be shown in both "dubbed" (September 24, 27) and "subtitled" (September 25) versions. Tickets are still available, so be sure to pick up yours before they sell out.

In addition, if you provide your Ghibli Fest ticket stub to any Hot Topic, you will receive a 10 percent discount on any purchase. They are building up a very impressive collection of Ghibli swag, so be sure to pay them a visit after the show.

Visit the official website to see if Nausicaa is playing in your local theater.

Artist Spotlight: Howl by Shikon Kiara

Ghibli Blog Artist Spotlight: Howl's Moving Castle

Today's artist spotlight features a wonderfully colorful and expressionist painting of Howl, the romantic lead in Hayao Miyazaki's 2004 movie Howl's Moving Castle. Very dynamic with skillful use of color, employing just enough negative space to allow the painting to breathe. Howl's pose is interesting; either he is falling from above, or trying to break free from the confines of his canvas.

Kudos to artist Shikon Kiara for this illustration, which was discovered on Fanpop and Pinterest. I could not find an artist's site, however. Hopefully, there are more illustrations by this artist to share with the world.


Photos: Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro

Your reminder that Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro is playing in select US theaters tomorrow. September 14 (English-language dub), and next week on September 19 (Japanese language w/subtitles).

I'm planning on attending the second showing next week. I've never seen Cagliostro on the big screen, so this will be a real treat. Any chance to see a Miyazaki movie on the big screen is a real treat.

Anime News Network Ranks the Best (and Worst) of Studio Ghibli

Today, the editorial team at Anime News Network took aim at Studio Ghibli, naming their picks for the best and worst feature films. Movies were selected for Best Movie, Runner-Up and Worst Movie. Writers who contributed to this article include Rebecca Silverman, Theron Martin, Amy McNulty, James Beckett, Christopher Farris, and Anne Lauenroth.

In the Best Movie category, Princess Mononoke received two votes. Spirited Away, The Wind Rises, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There all received one vote.

In the Runner-up category, Spirited Away received three votes. Whisper of the Heart received two votes. The Cat Returns received one vote.

Finally, in the Worst Movie category, Howl's Moving Castle received three votes. Tales From Earths, Ponyo and The Secret World of Arrietty each received one vote.

This was a very fascinating article, with a few surprises. Aside from Spirited Away, there were no real consensus picks on the winner's side. Eight titles in all were named by the ANN writers. The obvious omission, of course: My Neighbor Totoro. Why was Totoro completely overlooked? Did the writers feel compelled to dig deeper into the Ghibli catalog for hidden gems? Were they driven by the critic's desire to appear more sophisticated than the average viewer, who would overwhelmingly choose Totoro as their favorite?

It's important to note that many of the writers noted that they have only seen a few Studio Ghibli movies, so this shouldn't be seen as a critic of the entire studio's library. Perhaps the editors should have held a weekend film festival to bring everybody up to speed.

The biggest surprise is Howl's Moving Castle as the consensus pick for Ghibli's weakest movie. I hadn't expected this result; Tales From Earthsea seemed like the easy choice. Again, it's possible that the writers sought to avoid the easy answers and dig a little deeper. Personally, I love Howl and think it's a terrific movie, but I can appreciate its mixed reputation with fans. It is very loosely based on the book, as though Hayao Miyazaki only scribbled down the back-cover description and then ran off in a completely different direction (he did much the same when adapting "The Incredible Tide" into Future Boy Conan).

At Ghibli Blog, we have conducted a couple movie polls over the years, and the winners are invariably Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro. Most of the remaining movies are clumped in together. Miyazaki is more popular than Takahata, although Yoshifumi Kondo's Whisper/Mimi usually ranks highly.

Should we conduct another Studio Ghibli movie poll? I'm curious to hear everyone's opinions now that the studio's feature films have all been released. Let me know if you wanna do it.


EZ Anime Discusses Castle in the Sky

YouTube video program EZ Anime devoted their ninth episode to Hayao Miyazaki's 1986 adventure film Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Hosts Ben Moore and Brad Ellis discuss many aspects of the movie in a causal, freewheeling conversation, including initial impressions, the movie's sense of wonder and mystery, the use of visual storytelling, the value of hard work, and the conflict between technology and the natural world.

This is a very entertaining episode. Kudos to the EZ Anime team for their show. Oh, and we get to look at the old Disney DVD cover with the creepy airbrushed plastic children. Whee.

Artist Spotlight: Hayao Miyazaki by Sharm Murugiah

Hayao Miyazaki by Sharm Murugiah

This terrific illustration of Hayao Miyazaki was created by artist Sharm Murugiah from the UK. You can visit his Facebook page to see more examples of his work. I like this illustration because it shows the director in a serious, thoughtful pose. Most people draw Miyazaki-san with big smiles and grins, always happy and cheerful. I always found him to be far more moody and glum than the image of a "Japanese Walt Disney." That label never stuck, and says far more about Americans than the director.

To Miyazaki, especially in his later years, his stories are a respite from the horrors of the world. In his dreams lie the reservoir of his hopes for humanity, pushing back against despair and darkness. And it is this inner conflict that makes his Studio Ghibli movies so fascinating. This illustration seems to capture some of that. Kudos to Murugiah for his work.

Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro Returns to US Theaters

Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro

Lupin the 3rd, The Castle of Cagliostro, the 1979 comedy caper classic directed by Hayao Miyazaki, will be playing in select US theaters this September, courtesy of Fathom Events. Two dates have been announced: September 14 for the English-language "dubbed" soundtrack, and September 19 for the Japanese-language "subtitled" soundtrack.

The dubbed soundtrack will be the classic Streamline dub that was created many years ago, and not the more recent dub recorded by Manga Entertainment. If memory serves (feel free to correct me on this, I don't have a disc handy), that dub added a number of swear words in an effort to sound more "adult." This was a common practice for anime dubs in the 1980s and 1990s, and should be thought of as a relic of that era. Families who are Miyazaki fans should be mindful, but I don't think you'll hear anything above a "PG" level.

Castle of Cagliostro is Miyazaki's first directorial feature film, after spending the 1970s as a director on television, including the original 1971-72 Lupin the 3rd series. Yasuo Otsuka, the founding father of that series (and lovingly remembered as the "father of Lupin anime"), serves as the animation director for this film. Animation studio Telecom, part of the TMS empire, was used for the production, and the staff includes many of the same people who worked on episodes of the "Red Jacket" Lupin TV series, as well as Sherlock Hound in 1981.

This is a really great movie, but it remains slightly ignored by most Miyazaki fans, who love Totoro and Catbus, but know little of Lupin, Heidi, Conan or Sherlock. As a result, they may feel a bit left out, puzzled at the large cast of characters they barely know, and puzzled at the sight of slapstick action comedy that became a rarity in the Studio Ghibli era.

Even if you would rather watch Spirited Away, Ponyo or Totoro, you should give Cagliostro a chance. It's a terrific action-adventure with one foot in classic caper movies, the other in James Bond parodies. There are exciting action sequences, wonderful locations, compelling characters and slapstick bits right out of the Road Runner cartoons.

Afterwords, I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of Lupin the 3rd: The Complete First TV Series and get caught up the original series. You'll love it.

Tickets are available now on the Fathom Events website. Use the search bar to see if the movie is playing in your local area. Thankfully for the Ghibli Blog, there will be a screening here at the AMC Theater in downtown Chicago.


My Neighbor Totoro Theme in Taiko Drum Master (Wii U)

Well, this is an unexpected surprise. Just when I was lamenting how Studio Ghibli would never lay a ten-foot pole on anything to do with videogames, along comes this gameplay video of Namo's Taiko Drum Master for Nintendo Wii U. This rhythm-based game involves striking a large drum in beat to a series of popular songs, in keeping with the popular "bemani" genre that remains popular in Japan.

The song in this video: the theme song to My Neighbor Totoro! Yay!

It seems like such a simple idea to feature a music-rhythm videogame that is exclusively devoted to music from Studio Ghibli movies. Goodness knows we have enough theme songs and pop hits to choose from. You could even use some of the licensed songs that appear in such movies as Omohide Poro Poro and Mimi wo Sumaseba. The possibilities are endless. Someone needs to make a formal proposal to Ghibli and see if Hayao Miyazaki or Toshio Suzuki would show interest. The odds are long, but the studio needs money, and this is an easy way to earn revenue while building the brand.

Taiko Drum Master never really took off outside Japan, and that's really too bad. Isn't it really just Guitar Hero with one button? Yes, but it's colorful and cheerful and gets your butt off the couch. It's good exercise, and you get to bounce along to the Totoro theme song. A win on all fronts.

New Studio Ghibli Podcast: The Ghiblers

A new podcast dedicated to Studio Ghibli has recently launched. "The Ghiblers" launched in August and has now reached their third episode. So far, the hosts have dedicated an entire episode to a single movie, and have discussed Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (ep.2) and Laputa: Castle in the Sky (ep.3). I assume they will continue to cover the studio's movie titles in order, which should keep them occupied for the next dozen episodes.

Let's send some love and support their way, and hope this podcast becomes a success. You can find the podcast here: The Ghibliers (iTunes).

8-Bit Cinema: Princess Mononoke

Continuing the "8-Bit Cinema" series from Spirited Away, we find this equally fascinating and compelling mock videogame dedicated to Hayao Miyazaki's 1997 blockbuster hit Princess Mononoke.

I think Mononoke works better as a videogame than Spirited Away. The structure of the movie fits squarely with the conventions of classic action-adventures, you have a hero on a quest and a wide cast of characters, you have a dramatic arc with many twists and turns, you have many lush environments and locales, and you have the potential for a lot of terrific action.

This video does a great job condensing the two-plus hour movie into a 2D side-scrolling game, similar to what you would expect to find on NES, Sega Master System or Turbografx-16.

Hayao Miyazaki is notoriously hostile to most modern technology, and this goes double for electronic games. He would never allow for such a project as this, but he should. Perhaps a small team of indie game developers should just go ahead and make this Mononoke a reality. Heck, somebody send an email to Vanillaware and tell them to use the Muramasa engine.

Here are some screenshots of key moments in the video:

8-Bit Cinema: Princess Mononoke

8-Bit Cinema: Princess Mononoke

8-Bit Cinema: Princess Mononoke

8-Bit Cinema: Princess Mononoke

StudioCanal Limited Edition Studio Ghibli "Steelbook" BD/DVDs

StudioCanal has really outdone themselves this time. The UK film distributor is releasing a series of limited edition Studio Ghibli "steelbook" Blu-Ray/DVD sets. These were released in 2013 and are now all out-of-print, making them valuable collectors' items. Good luck finding copies today for a reasonable price.

The cover designs are superb and look terrific. Cynics would point out that these are really the same discs are currently available in standard packaging, but the steel covers are very stylish, and it's good to see Ghibli given the proper level of respect. Their movies deserve Criterion levels of respect.

It appears that this series was limited only to Hayao Miyazaki's feature films, which is unfortunate for the other titles, especially Isao Takahata's films. Perhaps we will see a second series of releases that cover the remainder of the Ghibli catalog? Eh, maybe.

With a little digging around, I see that these steelbook packages are also available in Italy since 2015. There are many variations across Europe for Ghibli Freaks to collect.

Much thanks to forum member "Blueherring" on the forums. There are several Ghibli-related threads that are worth checking out.

Gallery: The Complete Studio Ghibli Collection (UK)

Here's a look at an impressive fan collection of Studio Ghibli and pre-Ghibli movies released in the UK. I believe these photos show all the titles released across the pond. Very impressive.

StudioCanal are the home to nearly all Miyazaki/Takahata titles in the UK, and they have always done an excellent job. Their branding and cover designs are visually lush, stylized and nearly always superior to the Disney titles released here in the US (not to knock Disney, of course, they did a very good job). In the case of Arrietty, the British release is notably superior to ours, largely thanks to the excellent dub soundtrack that was exclusive to that region.

UK Ghibli Freaks, of course, have been enjoying movies such as Only Yesterday, Ocean Waves and My Neighbors the Yamadas for several years. We are only now just getting caught up, thanks to the efforts of GKIDS. Believe me when I say that we have been jealous for many a season.

"The Little Norse Prince" is now out-of-print, and was a lazy, bare-bones release of Horus, Prince of the Sun. The Discotek version smashes it into tiny bits. But, of course, I would say that, wouldn't I?

The Castle of Cagliostro, likewise, has seen a vastly superior Discotek release in the States, thanks to the hard work of Lupin expert Reed Nelson. I think he did a better job than my work on Horus, to be perfectly honest.

Panda Go Panda (the Westernized title of the two Panda Kopanda short films) is pretty basic, which is the same on both sides of the Atlantic. This remains an obscure title and needlessly so; fans of My Neighbor Totoro should become great fans of Papa and Baby Panda. Something seems to be missing; personally, I think a new dub soundtrack would greatly help, as the old dub just sounds terribly childish and outdated. The inclusion of some quality bonus material would also help.

Finally, it's great to see the Hayao Miyazaki BD box set is available in the UK. It's a spectacular set with the finest picture and audio quality of any releases anywhere, with bitrates significantly higher than the standard releases. Mind you, this comes as a result of removing all bonus material, so Ghibli Freaks would be wise to not throw anything away. This limited-run release will become frightfully expensive in the coming years, so remember what Janis Joplin said: "Get it while you can."

Much thanks to dedicated Ghibli Freak "2-J" on the forums.

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