3000 Leagues in Search of Mother - DVD Box Set
3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (Haha wo Tazunete Sansen Ri), aka Marco, was the 1976 season of World Masterpiece Theatre, the groundbreaking television series that was the jewel of Japanese animation. WMT became an annual tradition in 1974 with the Heidi, Girl of the Alps, directed by Isao Takahata. Marco was his second WMT production in 1976 (their third and final production was Anne of Green Gables in 1979), and also includes all the major players from Toei: animation director/character designer Yoichi Kotabe, screenwriter Kazuo Fukuzawa, art director Mukuo Takamura, color designer Yasuda Michiyo, and layout/continuity by Hayao Miyazaki.
While Heidi carried a naturalist tone with flights into fancy, Marco was fully immersed in neo-realism. Imagine De Sica's Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D, painted with watercolors. If you've noticed the European neo-realist streak in the Ghibli films, this is where much of that comes from.
The story focuses on a poor Italian family in the late 1800's, and specifically the young boy, Marco, who is traumatized when his mother departs for faraway Argentina, in search of work. Over the course of 52 episodes, Marco struggles to grow up, often arguing with his family, while dreaming of bringing his mother back home. He eventually sails for Argentina along with a family of travelling performers (think Fellini's La Strada).
By this point, Takahata's creative genius has already been cemented (with Horus, Prince of the Sun and Heidi), his masterful sense of control, his understanding of the camera and formal composition, and his ability to present an emotional intimacy to his characters that is matched or surpassed by only a handful of great filmmakers. Much of it comes from his training - Takahata is not an animator, but a director who chose to work in animation, and brought a filmic sensibility that - together with Miyazaki - revolutionized the medium. They've proven that over and over with Ghibli.
Now, a little about this DVD set. This is the official Chinese release, packaged in 10 discs in two boxes. Each box includes a booklet, with a synopsis on the characters and each episode (which is in English), and the second box includes three illustrated postcards. This is the only version of 3000 Leagues with English subtitiles, aside from a shady bootleg version that's unfortunately more easily available.
I bought this set online at JSDVD Mall, based in Taiwan. They also have for sale a number of other WMT series, including Anne of Green Gables, Heidi (although both don't include subtitles), and some of the later series, packaged likewise in two box sets for roughly $100.