Photos: From Up on Poppy Hill

Photos: From Up on Poppy Hill

Photos: From Up on Poppy Hill

Photos: From Up on Poppy Hill

Photos: From Up on Poppy Hill

A series of excellent photos of Kokuriko/From Up on Poppy Hill were posted alongside Leonardo Flores' enthusiastic review.  He notes the film's strong parallels with Mimi wo Sumaseba and Omohide Poro Poro, and it does appear to hew closer to Isao Takahata's everyday realism than Father Miyazaki's surrealist escapism.  This is the direction that Ghibli wishes to explore for now, fueled in large part by the shock of this year's massive earthquake and nuclear crisis.

While Kokuriko has very stiff competition at the Japanese box office - the "final" Harry Potter movie, and the latest Pokemon commercial - I expect it to be very successful, and Goro Miyazaki's reputation will be, to a great extent, redeemed.  People will give him a second look, and they may become comfortable with the idea of his inheriting his father's famous movie studio.  He has grown tremendously these last four years, and he is now emerging as a confident filmmaker in his own right.  Let's cross our fingers and hope for the best.


Future Boy Conan and Heidi Coming to Blu-Ray

Excellent news for Miyazaki and Takahata fans in Japan!  Heidi, Girl of the Alps and Future Boy Conan are coming to Blu-Ray disc this holiday season.  Both series have been expected to make the leap to the high definition format, and there were reports that new 35mm prints have been struck for the BD box sets.  I have no doubt that people are going to be stunned at the picture quality.

The Heidi and Conan BD box sets are outrageously expensive - 36,000 Yen ($451.86) for Heidi, 32,000 Yen ($401.66) for Conan - and there are no English subtitles.  This is purely for the Japanese market.  That said, I would hope that other parties emerge to release these series for release in the West.  Heidi became an international sensation, after all, so there definitely is a global market.

Future Boy Conan will be released on November 25, 2011, and Heidi, Girl of the Alps will be released on December 22, 2011.  Yeah, I know, two weeks from now, the economy will have collapsed and we'll all be eating rats by tire fire under a bridge, but it's still nice to dream about the future.

Much thanks to reader Joel Gutheil, who send me an email about the Conan box set.


Whisper of the Heart Blu-Ray - Here are the Screenshots

This week saw Studio Ghibli's latest Blu-Ray movie - 1995's Mimi wo Sumaseba ("If You Listen Closely"), aka Whisper of the Heart.  I'm really looking forward to this one; Mimi is just about my all-time favorite Ghibli film, which means it's just about my favorite animated film.  This is one of the great joys of the movies.

The new high-definition transfer looks spectacular, as we've come to expect from Ghibli.  Color and detail is a big improvement over the DVD, and I just love the saturation in every corner of the screen.  For some reason, much of the color was drained out of these movies in earlier formats, and as each movie is released to Blu-Ray, it's like discovering them for the first time.

Of course, we'll all be going through this kabuki dance in 10 years when 4K becomes the next "high definition" standard.  But I think we can be confidently satisfied with this Blu-Ray in our libraries, and enjoy Mimi/Whisper for many years.

C'mon, Pixar, make a movie like this!  Pretty please?

A Totoro Tattoo

Reader Joel Gutheil pointed me to this cool photo of a highly detailed Totoro tattoo. Very, very cool, but I don't believe there's enough alcohol in the world to make me do that.  I came close to getting a tattoo back in the 90s, when that sort of thing was in vogue, but never went through with it.  This young woman is a hardcore Totoro fan; she's got real guts.


Lupin III 1971-72 TV is Coming to America!

Fantastic news, everybody!  Lupin the 3rd is finally coming to America!  Discotek has announced that they have secured the rights to the original 1971-72 TV series, and will be releasing the DVD box set Spring 2012.  All 23 episodes of Series One will be included.

No word yet on extras, like interviews or commentary tracks.  Hmm...I really need to get on the horn to Discotek.  DVD commentary tracks would be fantastic, especially if we could get anime scholar Ben Ettinger on board.  The original Lupin III is an anime landmark, and yet it's largely unknown in the West.  Hopefully, this will soon change.  If I were at Discotek, I'd be pushing hard for Cartoon Network to pick up the series.

Edit: Did I write down "Cartoon Central?"  Oy.  My brain was thinking of Comedy Central because I have the entire series run of MST3K on my computer (greatest show ever, btw).  I think my brain is finally running of space.


Porco Rosso: The Last Sortie - Hayao Miyazaki's Next Movie?

Is "Porco Rosso: The Last Sortie" the title of Hayao Miyazaki's next directorial feature film?  Rumors have been flying for a number of months, and I'm very reluctant to give much attention to them (especially when the gossip comes from Westerners).  However, three recent developments give rise to this new theory on a possible Porco Rosso sequel:

1) Toshio Suzuki mentioned a few months ago that Miyazaki-san was considering the idea of revisiting the Porco Rosso world, if not a direct sequel, then a spiritual cousin of sorts.  This story would revolve around the Adriadic air pilots between the two World Wars, or perhaps would take place before the original movie.  It wasn't determined if this story idea would become an animated film or short-form comic.

2)  In their recent interview with Arrietty director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the Guardian UK stated that the young director is now involved in Hayao Miyazaki's next film, a sequel to Porco Rosso.  I send an email asking for clarification and sources, but I haven't received a reply (perhaps they're busy with that Murdoch affair?).

3)  The IMdB has "Porco Rosso: The Last Sortie" listed as a 2012 release.

Studio Ghibli is famously tight-lipped about their projects, and we really only discover what's happening when they show us.  And right now, their major focus is Kokuriko.  Notice how Father Miyazaki is very often the public face of the studio's rollout.  They want Japan's goodwill to transfer to son Goro's new movie, especially in the shadow of the earthquake and nuclear disasters.  Even the Blu-Ray release of Mimi/Whisper is timed to coincide with Kokuriko's release.  I don't think we'll be hearing about Ghibli's next feature for a while.

Right now, I honestly don't know any more about "The Last Sortie" than any of you.  But I find the idea intriguing, particularly that subtitle, if for only this reason: Miyazaki-san has long used the pig character as his avatar, mostly in his color comics, and Marco the pilot was very much a self-portrait.  The Last Sortie for 70-year-old Miyazaki...hmm, interesting.

Heck, I'll just jump right out and say it: I think this next movie will be Hayao Miyazaki's final directorial feature film.  I've got a lot of reasons for this, and I'll have to explain myself in a future post.  But I'll just let you discuss the topic for now.


Yasuo Otsuka Turns 80

A big Happy Birthday to the great Yasuo Otsuka, who turned 80 on Monday.  The animation legend is one of the giants of anime, both as an animator and teacher.  We may remember him as the older mentor to Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, but Otsuka-san has a magnificent career and legacy all his own.  Every anime lover should be deeply familiar with his work.

I'd like to take this time to plug, once again, the fantastic 2004 Studio Ghibli documentary DVD, Yasuo Otsuka's Joy in Motion.  It's the best movie about the craft of animation that I've ever seen, and it's a valuable insight into one of the most pivotal figures in Japan's postwar anime era.  If there's ever a movie to import and add to your DVD collection, it's this one.  Add in Takahata's The Story of Yanagawa Waterways while you're at it, and you'll have two essential documentary films.  The above screenshot comes from Joy in Motion, showing a young Otsuka-san in the 1960s, during the production of Horus, Prince of the Sun.

Reader Christian Heymans writes about Yasuo Otsuka, and he shared his insights in an email to me.  I wanted to share it with everyone here:

I have been interested in Ghibli (and pre Ghibli) for many years.  It probably started when I had seen Mirai Shonen Conan on an Italian TV channel during the Eighties.

Some years ago, I had the chance to meet the master Yasuo Otsuka at the festival of Annecy in France, one afternoon after he finished to arranged an exhibition in the main hall.  The guy was really kind, we started to talk and ended up going for a drink where we of course mainly talked about animation (I have to add that Otsuka is one of the few japanese animators who is fluent in english-he can also speak Chinese!).  So there I was, a young belgian animation student, talking a drink with anime legend Yasuo Otsuka.  I asked him what was his main advice to a young animator and he answered me that animation, it's all about details.   Otsuka was very down to earth, kind, open and you could understand why he is considered a 'natural teacher'. 

Well, I noticed that Mister Otsuka is turning 80 tomorrow,  since he was born on July the 11th 1931.  I thought that maybe it would be nice to send him a Happy Birthday message through the Ghibli Blog, and maybe you were already planning on doing that!  Anyway, I 'm just telling you : )


Arrietty's Optimum UK Trailer (Possible Spoilers!)

Optimum UK has released this terrific trailer for the British release of Arrietty.  What's most surprising to all is that they have produced a unique English-language dub for this version.  It is not the Disney soundtrack.  That's very interesting.  I really hope this movie is successful when it arrives in theatres.  You may not have Studio Ghibli to enjoy forever.  You should enjoy these movies while you can.

Given that Mary Norton's novels are the basis for Ghibli's adaptation, it sounds better with a British voice cast.  It adds a sense of authenticity to the movie, which is transposed to modern suburban Japan.  The Disney voice cast will no doubt have that Southern California, Disney Channel vibe.  That's not necessarily better or worse, just different.  It's going to be very interesting to compare the two different soundtracks next year.

Right now, I'm guessing the Optimum UK dub won't be included when Disney publishes Arrietty on Blu-Ray here in the States, and vice versa.  I wouldn't guess the issue would become a deal-breaker for Ghibli fans on either side of the pond; as long as the dubs are written and performed well and hew to the original Japanese script, we'll be happy.  And the die-hard collectors among us always enjoy any excuse to justify buying yet another version.  We'll end up owning three or four different versions of Arrietty before all is said and done!


Omohide Poro Poro Manga Available on iTunes

From the Studio Ghibli Weblog in Spain, we discover that Omohide Poro Poro, the original manga series masterfully adapted to animation by Isao Takahata, is now available on iTunes.  It does not appear that the text has been translated from Japanese, however.  It would be nice if original and translated editions were made available.  But in any case, it's great that this comic can now be seen by a wider audience.

Omohide Poro Poro, the manga, was written by Hotaru Okamoto and drawn by Yuuko Tone.  It was a largely auto-biographical story of the author's childhood in 1960s Japan.  Takahata expanded the original story to include the character as an adult, coming to grips with her identity and her place in the world.  Also, there's music by Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute. Remember that guy?  I'll bet that's the real reason Disney won't allow this movie to be seen in the US.  They're jealous of the Zamfir.

Omohide Poro Poro (manga) - Vol 1
Omohide Poro Poro (manga) - Vol 2

From Up on Poppy Hill: The Official Art Book

From Up on Poppy Hill: The Official Art Book

In keeping with tradition, Studio Ghibli will be publishing an official art book of their latest feature, Kokuriko-Zaka Kara.  It has been christened with the movie's official international title - From Up On Poppy Hill.  I've always enjoyed the litarary quality to Ghibli's titles, their flowery prose.  I like this title, it flows.

The Ghibli completest will want to have the art book in their collection, particularly if you're not willing to wait another year or two for Kokuriko to arrive in your country.  I'm sure we'll see a Western publication at some point (Viz is the American publisher of the Ghibli books).

I'm honestly not certain if these screenshots come from the art book, or from another source.  These were sent to me by a Korean blogger, and he didn't give any additional information.  In any case, we're grateful to have every scrap of new information about Goro Miyazaki's latest film.  It looks terrific, very similar to Mimi wo Sumaseba.  I continue to marvel at the idea of animation that's devoted to daily life, not fantasy.  It's a uniquely Japanese anime concept.

Animated feature films aimed at girls...what a unique concept.  When is Hollywood going to try that over here?  All we get at the multiplex is 1950s housewives, toy commercials, and Star Wars.  And it's all pitched at boys.  A few more options would be desirable.

From Up on Poppy Hill: The Official Art Book

From Up on Poppy Hill: The Official Art Book

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