Minneapolis Studio Ghibli Film Festival - Closing Days

The two-week Studio Ghibli Film Festival in Minneapolis closes out this Thursday, and we are playing the final four films: The Cat Returns and Mimi wo Sumaseba on Monday and Tuesday, Princess Mononoke and Omohide Poro Poro on Wednesday and Thursday.  It's a terrific lineup and we wish we could be there every day this week.  Sadly, we're down to our final two free passes, and we have to save our money for the move to a new apartment this weekend.

Marcee and I will be there on Thursday for the final showing of Omohide Poro Poro, Isao Takahata's 1991 masterpiece.  I thought it would be right for Ghibli Blog to be there at the very end.

Of the final four movies, The Cat Returns is the weakest of the bunch, and it's a good example of Ghibli's struggles to find new directors to follow Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.  It does have its charms, but when you can also watch Yoshifumi Kondo's Mimi, why bother?  One is a decent movie best served by home video (and best paired with the short film, Ghiblies Episode 2); the other is an animation masterpiece by a skilled veteran who built a long career with the Miya-san and Paku-san.  I really wish I had money hidden under my couch cushions!

Princess Mononoke was Miyazaki's blockbuster smash that toppled E.T. from the Japanese all-time box office and brought international acclaim to Studio Ghibli.  It also sparked a notorious battle between Miya-san and Disney, and especially the Weinsteins at Miramax.  Now Lionsgate owns the home video rights, and it's questionable that we'll see Mononoke on US home video again.  If you get a chance to see this movie in a  Don't walk, run.  You may not get another chance for a long time.

Omohide Poro Poro is the perfect closer, a style and genre of filmmaking that literally does not exist in the West.  Feature animation in the service of a weepy character melodrama?  With a pop culture nostalgia that rivals Quentin Tarantino?  And one that addresses contemporary Japan (ca.1991) as its vaunted bubble economy burst?  Somewhere in the mix lies a popular Japanese manga about a woman's childhood in the 1960s, and a modern quasi-documentary about organic farming and cultivation of safflowers for dyes and cosmetics.  Yes, this is a very deep movie.  Yasujiro Ozu would have been amazed.

Much thanks to everyone who attended GKids' Studio Ghibli Film Festival here in Minneapolis.  It's been terrific, and I really do wish it could have lasted longer.  I needed more time to save up more money!  Please come back!


Trailers - My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Porco Rosso

This weekend, the Studio Ghibli Film Festival at the Minneapolis Lagoon Cinema kicks off its second week with the Hayao Miyazaki's classics: My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Porco Rosso.  Totoro will appear in Japanese and English versions, while Kiki and Porco are both in Japanese, w/subtitles.

My Neighbor Totoro is easily the star of the show.  It's the iconic Studio Ghibli movie, and if you've only come to the festival for one or two movies, Totoro is likely on your list.  My advice?  Buy your tickets early, because they're going to sell out fast.  The English-language version will definitely be packed with the younger kids, but parents should feel fine bringing the family to the Japanese (English subtitled) version as well.  The subtitles are large enough that it's easy to read.  Besides, we've all seen Totoro a thousand times by now.

Kiki's Delivery Service gets less attention than Totoro, but I think it's an equally great movie, continuing its pastoral sense of daily life, and painted in wonderful shades of green.  It's the rare coming-of-age story that focuses equally on what is lost (childhood) on the path to adolescence.  Miyazaki is honest with his audience, and I really respect that.  I don't know if the subtitles are true subtitles, or the dreaded "dub-titles" that we've been stuck with for years.  The key will be whether there's a Hindenberg gag line ("Oh, the humanity").  That line's not in the Japanese script.

Porco Rosso is my personal favorite of the three; I've seen the others on the big screen before, so we'll probably see this one on Sunday.  For a long time, this was my "go-to" movie for introducing newcomers to Hayao Miyazaki.  Here is a film with action and adventure, romance and nostalgia, slapstick comedy and melodrama, and many peaceful, quiet moments.  This is far closer to an animated Casablanca than Star Wars, and I do respect the film for not assaulting me with endless fight scenes.  The characters and their internal dramas take center stage.  It's Miyazaki's Mid-Life Crisis movie.

As always, here are the trailers for you to watch, so you can decide which movies to attend.  Obviously, if you have the money, see them all, but remember that this week includes Princess Mononoke, Mimi wo Sumaseba and Omohide Poro Poro.  Could we play all these movies for another few weeks, please?


Trailers - Ponyo, Castle in the Sky

Wednesday and Thursday at the Minneapolis Studio Ghibli Film Festival is devoted to Hayao Miyazaki's 2008 movie, Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea, and his 1986 adventure classic, Castle in the Sky.  We're headed into the Thanksgiving holiday, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if Thursday's shows are packed.

I've written extensively about Ponyo when it arrived here in the States back in 2009, and there's not much left for me to say now.  It's a terrific picture that stands as a stubbornly defiant defense of hand-drawn animation.  After three years, I am willing to concede that the ending is a bit weak (Spirited Away was the last Miyazaki film to really score the landing), but it's such a terrific ride that it's worth every minute.

The Lagoon Cinema will be playing the Disney-dubbed version of Ponyo, which was pretty good.  I still could do without that crummy auto-tuned pop song at the closing credits...yuck.  Letting Disney try to cynically turn Ponyo into a star vehicle for yet another Jonas Brother didn't quite pan out, did it?  Ah, well, the kids and parents will be happy.

For me, Castle in the Sky is the one to see.  It's still the only Ghibli Blu-Ray from Japan in my collection, thanks to the horrific import price ($80 w/shipping).  It's going to look fantastic in 35mm, projected on the big screen.  Studio Ghibli's debut film has everything: adventure, romance, amazing action, dazzling visuals.  Miyazaki swung for the fences just as he did with Nausicaa, leaving nothing behind.  For many years, anime fans hailed Castle as a Miyazaki masterpiece.  Come to the show and see if you agree.

Oh, and can somebody smuggle some extra pumpkin pie into the theater for me, please?  Thanks in advance.


Photos - Grave of the Fireflies Blu-Ray (US vs Japan)

Grave of the Fireflies Blu-Ray arrives on US store shelves today, courtesy of Sentai Filmworks.  Copies are available for $15-$20, with (hopefully) some "Black Friday" deals to follow.  This is a perfect opportunity to add a Studio Ghibli BD to your movie collection (and once again wonder why Disney fell asleep at the switch).

Now for a little good and bad news.  The good news, obviously, is the low price, which is far more attractive than the $80 it costs to import Ghibli BDs from Japan (retailers either kill you on the price or the shipping).  The bad news is the bitrate, which on the Sentai disc is one-half the rate of Ghibli's Japanese release.  The picture seems to lose a little subtlety in the color and light, and although it's minor, the difference is there.  That said, the US Blu-Ray trumps the previous DVD versions with ease.

I've included some photo comparisons, courtesy of DVD Beaver's review, so you can judge for yourselves.  As expected, the many extras from Central Park Media's 2002 DVD is missing, but this was to be expected.  The Ghibli BDs in Japan have few extras, in order to fit as much movie, as high a bitrate, as possible.  So I think we'll survive, and collectors will have reason not to sell their older versions.

More photo comparisons after the jump; Sentai Filmworks (US) disc on top, Studio Ghibli (Japan) disc on bottom:


Trailers - Pom Poko, My Neighbors the Yamadas

Fresh off a triumphant opening weekend, the Studio Ghibli Film Festival in Minneapolis devotes Monday and Tuesday to Isao Takahata's Heisei Tanuki Gassan Pom Poko (1994) and My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999).  Both films are wildly different in subject matter, in tone, and in visual style.  They showcase an animation director's mastery of the form, his skilled sense of tragicomic melodrama, just as they showcase the remarkable artistic brilliance of Studio Ghibli.

It's easy to imagine these Ghibli films as the sole work of one man - that Hayao Miyazaki himself drew every picture, painted every cel.  This is only mythmaking, of course; the work of the studio's artists, painters and animators are critically important to bringing these movies to life.  And it's doubly true for Takahata, who himself is not an animator.  He depends upon his artists to realize his visions.  These films are a testament to their skills.

Pom Poko and Yamadas can easily be overlooked in the Ghibli canon, but once you sit down and watch, you are mesmerized, awed.  Why don't I watch this movie, or that movie, more often?  Why am I not writing more, sharing more?  You know the feeling.  We are blessed with a bounty of riches.  Every one of Takahata and Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli films (and I'll also include Yoshifumi Kondo's Mimi/Whisper) can be rightfully called a masterpiece.  These two men are the world's greatest living movie directors, and they've earned their title.

Poster - Gauche the Cellist

Continuing with another movie poster, here's one from Isao Takahata's 1982 classic, Gauche the Cellist.  It's one of two different poster designs for the film, and has a colorful, children's book quality.  It's very nice and focuses on the animals, while the other Gauche poster focuses on the orchestra.

To me, this movie is one of Takahata's triumphs.  I know, that sounds like easy praise coming from one who hails Paku-San as a cinematic genius.  I sound like a child with a free box of breakfast cereal.  So, as always, Caveat emptor.  That said, this is a masterful movie, one that weaves rural nostalgia with a love of nature, and the miraculous power of music - joining Beethoven's Pastorale to Kenji Miyazawa's famous children's story is a masterstroke.  I've never heard the 6th Symphony sound better.

Gauche the Cellist is a peaceful, thoughtful.  Takahata's Totoro?  That's what I've always believed.  That this film remains virtually unknown in the West (save a DVD release in France) is nothing short of criminal negligence.  This movie deserves to be seen by the world.

In Defense of Spirited Away

Reader Felix comes to the defense of Hayao Miyazaki's 2001 film, "The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro," which I omitted from my 50 Greatest Movies list back in August.  He makes many excellent points:

"Spirited Away is a terrific movie, visually spectacular and endlessly creative, but I don't believe it is Miyazaki's best film. It's an escapist picture at heart, one that lacks the more complex and serious themes of the director's work. A great movie, but a little light."

I can't agree with this, and it seems to be a disagreement about basic undercurrents of Miyazaki-movies. Nothing about this movie as far as I can see is escapist in any strict, negative sense of the word. Surely you can draw this logical conclusion, but it would be accidental, a mere "reservation" depending on the context of your viewing as far as I can see, but not a lasting judgement.

For one, the altering of Chihiro is certainly not the effect of an escape from her issues, but a "finding of herself". I think this is quintessential in judging the whole "positive" outlook of Miyazaki per se, or else it would be hard to distinguish him from any other "pretty" entertainment, or it becomes a pure intellectual argument of the ideology that his movies present.

Then, Chihiro is emotionally challenged throughout the movie, and it is mostly frightening and dangerous, and the ending is not "sweet" but kind of regretful, which is not a nod to the wish to escape again (as maybe could be seen in the Peter Pan "mythos"), but a major element of life - but Miyazaki would probably say (as I've seen him do) that she will come to deal with it.

Also there are aesthetic elements which I think make it unique among his movies. There is this almost overly lush bathing house, but also this Zen-like, minimalist trainride and water landscape.

The infinite imagination that some refer to, on the other hand, and that may be seen as one element of escapism, I do simply do not recognize. I don't think it is very inventive at all, if I would look only for this, I would be very bored and could point probably to an endless list of more "inventive" or "visually stunning" examples. The lush invention that I see serves merely to create a certain atmosphere of life and the overfilled environs, but not much to marvel at.

A couple more things could be said, but that should be the essence of my view.

Poster - Jarinko Chie

Isao Takahata's 1981 comedy Jarinko Chie is a favorite of mine, and every once in a while, I post the entire movie if I can find it on YouTube.  It's a terrific picture, full of wit and humor and that emotional family melodrama that is Paku-San's trademark.

For our new Ghibli Blog readers in the Twin Cities, Jarinko Chie is very similar in style to Takahata's 1999 Studio Ghibli movie, My Neighbors the Yamadas.  Both are adaptations of popular Japanese comics, both follow an episodic structure with various overarching themes, both are wonderfully funny and goofy.  If you're lucky enough to see one picture, you'll be sure to enjoy the other.

Chie was successful enough to spawn a popular TV series, which ran for two seasons.  Takahata served as "General Director," which meant he oversaw everything, but without directing specific episodes.  I'd love to see the anime fansub community tackle that series, but it's probably too obscure for most of them to notice.  I would imagine, however, that there'd be greater interest in Chie, now that we have all those Seth MacFarlane shows.  Ah, well, probably isn't likely to happen.  We're still waiting for someone to take up that Heidi fansub project.

This rare movie poster is currently selling on eBay for a princely sum ($75, give or take).  That's a little rich for my blood, but I'd be thrilled to have one in my personal collection.  Studio Ghibli movie posters are fairly easy to buy these days; if you want to really impress your family and friends, you'll need to dig deeper.

Please, Discotek, pick up the rights to the Chie Blu-Ray!  I'll do commentary!  I'll write more essays!  I'll buy everyone coffee and doughnuts!


MPR Discusses Studio Ghibli Film Festival in Minneapolis

On Friday, Minnesota Public Radio devoted a portion of their weekly radio movie hour to the Studio Ghibli Film Festival, now playing at the Lagoon Theater in Minneapolis.  Stephanie Curtis, known on MPR as "The Movie Maven," has been on my must-contact list for years, and one of these days, I'm going to send her a box of discs and movie files from the entire Takahata/Miyazaki canon.

You can play MPRs Friday program here.  In addition to Studio Ghibli, Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" opens this week, and it promises to be a sensational picture.  Daniel Day-Lewis is the greatest actor of our time, isn't he?  He should be a lock for the Best Actor Oscar, if there's any justice in the world.


Warriors of the Wind - Cinematic Nutcase Reviews

Today marks the beginning of GKids' Studio Ghibli Film Retrospective here in Minneapolis, which launches with Hayao Miyazaki's 1984 landmark feature, Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind.  I thought this would be a perfect time to revisit the first time Nausicaa was released in the United States, as the notorious hack-job, Warriors of the Wind.

For those not aware, Warriors of the Wind was the US theatrical and home video release of Nauscaa, with a poorly-acted dub, extensive script rewrites, and 30 minutes excised from the running time.  This was a common practice at the time for foreign animation in the West, which the suits would deride as "cheap kiddie cartoons."  That Nausicaa was created as a serious, and richly complex, adult animated movie was completely lost on the American producers.  It was impossible to imagine animation beyond the shadow of Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse.  It remains a challenge even today, although great strides have been made.

The cuts and changes made to Warriors of the Wind were made without Miyazaki's consent or knowledge; when he discovered what had happened, he all but renounced the American market for the next decade, only tentatively granting distribution rights for movies like My Neighbor Totoro (during this period, Streamline carried the Miyazaki flame).  It wouldn't be until 2006 that Americans finally saw Nausicaa in its original, uncut form, with all its complex, probing, challenging themes restored.

I haven't watched this Cinematic Nutcase video review yet, so I'll be enjoying it along with you for the first time.  I'm curious to hear what younger anime fans think of the Warriors debacle.  I will agree on one point: the US movie poster is rediculously awesome.  It absolutely begs for parody or Family Guy cameo.

I believe Warriors of the Wind stands as a historical document, an example of the struggles of Japanese animation to crack the American consciousness and work its way into our culture.  It's also a solid example of the fracture in 1980s popular culture between "mainstream" and "underground," which would explode in the 1990s alternative revolution.  Of course, I'm an aging Gen-Xer, so everything in my mind is filtered through the punk & hiphop revolution.  I'm just goofy that way.


Studio Ghibli Film Festival at Minneapolis Lagoon Cinema

Studio Ghibli Film Festival

The Studio Ghibli Film Festival arrives at the Minneapolis Lagoon Cinema this Friday for a two-week run.  A total of 14 films will be screened, in Japanese and English languages, all from newly-struck 35mm film prints.  This is going to be sensational, and for every true fan, the chance of a lifetime.

The Ghibli Blog - Marcee and I - will be attending the festival as much as possible.  We won't be seeing all of the films, but we'll check in whenever we can.  The fine folks at the Lagoon Cinema were kind enough to give us some free passes, and we're hoping to bring our families along for the ride.  We'll also continue to cover the festival during its two-week run, with related news items and reviews/essays.

Here's the complete schedule for the Ghibli Film Retrospective.  We'll be waiting for you!

Fri 11/16 - Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind - 2:00, 4:30, 7:00, and 9:30pm
Sat 11/17 - Spirited Away, 12:00, 2:30, and 7:30pm
Sat 11/17 - (English) - Howl's Moving Castle, 5:00, and 10:00pm
Sun 11/18 - Spirited Away, 2:30, and 7:30pm
Sun 11/18 - (English) - Howl's Moving Castle, 12:00 and 10:00pm
Sun 11/18 - Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, 5:00pm
Mon 11/19 & Tue 11/20 - Pom Poko, 2:00 and 7:00pm
Mon 11/19 & Tue 11/20 - My Neighbors the Yamadas, 4:30 and 9:30pm
Wed 11/21 & Thu 11/22 - (English) - Ponyo, 2:00 and 7:00pm
Wed 11/21 & Thu 11/22 - Castle in the Sky, 4:15 and 9:15pm
Fri 11/23 - Porco Rosso, 4:30 and 9:15pm
Fri 11/ 23 & Sat 11/24 - My Neighbor Totoro, 7:00pm
Fri, 11/23 - (English) - My Neighbor Totoro, 12:00 and 2:30pm
Sat 11/24 & Sun 11/25 - (English) - My Neighbor Totoro, 2:30pm
Sat 11/ 24 & Sun 11/25 - Kiki's Delivery Service, 12:00 and 7:00pm
Sun 11/25 - My Neighbor Totoro, 9:15pm
Sun 11/25 - Porco Rosso, 4:30pm
Mon 11/26 & Tue 11/27 - (English) - The Cat Returns, 2:30 and 7:00pm
Mon 11/26 & Tue 11/ 27 - Whisper of the Heart, 4:30 and 9:00pm
Wed 11/28 & Thu 11/29 - Princess Mononoke, 1:45 and 7:00pm
Wed 11/ 28 & Thu 11/29 - Only Yesterday (Omohide Poro Poro), 4:30 and 9:45pm

(Update 11/17, 6:50pm:  The second paragraph was revised and updated.  I won't be giving any lectures or Q&A, but if you see Marcee and me, feel free to chat with us.)

Daniel Bait, Ghibli Film Festival Edition

"The debut film from Hayao Miyazaki, NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind is considered by many to be his masterwork—and there are few films, animated or otherwise, of such sweeping scope and grandeur."

- Landmark Theaters, Lagoon Cinema (bold added)

They're off by twenty years.  D'oh!  This is why I need to score press passes to the Studio Ghibli Film Festival here in Minneapolis.  I've also volunteered to give free lectures to the audiences, and share some insights and history.  It's become my destiny to replay that Woody Allen-Marshal MacLuhan scene from Annie Hall, isn't it?  Ah, well.

Isao Takahata Turns 77

Happy Birthday to Isao Takahata, 77 years old, born on October 29, 1935.  A little belated, but there's still plenty of cake and ice cream for everyone.  We're all looking forward to seeing Paku-san's triumphant return to the director's chair in 2013.  He's been away for far too long.

In case you're curious, this photograph of the young Takahata dates from the 1965-68 production of Horus, Prince of the Sun.  It appears on the excellent 2004 Studio Ghibli DVD, "Yasuo Otsuka's Joy in Motion."  Every animation lover should add that documentary to their movie library.

New Miyazaki and Takahata Films Titled

Toho, the film distributor of Studio Ghibli's movies in Japan, has acquired domain names for Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata's upcoming films - "Kaze Tachinu" (The Wind Rises) and "Kaguya-Hime no Monogatari" (Princess Kaguya Story).  The official announcements on these films are expected in the coming days and weeks.

Kaze Tachinu is adapted from Miyazaki's most recent color comic, about the man who designed the Zero Fighter which was used in World War II.  Princess Kaguya Story is an adaptation of the Japanese folk tale, "Tale of the Bamboo Cutter."  This fable was referenced in Takahata's 1999 feature film, My Neighbors the Yamadas.

Thanks to GhibliWiki for the original news scoop.

Panda Go Panda US Discotek DVD

Earlier this year, Discotek reissued Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki's two Panda Kopanda short films on DVD, under the common Western title, "Panda Go Panda."  The previous home video release was handled by Geneon, which featured a butchered title sequence and no extras.  This 2012 version is much better by all counts.

The two short films - Panda Kopanda (1972), Panda Kopanda and the Rainy Day Circus (1973) - are included complete and uncut, which is nice if you're a fan of Animal Treasure Island and My Neighbor Totoro and enjoy their opening credit sequences.  For picture quality, I cannot speak from first-hand experience, but it does appear that Japan's Studio Ghibli DVD has a higher bitrate, which means a sharper, cleaner picture.  The US disc trades a lower bitrate in exchange for a 40-minute interview with director Takahata, and a 13-minute bonus feature.  All of these extras include English language subtitles.

Panda Go Panda deserves to be a part of your movie library.  For every fan of My Neighbor Totoro, it's an obvious must-have.  For everyone else, young and old alike, these two short animated films are a delight, free of cynicism or insincerity or shameless marketing.  These are the sort of cartoons I grew up watching, and I would very much like to see that tradition continue.

Discotek has been on an absolute tear this year.  Panda Go Panda and Lupin III: The Complete First TV Series are only the tip of the iceberg.  It's easy for anime fans to bemoan the state of the industry, but these gentlemen are working their tails off, day and night.  They deserve your support.

Grave of the Fireflies US Blu-Ray Arrives November 20

Like many of you, I'm greatly looking forward to seeing Grave of the Fireflies on Blu-Ray.  The US Blu-Ray will be released on November 20, just in time for the holiday season...oh, and the Studio Ghibli Film Retrospective here in Minneapolis.  Good timing.

Sentai Filmworks will not only deliver Isao Takahata's 1988 masterpiece directly from Japan (Fireflies and My Neighbor Totoro was released in Japan earlier this year), they have also created a new English-language dubbed soundtrack.  The previous dub dates back to Central Park Media's home video releases from the 1990s, so this will be an event to watch.  As always, the play Japanese and English soundtracks is available.

However, when it comes to extras, you might wish to keep your existing DVD release.  Storyboards, deleted scenes, and original trailers are the only extras on the Blu-Ray.  That's slim pickings compared to CPM's excellent 2002 "Special Edition," which included an interview with Roger Ebert and a compelling discussion on the firebombing campaign in World War II.

Obviously, I strongly recommend buying the new Fireflies BD.  The picture quality will be spectacular, and the audio quality will be a clear improvement over the (lossy) DVD.  We Americans are falling far behind the rest of the world on Studio Ghibli Blu-Rays - here's a rare chance to catch up.  Please do what you can to support Sentai Filmworks, and encourage them to support the scene in the future.

Waga's Big Scare by Sam Hiti

Minneapolis-based artist and illustrator Sam Hiti has recently published his first children's book, and it's a terrific little gem.  Titled "Waga's New Scare," it tells a story of a gruesome, scary monster who has suddenly "lost his scare."  With the evening hours running short, Waga must scramble to find his voice and return to his true calling - scaring all of us kids every night.

I really enjoy Sam's illustrations, which follow a fluid, almost surrealist comic-book style.  There are many brilliantly designed monsters and scary creatures, skillful compositions, and an impressive variety of layouts.  I really enjoy watching the pages, closely examining them.  At one point, Waga stretches and squirms through an impossible maze of house pipes, and it just flows, like a great jazz solo.  I'm a sucker for things like this.

Oh, and those Larry Bird and Darth Vader posters on the wall?  Nice touch.  I wish there was an Atari 2600 or Sega Genesis buried away somewhere.

There's going to be more children's books, right?  There's going to be more Waga books?  There should be more.  We should all do our part and buy Sam's book.  Here's a sample of some pages to inspire your money to escape from your wallet.  You'll probably hear them whistling the theme from "The Great Escape" while you're sleeping at night.

(P.S. Marcee, my newlywed, snapped these photos.  I promised her that I'd give her credit on the blog.  She's quite skilled with the iPhone camera, and I keep threatening to release art books as iOS apps.)

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