Panda Kopanda, Chie, Gauche, Sherlock Blu-Ray and DVD in Japan July 17
Studio Ghibli is scheduled to release Panda Kopanda, Jarinko Chie, Gauche the Cellist, and Sherlock Hound on Blu-Ray and DVD in Japan this July 17. What a surprise! It appears that Ghibli is turning some attention to the "pre-Ghibli" eras of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata's long and storied careers.
None of these titles will feature the "silhouette" design reserved for the Ghibli catalog titles, since all pre-date the studio's founding by a number of years. But the cover designs do feature the original movie posters, in keeping with the remastered Ghibli DVDs.
Jarinko Chie is Isao Takahata's 1981 viciously funny comedy, rooted in the Kansei-region city of Kobe, and featuring the voice talents of one of Japan's popular comedy troupes (somebody out there, please help me with the names!). It's episodic structure is similar to My Neighbors the Yamadas, but more tightly wound around a central plot of a young girl (Chie) her struggles to fit within her dysfunctional family. The comedy leans heavily towards the slapstick and the gross-out, which is highly unusual for Takahata, and helps this movie stand out. Longtime friends and Toei Doga alums Yasuo Otsuka and Yoichi Kotabe served as the film's animation directors. It's a personal favorite of mine, and it remains criminally overlooked.
Gauche the Cellist is Takahata's 1982 feature, one of his true masterpieces. Lovingly crafted over the span of six years, this movie is pure poetry, masterfully blending historic melodrama, beautiful music, and a nostalgic longing for Japan's long-lost agrarian past. I want to live in Gauche's world (which is really Ludwig Van Beethoven's world), the fields and the forests, the gardens, the rainstorms and fiery sunsets, and the small yet tightly knit community, where modernity has yet to destroy nature.
Sherlock Hound was Hayao Miyazaki's 1981 TV series, which was created in collaboration with Italy. The production was scuttled after only six episodes were created, owing to copyrights issues with the Conan Doyle estate. Several episodes were shown alongside Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind and Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and finally arrived on TV several years later...unfortunately, with a completely different animation team that was nowhere near as talented as Miyazaki's crew. This Blu-Ray features the "theatrical" version of the Sherlock episodes (meaning, we don't have the wonderful music from the TV show).
Finally, Panda Kopanda was created by Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe at the A Productions studio in 1972, hot on the heels of the infamous scuttling of their much-anticipated Pipi Longstockings animated project. Many of Pipi's ideas quickly found their way into this short movie, which played the opening slot for one of Toho's Godzilla pictures. The movie became a hit, and a sequel, Panda Kopanda and the Rainy Day Circus, was quickly commissioned and produced. They're both terrific little movies, and I often enjoy the second one a little more. I do wish more Panda cartoons had been made, and future animators seeking to continue Miyazaki's legacy may find inspiration here. And, as everyone knows, Panda could easily pass for Totoro's uncle, complete with a pipe and hat and that big, silly grin.
These Blu-Rays will retail for 5,800Yen, and the DVD will sell for 4,700. I don't yet know which, if any, will include English subtitles. Both Panda Kopanda and Gauche the Cellist previously had quality subtitles, so that's good. Jarinko Chie's prior BD/DVD releases did not include subtitles, which is too bad; a fansub translation has been available for a few years, and I really wish somebody had the sense to send copies of the script to Ghibli HQ. I don't think the previous Sherlock Hound BD included English subtitles.
Finally, will there be a US release for any of these titles? Discotek Media has released Panda Go Panda (the Westernized title) and Sherlock Hound on DVD. A Blu-Ray release isn't beyond the realm of possible. I know I would be thrilled to work on any of these projects. If you'd like that to happen, please send an email or letter directly to Discotek.
Outside of the United States, I would think that these movies would arrive in the usual territories sooner or later. As the Studio Ghibli catalog winds down, publishers will look to the earlier Takahata/Miyazaki films and find a host of hidden gems. It has to happen. It's only a matter of time.