February 5, 2006
I'm usually a pretty patient person, but back around late October I decided I couldn't wait until the March release of the Howl's Moving Castle DVD and pre-ordered the Japanese Region 2 DVD, which was coming out in November. (Actually, it's part of a three-disc box set; I'll get into the other stuff in a minute.)

Oh, the tragedy. Through some kind of Canada Post mix-up, my order never made it here, and between various other obligations I didn't have the time to pursue the issue until last month, around the time of our hosting debacle.

And so now, with just over a month before Disney's DVD release hits the shelves, I've had a chance to watch all three discs. While it's a good thing I'm a patient person, I'm also glad I was impatient enough to pick this up. Although some of the extras will be duplicated on the North American release (complete storyboards, original Japanese trailers) there are others that may or may not be. For instance, I don't know if the interview with English-language director Pete Docter (director of Monsters, Inc.) on the North American release will be the same as the one on the Japanese disc; for that matter I don't know if it will include all fifteen trailers (six theatrical, nine televised).

But there are a few things on this disc that won't be on the North American one, according to Disney. There's the Howl in the World featurette that shows the movie's premieres in Italy, Tokyo, Taipei, Venice, New York, and Paris. (The latter includes a stop at the Hayao Miyazaki/Jean "Moebius" Giraud exhibition, where we see footage of the two looking over the exhibit. As a longtime devotee of both creators, I felt a frisson of awe just by seeing them in the same room—I wonder what they spoke about?) And finally, there's a slightly awkward interview with original Howl author Diana Wynne Jones.

The real bonus for longtime fans, however, is the Ghibli ga Ippai Special: Short Short set. (I got it as part of a twin box set with Howl, though it's also available separately.) This DVD collects 22 shorts that Ghibli created between 1992 and 2005, few of which have been seen outside of Japan and maybe a few film festivals. Leica reels, test footage, interviews and other variations and background information from these shorts provide a total of 53 items.

A mix of ads, film festival signal films and music videos, the shorts provide an interesting look into the workings of Studio Ghibli. In the public mind, the studio is tightly wedded to Miyazaki, and to a lesser degree to co-founder Isao Takahata. The question of succession has lingered in the air at Ghibli for over a decade, and at one point it seemed as if Miyazaki's torch would eventually be passed to Yoshifumi Kondo. Proof of this was the music video Ghibli produced for the pop duo Chage & Aska, On Your Mark, which Kondo directed. Although Miyazaki's influence is strongly felt, it's clear that Kondo had his own style, blending some of anime's science-fiction aesthetic with Ghibli's trademark humanism and attention to the play of light and colour. (If you manage to get your hands on the Japanese laserdisc release of Little Nemo, you'll see his pilot film for the movie that's just as assured.) Unfortunately, Kondo died of a brain aneurysm just a few years later.

On Your Mark isn't the first short on the disc, but it's the first that presents an interesting question: Miyazaki and Takahata produce personal, director-driven films, and their styles have pretty much defined the studio. How, then, can a budding talent within Ghibli come into their own? Kondo's channeling of the Miyazaki style presented one possible answer, but watching the different ads here, many of which stylistically evoke Grave of the Fireflies, Omoide Poroporo, Pom Poko and My Neighbors the Yamadas—it's almost as if no one dared to emulate Miyazaki after Kondo—you get the feeling no one else could get out of the masters' shadows.

Until, that is, the recent trilogy of music videos for Capsule, a Shibuya-pop group on the Contemode label. Set in an optimistic, high-tech future, they trace three interconnected episodes in a girl's life as she shops, parties, and meets someone who could well be the man of her dreams. As airy and fluffy as the bouncy music suggests, these have nowhere near the pseudo-gravitas of On Your Mark, which channelled standard anti-authoritarian anxieties (and, by an accident of timing, apocalypse-cult fears), but their mood and aesthetic prove to be as infectious as the tunes they accompany. Not only do these look nothing like any other Ghibli production (not least because of the heavy reliance on CGI), they don't look much like other anime either. Is this an indicator of a possible future direction for Ghibli? Hopefully a box set in thirteen years will provide the answer.

Update: Andrew Osmond points out that I accidentally confused Yoshifumi Kondo's directorial debut, which was Whisper of the Heart, not On Your Mark. Miyazaki did, in fact, direct On Your Mark.

Howl's Moving Castle
Studio Ghibli
119 minutes
Buy Howl's Moving Castle (Region 2) from YesAsia.com
Buy Howl's Moving Castle (Region 1) from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Ghibli ga Ippai Special: Short Short
Studio Ghibli
42 minutes
Buy Ghibli ga Ippai Special: Short Short from YesAsia.com

Buy the
Howl's Moving Castle + Ghibli ga Ippai Special: Short Short Twin Box from YesAsia.com

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