November 18, 2008

On Day 2 of the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, we got to see a screening of an original 35mm print of Grave of the Fireflies. This is an Isao Takahata, 1988 Studio Ghibli film, based on a short story about a 14-year-old boy who tries to care for his sister after their ailing mother is killed during a raid in the 1945 Kobe bombings. He and his sister experience the fear-inspired selfishness of an aunt and he must find a way to take care of himself and his sister on his own.

There was a panel discussion following the film lead by Fred Schodt, author of Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics; John O'Donnell, founder of Central Park Media (the publishers who license the film for North America); and Fred Ruh, author of Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii.

The conversation between the panelists and the audience covered debates as to whether the film was anti-American or rather just anti-war generally, given that the American bombers were barely referred to directly except by the subtle display of some American signage a couple of times on the bomber planes. Another point was raised about the divide between the themes considered culturally sensitive in western animation versus the plain-speaking storytelling of Japanese anime. As a nod to the animated film genre, it was agreed that this socially important, and poignant story couldn't be told the same way in a live-action film (a live-action version was made in 2005), given the youth of the actors required to play the parts and the fact that they couldn't be represented as realistically in the unhealthy conditions in which they were portrayed for the anime version.

This screening was also presented by UrbanEx and their Out Of The Cold programme.

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October 12, 2008


Oooo...Now I'm getting really excited! I can't wait for November 13th, the kick-off of this years Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema in Kitchener-Waterloo. We've just found out that Fred Schodt (writer, translator, interpreter and anime scholar supreme) will be in attendance to lead a panel discussion about and following the screening of Ghibli masterpiece, Grave of the Fireflies. Sitting on the panel with Schodt will be Grave's North American Executive Producer, John O'Donnell and Anime Research editor, Brian Ruh.

We expect further details to be announced shortly, along with a complete list of the films screening at the festival.

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September 9, 2008


Anime After Dark is a new event being kicked off this year by the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival. On October 18, a collection of anime features will be screened at the Somerville Theatre from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. (Among the lineup: Grave of the Fireflies, Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society, Cat Soup, Project A-ko, Tekkon Kinkreet and Millennium Actress.)

The cost? A mere twenty bucks if you buy tickets now, $25 if you wait until September 20, and $30 at the door.

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August 8, 2008


I'm not ashamed to admit some movies have made me cry, and one film that's guaranteed to get me at least a little misty no matter how often I've seen it is Grave of the Fireflies. Directed by Isao Takahata—who people tend to forget co-founded Studio Ghibli with Hayao Miyazaki—Grave of the Fireflies is an adaptation of Akiyuki Nosaka's memoir of surviving the Allied firebombings of Kobe during World War II.

It's no great secret that Seita and Setsuko, the analogues to the author and his younger sister, eventually die; it's established right at the beginning of the movie, and the rest of the film acts as a flashback to explain what brought them to that point. It's a powerful story of familial love during the worst of ordeals, bringing with it a reminder that war affects more than just the soldiers on the battlefield.

Central Park Media released two versions of Grave of the Fireflies on DVD in 2002 and 2004 (they had the rights before the 1996 deal between Disney and Tokuma Shoten), but it's languished in out-of-print limbo for years. Just this Wednesday a new two-disc version of Grave of the Fireflies appeared in Japanese stores; at first blush, the only real difference is an essay by Nosaka, and (maybe) some more pre-production artwork.

Is this a precursor to a new Disney release in North America? I'd like to think so, but I'm not holding my breath. Disney's never seemed too sure what do with Takahata's movies; while they released the perhaps more accessible Pom Poko and My Neighbors the Yamadas three years ago, it was with minimal fanfare. The sombre Grave of the Fireflies might be trickier from their perspective, as would be Takahata's only remaining Ghibli film, the wistful Only Yesterday. A lot of lip service is given to the notion of animation that adults can watch, but there might be the fear that North America isn't ready for an animated film as powerful as Grave. Given that the U.S. and Canada are currently fighting wars on foreign soil, I'd say there isn't a better moment than right now.

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