September 10, 2009
rumours and speculation about both the Japanese and North American release dates for Studio Ghibli's Ponyo on Blu-ray disc but now we can finally confirm, thanks to the Asian Blu-ray Guide that Gake no ue no Ponyo will be hitting the Japanese market on December 8th! Whether or not we'll see it on this side of the Pacific before is still anyone's guess but this we do know for sure - the Japanese release will not only feature English subtitles but Disney's English dub as well! So, if there's no sign of Ponyo hitting a shop near you before the holidays this year, you can feel safe placing that order for the Blu-ray through YesAsia or other import e-tailer.
Click through for a look at the bonus features you can expect from the Japanese Ponyo Blu-ray:
In other Ghibli/Ponyo news, the delayed (due to music-clearance issues) release of the lengthy "making-of" collection that was supposed to be on shelves back in July should street in Japan the same day, December 8th. This collection will not have the stink of English on it anywhere! It's Japanese language only. No subtitles, no dub. The hope for a bittorrented English fan-sub reigns eternal...
Via: The Blu-ray Blog
Read more: Ponyo Blu-ray Disc Review
July 12, 2009
My favourite movie on the planet, I mean the absolute best film ever made, in my eyes is Tonari No Totoro (My Neighbour Totoro) by Hayao Miyazaki. Damn near cinematic perfection in animation. And Miyazaki's best work, by far. Even compared to his wonderful, most recent film, Ponyo, which has just been released on DVD in Japan.
How can you get Ponyo or Totoro on Blu-ray? Well, you can't. Not yet anyway.
Read more after the jump:
Studio Ghibli is Miyazaki and his partner Isao Takahata. They've each produced a ton of films since the studio's debut in the mid 80s, with most having been released on DVD here in North America and in Europe since Ghibli's distribution deal with Disney/Buena Vista some years back. To date, however none of these films have been released on Blu-ray. But don't fret. There's hope!
One thing we sadly won't see on our shores is Ponyo wa Kousite Umareta (This Is How Ponyo Was Born), the recently delayed 2-disc, 12 hour long Making-of-Ponyo release (pushed back to December to clear music rights, according to Studio Ghibli executive producer Suzuki Toshio). Even when it does hit the shops, this Blu-ray won't feature an English dub or any subtitles whatsoever. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we might see a fan-sub pop up on the internets.
Hayao Miyazaki will be making a rare appearance and speaking at the San Diego Comic-Con on July 24, in Hollywood for the US premiere of Ponyo on the 27 and in Beverly Hills, Calif., to be honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences the following evening, July 28.
Read more about Blu-ray at The Blu-ray Blog.com
Read about the new Studio Ghibli DVDs: Studio Ghibli Collection
And play those discs on the PS3, the best Blu-ray player on the market today!
August 5, 2008
To an origami purist, cutting or tearing paper is like an old-school Catholic eating fish on Fridays; at best, it's frowned upon, and at worst someone thinks you're going to hell. Which is why it's all the more remarkable that Brian Chan makes his origami masterpieces like the Totoro nekobus above from just one sheet of uncut paper. Once you've finished checking out his nekobus gallery, you can also marvel at his paper WALL-E posed to recreate shots from the Pixar film, or watch the video below of him folding the sad-eyed robot.
[Thanks again to the Nausicaa.net Hayao Miyazaki mailing list.]
August 1, 2008
Short Takes: Ponyo in Venice, Ghibli Animation Process, Gatchaman CGI, Keanu is Cowboy Bebop, Monsters Inc. 2?, More Harryhausen on Blu-ray!
- Studio Ghibli's Ponyo will screen at the 65th Venice International Film Festival (taking place at Venice Lido from August 27th to September 6th) along with Mamoru Oshii's The Sky Crawlers. Hayao Miyazaki will be in attendance and commented, "Lido is very beautiful place. I'm glad that I can walk there again." Via Ghibli Wiki
- Goro Miyazaki talks in depth about layout and the Studio Ghibli production process. Via Ghibli World
- CG images from the new Gatchaman movie with animation produced by Imagi are up at the felix ip。蟻速畫行 blog.
- WTF?! Is Keanu Reeves really going to end up playing Spike Spiegel in the upcoming live-action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop? Do I care? Via FirstShowing.net
- Is Pixar going to slap us with a sequel to Monsters Inc? Pete Doctor is playing coy but we think it's gonna happen. Straight to video anyone? Via MTV Movies Blog
- More high-def Harryhausen!!!! Sony is eyeing an October 7th release date for the 1958, stop-motion animation/live-action classic, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad on Blu-ray and standard DVD. Via HighDef Digest.com
July 18, 2008
I guess it's Ghibli Day, here at fps. Aptly so, on the eve of Ponyo's release to Japanese cinemas.
If you've ever dreamed of working side-by-side with Miyazki-San and Takahata-San, this may turn out to be a dream come true! Details are up on Ghibli.jp (in Japanese, of course) of a recruitment drive for the studio.
Translation from the GhibliWiki:
* Duty place is Toyota City, Aichi prefecture not Tokyo.
Apparently, you also need to know a reasonable amount of Japanese to get the job. Can't say I'm at all surprised.
With one day left before it's release, Studio Ghibli unleashes this fresh Ponyo awesomeness on our unsuspecting eyes. What did we do before YouTube?
Previously on fps:
Miyazaki's Ponyo Trailer Online
July 17, 2008
On the eve of Ponyo's premiere in Japan, Studio Ghibli president Hoshino Koji let's slip plans for their next release - a new Isao Takahata film!
"Ever since Hohokekyo Tonari no Yamada-kun (ホーホケキョとなりの山田くん, My Neighbors the Yamadas) in 1999, Takahata hasn't produced anymore films. In fact, his new movie is now being prepared. We can’t tell the details, though it has been more crystallized than it was some years ago. He hasn't produced movie in these 10 years, but was busy on writing or lecturing. If Miyazaki is the one who gathers attention under the sun, Takahata is the type who quietly cruises underwater. If they have any common point, then they both have amazingly deep fountain of creation. Takahata is now very fine. Please, expect his next film. Goro is also preparing his new film."
Previously on fps:
Studio Ghibli: The Art of Miyazaki's Ponyo
Ghibli by Pixar: Totoro Forest Project
July 12, 2008
Is round two of the Ghibli vs. Oshii battle-royale upon us? Probably not but I can't help but feel the subtle digs in Mamoru Oshii's review of Miyazaki's upcoming opus, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea.
"That's Miya-san's delusion movie. There are no themes. But the picture is overwhelming, so it's seen until the end."
I'm glad that he was able to fight through his frustration with Miyazaki's lack of script-craft to experience the ending of the film. Yeesh!
Other reviews are pouring in:
Japan Times Review - "If 'Ponyo' is the start of his artistic second childhood, I say welcome to the sandbox."
Asahi.com - "101 minutes of bliss"
July 8, 2008
Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea is almost upon us, evidenced by this cover tease of the newest, gorgeous artbook from Studio Ghibli. Filled with sketches, backgrounds, storyboards and cel reproductions, the newest volume in the Studio's famous "Art of..." line will be available on August 2nd for 2,900 yen.
July 3, 2008
I've never been a wild fan of the work of anime director, Mamoru Oshii. Everything he does, no matter the visual spectacle, seems to leave me cold. On the other hand, most films produced by Studio Ghibli, even the much-maligned Gedo Senki (Tales from Earthsea) by Miyazaki-the-younger, warm my heart to some degree.
Both camps have always maintained a healthy rivalry, from the days of their first failed collaboration, Anchor to the Ghibli assist on Oshii's Innocence: Ghost in the Shell 2, with Miyazaki feeling Oshii's work too philosophical and unsatisfying and Oshii maintaining that everything that leaves the doors of Ghibli is wantonly idealistic and fantastical.
Just this week, the website for Oshii's upcoming feature, Sky Crawlers posted some comments from Goro Miyazaki and Anno Hideaki. While Evangelion director, Hideaki gathered favourable quotes from friends, Miyazaki's remarks seem less than complimentary.
"Those guys on screen never eat a meal. They only live on liquor and tobacco. No, they didn’t ingest them, but just pretended to be ingesting them. And about sex, they just pretended to be having sex. There wasn't any smell of sweat or sperm. They rode on airplanes and motorbikes. However, all of them seemed like unsubstantial machines on the monitor display. Even those machines seemed to pretend being machines."
Previously on fps:
Miyazaki, Oshii and Anno parody
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
July 2, 2008
The latest gem from anime master, Hayao Miyazaki and the mighty Studio Ghibli is about to be released to the lucky theatre-goers of Japan on July 19th. Trailers for Gake no Ue no Ponyo (Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea) have been released before but have only been screened theatrically - until now! This short glimpse at what industry insider and broadcasting writer Hashimoto Atsushi calls,
"...a masterpiece, surely leaving an important thing in your heart after watching!"is enough to make me ravenous for more. Give us a North American release date, Buena Vista! Have mercy!
April 22, 2008
Say "environmentally themed animation" to most people and they'll think of FernGully: The Last Rainforest or Captain Planet—both well-intentioned, but as subtle and as thrilling to experience as a boot to the head. Presented in alphabetical order, here are five titles that get it right; essential viewing not just on Earth Day, but every day.
When we talk about Warner alumna who worked with Dr. Seuss, we tend to mention Chuck Jones and, er, that's it. But it was Hawley Pratt who directed The Lorax, the 1972 adaptation of the good doctor's book from the year earlier. In it, the Lorax—a typically Seussian odd-looking, oddly coloured creature who says he "speaks for the trees," tries to convince an industrialist not to chop down the Truffula trees, which he uses to make a unique form of clothing called Thneeds.
The industrialist doesn't listen, and the Thneeds take off. His small shop becomes larger, which leads to the construction of larger factories and more roadwork, which leads to increasing destruction of the forest and the air—and eventually, the growth of a whole city, which just makes the problem worse. Futile though it is, the Lorax protests the whole time. Near the end of the story, the industrialist chops down the last tree and realizes he's not only ended his business, but destroyed the very reason he came to the forest in the first place—and the Lorax sadly picks himself up (literally) and flies away.
The Lorax is pads the original story with reasonably entertaining songs, gags and bits of business to bring it up to a half-hour special, and it captures the Seuss look pretty well. While it's comparatively strident—"greedy industrialist" is all you need to know about the antagonist—it's still a striking look at how we can carelessly consume and destroy resources when we're not careful.
The Man Who Planted Trees
Frédéric Back believes passionately in the need to protect and co-exist with the environment, and his most moving testament to that belief is his 1987 masterpiece The Man Who Planted Trees, an adaptation of a 1953 French short story. In the story, a man visits an abandoned valley in France three times. The first time is before World War I, when the valley is dry and desolate, and he meets a young shepherd who is planting acorns; the second time is between both world wars, when the young trees are starting to dot the landscape; and the third time is after World War II, when the valley is a green, lush paradise, and a small village has sprung up around it.
The story itself, in which one man selflessly and patiently turns emptiness into a thriving, living community, is inspiring, but what makes it work as a film is Back's method. Using coloured pencils and frosted cels (like traditional acetate cells, but with a tooth to them so that traditional but inkless drawing tools can be used on them), he made each frame a gorgeous illustration, with each one cross-dissolving into the next. When we return to the valley-as-Eden, that technique serves to make every leaf on every tree burst with life. When we hear that our actions have far-reaching implications, it's usually when we're being warned not to do something. When you see the forest in The Man Who Planted Trees flowing across the screen, you realize that there's a positive aspect to that as well.
See a clip and storyboard images from The Man Who Planted Trees
My Neighbor Totoro
In 1950s Japan, Mei and Satsuki move to the countryside with their father, as they wait for their hospitalized mother to recover from her illness. From the moment they set foot in the house, the girls discover (magic?) forest creatures large and small, who seem to be presided over by the largest of three creatures, that seem like a jovial cross between a cat and a bear; Mei calls them Totoro.
Not much more needs to be said, because if you haven't seen Totoro, you've probably heard of it (and, really, should make the time to go see it.) It's the 1988 film that made Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli icons in Japan (literally, as Totoro now graces the Ghibli logo on every movie opener), and, after some time, abroad as well. The three Totoro are probably the Ghibli characters you're most likely to see pop up in the background of comics and animation, as artists the world over pay homage.
The reason for all the love is simple: Totoro is a gentle film that is as much about the joys of childhood as it is about the beauty of nature. Linking expertly realized scenes—of napping in a forest, of skipping over a creek, or of savouring the night breeze through the trees—to our own memories makes a better case for preserving forests than any amount of brow-beating. The Japanese public apparently agreed, and Totoro has become a symbol, both official and unofficial, of its environmental movement.
Nine years after Totoro, Ghibli released its flip side: Miyazaki's look a fifteenth-century Japan where the powerful forest spirits still walk the Earth with both majesty and terror. The young prince Ashitaka is banished from his village when his arm is scarred in an encounter with a deranged boar god, and during his travels he encounters San—the demon princess of the title—and Lady Eboshi, who has founded and runs Iron Town on the edge of the forest. San has literally been raised by wolves (or, more accurately, wolf gods), and is constantly sabotaging Iron Town's operations, as their manufacturing facilities are encroaching further on the forest.
Ashitaka, and the audience, quickly learns that things aren't as black and white as they may seem. Lady Eboshi has taken in lepers, prostitutes, and other people cast off from society and given them a home; by mining and refining the iron she's been able to keep Iron Town self-sufficient. San and many of the forest creatures see humanity as a threat, an ever-reproducing virus that needs to be destroyed for their safety. The result is the beginning of a bloody war, with interested outside parties looking for opportunities and Ashitaka risking life and limb to keep things from escalating past the point of no return.
Princess Mononoke carries two messages within it, both rarely said in environmentally themed films. First is that if you push nature too hard, nature will push back harder. The second echoes a sentiment spoken by John Muir, godfather to the American environmental movement: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything in the universe." The fatal error that is often made in the movie, and in real life, is that humanity is somehow separated from nature.
French group Mickey 3D's 2003 CD Tu vas pas mourir de rire (You Won't Die Laughing) is full of politically conscious songs set to toe-tapping music. Its second track, Respire (Breathe) is the basis for a CGI music video that features, for the most part, nothing but a young girl running barefoot through an open field, skipping through creeks and climbing trees, all under a gorgeous blue sky. The laconically delivered lyrics speak of what man has done to his world, and how action needs to be taken by everyone, right now.
It's the end of the video that brings everything together as, with a Twilight-Zoneish twist, we discover that things aren't what they first seemed. Frankly, I find this scenario all too plausible. Consider Respire a warning you can dance to. Watch the video and decide for yourself.
Where to Get It
Buy The Lorax DVDs and more from Amazon.com
Buy The Man Who Planted Trees DVDs and more from Amazon.com
Buy My Neighbor Totoro DVDs and more from Amazon.com
Buy Princess Mononoke DVDs and more from Amazon.com
Buy Respire (part of the Imagina Trips Vol. 2 compilation; PAL, Region 2) on DVD from Amazon.fr
Buy Tu vas pas mourir de rire on CD from Amazon.com
Previously on Frames Per Second
Imagina Trips Vol. 2 review
January 16, 2008
Montreal's Cinematheque Quebecoise is screening two modern anime favourites this month. Today, they are showing Akira, and next week Thursday, they offer the opportunity to see Princess Mononoke on the big screen.
Princess Mononoke was overlooked for an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 1997. It seems like the pattern has been repeated this year. Check out this Cartoon Brew post about this year's snub of Persepolis.
September 18, 2007
After I attended the closing ceremonies at the Worldcon in Yokohama, a group of us, mostly Canadians, Americans, Brits and Aussies, hopped on a bus for Mitaka to visit the Ghibli Museum. The visit was extraordinary, but, like much that involves Studio Ghibli artwork, unphotographable. If you find yourself in Japan, and happen to be in Mitaka, be forewarned that pictures can only be taken of the grounds and the exterior of the building.
I'd rather not give anything away, because part of the fun is discovering the place for oneself. I was with one person who had already been there more than once, and he still had a great time, but I think that first time - well, no one should ruin certain parts for you.
What I will say is that you will get more than your money's worth. If you live in Japan, you must wait to acquire tickets, as the demand is huge. Many of the people I spoke to during my trip were surprised to know that many non-Japanese knew all his films and loved them, too. At least the people at the museum realize this, and with a little preparation, you can acquire your tickets but not have to wait the months that a resident would.
The museum is not huge but packs a lot in. It's surprising how much is still lodged in the space. Perhaps it is due to the size, but this is not the Studio Ghibli Museum, it is mostly the Miyazaki Museum (Hayao mostly, but nods to the latest film by son Goro). I didn't mind until I really stopped and thought about it, but I would not have minded seeing work from other films and I didn't find anything related to Iblard Jikan at the museum or even its gift store. That's not to say the exhibits were not satisfying or that it was solely composed of Miyazaki's art. In fact, a lot of visual information is provided on the process of making animation, including several variations of zoetropes. A large portion of the permanent exhibit is devoted to conceptual art. The Ghibli Museum makes space for foreign art and animation as well. I just thought I might see work from other Ghibli efforts, such as Whisper of the Heart or Pom Poko.
An exhibit of a film Hayao Miyazaki decided not to make, The Three Bears, was currently on display, and featured Russian artwork from children's books, and stills from Yuri Norstein's work. There have been past exhibits on Pixar and Aardman Animations, and during my visit, books and posters for My Love and Azur and Asmar were prominently displayed, both of which have screened or are screening in Japan, but may get lost in the cracks otherwise.
The gift store: Simply put, a Totoro explosion.
A final note: Instead of feeling miserable about the pictures you cannot take, and feeling frustrated when you should be enjoying your visit, buy the guide book when you leave for the year's exhibits for 800 yen (about 8 dollars) at the gift store or the convenience store right across the street. It contains snapshots of the interiors to help preserve your memories.
As a delegate for the 67th World Science Fiction Convention bid for 2009, I had the chance to attend this year's 65th Worldcon in Yokohama, Japan. While I was there, people were buzzing about many different types of fandom, including science fiction and fantasy in animated form. In addition to the Artist Guest of Honour Yoshitaka Amano, who got his start working on Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (Battle of the Planets or G-Force) and more recently contributed the character designs for Final Fantasy and the seventh dream in Ten Nights of Dreams, the big animation talk among fans from East and West was the DVD release of Studio Ghibli's Gedo Senki (Tales from Earthsea).
It didn't hurt that Yoji Takeshige, the film's art director, was on hand to discuss the look of the film and (unfortunately, unphotographable) art from the film was entered in the Art Show. The film was selling swiftly in the dealers' room, especially to North Americans who will be among the last to see the film because of a rights issue with the Sci-Fi Network, who released the execrable live-action mini-series based in the same world created by Ursula K. Le Guin (as a fan of her works, I am at once excited and scared to watch the entire film based on her reaction). Although , I am not so sure about the overall direction of the film given the very public tensions between Miyazaki father and son, one thing I do know is that the dub will be superb, as it has been overseen by John Lasseter. I'll crack it open soon and see how it goes.
September 2, 2007
School's back in, and even with 20 more days of summer we're starting to feel that autumn chill. If you know how to knit, why not make a Totoro hat for that special someone? You'll find the pattern and other info at Hello Yarn.
(Thanks to Caroline on the Miyazaki Mailing List.)
June 29, 2007
Our pals at the Fantasia film festival have unleashed this year's lineup, and as always, animation fans are well served—but they have to do a little more work to get their fix.
Features seem a little diminished, but not so much as last year. The fest starts and ends strong—Tekkon Kinkreet is the opening film, and the Korean Yobi the Five-Tailed Fox is the last animated screening, on the second-to-last day of the festival—but those are the only two features on 35mm film. The odd-looking stopmo film We Are the Strange is in high-definition video, but the other features (the Flash-animated Minushi, Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow and Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society) are all projected, standard-definition video. Previous Fantasia fests prove that watching projected video can still be enjoyable, but spending four days at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema watching nothing but 35mm reminds you of the kind of difference the medium makes.
There are also two short feature documentaries that are about animation, and they're screening together. Animania is about Canadian anime fandom, which appears to focus on how the current generation of teen fans relate to anime. I've seen and heard so many reports on teen fandom I'd be inclined to give it a pass, but last year—back when the movie's focus was less on the teens—I was interviewed extensively for Animania, and I was asked some very interesting questions. I'm hoping they applied the same kind of thoughtfulness to their adolescent subjects. (And no, I'm not in the actual Animania movie, but apparently I'll appear in the DVD extras.) The other documentary is the French Ghibli et le mystère Miyazaki (Ghibli and the Mystery of Miyazaki), which needs little explaining but which is definitely a must-see, especially with interviewees like Isao Takahata, Moebius and Takashi Murakami.
Fantasia's real source of pleasure for animation fans comes from the animated shorts, but that's also its real source of pain. For years I've been preaching that animation shouldn't be ghettoized, that it should be treated like "regular" film. The problem is that Fantasia gives me just what I ask for, scattering its animated shorts among omnibus films (Ten Nights of Dreams) and over a dozen collections of shorts, only two of which are animation-specific (a best-of compilation from last year's Ottawa fest, plus the latest edition of The Outer Limits of Animation, which inexplicably includes the two-year-old, almost overexposed, not-terribly-out-there In the Rough). Miraculously, it's possible to see all of the animated shorts with only one schedule conflict: The one screening of The Outer Limits of Animation is at the same time as Watch Out! Beyond the Genres of Korean Short Films, which includes the 34-minute The Hell (Two Kinds of Life).
And really, that's the most amazing thing about Fantasia this year. They've added a third cinema to their venues, but in three weeks of screenings there appear to be fewer repeats than ever before. It's a testament to the passion of their crew that they're still going so strong.
March 20, 2007
It looks like Disney's The Frog Princess won't be the next water-related heroine.
Hayao Miyazaki's next film will be about a little goldfish princess who wants to be human. The film is slated for 2008, and is titled Gake no ue no Ponyo (Ponyo on a Cliff).
After the divisive reaction to Studio Ghibli's Tales of Earthsea adaptation, directed by Hayao's son Goro Miyazaki, many will likely be breathing a sigh of relief that the elder Miyazaki is directing a new project.
Hayao Miyazaki's concept art and many of the full-colour images in his comics often use watercolours to beautiful effect, and Ponyo's storyboard are being rendered by Miyazaki in watercolour.
According to Variety.com, producer Toshio Suzuki, said Miyazaki will not be relying on computer graphics techniques. "Instead he will use simple, childlike drawings. He intends to make something different from his previous films."
(Thanks to Nausicaa.net for posting the link to the first image from the film.)
February 5, 2007
The Amazing Screw-On Head (DVD)
Where the animated version of Hellboy benefited by not using the original aesthetic of comic creator Mike Mignola, with a well thought-out, equally compelling design, the pilot episode for The Amazing Screw-On Head keeps Mignola's angular, shadowed look to good effect. While the animation is fairly good—not great, the smaller budget is apparent—the timing and story will keep you watching. Fans of the original comic will enjoy it, but some of the concessions to a new medium will be apparent. The voice acting keeps the entire show together, and it's pleasing that while the famous typically live-action actors get the billing, their work stands up with the trained voice actors and cannot be written off as an attempt at stunt casting. —Tamu Townsend
Cinderella III: A Twist in Time (DVD)
Cinderella III: A Twist in Time is the latest direct-to-DVD sequel from the Walt Disney studio. It follows 2002's Cinderella II: Dreams Come True and the original Disney film, 1950's Cinderella. While I have not been a fan of Disney's sequels to its classic film roster, I will admit that this particular film was a pleasant surprise. —Noell Wolfgram Evans
Read the review
Escaflowne: The Movie (Anime Movie Classics) (DVD)
One of the nice things about the better anime productions is that they're not afraid to take chances, even at the risk of displeasing fans. This is exactly what Escaflowne: The Movie did. Most of the familiar characters are there, but with a twist. The overall tone is grimmer than the TV series: Upbeat Hitomi is now a depressed schoolgirl with no psychic abilities, Van is more aggressive and violent, the redesigned Escaflowne itself now gets its energy from the blood of its pilot (much like a semi-mechanical vampire). The production values are still top-notch, and some will prefer the new character designs by Nobuteru Yuki. The soundtrack by Yoko Kanno is also another high point of the film. —René Walling
Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz (Anime Movie Classics) (DVD)
This three-episode OVA is a great watch for a Gundam fan, because it provides viewers with the one thing that is irresistible to any good-natured otaku: backstory. There are many things to like about Endless Waltz—new villains, new mecha, old rivalries—but the opportunity to learn of the backstory of the five lead Gundam pilots is probably the sweetest of them all. —Aaron H. Bynum
Read the review
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (Anime Movie Classics) (DVD)
Jin-Roh, haunted equally by Japanese post-WWII social history largely unfamiliar to most Westerners and by the fairy-tale images of wolves twisted into a grisly variation of the story of Little Red Riding Hood, may be the most dazzlingly noir anime ever made, if such melancholia can be considered dazzling. The film, by taking its dual themes of loss and despair very seriously, achieves a gut-wrenching emotional depth. —Amy Harlib
Read the review
The Last Unicorn, The: 25th Anniversary Edition (DVD)
The Last Unicorn has been a cult favorite among fantasy lovers since the publication of Peter S. Beagle's novel in 1968. The animated version released in 1982 spawned new generations of fans. Although it is an American film, Rankin-Bass contracted all their animation to Japanese companies (going all the way back to Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which was done in a warehouse on the outskirts of Tokyo). The Last Unicorn was done by a Japanese contract studio called Topcraft whose other claim to fame was that right after The Last Unicorn, they were hired by Tokuma Publishing to animate the film Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind under Hayao Miyazaki. (Topcraft disbanded afterward and most of the staff joined the newly formed Studio Ghibli to work on Miyazaki's next film, Castle in the Sky: Laputa, so I have always considered The Last Unicorn to be a "proto-Ghibli" film.)
Although a cult success in the US, The Last Unicorn became a mainstream hit in Germany where its annual showings on TV became a tradition much like the annual broadcast of The Wizard of Oz used to be in the US. Sadly, all the video releases in the US (both videotape and DVD) have been cropped and based an inferior print. Only the German Region 2 PAL DVD release was in the original widescreen format using a restored print. Now the 25th anniversary release of the film on DVD in America finally allows us to see the movie in its full glory for the first time since it played in theaters. In addition to the restored film the DVD also has a "making of" documentary including interviews with Peter S. Beagle, who wrote the screenplay based on his own novel.
But that brings up the one lingering controversy about the film. Despite the million copies of the film sold on home video since the mid-80s, Beagle has never been paid any of the royalties he was contractually owed. Read more here about the controversy and find out how buying the DVD through the link above helps Beagle. —Marc Hairston
Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles (DVD)
There are many things that can be said about Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles: here are three. First, Louie Nichols' character still has some of the best lines whenever he is in a scene. Second, the battle scenes were compelling in the earlier incarnations of the Robotech series, but now they are entirely lacklustre. The poor 2D/3D integration makes these scenes disjointed and cold. It is a great example of things not being better simply because they are CG.
And the most frustrating, final point: Blame it on my old age, but I simply do not remember that many characters with double-D cups and scenes with gratuitous crotch shots in the earlier series. We know young men like stories in space, and they like pretty women, too, but there are plenty of female viewers who will be turned off. If this is the way the producers aim to rope in a new generation of viewers, I seriously hope it fails, so that fewer creators use the same model, pointing to this series as a precedent. If they improve the story, encouraging viewers to look in the Robotech back catalogue, I sincerely hope they meet their goals. —Tamu Townsend
January 23, 2007
First the Lego catbus; now we reach back to one of Miyazaki's first features. An enterprising fan has created an Ohmu from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind out of Lego, complete with feelers. As you can see in this image, the Ohmu is healing an injured Nausicaä. Far too cool.
January 18, 2007
Studio Ghibli has recently announced it would begin to release foreign animation films for the Japanese market. Alexander Petrov's film My Love will play at the Cinema Angelika in Shibuya on March 17.
Ghibli plans to release four new foreign films each year in Japan; one for each season. Coming this summer will be French director Michel Ocelot's Azur et Asmar.
In an homage to great animated works of the past, the Ghibli Museum will also release selected Western films on DVD. The first choice is Paul Grimault's The King and Mockingbird (Le Roi et l'oiseau) from 1980; the DVD will be out in April. (You can see a trailer here; keep an eye on our upcoming releases if you want your own copy.)
Fans eager to hear about the next Ghibli movie are forced to continue to speculate, as Toshio Suzuki will not announce the director and title until March.
December 30, 2006
I've never been to the Barbican in London, but by all accounts it's a friend to animated cinema. The Independent reports that on January 30, February 20 and March 27 there will be three showings of anime hosted and curated by Helen McCarthy, in which she will illustrate how contemporary anime relates with world cinema. The three screenings will feature Perfect Blue, My Neighbor Totoro and part of Samurai 7. The Independent article makes a little gaffe in that it says that modern Disney influenced Totoro (the author misses the fact that her example of Lilo and Stitch came fourteen years after Totoro), but that shouldn't ruin your enjoyment of the films.
August 3, 2006
You can find Miyazaki-inspired works everywhere, but I was surprised to see Princess Mononoke cited in an Emerging Technologies exhibit. Remember when the Shishigami emerged walked toward the wounded Ashitaka, and plants sprouted, bloomed, withered and died at each step? Moderation, by Zack Booth Simpson, recreates that. As you walk along the projection of shallow water over stones, plants appear at your feet, and slowly wither. However, if you step too quickly it doesn't quite work right; to get the proper effect, you have to temper your movement and walk with careful deliberation, like the forest spirit himself. You can see Moderation in action on YouTube, on Google Video, or by downloading an MPEG from the site.
June 22, 2006
In a perfect world, the instant you say "car chase" to a film fan, they think of 1968's Bullitt. In that same perfect world, the instant you say those words to an anime fan, they think of 1979's Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. On the surface, the protagonists and their rides couldn't be more different. Steve McQueen's Lt. Frank Bullitt is honourable, the cop kids want to be when they grow up. Lupin is the trickiest thief you'll ever meet; he does good not out of a sense of honour, but because it serves his purpose—or, more likely, entirely by accident.
Castle of Cagliostro was Hayao Miyazaki's first feature, though he had previously directed episodes from the Lupin III television series. It's a bit of an anomaly for his films, in that all of his later works feel like an extension of his personality; you see his touches (like his love for European cars), but you don't feel him. It's also an anomaly for Lupin; although the anime Lupin wasn't as sexy or violent as the manga, Miyazaki sands the edges down a little more, making him more of a nice guy. But the one thing that works well for both Miyazaki and Lupin is the director's ability to depict a thrilling chase.
Castle of Cagliostro starts with Lupin and his literal partner in crime Jigen fleeing a casino with bags of loot, the tireless inspector Zenigata chasing after them. Naturally, the pair leave the inspector far behind, and soon discover that their loot is entirely made up of forged notes. By the end of the opening credits, they've been aimlessly cruising through the mountain roads, and find themselves fixing a flat tire. Suddenly, a woman wearing a bride's gown roars past them in a red Citroën; before that can even register on the two thieves, another car with shady-looking men in black suits and sunglasses speeds by in hot pursuit.
Lupin hustles Jigen in the car and they take off, Lupin's 1960s-jazz theme music also kicking into gear. Of course, the pair have no idea what's going on, prompting Jigen to ask whose side they're taking. "The girl!" shouts Lupin, as he pits his driving skills and Jigen's deadshot aim against the mysterious men in black. Jigen discovers their tires are bulletproof, and they get a nasty surprise when the men in black start throwing grenades at them. Lupin's solution defies all sense: he drives almost sideways up the sheer side of the cliff, careens madly through the forest (blink and you'll miss the wallop he receives from a low-hanging branch) and comes down again in front of the car, giving Jigen the chance to put an armor-piercing bullet through the bad guys' front tire.
Like Bullitt's car chase, the one in Castle of Cagliostro is a product of its time and its director. To modern audiences, these are brief affairs; Cagliostro's chase lasts just two minutes, which is nothing compared to the extended urban crashfests we're handed every summer at the multiplex. Modern filmmakers should take note: it's the compactness of the chases and the lack of distraction that city streets provide that make these work so well. In these two minutes we have explosions, near misses, shattered windshields, ridiculously unsafe speeds on curving, narrow roads, and our two heroes grinning maniacally, clearly having the time of their lives.
Castle of Cagliostro was the first anime film to screen at Cannes, though it was outside of competition (the first to screen in competition was Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence), and longstanding (though unconfirmed) fan lore says that Steven Spielberg saw the film and declared that it had the best car chase ever committed to film. I have my doubts that he said it, but the sentiment expressed is pretty darn close to the truth.
Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro
Tokyo Movie Shinsha
Buy Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca
June 8, 2006
Well, it's been an anime-filled Spring here at fps. In addition to regular reporting, May was all about the Tokyo International Anime Fair photo gallery, and the month-long anime prize pack contest (congratulations to the winners); and June will include the launch of our bigger, better issues of Frames Per Second magazine, with this issue focusing primarily on anime.
We'll also be attending Otakuthon, a fan-run convention in the city this weekend. Emru and René Walling will be participating in several panels including Early Days of Anime Fandom and Must See Anime. I'll be there from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday to answer questions about fps projects. We're also sponsoring two free screenings, one of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (co-sponsored with Otakuthon) which is reviewed in issue 8, and Howl's Moving Castle, a favourite of many here at fps.
Howl's Moving Castle
Saturday, June 10th
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
Sunday, June 11th
Concordia University Hall Building
April 30, 2006
February 20, 2006
To fully understand the ironic position Howl's Moving Castle finds itself in at this year's Academy Awards, you have to go back to the 2003 Academy Awards. That was only the second year of the new Best Animated Feature Award with five nominees. Along with the big names of the year, Disney's Lilo and Stitch and Treasure Planet, there was Dreamworks' Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and the upstart Blue Sky Studio's Ice Age. Most of the speculation had centered on whether the Academy members would go with the breath of fresh air from Disney and vote for Lilo and Stitch or reward the smaller outside studio and vote for Ice Age. But the winner turned out to be the relatively obscure fifth nominee from Japan, Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli's film Spirited Away. All across the country there were literally millions of viewers turning to one another and saying "Huh? Spirited Away? Wasn't that the one about the horse?"
Their puzzlement was not hard to understand. While the other four had gotten wide national releases and hefty advertising, Spirited Away never went wider than a mere 151 theaters and was practically invisible to the average moviegoer. As explained here, Disney's distribution of Spirited Away was an attempt to appease Pixar and John Lasseter at a time when the contract negotiations between the two studios were coming up. But as there were no merchandizing tie-in incentives for Disney plus a deep sense of "not invented here" towards the film, it was not too surprising that the film was punted over to the art house circuit with the expectation that it would quietly die there. What they didn't expect was that it would turn up on over 100 critics' "top ten" lists at the end of the year. Still, you had to hand it to Disney. The DVD release was due out two weeks after the Awards, but they went to work the Monday morning after the ceremony booking it back into theaters. By Wednesday night they were running commercials for it in prime time on both broadcast and selected cable networks. And on Friday Spirited Away reopened in just under 800 theaters nationwide, pretty much the most they could get on such short notice. During its initial run on the arthouse circuit it had only made about $5 million, but during the two week re-release it managed to double that total. It wasn't blockbuster status, but given the Keystone Kops-style marketing Disney had done, it wasn't too bad either.
The Academy Award for Spirited Away solved another long-running problem for Disney; what to do with the rest of the Ghibli films they had the English-language rights to, but had never released? After the initial contract in 1996, they had released Kiki's Delivery Service (1989) on home video and, in those heady days they actually set about to do a theatrical release of Miyazaki's earlier Castle in the Sky (1986). They went so far as to fly Joe Hisaishi, the soundtrack composer, to the US to oversee an orchestral re-recording of the soundtrack. (The original soundtrack was performed by a small ensemble with Hisaishi on synthesizer, and Disney felt it would not stand up to the newer theatrical sound systems.) But after the disastrous theatrical release of Princess Mononoke, all the Ghibli film releases were put on indefinite hold. After decades of conditioning the public to believe that "cartoons were for kids" Disney was clueless about how to successfully market the Ghibli films in the US. But now with the Oscar, the marketing folks finally had a hook they understood: release everything with cover stickers that said "from the Academy Award winning creator of Spirited Away..." Okay, I'm being a bit cynical here, but I am grateful that this finally got Disney to release all the other films. Spirited Away hit the shelves along with a re-release of Kiki and (after five years on the shelf) Castle in the Sky. This was followed in the next two years by the dubbing and home video releases of Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (1984), Porco Rosso (1992), The Cat Returns (2002), along with Isao Takahata's films Pom Poko (1994) and My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999). Finally this March we will get a new dub of My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and Whisper of the Heart (1995) coming with the home video release of Howl's Moving Castle. At long last, all the Miyazaki films and almost all the Ghibli films will be available in North America.
So when Howl's Moving Castle was released in Japan in November 2004 (climbing to one of the top five all time money makers), there was no question this time whether Disney was going to release it here or not. The question now was: had Disney finally learned their lesson and would they give Howl the treatment a Miyazaki film really deserved? While Spirited Away was a fantasy set in a Japanese bath house, unfamiliar territory for most Western viewers, Howl was a standard "European-style" fantasy story, based on a novel by British fantasy writer Diana Wynne Jones, a book that had been in print in the US since 1986. The story centered on a young girl magically cursed into an old hag who goes looking for the shadowy wizard Howl who may be able to break the spell. Certainly selling that should be a snap for the company that gave us Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. Disney showed every intention of doing it right when they hired legendary actresses of the caliber of Jean Simmons and Lauren Bacall to voice the main characters. The Japanese press reported that Disney was planning on an 800+ screen release this time. Miyazaki fans like myself hoped for a little more. We understood that it wasn't realistic to expect a full wide release of 2500-3000 screens, but after Spirited Away's success and with a more "Disney-friendly" storyline, 1000 screens seemed reasonable. So we waited for the June release... and then...
...and like the rat that doesn't know any other way through the maze, Disney followed the Spirited Away release plan to the letter. Back to the art house circuit, Howl never got past 202 screens at its widest release (compare that to Wallace and Gromit and Corpse Bride, both of which maxed out at over 3200 screens). Yes, it got a half page feature on the front page of the Sunday New York Times' Arts and Entertainment section (complete with a huge color picture), but we wanted to see it getting attention in Oklahoma City too! This time Howl completely skipped some second tier markets such as Ft. Worth and Fresno, places that had gotten Spirited Away the first time through. It left most major markets after only two or three weeks and in the end it only pulled in $4.7 million, a bit shy of what Spirited Away did in its original release, and a paltry sum compared to the $190 million box office it did in Japan. Even then the inept marketing of Disney kept going. I remember sitting in a sold out showing of March of the Penguins last July and seeing the trailer for Howl. This was the ideal audience, nothing but parents and kids there, and I heard some "oohs" and "ahhs" coming from the audience during the trailer. It would have been perfect except for one detail: Howl had already closed in Dallas the week before.
So March 5th is going to be deja vu all over again. Once more millions of viewers across the country are going to watch the clip of Howl on the awards show and then turn to one another saying "Huh? Have you ever heard of this movie?" This time I doubt Miyazaki will win, I personally think Wallace and Gromit has it locked up. But I'm already wondering about the future. Now that John Lasseter, a long time friend (and an unabashed worshipper) of Miyazaki , is the head of all Disney animation, I'd like to think that any future Ghibli film will finally get the royal treatment from Disney. But will there be another Miyazaki film? His last three films, Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl, have each been hyped as "Miyazaki's final film." So we didn't take it too seriously, especially when Ghibli said last fall that Miyazaki's next feature film would be announced in January. But the announcement was that the next film, Tales from Earthsea, based on the Ursula LeGuin's books, would be done not by Hayao Miyazaki, but by his son, Goro Miyazaki. It is not clear at the moment if Hayao Miyazaki will ever do any more feature films, he may well stick to short films for the Ghibli Museum. So now that Disney animation finally has a leader who "gets it" and has the corporate political power to force Disney to do a decent wide release of a future Miyazaki film, it would be sad and ironic if there were no more Miyazaki films to come.
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
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
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
January 31, 2006
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for the 78th Annual Acedemy Awards this morning, including:
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM OF THE YEAR
(Sharon Colman, dir.; National Film and Television School) watch clip
The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation
(John Canemaker, dir.; John Canemaker and Peggy Stern)
The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello
(Anthony Lucas, 3d Films) watch the trailer
One Man Band
(Andrew Jimenez and Mark Andrews, dirs.; Pixar)
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM OF THE YEAR
Howl’s Moving Castle
(directed by Hayao Miyazaki)
Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride
(directed by Tim Burton and Mike Johnson)
Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit
(directed by Nick Park and Steve Box)
Good luck to all nominees!