September 10, 2009

ponyo dvd bluray

We've heard 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:

  • Storyboard
  • Theatrical Trailers (2 Types)
  • TV Spots (11 Types)
  • Tie-in TV Spots (3 Types)
  • Nitterechin Spots (2 Types)
  • Non-credit Ending (Long Version)
  • Theme Song Release
  • Press Conference
  • Dubbing Session Footage
  • Premiere
  • Interview with Miyazaki Hayao
  • Producer Suzuki Toshio x NTV Editor Tsuchiya Toshio Discussion
  • NEWS ZERO Ponyo Spin-off Segment
  • Miyazaki Hayao Quotations
  • Venice Film Festival Footage
  • Theme Song Music Video
  • Korea Version Theme Song Music Video

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

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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!

ponyo dvd bluray

Gake no ue no Ponyo, though released on DVD last week in Japan (region coded to work in Japanese players only, of course) has been announced for a December release on Blu-ray! No details of the disc itself are available yet but this bodes well for those of us outside of the land of the rising sun. You see, with the film opening in theatres here on August 14, and North America sharing a region code with Japan, I think this is Disney's sneaky little way of letting us know that we'll be seeing Ponyo on Blu-ray in North America at the same time. No point releasing it in one place alone when the disc is programmed to work in the other. So, my best guess is that Ponyo will hit the USA and Canada on Blu-ray in December, to be followed slowly in the coming months by the rest of the Ghibli catalogue. Mark my words!

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.

In the meantime, to sate your Ghibli pallet, there are a handful of related releases on Blu (Hint - Snap up the Hisaishi in Budokan disc to see a bonus feature of music videos with Miyazaki's animation set to music. The first Ghibli animation available for home video consumption in HD!):

Joe Hisaishi in Budokan - Miyazaki Anime to Tomo ni Ayunda 25 Nenkan Blu-ray

Joe Hisaishi in Budokan - Miyazaki Anime to Tomo ni Ayunda 25 Nenkan: "To commemorate the release of Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, master composer and Miyazaki's longtime collaborator Hisaishi Joe held special concerts at the Budokan on August 4 and 5, 2008. Joe Hisaishi in Budokan - Miyazaki Anime to Tomo ni Ayunda 25 Nenkan fondly revisits the award-winning composer's 25 years of musical collaboration with Miyazaki. Featuring a 200-person orchestra, an 800-person choir, and guest appearances from vocalists Hirahara Ayaka, Masako Hayashi, Fujioka Fujimaki, and Ohashi Nozumi, this concert DVD captures a night filled with music from Ponyo, My Neighbor Totoro, Laputa, Princess Mononoke, and other beloved Ghibli classics. Comes with making of and screen animation footage."

Oga Kazuo Exhibition: Ghibli No Eshokunin - The One Who Painted Totoro's Forest Blu-ray + DVD

Oga Kazuo Exhibition: Ghibli No Eshokunin - The One Who Painted Totoro's Forest (English Subs): "From July 21 through September 10th, 2007, the Museum for Contemporary Art Tokyo held an exhibition honoring Oga Kazuo, the art director and background artist for many famed works from Japan's Studio Ghibli. Over 600 works from the artist were on display, and numerous fans flocked to the one-of-a-kind exhibition celebrating the lush, gorgeous background artwork typifying many a work from Miyazaki Hayao and other Ghibli filmmakers. International fans of Oga and Studio Ghibli have not been left out, however. The Oga Kazuo Exhibition: Ghibli No Eshokunin - The One Who Painted Totoro's Forest (Blu-ray + DVD) allows fans the opportunity to attend the exhibition, as well as watch interviews and testimonials with Oga's contemporaries and collaborators, all subtitled in English."

The Scenery In Ghibli : Japan in Miyazaki's Work / European Journey To Meet Miyazaki's Work  Blu-ray

The Scenery In Ghibli : Japan in Miyazaki's Work / European Journey To Meet Miyazaki's Work : "With the use of Miyazaki's ekonte (storyboards) 3 travellers, actress Tsuruta Mayu, Natsukawa Yui and actor Sugimoto Tetsuta, visit the places and towns related to the images from Miyazaki's animated works. BS-Nippon re-edited the European part that aired on their TV channel back in 2006, as well as the Japanese part which aired in 2008 on BS-Nittere. In The Japan Miyazaki depicted (95 minutes), Tsuruta Mayu visits the places of "good old Japan" and discovers profound attractions like Totoro and Spirited Away and also shows the charm of Ponyo. In A Trip of the Europe Encountered in Miyazaki's Works (85 minutes) Natsukawa Yui visits Stockholm and Gotland to seek Koriko town from Kiki's Delivery Service. Sugimoto Tetsuta visits Alsace region to seek the town where Sophie lives in in Howl's Moving Castle." (via

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

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!

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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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I have to admit, I'm not much of a video game player. On top of that, I've never cared much for RPGs. But I'll gladly make an exception and dive stylus-first into a Nintendo DS when the design and animation of the hand-held role-player are by Studio Ghibli and the music by my hero, Joe Hisaishi.

From Ghibli World:
Ni no Kuni: The Another World follows the adventure of a 13-year-old boy whose actions lead to the death of his mother. One day, the boy encounters a fairy who gives him a book which promises to lead him to the mysterious world of Ni no Kuni, a reality parallel to his own. There he encounters alternate versions of people he knows (for example his neighbor's cat is a king there) and attempts to save his mother.

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September 24, 2008

This amazing clock was up for auction on eBay. Very expensive, but very beautiful. I'd love to receive incredible little Ghibli goo-gahs for my birthday, you know. It's December 28th, in case you were wondering.

Via Aint It Cool

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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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August 1, 2008

- 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

- 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

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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 (in Japanese, of course) of a recruitment drive for the studio.

Translation from the GhibliWiki:

* Duty place is Toyota City, Aichi prefecture not Tokyo.
* Term of the contract is from April 1 2009 to March 31 2011.
* The deadline for document submission is September 17

* Presentation documents:
* A resume with photograph
* Two pieces of artwork (the subject is open)
* Excessive documentation will be ignored by the selection committee
* The entry works will not be returned
* Primary selection: End of September. Notified by letter.
* Second selection: By the end of October. Practical examination and interview at Studio Ghibli.
* Third selection: From October 24 to November 3.
* A training examination of 10 days. Ghibli will supply housing.

Apparently, you also need to know a reasonable amount of Japanese to get the job. Can't say I'm at all surprised.

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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

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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

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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." - "101 minutes of bliss"

via GhibliWiki

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July 11, 2008

fps blogger Matt Forsythe joins some of the worlds greatest illustrators and animators in contributing art to the Totoro Forest Project: an international charity effort to preserve Sayama Forest, also known as Totoro Forest.

"Over 200 top international artists from animation, illustration, and comics are donating artwork especially created for this cause. On september 6th 2008 Pixar Animation Studios will be hosting an art auction event featuring all these fantastic pieces of art. All the proceeds of this fundraiser will benefit the Totoro Forest Foundation. On top of the auction we are producing a wonderful art book of the auction pieces and we’ve also managed to secure an exhibition at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco."

Visit Matt's blog to view his wonderful contribution to the project.

Read Enrico Casarosa's blog to learn more about how he, Dice Tsutsumi, Ronnie Del Carmen, and Yukino Pang at Pixar plan to save the forest.


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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.


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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

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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!

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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.

The Lorax
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.

Princess Mononoke
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
The Lorax DVDs and more from
The Man Who Planted Trees DVDs and more from
My Neighbor Totoro DVDs and more from
Princess Mononoke DVDs and more from
Respire (part of the Imagina Trips Vol. 2 compilation; PAL, Region 2) on DVD from
Tu vas pas mourir de rire on CD from

Previously on Frames Per Second
Imagina Trips Vol. 2 review

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April 5, 2008

The "To the Source of Anime" retrospective ends its run today at the Cinémathèque québécoise with a tribute to Noburo Ofuji. The "Wartime Japanese Animation" programs included propaganda cartoons that feature strikingly American character designs. I mentioned this to Akira Tochigi, the curator of the retrospective, when I interviewed him during his stay in Montreal. Mr. Tochigi spoke with enthusiasm during our lengthy interview.

Armen Boudjikanian: This retrospective does a survey of Japanese animation from 1924 to 1952. Is there any reason why there are not any films from before the 1920s?

Akira Tochigi: Actually until last year, we haven't had any surviving elements of animation from the 1910s. But a private collector found two elements of early animation from 1917 [35mm prints]. We are now doing their digital restoration. We will showcase them soon in a program highlighting recent restoration projects.

What can you tell us about the state of Japanese animation in the 1910s?

Animation was first imported to Japan between 1908 and 1910 from France [the works of Émile Cohl] and the UK. The Japanese film industry created its first major studio in 1912: Nikkatsu studio. Nikkatsu was very powerful at making and distributing its own films but also distributing foreign films. Gradually, along with its competitors, it began being interested in making animation. Pioneers of early animation found opportunities in these studios.

Around the 20s, as more animation came from abroad, especially the States, the majors lost interest in producing their own animation. Rather, [they decided to focus on] importing. They believed that American animation was much more sophisticated and more appealing to [Japanese] audiences.

But also in the 1910s, there was a heated debate in Japan about the influence of cinema on children. The portion of young audiences was big: about 30 to 40 per cent of the moviegoers. The government, academics and intellectuals were all concerned on the [effect of films] on children.

So in the early 1920s, the Japanese central government set up the policy of supporting educational films [which at the time also encompassed] animation. By this kind of categorization the government supported animation filmmaking and sometimes commissioned independent filmmakers to make animations for kid audiences. Animation became a way to safeguard children [from] the influence of cinema. And so, its quality changed at that time.

Coming to the question of governmental funding for animated films. I have noticed that films from the WWII era which are heavily funded by the government resemble Hollywood cartoons much more than earlier Japanese animation. Is there a principal cause for this?

Yes, [this is the result of the combination] of two elements. In the late 20s, early 30s, more and more American animation came to Japan: Disney, [Fleischer's] Betty Boop and Popeye, etc... Japanese animation was very quick to react to this situation by creating its own [set] of characters which originated from comic books and also from Japanese folklore such as Momotaro, monkeys, badgers, etc...

It seems that the synthesis is very well done, though. These are early cartoons but they are very well executed technically. The western influence is obvious but the Japanese elements are blended in successfully.

[The reason for] this synthesis is that in the 1940s, the Japanese government set up the Film Law which forced culture films [documentaries], educational and animation films to be shown in theatres to [large] audiences.

The law also controlled film projections, and [theatre] personnel. There was severe censorship. [Nevertheless], the field of animation became prosperous in these times because the government supported it with its law. So as the influence of American cartoons on Japanese animation continued in the 1940s, it came together with the film law and this resulted in the making of the first medium and feature-length animated films in Japan [the 1942 war film Momotaro and the Sea Eagle was Japan's first five-reel animation].

[Films from this period] used characterization that was typical of American animation. [This] is pretty ironic because these films were very much anti-American propaganda, but still [laughs] it is very apparent that their character designs and aesthetic were coming from American animation.

Coming to Momotaro and the Sea Eagle, can you talk about its cast of characters? Why is the leader of the Japanese army a young girl and why are its soldiers animals?

I think that it's a young boy, not a girl. It seems that he has a kind of femininity but it's a boy. [These characters] come from the original story of Momotaro, who was a boy character that fought the enemy [with the help] of animals.

What happened to Japanese animation between the end of WWII and the establishment of Toei Doga studio in the fifties?

This is one of the hardest ever periods for Japanese animation. There was a shortage of film stock and taxes were high. The defeat of the war finished the [governmental] support to filmmaking. There were no festivals, no theatrical exhibitions, but there were a lot of talented young artists who tried to make films on an independent basis. So when Toei started in the '50s, and TV animation in the early '60s, they [offered the young] animators a way to sort of continue making films under a well-financed situation.

Noburo Ofuji, an animation pioneer to whom you attribute a program to in this retrospective, made Burglars of Baghdad Castle in 1926. This film is very innovative. The techniques used in it foresee some of those that Japanese animators will employ later such as limiting the movement of characters. Do you see a link between Ofuji's work and some of the techniques that were used later on?

Noburo Ofuji started using chiyogami [Japanese coloured paper] as a medium of motion in the 1920s. Celluloid was very expensive in Japan and most animators were not able to use it until the middle of the 1930s. Even then Ofuji remained interested in using chiyogami.

He would cut them [drawings done on chiyogami] out, right?

Right. Ofuji continued making films in the late '50s, and in his later films, used colored cellophane—not to use celluloid [laughs]. And because of the materiality of the [cellophane] paper, [he had] to find ways to economize the motion of the characters. And this seems very associative with TV animation. As you may know, when Osamu Tezuka started the program Astro Boy, thirty minutes of animation were aired on TV weekly. It was pretty hard to make original pictures for thirty minutes amount of work per week.

The team of Tezuka Productions only animated eight pictures in a second [as opposed to 24] to sort of economize the motion of characters... So when trying to connect history to what came before it, [early] paper animation and TV animation [seem] closely related.

Also, Burglars of Baghdad Castle, like current anime, has also plenty of action.

Yes. The Baghdad film features mass action.

Yes! A lot of crowds.

[Laughs] Something like a Kurosawa movie.

How about other links between the early animations and contemporary anime? Do you see any similarities in terms of inspiration?

I think that [there] is a very clear association with contemporary anime [especially] with the work of Studio Ghibli: in Pom Poko for example, a community of creatures [raccoon dogs, or tanuki] fight against human beings. This Ghibli film is not similar in content to 1930s cartoons that have [similar] characters, but [in terms of] the idea to use creature characters to make a satire of human society, it is very closely related. Ghibli, in this sense, is a very traditional animation creator.

So what got you interested in animation?

To be honest, I didn't have a special interest in animation for a long time. Of course, as a child I was intrigued by theatrical animation—and in fact had a passion for TV animation. I [also] read comics in my elementary school [years]. When I entered college, I continued reading comics, [especially the work of] Otomo [creator of Akira]. He was popular with the college crowd not only because of his aesthetics but also because of his handling of contemporary issues.

At this time, my interest in animation was not so much special. [However], when I started working for the Film Archives several years ago, I found many animations in their collection [from the past]. When I watched these films, I was struck by their power and complexity. Of course most were for kid audiences; but from a contemporary perspective, I found out about the [ability] of animation to deal with fantasy, illusion and delusion in many different ways. It seems to me that because these early animators worked mostly independently [their only support came from the government], their individualities and sense of art as filmmakers is apparent in their films; [whether] they worked on mainstream films or in alternative cinema.

[And since] I was struck by experimental cinema in college, including [laughs] Norman McLaren...

Of Course! [laughter]

[Continues laughing] So... Because of this intrigue, my connection with these animated films [felt] natural. And of course as an archivist, I was interested in the history of animation cinema.

There is going to be a retrospective of Canadian and Québécois animation in Tokyo in 2009. Is there an interest in Canadian animation in Japan right now?

Yes, definitely. Next year's exhibition of Canadian and Québécois animation will be programmed by [Marco de Blois of the Cinémathèque québécoise]. We like to leave him to make the final decisions for that [exhibition], as I did for this one.

The staff members of our institution [the National Film Center in Tokyo] are very eager for [this] program because when Norman McLaren was first introduced in Japan in the late '50s, many young artists were so surprised by his films: they were experimental and personal expressions of ideas and feeling through the medium of animation. Most of the Japanese audiences at the time thought animation would [only] be kid entertainment.

That's something that's common in many countries.

Right... And in the late '50s, early '60s, the word "animation" was first introduced in Japan.
Before then, we used the word "manga" film, not animation. But the exhibition that introduced McLaren's work was called "animation film screening". [This] means that the term animation was related not to Disney type of animation but to experimental film and personal film... So this context of Canadian animation has a special [significance] in Japan: it is a kind of individual expression.

Which filmmaker from the "To the Source of Anime" retrospective is of special interest to you as a researcher?

When I was watching the films of this retrospective again and again, the films of Masaoka Kenzo struck me so much [in terms] of aesthetic, ideas and technique.

The Spider and the Tulip is very well directed and animated, could you talk about the artist and how he got into animation?

[Kenzo] had a unique background; he came from a very rich family from Kyoto. He studied western painting in college. Then he joined a major film studio as an actor. He then made his first film, a documentary. [It is only afterwards] that he moved to animation.

Because he came from a prosperous family, and because of his movie studio contacts; he did not rely on [external] funding to make his films. He was exceptionally able to have his films exhibited in theatres, even his first film. Also, because of this, he did not care about targeting his films to children. He wanted to show his films to regular audiences. He often created in his own small studio. He [also coined] the Japanese term doga which means "animated images" in English.

He [did this to be able] to cover all aspects of animation: from puppet to silhouette animation, [whether designed] for children or not. He wanted to value animation as an art for everybody.

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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.

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January 9, 2008
In New York and have some free time Thursday afternoon? Head over to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to see fully restored versions of the three Popeye Color Specials by Fleischer Studios: Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor, Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves, and Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp.

The screening is part of Still Moving, a film series focusing on MoMA's media collection. January's schedule pays special attention to animation. Other screenings include Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, A Bug's Life, and Studio Ghibli's My Neighbors the Yamadas.

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September 21, 2007
Last year, the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art (also just known as Museum of Tokyo or MOT) held a notable exhibition, The Art of Disney. A beautiful catalogue was also published for the exhibit featuring works that were once thought lost. This summer, the DVD catalogue of the exhibit was released in Japan as well.

I decided I was going to see whatever exhibit was showing at the museum when I was in Tokyo, as I like to do in any new city I visit. It ended up the major exhibit was also animation-related this year: a retrospective of work by Art Director Kazuo Oga.

Kazuo Oga worked on a diverse animation projects such as Barefoot Gen, Dagger of Kamui and Wicked City before creating the background art for My Neighbor Totoro at Studio Ghibli. He went on to work on all of the subsequent features for the studio, and last year, directed his own film for the studio, Taneyamagahara no Yoru.

The lush scenery he creates with his brush is truly breathtaking, and the museum selection was as dense as an of the green forest background he is known for. The sheer number of pieces was more than I have seen for comparatively-sized art exhibitions of any type, and I have never seen its like for animation artwork, mostly from the Studio Ghibli archives. He captures the spirit of the countryside, but also of everyday Japan with a balance of love and accuracy.

Almost all of the art is unphotographable. Near the end of the exhibit, after a room of multiplane setups, there are a number of backgrounds that are blown up so that people can pose in front of them, but most people just step back in wonder to take a whole new look at the art. (I couldn't help posing with Totoro, though.)

Afterward, everyone was invited to fold an origami Totoro in an open room, with mini-backgrounds. Here's mine.

Like the Art of Disney catalogue, a catalogue has been published for this exhibit as well. A DVD is forthcoming for the end of the year. The exhibit has been extended until September 30. If you find yourself in Tokyo, you won't want to miss it.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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May 7, 2007
Two of the hottest recent titles in anime come to Blu-ray... in Japan. Fortunately, Paprika and Tekkon Kinkreet are available by mail-order and viewable on North American Blu-ray players. You just kinda have to get past the lack of subtitles. Hey, there's a reason they say patience is a virtue.

Meanwhile, check out the upcoming art books, including two for Ghibli faves The Cat Returns and Nausicaä, and scope the new nine-minute teaser for Ratatouille.

New titles:

5/23 - Paprika (Japanese release) (Blu-ray)

6/27 - Tekkon Kinkreet (Japanese release; includes DVD edition) (Blu-ray)

7/10 - Initial D Season 2 Box Set (DVD)
7/17 - Hare+Guu OVA Vol. 2 (DVD)
7/24 - Yu Yu Hakusho Sixth Sense (episodes 71-84) (DVD)

8/21 - Horny Ladies and the News (Adult) (DVD)
8/28 - Project Boobs (Adult) (DVD)
8/28 - Story of Saiunkoku Vol. 1 (DVD)
8/28 - Story of Saiunkoku Vol. 1 + artbox (DVD)

9/11 - Beet the Vandal Buster Vol. 3 (DVD)
9/25 - BoBoBo-Bo Bo-BoBo Vol. 5 (DVD)
9/25 - Voltron: Defender of the Universe Vol. 4 (DVD)

10/2 - Art of Naruto: Uzumaki Art Book (hardcover) (Book)
10/2 - Cat Returns Picture Book (hardcover) (Book)
10/16 - Art of Angel Sanctuary Book 2 (hardcover) (Book)
10/16 - Art of Fullmetal Alchemist Book 2 (hardcover) (Book)
10/23 - Beet the Vandal Buster Vol. 4 (DVD)
10/30 - Beat B'tX Vol. 5 (DVD)
10/31 - Megami DX Artbook Vol. 1 (paperback) (Book)

11/6 - BoBoBo-Bo Bo-BoBo Vol. 6 (DVD)
11/6 - Nausicaa Watercolor Impressions Art Book (paperback) (Book)

12/4 - Beet the Vandal Buster Vol. 5 (DVD)
12/18 - BoBoBo-Bo Bo-BoBo Vol. 7 (DVD)
12/25 - AM Driver Vol. 3 (DVD)

1/29 - BoBoBo-Bo Bo-BoBo Vol. 8 (DVD)

Date changes:

6/26 - Beat B'tX Vol. 2 (DVD)

7/3 - BoBoBo-Bo Bo-BoBo Vol. 3 (DVD)
7/10 - Desert Punk Box Set (DVD)
7/10 - GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka Semester 1 (DVD)
7/31 - Beet the Vandal Buster Vol. 2 (DVD)

8/7 - Beat B'tX Vol. 3 (DVD)
8/14 - BoBoBo-Bo Bo-BoBo Vol. 4 (DVD)

9/18 - Beat B'tX Vol. 4 (DVD)

10/2 - AM Driver Vol. 1 (DVD)

11/13 - AM Driver Vol. 2 (DVD)

New movie previews:
Ratatouille (Movie)

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April 14, 2007
I've let a small pile of items gather over the last few weeks, because I haven't had the time (or, with my recent cold, the stamina) to mention them. Here they are, in no particular order.

Last March we devoted the In Progress section of the magazine to Today, a short based on a poem by poet laureate Billy Collins and directed by Little Fluffy Clouds co-founders Jerry van de Beek and Betsy de Fries. It was announced recently that Today will join 19 other promotional films (Today was commissioned by the Sundance Channel) in competition at the Annecy festival in June. Congratulations, Jerry and Betsy!

The Norwich International Animation Festival changed its name to Aurora a few weeks ago. Can't argue with that, but their reasoning is questionable. "The change of the name is the annual festival's latest move towards a truly multidisciplinary program, and represents the opinion that 'animation' itself has become a restrictive tag, which rarely does justice to the myriad artistic activity that it encompasses," reads the press release. "It follows, then, that an 'animation festival' is no longer capable of staying abreast of this enormous artistic diversity—so in order to more freely reflect the way the programmers think animation is heading, we're dropping the label." Huh? The debate as to what is and isn't animation has been going on for a long time, and animation festivals—not to mention books, academic programs and even mainstream coverage—have evolved to suit. What's the big deal? Seems to me that if they really wanted to "[challenge] the traditional boundaries of animation," they'd present the nifty installations and live performances they're trumpeting under the old name, then defend their presence. It's not much of a challenge if you punk out and change your name.

If you've been hungering for new Ghibli material and you can't wait until the Sci-Fi Channel's North American rights to Earthsea lapse in 2009, you can always pick up the Japanese DVD of Tales of Earthsea (Gedo Senki) in June, which will come with English subtitles; or you can get the Iblard Time OAV, a collaboration between Ghibli and surrealist artist Naohisa Inoue, which is due for a July 4 release on both DVD and Blu-ray disc (both come with a soundtrack CD).

Next Saturday ASIFA-Hollywood will be hosting the one-day Stop-Motion Expo at Woodbury University in Burbank. Guests include Will Vinton, Screen Novelties' Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh and Robot Chicken's Tennessee Reid Norton. $25 for the panel discussions, $35 for the seminars or $50 for the whole thing. ASIFA-Hollywood members get a $10-$15 discount.

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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, 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 for posting the link to the first image from the film.)

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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

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