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 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 Hayao Miyazaki mailing list.]

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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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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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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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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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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.

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November 4, 2005
I'll do my initial post here talking about the cable channel Turner Classic Movies showing a Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli festival next January. In case you haven't heard, every Thursday evening in January will be devoted to showing most of the feature films from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. (Only Grave of the Fireflies, Kiki's Delivery Service, The Cat Returns, and Howl's Moving Castle will be left out.) The films will be shown twice in each block. The first block will be shown with the English dub and the later showing will be in Japanese with subtitles. (The only exception here is Only Yesterday which doesn't have an English dub, so it will be shown subtitled both times.) Here's the schedule (note that all the times are eastern standard):

Thursday January 5 (Miyazaki's birthday, he will be 65)
8pm Spirited Away (dub)
10:15pm Princess Mononoke (dub)
1am Spirited Away (subbed)
3:15am Princess Mononoke (subbed)

Thursday January 12
8pm Nausicaa (dub)
10pm Castle in the Sky (dub)
12:15am Nausicaa (subbed)
2:15am Castle in the Sky (subbed)

Thursday January 19
8pm My Neighbor Totoro (dub)
9:30pm Porco Rosso (dub)
11:15pm Whisper of the Heart (dub)
1:15am My Neighbor Totoro (subbed)
2:45am Porco Rosso (subbed)
4:30am Whisper of the Heart (subbed)

Thursday January 26
8pm Only Yesterday (subbed)
10:15pm Pom Poko (dub)
12:30am Only Yesterday (subbed)
2:45am Pom Poko (subbed)

And since this is TCM, all of them will be shown in wide screen format. It's nice to see these films getting the proper treatment they deserve, but over at we've been scratching our heads over some of the odd things here. First off, according to our contacts at Disney, there are no plans to release Only Yesterday on home video, so taping it off the air may be the only way US fans will ever see it. (On the other hand, maybe this means they're considering a home video release at some point in the future.) The second odd thing is that the showing of Totoro and Whisper will be the first time (outside of a couple of film festivals) that the new Disney dubs of both films will be shown in the US. Both are scheduled for home video releases later next spring, so it's odd that they would allow them to be broadcast before the home video release. And last, why are they showing up on TCM and not on one of Disney's own channels?

My personal guess is that this class treatment on TCM is to showcase Miyazaki's and Ghibli's films to an audience that is serious about film and film watching. And it would be showing these films just as some of that audience are sending in their ballots for the Academy Awards. And it's a foregone conclusion that Howl's Moving Castle will be one of the nominees. (Though personally, I'm betting on Wallace and Gromit to win.) So it wouldn't hurt to remind folks (or introduce a lot of them) of the oeuvre of Miyazaki while they're considering their choice. Whatever the reason, I'm thrilled to see them getting this attention and I know where I'm going to spending my Thursdays in January.

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June 15, 2005
Totoro and fondant—who knew they'd make such a great combination? Learn how to make your own edible forest spirit right here. (If you're impatient, head right to the final image.)

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November 11, 2004
First, the good news: after several months of delays, Disney is finally releasing three DVDs: Nausicaa, Porco Rosso, and The Cat Returns. (The latter is listed as a Miyazaki release, though he served as its executive producer, not its director.) Each will be a two-disc set.

I'm sorry, was I drooling?

The bad news, or rather the less good news, is that My Neighbor Totoro, which was originally supposed to be part of the three DVDs released, isn't coming out (The Cat Returns takes its place). Looks like we'll have to wait a bit longer for our big-fuzzy fix.

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