Photo of the Day - Ponyo on a Cliff


Today's illustration is the CD cover for Joe Hisaishi's soundtrack album to the upcoming Miyazaki film, Ponyo on a Cliff. I thought you'd like to take a look and enjoy.

If you're curious about any Ponyo details as they emerge, your best resource is GhibliWorld. I prefer not to look too closely, because I don't want to spoil any surprises. I want to be able to enjoy this movie without any preconceptions, beyond, of course, that it's the next Miyazaki picture. As if you need any more incentive.

Note to self: get press pass to Venice Film Festival. The Western premier is sure to be here, according to tradition.

Movie Night - Lupin III - Episode 2

(Update: This video has since been removed from Youtube.  Sorry.)

Here is the second episode of the 1971-72 "Green Jacket" series of Lupin III. I wanted to make sure that I showed as many of these episodes as I can. Hey, this sure is a cheap way to get out of writing, ain't it? Ack! I will do better...

Episode 2 is titled, "The Man They Call a Magician." In this show, a mysterious stranger appears to defy gravity, injury, even death. Lupin and his sidekick Jigen are naturally caught up in the affairs, and the mysterious Fujiko flies in, switches sides once or twice, then flies out.

These first couple episodes are pretty rough to my eyes, although I enjoy them more each time I see them. I think the general dynamics of the show are still being worked out, and there's the challenge of dealing with all these regular characters. The interplay between them only becomes more worked out over time, and I think they start to really hit their stride around the third or fourth episode.

For the Ghibli fan, Miyazaki and Takahata do not make their first appearance as series directors until episode seven, so this gives us a good chance to see the differences in the show's style. These early episodes are much more explicitly violent, as tonight's opening scene shows. This must have been mildly shocking for its time, since anime was still dominated by cutesy kiddie shows. Lupin III was aimed at the college crowd. Funny, isn't it, that even today, there's a hard-boiled grittiness here that modern Japanese anime can't even touch. The unique style of this series is what draws me back, again and again.

As before, embedding has been disabled for these videos, so I'll have to provide the direct links. Enjoy!

Movie Night - Gauche the Cellist

(Update: This video has since been removed from Youtube.  Sorry.)

Hi, everyone! I promised myself to get some serious writing done this weekend, including more videos for the Ghibli blog. I promised a friend or two I'd show Gauche the Cellist one more time, so here it is. This is a movie I come back to time and time again; partly because of its brevity (approx. 60 min.), and partly because of its soulful character. This is arguably the finest movie ever made about the creative process of music, and the power of music to sweep ourselves away and transform us.

As I've noted in the past, Sero Hiki no Gauche has now been picked up by Studio Ghibli in Japan, where Isao Takahata released it on their DVD label. I still have my old Geneon DVD, but I have promised that my next DVD voyage will include the new Gauche release. And now that the next-generation format war has finally ended, I'm looking forward to the inevitable Blu-Ray release.

Hopefully, someone at Pixar or Disney would discover this fine film, and push for an American release. It certainly would be an easy sell; much easier than Jarinko Chie or I Can Hear the Sea or even Omohide Poro Poro. I strongly suspect this picture would become a beloved staple, if only given the proper exposure. Perhaps our emerging Long Tail economy of the Internet will make this feasible.

So here, once again, is one of Isao Takahata's greatest strengths, Sero Hiki no Goshu, Gauche the Cellist...

Thoughts on Lupin III #1, Series One

Welcome back, folks! Hopefully on Sunday I'll have a new computer. One that works, even. For tonight, I'm borrowing again, but I've found something extra grand from the vaults at YouTube. I'm sure you will enjoy this...the original Lupin III TV series!

This is episode 1, "Lupin is Burning." This was the pilot episode for the fledgling series, which began as a movie project as early as 1969. Yasuo Otsuka, your favorite and mine, left the Toei Animation studio to work on Lupin, which was produced over at A Productions. Over time, more and more of the old Toei crew would make the jump, including, most notably, Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki.

Takahata and Miyazaki would be brought on as directors, but that didn't happen until sometime around episode 7 or 8. Low ratings brought about the changes, as the studio was unnerved by the unusual (for its time) level of sex and violence on the show. So the new directors were hired to tone that down, and play up comedy. You can see the change in the show's style, as the episodes progress. It's an interesting trade-off between the hard-boiled, but directorally scattershot, episodes, and the later episodes, which were lighter and goofier, but far more assured and solid. And, it should be said, Takahata and Miyazaki still kept things pretty real.

If you're a fan of Miyazaki's 2979 picture Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro, then the 1971-72 tv show, aka the "Green Jacket" Lupin, is absolutely required viewing. I daresay that you won't even notice the subtler themes in that movie without it. There's a whole layer of meaning, a sense of weariness, that's present in Cagliostro; but it really requires those original 23 episodes to flesh that out. Miyazaki and Otsuka really worked their magic, since, to a great extent, Lupin is their child. The animated one, anyway.

Anyways, these first Green Jacket episodes are pretty faithful to the original Monkey Punch comic, and it's surprising how much of the sex and violence got on the air at all. Remember, folks, it's 1971, and Japanese animation was still very firmly in the realm of children's and family entertainment. There was only one notable exception, a certain infamous movie by an equally infamous director and his group of young punks. And the Horus Rebellion was still making its presence felt, on the ground level, person to person, fan to fan. Lupin III would follow a similar fate, as the tv show failed to gain an audience, only to grow in popularity over time.

Yasuo Otsuka firmly believed that his Lupin was the only one that mattered. I agree with him. His skill in realism, his love of machines, and the gritty adult tone make this a landmark in anime. It's sad, really, that nobody else could really make Lupin work...which, of course, brings us back to Miyazaki and his quietly troubled Lupin, growing too old to keep up the schtick.

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