Here are a look at movie posters for Satoshi Kon's 2004 movie, Tokyo Godfathers. I recognize the American version because it appears on the DVD (which I hope is still available). The Japanese poster is very impressive, as usual. If Japanese cinema can do anything, it's make fantastic movie posters. The third poster is new to me. I'm not sure where it comes from, but I do like it. It's just slightly abstract, focusing on the orphaned baby who is the MacGuffin for the story.
I think this would be a good time to track down Kon's movies and watch them again. It's so tragic that his career was cut so short.
Satoshi Kon suddenly died yesterday from pancreatic cancer. Holy.....Wow. This is a sudden and terrible shock. Satoshi Kon was one of my favorite anime directors from the past decade. He only directed four feature films, but each one was better than the last. I especially enjoyed the way he confronted imagination and illusion, often in the form of popular culture, challenging our assertions of reality. Millenium Actress and Paprika were brilliant in this regard.
I think my favorite Satoshi Kon movie is Tokyo Godfathers, thanks to the wonderfully touching and funny characters, the unique flair given to a John Ford/John Wayne classic, and the sharp willingness to peel back the illusions of modern Tokyo, to reveal the hidden suffering of the underclass. I was lucky enough to see it on 35mm film at the University of Minnesota. It played only for one weekend, and there were only a handful of attendees at the screening (where were all those anime fans?!), but I had a wonderful time and laughed myself silly.
I'm also a great fan of Kon's drawing style. His characters have more rounded faces than standard anime fare, slightly more fleshy and weighted. They feel more solid to my eyes, more natural and less caricatured. It may be a surprise to you, but I'm really not a fan of most Japanese anime. Too much character design is given over to huge saucer eyes and scrawny, spindly bodies that always seem fragile and lifeless. I'm thinking of Ninja Scroll for some reason (ugh), but there are plenty of other examples.
Kon's skills are far more evident, and his realism reminds me greatly of Isao Takahata. I've often wondered what would happen if the two collaborated together; indeed, Takahata appears lost without his right-hand man, Yoshifumi Kondo. Wouldn't that have been fantastic? A meeting of the minds - Tokyo Godfathers meets Taeko-chan, Paprika meets Anne Shirley.
This is such a terrible loss. Who else in the anime world are we looking forward to? I think Ben Ettinger is absolutely right: the man is irreplaceable. No one else among the younger generation possesses his skills as an animator, a storyteller, a director. No one else can match his razor sharp intellect. In lesser hands, a film like Paprika would fly apart at the seams and turn into a hallucinatory mess. Satoshi Kon always felt completely in control, and had a purpose, an agenda. Here was an educated adult making movies for other educated adults, who just also happened to be an illustrator.
If Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata have any peers in Japan, it's most definitely Satoshi Kon. Now his voice and his mind are forever silenced. He has fallen into what Terence McKenna called, "the black hole of biology." This is a devestating loss for the animation and film world.
Here are some cool screenshots from the little-known Future Boy Conan video game. It appeared in Japan on the PC Engine CD-ROM, which was known in the West as the Turbografx-16 and TurboDuo.
I still find it a bit strange that Hayao Miyazaki's 1978 television series remains unknown to so many anime fans. In many ways, you could say this is the definitive Miyazaki, the perfect bridge between his earlier, swashbuckling adventures like Animal Treasure Island and Lupin III, and the later Studio Ghibli era. Fortunately, fansubs are easily available for those willing to look (cough, Download These Fansubs, cough), so every visitor to this website should have Conan in their collection.
As for the game, it's pretty bland. Nothing much to write home about, and you're not missing much. It's a standard side-scrolling platformer which is just like about a dozen other sidescrollers on the PC Engine/Turbo. You play through all the scenes of the television show, and fans will easily spot the locations, so that's nice. I suppose there's a Youtube video or two floating around somewhere, in case you were curious to see Conan in action.
And, no, Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli were not involved in any with the production of the Future Boy Conan videogame. This PCE title was designed by Telenet, which was one of the more prolific software studios during the 16-bit era. They created such classics as the Valis series and Gaiares on the Sega Genesis. Sunsoft has recently acquired their entire library, so there is hope that some games will soon appear on Nintendo's Virtual Console. I wouldn't hold out much hope for Conan, though. Victor Ireland may be a fan of the cultish and obscure, but this game might be a bit too obscure even for him.
Only $41,200. Ouch. To be sure, Tales From Earthsea played only in a handful of cities, with no advertising and little to no press. I doubt most American Ghibli Freaks even know the movie was playing at all. Heck, I'm still surprised Minneapolis-St. Paul didn't get a screening. We always seem to get every anime movie that comes to the States.
This was a "contractual obligation" release, and largely for the sake of qualifying for awards. I would expect a nod in the Best Animation Feature category at next year's Oscars, if only because this is Studio Ghibli, and 2010 is a very slow year for animation. Toy Story 3, of course, will walk away with the Oscar, to no one's surprise.
Fortunately, I think we shall see Goro Miyazaki's Earthsea movie on DVD soon, alongside Nausicaa and at least one other title from the catalog.
My take on Gedo Senki? Toshio Suzuki panicked.
This had more to do with Ghibli's line of succession than anything else. Goro Miyazaki was picked in a flash, in hopes that he could be molded into his father's career, but without ever properly paying his dues. This was proven to be a mistake, a very rare one for Suzuki-san. His instincts have nearly always been impeccable. Oh, well, they managed to rebound nicely.
What I hated about this movie was how Goro wasted so much time airing the family's dirty laundry in public. I found that offensive. I also found it offensive that he was dropped into the director's chair, and presumably the throne of the empire itself, like a spoiled prince. How that must have angered the lapsed socialist father!
Then, after piling on the family melodrama in public, Goro arrives with a movie that shamefully steals from his father. WTF?! He rips off the castle chase from Puss in Boots. He rips off the 1982 manga The Journey of Shuna. He rips off Nausicaa and Heidi. He rips off the battle with the wolves from Horus, Prince of the Sun (don't dare call it "little norse prince"!) - a spectacular opening from the most important anime movie ever made. Ugh!
What original idea does Goro have? Oh, yes - the opening scene where the hero kills his father. Good grief. Jim Morrison called, and he wants his shtick back. What an embarrassment.
Over time, however, I've grown to be more sympathetic to Goro. It appears that Father Miyazaki has taken the reins, and essentially put him through film school, with various minor film projects for Ghibli and the Ghibli Museum. Goro's two shorts were very well made, in fact.
And Ghibli may have found their next-generation director with Yonebayashi-san, and the recent release of The Borrowers. This would take some pressure off the studio. Personally, I'm rooting for him. Now if we could only get Takahata to finally get cracking on his long-awaited Ghibli film, we'd really be cookin'.
Goro will have a second crack at the bat. No pressures on him, but that next movie will essentially make or break his career as a film director. The Japanese public has lost their good will (badmouthing mommy and daddy will do that). So everything will come down to Goro, and how badly he wants his success. He will have to earn his father's throne.
So there's no pressure at all. But it's okay. Hayao Miyazaki was in the same place before. Maybe it's the family tradition.
Anyway, that's my sort-of official Ghibli Blog take on this topic. You'll notice I haven't talked much about Tales From Earthsea. There's a reason for that. It's not a very good or memorable movie. It's grim, preachy, dull and witless. I watched it four years ago, and I still can't push myself to find anything good to say about it. The family drama is the real show, and everybody knows it.
Here is another addition to the always-impressive lineup of Toei Animation movie posters: Puss in Boots 3: Around the World in 80 Days, from 1976.
I'm a great fan of the original 1969 Puss in Boots. In fact, I think it's an anime masterpiece and one of Toei Doga's crowning achievements. It benefited greatly from the immense talent at the studio, including Hayao Miyazaki, Yasuo Otsuka, Yoichi Kotabe, Reiko Okuyama, and Yasuji Mori. Within a couple years, however, they would begin the migration away to other studios and projects like Lupin III and Heidi, and the quality of Toei's movies deteriorated as a result.
Puss in Boots 2, made in 1972, was a weaker sequel, but it still had some charms, thanks to Mori and Okuyama. At least, the Wild West theme was a bold change of pace. Most sequels aim to repeat the exact formula, so you have to admire the willingness to take risks. I think it's an alright movie and is worth watching at least once.
Puss in Boots 3, however, is a disaster. If there was ever an example of Toei's decimation as a great movie studio, it's this picture. It's amazing that this was even considered a feature release at all. It has the look and feel of crude television, some low-budget mess that was probably green-lighted as a result of some executive losing a poker match.
I will say this in the movie's defense: I really like the setting. "Around the World in 80 Days" is a terrific idea for a movie; in fact, it happens to be a terrific movie. That's a movie you watch with the grandparents at holiday gatherings. So it makes sense to give it a try with Pero the Cat. It's a pity the whole thing is such an unimaginative mess.
I found it a bit weird that Puss in Boots 3 completely rips off the 1968 anime masterpiece Horus, Prince of the Sun. How did that come about? Was Toei finally feeling remorse over letting the movie tank at the box office, sacking the director, Isao Takahata, only to see him steal the studio's best talent and revolutionize anime with Heidi and Marco? Strange. Personally, I chalk it up to a lack of ideas. The filmmakers who made this picture couldn't find a decent idea if it bit 'em on the....ehh, whatever. You get the point.
I also wonder if Hayao Miyazaki had seen this movie? How strange is it that a movie that steals from Horus features a climactic chase through a clock tower, one that Miyazaki seems to steal for Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro? Yes, it's true that the clock tower motif first appeared in an episode of Lupin III: Series One, but, still. I came away with the impression that Miyazaki ripped this scene out. You can't blame him for being cranky, in any event.
Let's see, what else is there? The animation is stiff and crude, barely television quality, as I've mentioned before. Pero is certainly likable, but dull and witless. You can tell this isn't the same whipsmart anti-hero from the original 1969 classic. The villains are likewise boring. Just why are we seeing that fox character yet again? He was first a character on the television show Hustle Punch, and then a pirate in Animal Treasure Island (another of my all-time favorites). Why is he in this lousy picture? And why can't he get to do anything interesting or fun?
An animated movie version of Around the World in 80 Days should be wildly funny, colorful, full of life. This should be a movie for Pixar, not the creatively bankrupt Toei. This is an absolute clunker. I can't think of any redeeming qualities for this movie....except for the movie poster. That's a really terrific poster.
That said, a fansub of the movie is now available. Ta-daa! Aren't I a terrific salesman? You can find it at the Download These Fansubs section of this website.
Optimum has announced that the Nausicaa Blu-Ray will arrive in Australia this October 18. Meanwhile, Madman has tweeted that Miyazaki's 1984 masterpiece will come to the UK this November.
This leaves me feeling very hopeful for a 2010 holiday release here in the US. Heck, a few more Studio Ghibli movies on Blu-Ray, and I might be tempted to finally get an HDTV. Now if the studio could only get on board with digital distribution, we wouldn't be seeing them wait until the last minute to support a media format.
I'm so totally looking forward to this. Nintendo and the airlines might get all my Christmas money, but I'll save room for Nausicaa.
Pixar employee and director of the canceled "Newt" project Garry Rydstrom spoke to the San Francisco Chronicle about his work as US dub director for Tales From Earthsea. It's a short interview, but worth a read. I personally wish they would have gone into more depth about the film, and more of the specifics of working with Studio Ghibli, but that's alright.
Tales From Earthsea has opened in a very limited release in the US this weekend. Sadly, it didn't play here in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and it's very unlikely that it ever will. This was a "contractual obligation" release and little more. It's alright. Don't feel bad if you've missed it. You didn't miss much.
My best guess - and my guess is as good as yours - is that Goro Miyazaki's Earthsea movie will be released on DVD alongside the next batch of Ghibli reissues, and the Nausicaa Blu-Ray. Would that happen in time for Christmas, or early next year? Nobody knows and nobody's talking.
Here is a real discovery, and one that was shared by a dedicated Hayao Miyazaki fan. This very short comic, only three pages, appeared in the September, 1993 issue of Navi Magazine in Japan. Titled, "A Middle Aged Man Runs Toward the Wasteland," is details the story of Miyazaki taking a long trek in a very unusual car, a British three-wheeler.
This story is rendered beautifully in watercolor, which is always a special treat. I'm a great fan of Miyazaki's watercolors for their rich textures and luminous detail. I'm especially a fan of his many comics, and we always manage to discover yet another one around the corner. One day, the complete manga works will have to be properly cataloged for history.
The arrangements and compositions are fantastic, as always. You can see why Miyazaki is a master action director - even still drawings have such dynamic power. I also enjoy the energy and tension of densely packing so many panels together on one page. These pages are crowded even by Western standards. You can imagine how this is received by the more sedate manga-reading public of Japan.
Oh, and triple bonus points if you could spot Yasuo Otsuka and his jeep. There's a surprise that's worth a laugh.
You'll have to click on these photos to see them in their full size. These pages are in their original Japanese form, which means they're untranslated, but I think we can still enjoy the artwork without following the details of the story. Time for the fan-translators to get to work! We've got plenty more where this came from!
Today is Marcee's birthday. I just wanted to share that with everyone, so if you'd like to share your thanks and wishes and very expensive presents. Hooray for Marcee! Isn't she wonderful? My wish is that we'll be able to celebrate her next birthday here in the United States.